Late afternoon

afternoon sun, stitching, teaToday I have been quiet under the kotatsu. I stitched up a hankerchief and played with the idea of a new spring sashiko kit. The sun shone brightly and Tanaka-san went out for a ride. She, too, has been quiet so I was happy to see her in the sunshine, wheeled away in a bright purple hat but with her face to the sky.

As the late afternoon sun dwindles from my apartment I think about where I was two years ago when the Tohoku earthquake hit Japan. That leads me to think about where I was five years ago, and then 10. Life changes suddenly sometimes.

My heart aches, so as the afternoon sun dwindles I sit quietly on the tatami and I stitch.

Action Craft, Thoughts

Hello all!  I’m expecting another box of blankets, so while I was hoping to wow you with another batch of photos today, it looks like I’ll have to keep you in suspense a bit longer.

I want to tell everyone again how delighted I am by the response to this little Call-to-Acton-Craft.  I’m overwhelmed (in the good way) by the generosity of everyone who participated. Together, we’ve created 32 new handmade blankets for tsunami and earthquake survivors here in Japan.  That is, 32 and counting…

As to where they are headed — it’s still in the works.  I’ve got a few leads and we’re ironing out the details.  More info on that to come, I promise.

I had a great time making my quilt for this project.  It felt good to make something for someone else, not knowing who might receive it.  I thought a lot about who might need a small quilt and how they might use it — for a baby, or picnics, or folded up as a pillow or floor cushion.  It feels good to work hard on something then send it off into the world, its future unknown.

I also enjoyed making a quilt with such strict rules.  I told myself not to buy anything new, to use only supplies I already had at home.  This really limited my choices and as a result my quilt came together quickly, which was really satisfying.  (And now I can buy more fabric under the pretense that I’ll do it again someday!)  I enjoyed the process so much, I might actually make another.

Thanks again to everyone who sent blankets — good work, team!

Psst — find a Flickr photo gallery of all the blankets here, and more Action Craft info here.

Action Crafts

Handmade quilts and blankets for our Action Craft project have been arriving steadily:

From Natalie in Pennsylvania, USA

From Susan in California, USA

So beautiful!  I love Natalie’s oversize granny square and, what is that on the second one, a lace pattern?  I know nothing about crochet, except that it looks so very classy.  Oh!  And the colors in Susan’s quilt are amazingly vibrant.  I’m certain these will make someone very happy.

You can see photos of these blankets, and all the others as I post them, at my Flickr page.

Much more to come…

I Know

I know there must be a connection that can be made between the fragile situation in Japan and these precarious, lantern-covered wooden floats that lumber through the streets, pushed and pulled by a community, urged on by the chants and music from those too small to help.

But what do I know? We ooh, and ahh, and are happy to be at our first matsuri in a new Japan.

Action Craft and #Quakebook

First things first — thanks for all the interest and support for the Action Craft Blankets for Japan project!  It sounds like we’ll have quilts and knitted blankets coming from all over the United States, which is great news.  I’m very touched by all the kind words and generosity, and excited to see what everyone sends over!

A few people have asked what they can do for Japan even if they don’t craft.  Money never hurts.  There are a lot of organizations sending aid into Japan now, so I suggest looking around for one with a mission that you feel strongly about — food banks, temporary shelters, architecture and design for rebuilding, medical aid — check here for many options.

Another great project is #quakebook, a Twitter-sourced compilation of stories and images from earthquake and tsunami survivors,  available soon as a digital publication and later in print.  All revenue from the sale of the book go directly to the Japanese Red Cross Society.  For more information on 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake, check out the link here.  A friend has been working like crazy doing the editing, and I’ve heard nothing but positive things from her about the experience.  Sounds like an interesting project, so I encourage you to check it out.

Life in Tokyo is settling down again.  Lights remain dim, about half of the escalators and vending machines around my neighborhood are turned off.  The local grocery store limits bottled water to one-per-person, but there are plenty available for purchase.  Milk, eggs, bread and rice have all returned to store shelves.  Earthquakes are less frequent, which makes me wonder if they are back to their usual frequency though I’m just more attune to them now.

I’ve returned to my usual daily duties, running errands around town without difficulty.  Dan and I were even lucky to visit Nagoya this weekend, where we stayed with a friend and her parents, visited festivals, found cherry blossoms in bloom, and ate our way through the weekend.  It was really fantastic, and I promise to post more details and photos soon.

Until then, a glimpse of Spring…

Action Craft!

I’ve been back in Tokyo for a few days now.  From my walks around the neighborhood, it is hard to say whether it is quiet or if it’s just my imagination.  Dan reports business as usual at his office, though says his coworkers are less lively than normal.  We both get the feeling that people just aren’t going out as much, instead staying home to conserve energy and resources.  Tokyo with its lights off feels a little sad, though it seems temporary.

I’ve been thinking about what I can do to help.  I want to head north, pick up a hammer or lug boxes, but right now it’s best to let the trained aid workers do their thing without interruption.  And who are we kidding — if I went now, I’d be a blubbering mess.  Those who know me know that I’m pretty good at crying.  I can’t help it, I’m a weeper.  Emerging stories by survivors are amazing and necessary, but heart-wrenching.  Right now, I can help everyone by helping from afar.

I thought about sending a percentage of the proceeds from my web shop to a local charity, but I decided I didn’t want my giving to be dependent on how much I sell.  I’d rather just give something, no strings attached.

Then today it hit me — I can stitch.

Before I moved to Japan I bought this book, Quilting for Peace.  It includes stories about people making quilts for survivors of tragedies, and about how small quilts and blankets, when given to people in need, provide enormous comfort.  I remember one story in particular — about a group of women who made small quilts for their local fire station to have at the ready when a family lost their home and everything in it.  Imagine standing on the curb watching your house go up in smoke, and someone hands you a homemade blanket rather than one of those scratchy synthetic ones.

So that is what I can do.  For now, at least.

And then it occurred to me — I’m a crafty gal with crafty friends.  I bet if I ask nicely, a bunch of you could do the same…  How about it?!  Let’s make some blankets!

Interested?!  Great!  Here are the details —

The plan: Make small kid-sized or lap-sized blankets to send to an evacuation shelter, hospital or school in a tsunami-affected area of Japan.  I’ll do the research, and maybe recruit my Japanese friends to help me find a location.  I’ll keep you all informed as plans develop.

What you, crafty friends and family, can do: Make a small blanket and send it to me.  I know some of you quilt, others knit or croquet — anything works!  Think roughly 36 inches by 48 inches (90 cm x 120 cm), try not to go bigger than that, smaller is OK too.  Be creative!  Feel free to use up scraps!  Tied quilts, machine-pieced, embroidered or not, whatever!  This is a great excuse for those of you who have been wanting to try quilting.  If you need help, send me a message and I’ll walk you through it.  I’ll also try to dig up some tutorials and easy patterns. (For starters, check here.) Please send your blanket freshly washed.

Also, include a hand-written note for the recipient.  Tell them where you live, send a photo or drawing if you’d like.  I’ll translate the notes, gather the goods, and see that they are delivered to a proper location.  If you fancy, I’ll also take photos of the blankets to put on this blog, so everyone participating can see what’s been sent and share encouragement.

Let’s keep this quick, and shoot for a deadline of one month from now.  Try to place your blanket in the mail by the end of April, bonus points if you can get it to me by the 30th.  For questions or a shipping address, contact me at sakepuppets(at)gmail(dot)com.  Also, why don’t you leave a comment and tell us what you’re working on!  All are invited to participate, old friends and new!

Good luck, happy stitching, and がんばって!

Flee-ting Thoughts

Last week I drafted an ornery blog post, but then hit delete. It was on the topic of fleeing Japan. As I sat in my hotel room in Beijing, the stories popping up in the news about foreigners fleeing in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis made me increasingly agitated. I sheepishly admit, I took offense.

When I hear the word “flee,” I envision people running. You flee from a fire, or Godzilla. People had to flee the tsunami, as in, they had to run so the gigantic black wave didn’t swallow them up. I did not flee from anything. I took a train, and calmly stood in line, and then I sat around in the airport for a couple hours. I played solitaire on my phone. I packed smartly for a week-long sightseeing trip. I’m not abandoning anything or anyone. I’m not fearful.

But the headlines about foreigners fleeing Japan got to me. I feel silly for admitting it, since there are more important issues at hand. Last week I vigorously typed my retort, but decided not to post it because, really, I don’t need to justify my actions to anyone, nor do I need to pick a fight with the internet. I tried to let the issue go and instead focus on something productive.

Then today I came across this article in TimeOut Tokyo. It conveys many of the same feelings I’ve been having — though in a more concise, less ornery manner (and props to my friend Sandra, who is quoted). So rather than retype the sentiments, I’ll just encourage you to follow the link and then add a “Yeah, what he said” to the end.

What I’m Watching

I thought I’d throw a quick post out to share some of the resources I’ve been watching for news.  It’s been my feeling that for information on Japan, it is best to ask Japan.

First, I’ve been keeping an eye on Twitter where folks are translating NHK news in real-time, particularly televised press conferences given by Japanese government officials Prime Minister Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano.

My favorite tweeters have been TimeOut Tokyo and SandraJapandra.  They are passing along good, reliable information.

NHK World has also been streaming a translated news broadcasts online.  Very useful.

The Japan Times now has a website up with a growing list of resources.  Every once in a while I peek at the Japan Meteorological Agency for a visual of aftershocks.

I’ve also kept my eye on the US Embassy’s website, and follow Ambassador Roos’ Twitter feed.

I have not been watching any foreign news, and actually hadn’t seen any until I turned on the BBC in my hotel room this morning.  I was astonished and horrified by the images of body bags and the focus on death.  That is not something we were seeing on NHK in Japan, nor did we need to.

Right now the focus is on rescue and recovery.  Most sources are recommending that those in non-affected areas donate cash rather than goods, and to keep out of the way for the time being.  (For ways to donate try here, scroll down a bit.)  Edano has called for everyone in Japan to conserve electricity, an effort most were taking seriously in Tokyo.  All available resources are being directed north.

Many people are asking me what I’m doing.  Right now… not much.  I feel very helpless.  Dan and I are in China temporarily, where he has some work to do.  I have discovered that many of the tremors I was feeling weren’t actually the ground shaking but my imagination, since the feeling has followed me.  I’ll hopefully learn more in the future about what I can do, or build, or donate.  But for now, we wait.

Tough Decisions

At a time when many in Japan are suffering — without basic necessities, missing loved ones, under constant threat of more disaster — it seems silly to talk about my worries.  I fear that talking about them will somehow trivialize the tragedy that has occurred.

At the moment, Tokyo is not in any danger.  That being said, Dan and I have a difficult decision ahead, one many ex-pats currently face: do we stay or do we leave?

Right now, my heart belongs to Japan.  Tokyo has finally started to feel like my home.  We have been here for 9 months, and though I’m a somewhat transient lady, this is where I prefer to hang my hat.

I know I am incredibly lucky — I am an American and have confidence that my embassy would help if there was an emergency.  I have friends in many countries, and Dan has a solid job with a company with resources. I do not feel I would ever be stranded or forgotten. I know how extremely lucky I am because I had the resources to move to Japan in the first place.

But, we have the opportunity to take a little break from Japan for a while.  Do we stay or do we go?  As the situation at the power plant becomes more threatening it becomes easier to make the argument to leave.  But at this point Tokyo is not in danger.  And Tokyo is my home.

Some foreigners have been criticized for leaving, criticized for inducing panic or abandoning Japan in her time of need.  What can I do to contribute if I were to stay?  I can donate money, but otherwise I must sit and wait.

Leaving Japan is a personal decision and no one should be judged for doing so.  Whether for the safety of your kids or the sanity of your nerves, taking a break from the drama shouldn’t be viewed negatively.  Alternatively, no one should be criticized or harassed for wanting to stay.  News coverage in the United States has been more sensationalized than here in Japan, and frantic calls from abroad help no one.  We are aware of the severity of the situation, thankyouverymuch.  I’m a smart lady with smart resources, and can make the right decision.  Most importantly, it is the right decision because it is my own decision.

So then why is it so hard to choose, and why do I feel so bad?

It might be guilt, or adrenaline withdrawal, after being so close to a disaster and narrowly missing its wrath.  It might be the solidarity I feel with my new friends in Tokyo and the life I have here, a solidarity I feel I’d be abandoning.

And so, we’ve decided to leave.  It is sad to go, but it is a short trip and it feels like the right thing to do at the moment.  Hopefully my absence from Tokyo can help conserve energy, resources… anxiety.  There are difficult times ahead for Japan, and I’m in it for the long-haul.  Even if I’m not for the short.

You can see my other reactions to the Tohoku Earthquake here and here.


It has been 2 days since the earthquake struck Japan.

Tokyo is somber.  Things here are mostly fine — there was little damage and much of city life has resumed.  Around Azabu Juban trains are running, restaurants and shops are open, and people are walking about.  Twitter reports from around the city reveal similar scenes.

Dan and I have been out walking, but haven’t strayed far from home.  The aftershocks continue, and though the tremors aren’t as big as they were yesterday, I still don’t have any desire to get on a train.

We stopped at the grocery store mostly because we felt we should, but I didn’t know what to buy.  Yesterday eggs and bananas were out, today our nearest grocer was lacking toilet paper, milk, and leafy greens.  I bought a few onigiri from a nearby conbini and felt satisfied in my preparedness.

The grocery stores were bustling but restaurants were not.  We went out for Chinese food and had the restaurant to ourselves.  I half-joked that we should eat out while we can, and save the veggies at home for the coming days.  The truth is, I’m not sure what to expect this week.  Authorities say Tokyo will intermittently be without power and are asking everyone to conserve electricity.  Prime Minister Kan said in a televised press conference that this is the worst disaster to hit Japan since WWII.  Dan and I shut off our heat and are snuggling around a shared lamp.  They’re asking us to prepare for scheduled power outages, but I’m not certain what that means.  We’re making some rice to stash in the fridge, we’ve got food and water.  Being without a television for a while will probably do me some good.

In the past 48 hours I’ve become a total news junkie.  In addition to my Twitter feed, which is in constant refresh on my phone, I’ve had email and Facebook, online news channels, and NHK TV at my fingertips.  Though, the images of devastation and the anxiety of another tremor are starting to wear me out.  (Mom, look away…)  The Japan Meteorological Agency said there is a 70 percent chance of another earthquake greater than magnitude 7 occurring within the next three days, and then 50 percent chance in the 3 days after that.  I feel safe in my apartment and with Tokyo’s resources at the ready, but anticipation of a tremor rattles my nerves.  You know that feeling you get when you step off a treadmill?  Or, when you are sitting in a restaurant and the subway rumbles beneath you?  Or when you stand up too fast and feel a little light-headed?  That’s how the aftershocks feel, and they’ve been pretty constant since Friday.  I’ve been calling it The Weeble-Wobbles.  Not dangerous, just… weird.

The news crack has provided some unbelievable images.  Like this one, where you can view before and after photos of some of the areas affected by tsunami.  Or this crazy video.  (Mom, stop worrying — that’s not where I am.)

Japan is in the midst of a major crisis, and I’m in the midst of Japan.  Though Tokyo is pretty much back on its feet, my heart aches for Northern Japan and the devastation they face.  It is difficult to know what to do or how to help.  It is easy to sit at home, watch the news, wait for more sways.