Happy St. Patricks Day! Seeing as it’s a day for everyone to be a little Irish, there are a handful of spots in Japan that take advantage of the chance for revelry, but Matsue maintains a special soft spot for Ireland given the influence of writer Lafcadio Hearn, who was half-Irish. This was one of the biggest, sunniest Irish Festivals yet, though it sounds the Shamrock was even more lively! The Shamrock is the pub that takes over the vault of Karakoro Art Studio for this Saturday and Sunday–yes, of course there is Guinness, as well as a number of though Irish drinks, foods, and desserts using Irish recipes (and by that I mean many of them make sure of Irish alcohol in the cooking). This time I only took part in the parade and some Ceili dancing after the performances following the parade, so I’ll have to take that on good faith. Here are some snapshots of the Irish spirit in Matsue, several of which were taken by XiaoMan, seeing I was preoccupied with walking and waving and dancing and my humble camera has its limits. Thanks, XiaoMan!

Seeing as Matsue is called the City of Water, the events on Sunday the 9th started with a water parade.

This year the parade kicked off from Matsue Castle, where everyone first gathered to ogle at each other’s green ensembles. For many people, celebrating Ireland means a chance get creative with green costumes, and for many performing groups, that also means having taking advantage of having an audience already gathered. A couple of school marching bands are always present, some Yosakoi dancing groups shot their spirit, and even some kids get to show off their respective skills (though its anyone’s guess who has more fun with it, they or their parents).

After some opening greetings, including from our honored visiting Irish diplomats, the Matsue Castle Rifle Troop let off a salute, which was immediately followed by a couple of doves. There weren’t any in the parade, but we had lots of canine spectators decked out in green, too.

Making our way out of Matsue Castle, we passed by the city’s founder, Horio Yoshiharu, who seemed to give his blessing over the parade. I can’t help but find it funny that the Matsue Musha Gyoretsu Warrior Parade coming up in early April finishes up the parade at Matsue Castle instead, but since it’s done to recreated the procession into Matsue that makes sense. Sadly, I will be busy with a kimono contest that weekend and can’t attend this time–bummer! Also, I might add that the bagpiper played through the entire parade, which was pretty impressive, though he sure was out of breath by the end! Kudos to him for a good show.

What’s a modern day event in Japan without mascot characters present? By the way, the man in green (because that’s real specific) is Lafcadio Hearn’s great-grandson.

Yes indeed, those musicians are part of a traditional Irish music group. They perform both nights at the pub. Of course the Irish Festival is about more than just being green! That said, though we do wrap up the day with Ceili dancing, we don’t have much of a dedicated Irish step dance group out here.

But we did have hula dancers.

And a group dancing Michael’s Jacksons “Beat It,” including a group of bystanders who jumped in without warning to join them.

The final event (before everyone everyone packs up and heads inside for the pub for another six hours) was, as mentioned, the Ceili dancing, which the hula dancers graciously practiced in advance and lead us in. I think I picked it up a lot faster this year than I did last year!

To wrap this up, here’s one more photo of the rifle troop because they’re cool and they had a performance at the end of the parade as well. They practiced military drills according to how they would have been done in the Edo era, and by law, they only use antiques. I’m not sure how likely Lafcadio Hearn would have been to see this back in the Meiji era, but it’s a common sight around Matsue today, but they don’t usually have shamrock decorations on their attire.

I still have the step dance music stuck in my head. If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go attempt some Ceili dancing all by myself.

So there we were enjoying the performance from the Shimane Prefectural Police Band when the lights started flashing and we heard a loud rumbling sound. Everyone ducked throughout the rows of the theater, covering their heads, waiting like that as we listened to announcements from the staff. “Please stay as you are as we await instructions,” a woman’s voice said, and we behind her we overheard another staff member calmly confirm information over the phone. It was relayed to us in an orderly fashion, stating the magnitude of the earthquake and whether or not there was a tsunami warning. Moments later, as instructed, we walked out of the theater and outside to the evacuation zone, and watched as the firefighters entered the building to assess the situation, and later wheel a victim out on a stretcher.

This was not a real disaster. Rather, it was one of many disaster preparedness drills and training sessions done throughout Japan, throughout the year. Of course, this time of year has everyone especially aware of earthquake and tsunami safety.

Shimanekko‘s here to assure you everything’s okay, but check out these public service announcements anyway, nya!

I have experienced only one real earthquake here in the San’in region, and an app on my phone (like most people have) woke me up and alerted me far enough in advance that I had plenty of time to prepare for the incoming jolt that was about a level 3 or 4 on the Japanese scale–it was only one big jolt, as the epicenter was pretty far away. I didn’t have much to prepare at that moment, though–I wasn’t sleeping where anything but the ceiling could fall on me, and should it have proven more serious, my emergency kit was ready and I knew where my nearest evacuation centers would be. Furthermore, I had a pretty good idea what to expect if I needed to stay in one of those centers for a while, or what some of the risks following a large earthquake would be. In the seconds before the earthquake struck I wasn’t terribly worried, since I’ve had so many opportunities to prepare and make a mental plan for what to do.
EDIT (March 14, 2014): Within 72 hours of posting this entry, I experienced my second earthquake in this region, which went much like the first–woken up by an early alarm system with plenty of spare time to prepare, and this time the level 3 tremor carried on a little longer. Still doing fine!

I can’t stress enough, in any place around the world with any potential list of disasters, how crucial it is to be prepared and to practice how to respond. I hope all of you reading this have emergency kits and known and practice what to do, so I’ll spare you the lecture (but if you feel guilty because you don’t, please do yourself and your community a favor by finding out).

One of the things I appreciate about living in Japan is how much training they offer the general public, and I pity anyone who hasn’t gotten to ride an earthquake simulator! When you know you’re not in any real danger, it can be a lot of fun. Likewise, attending an overnight evacuation training program, or attending a concert knowing that there will be a drill are both good ways to enjoy yourself a bit while keeping fresh on emergency responses.

Granted, when I first heard about the concert, I mistakenly thought it would be a concert of songs about how to protect yourself and make an orderly evacuation, like the kind of thing I think I remember hearing once or twice when I was a kid. Instead, the band was in marching band uniform and had a wide array of instruments to do covers of everything from Disney medleys to medleys of 1970’s artists I’ve never heard of. They incorporated dancers and baton twirlers, too. The evacuation was much earlier in the concert than I expected, but that meant we got to relax for the remainder of it. Having a captive audience, however, the conductor did take that opportunity to make a public service announcement about bank fraud, and the closing number included some friendly reminders about traffic safety. The conductor even joined in with pom-poms at the very end for this one!

The Matsue Young Warrior Troupe pledges to protect the elderly from traffic accidents.

After that, my group went on to a short lecture about general earthquake safety and preparedness, which, unlike the other presentations I’ve seen on this topic, included video from experiments done following the Kobe earthquake to illustration what happens in a magnitude 7 (Japanese scale) earthquake with unsecured furniture. Even with dummies the results were not pretty, and even though I am satisfied with my current level of earthquake prep it made me consider where I might be a little lazy with it.

A reminder of daily items that turn dangerous in an earthquake.

Some items you should consider for your getaway bag.

This handbook is one of only many resources the prefecture has in place for foreign residents, and I imagine most prefectures have their own versions. The most recent new thing I’ve heard about is a phone bank system you can register for to receive and leave messages about your wellbeing following a disaster, and I think the system is multilingual.

Interpreters and emergency volunteers also keep up on their training and the community finds ways to help each other out, but you are your biggest and most immediate help in an emergency.

Finally, we wrapped up with some emergency food, which is specially produced to last for a long time and be prepared very simply. I’ve had various types, but this was my first time to try emergency oden, a dish of different vitamin and protein-filled Japanese style food items in a clear broth. It stays good for five years, and is prepared simply by sitting in boiling water for five minutes. I’ve never made oden myself, but I’ll make you a bet it tasted better than any attempt I could make.

I anticipate a moment of silence again at work today at 2:46pm.

I hope that all of you, dear readers, will acknowledge the third anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami by practicing what to do in an emergency and making sure the items in your emergency kit are up to date.

Japan is well-known as a country fraught with natural disasters, especially earthquakes, so there is a lot of emphasis on preparedness. Evacuation locations and procedures are very systemized, and throughout the year there are many official disaster training exercises for disaster response professionals and for the general community.

Shimane is no different in that respect, but the San’in region is not as disaster prone as other areas. Seismic activity is relatively low (I have yet to experience an earthquake), and typhoons coming off the Pacific Ocean usually turn into normal rain by the time they hit this area. There are occasional flooding problems and blizzard conditions, but they’re not terribly frequent.

Nevertheless, I do have a basic evacuation kit prepared (which anyone in any place around the world should!), and I try to take part in training sessions both for my own benefit and for the professionals who keep their skills sharp by working with human rescue subjects. While there are smaller training events at the local level, last fall I took part in the prefecture-wide training event in Hamada City, out in western Shimane.

You could watch the helicopter view on some of the TVs.

Besides watching the fire truck maneuvering drills and helicopter rescues over the harbor, I got to ride in an earthquake simulator, go through a smoke tunnel, use a fire extinguisher, and try out emergency food, such as canned bread. My main purpose for being there was to be an injured person who spoke no Japanese and was trapped “inside” a partially collapsed building.

The “building” I was trapped behind–it’s not pictured here, but a car was crashed into it, and they needed to cut open holes in the walls before they could get to us–not to mention rescue the victim in the car.

After the rescue team found me, they brought me to the area the Red Cross and Shimane International Center supporters had set up, where they gave me a blanket and got some basic information from me and treated my “injured” arm. After that, I was loaded into an evacuation vehicle with some of the other evacuees, and we made our escape from the disaster area.

Despite the perilous conditions, we all managed to keep a sense of humor.

But after you evacuate the danger area, where do you go? That’s where the Matsue city level training picked up last weekend. For the third year in a row, the members of the Japanese community and the foreign community came together for an overnight experience at one of the city’s several designated evacuation centers. We had participants from about ten different countries.

Our dinner that night consisted of rice prepared in special individual serving bags, and vegetarian stew prepared by the local women’s association. Breakfast was made up other individual serving items with long shelf lives. At least as far as our locale is concerned, you can expect to be fed for as long as you are stuck in an evacuation center. However, I have food in my personal emergency kit anyway–and so should you!

Filling emergency-use rice bags
Ready for the rice cooker
Thank you, volunteers!

Yum, chocolate flavored Calorie Mate!

Normal Calorie Mate (the biscuit in the yellow box) has a shelf life of about a month. This emergency Calorie Mate has a shelf life of about three years.

Here’s some of that canned bread again, as well as special seaweed rice you just need to add water to. The resealable bag doubles as a bowl, and there is a spoon inside. If you add cold water it takes about an hour to be ready, but if you had hot water it only takes about twenty minutes. Surprisingly filling! Not only is this good in emergencies, but the package even suggests taking it on camping trips and trips abroad.

When it came time to figure out the sleeping arrangement, we were asked to do an experiment first to see how we could try to fit everyone in a confined space. Unsurprisingly, we weren’t very good at.

Evacuation Center, Matsue

We then moved worked together to build partitions for a little extra privacy, as well as cardboard toilets (although thankfully the indoor plumbing was still working just fine at this particular evacuation). The partitions we used at this center were of a cardboard and plastic variety, but there are other varieties in use elsewhere.

Building evacuation center partitions

There were also training sessions for performing CPR and using AEDs and using fire extinguishers, as well as a fire truck demonstration from Matsue’s northern fire station.

CPR training--the first step is to try to wake up the patient.

Fire fighting hose, with adjustable spray.
119 is the emergency telephone number in Japan.

Thank-you to all of the volunteers who came together to make this training session a success, and huge thank-you to all of the emergency response personnel around the world. Your work is greatly appreciated!