A message to the JustBento community

maki
admin
Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 3 weeks 5 days ago.

As you know, Japan was hit by a devastating earthquake on March 11, 2011. The epicenter was off the north-eastern coast of Honshu, the main island of the Japanese archipelago. Much of that coastline has been destroyed. Thousands are dead, more are still missing. There are supply-line problems due to destroyed harbors and damaged roads (now gradually getting solved) that are causing more people to suffer and even die. And there’s the ongoing, serious situation at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant.

I was lucky not to have lost anyone I knew personally. One of our forum moderators, Loretta Takahashi, was not so fortunate. I don’t want to get into specifics to protect her privacy, but suffice it to say her husband’s family is from the directly hit area. (Loretta, her baby and husband live in London, UK by the way in case you’re worried about their own safety.)

Our other moderator Bronwyn Carlisle is based in New Zealand (where she witnessed the Christchurch earthquake devastate her country), but she’s busy with real life too. Life does go on, even in Japan, as usual for most.

As for myself, I am planning to fly to Tokyo on the 28th (I’d already planned to go then prior to all of this), to check up on my mom and sister and niece and nephew, to meet friends and relatives, and to see what I can do in any way to help. I’m also going to be stopping or at least slowing down my Twitter news/commentary stream then.

So, for the time being, I’m going to close the forum to any new member applications, so that existing members can chat without having to bother with any potential spammers and such. Approving of comments by non-registered/not-logged in members may also be a bit slow. I hope you all understand.

How you can help Japan

Several members of the bento blogging community have been raising funds via their Bento4Japan project. There are lots of great bento items up for auction! My publisher, Kodansha USA, is donating more copies of my Just Bento Cookbook too (the first one is already gone). Please go over there to take a look, and bid if you can - or even consider donating an item for auction.

If you would rather donate to a cause directly, I have a page of ways to donate over on Just Hungry.

Earlier on, I went along with some news stories, most notably in this New York Times opinion feature, that Japan did not need donations, that it needed other help. Events since them have convinced me that the devastation in Japan is so widespread that money is needed, if only to cover funds for things that the officials do not deem to be essential. For instance, I’ve heard some reports from people confined indoors at shelters and so on that they are desperate for books to read, coloring books for the kids, something to occupy their minds and pass the time instead of sitting around watching the news on TV or allowing dark thoughts to flood their minds. Since there are still serious transportation problems, please donate money to known organizations, not goods, since they will know best how and where to send things.

There is a way you can help Japan besides donations though. Nuclear energy and radiation are scary subjects about which the ordinary person, including most mainstream journalists, have little to no knowledge of. I’ve gotten some rather ridiculous questions about the safety of Japanese food that they already have in their kitchens or shopping at Japanese grocery stores. There are even some random cases of people worrying about their bento box orders from Japan.

If your favorite bento box seller is still operating as usual from Japan, they are well out of the affected zones anyway. And besides, many sellers aren’t even based in Japan. Please use your common sense, and continue to support these vendors. Do you really want to lose access to your favorite bento box things?

Also, please do what you can to try to inform people who are being misinformed. Tell them to check first-hand or official sources. (Example: currently the U.S. FDA is stopping all shipments of fresh produce and dairy products from 4 prefectures in Japan - that have had similar restrictions placed on them already by the Japanese central government. Some news sources in the U.S. and elsewhere have blaring headlines saying “U.S BANS FOOD FROM JAPAN”. Misleading to say the least even if (in many cases) the actual article says exactly what the real situation is.

I should note here that the area affected is not a big exporter of food. It consists primarily of small-scale farmers, supplying fresh produce locally and to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. (If you are worried about friends or relatives there, they are already well informed and taking precautions, avoiding the vegetables being warned about and so on. People there are relatively calm, if understandably concerned for real reasons.) Not much in the way of fresh produce from Japan makes it to to export channels anyway since there’s such a high demand locally. None of the fresh produce at your local Japanese grocery store is likely to have been shipped from Japan, let alone the affected area. (In the U.S. a lot of Japanese vegetables are grown in California for instance.) However, and I repeat, as a general principle it’s good to get into the habit of checking where your food, especially fresh foods, come from anyway. In the global economy we live in now, this is really inevitable unless you just want to bury your head in the sand.

As for processed foods manufactured, the ones you see in stores now are as safe as they ever were (though much of “Japanese” processed food that is exported is not actually manufactured in Japan). The ones you may see coming in to ports now are being scanned by the U.S. and other government authorities, probably (and admitted to in a couple of cases) as much to assuage public concern as anything else. Besides, things like green tea grown in Japan simply cannot grow in the area due to to climatic conditions. They grow in the west and south, well out of any danger.

I know that I will not be able to convince everyone of the safety of food in Japan. But if you are a fan of Just Bento or Just Hungry, you probably know a lot more about Japanese products and their very high quality standards, than the average person. Use your superior knowledge to try to educate people around you if you can.

Thanks for reading. I hope to get Just Bento back to regular programming very soon.

____________________________________

The Big Onigiri.

- Wherever you go, there you are. -

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E from the Mediterranean
Re: A message to the JustBento community

have a safe trip! I understand from the media that the water and food are contaminated with radioactive substances and some are not safe for cosumption.
My boss's family arrived here last week from Japan. Their house was hit but they are unharmed.

on a happier note, I just got your book today that I ordered last week from bookdepository.

my best wishes to you & yours, E

Audrey Tan
Re: A message to the JustBento community

Maki, your words are so true! I've seen many ridiculous comments by people (I can understand why they are worried), but most of them are misled by the exaggerated headlines. Just today, my mum told me to avoid eating sashimi from now on, when there's no news of it at all. Social media is good, but it's also a catalyst for spreading panic. I think we should all keep ourselves updated with the latest news, from reliable sources, instead of following a crowd of other misinformed people.

I have faith that the Japanese will overcome these many obstacles and stay strong together. =)
がんばって Japan!~
audrey.

maki
admin
Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 3 weeks 5 days ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

Dont take this as a personal criticism. This is what has resulting from the bad reporting. "water and food are contaminated with radioactive substances and some are not safe for comsumption" is such an exaggeration. Did they specify where? For example there were huge headlines about TOKYO WATER NOT SAFE yesterday. In reality a warning was issued about water safety only for infants still on formula, in specific parts of the Tokyo area (Tokyo area is pretty big) served by one particular reservoir. Today the levels are already down in that reservoir to below safety levels. Still, if I were a mother of an infant I would be wary until this all settles down. Adults and older kids are do not have to worry. And by the way, the accepted 'safe upper limit' level in Japan is much more stringent (lower) than that of say, the WHO or the EU.

Don't believe everything you read, especially now, in the media. Check Reliable Sources.

Kyandasu
Bento-ing from: Boulder › Colorado › USA
Joined: 23 Jun 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 20 weeks ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

I am happy to hear that your family is all safe, but how unfortunate for your other moderator's family! I hope all turns out well for her.
I completely understand about the bad reporting. It's a very confusing time right now. I am supposed to study abroad this semester in Akita, if you remember, and this earthquake and resulting problems has really made my trip complicated. I don't know if I'm still going or not. Luckily the school has pushed back the semester, to give us students more time, but trying to convince my family that I will be safe is very difficult! They believe everything they see on the news, which, like you said, never specifies amounts or locations or the important details. Plus they exaggerate. I myself am really confused, although I have access to more reliable resources than they do. However, if you have any good sites I could show them, it would help a lot! I don't want to waste the past semester I had waiting for the Japanese semester to start--it'll really put me behind in my studies, and I also don't want to miss this opportunity!

____________________________________

Onaka ga suiteiru!
日本語を話せますか。私もちょっと話せますよ。友達になりたいです。

Madeleine20
Bento-ing from: › USA
Joined: 13 Jan 2010
User offline. Last seen 3 years 18 weeks ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

I'm so glad your family is safe and I'm so sorry for Loretta and her family=(.

I will definately keep buying Japanese foods and I pray that the country will work its way back to normal.

____________________________________

My flickr food photos account:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/54728974@N05/

VegetusMaximus
Bento-ing from: St. Louis › Missouri › USA
Joined: 7 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 3 years 17 weeks ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

Even though I know no one in Japan, my heart breaks for the devastating losses and suffering of the Japanese effected by these tragedies and their family and friends. I'm so sorry for those who have lost loved ones. I hope that all involved are able to find peace within and move forward again.

I'm sure you are very eager to visit your family after all that has happened. May your trip be safe and filled with love and hope.

____________________________________

The Blog: http://vegetusmaximus.blogspot.com/

Sophie
Re: A message to the JustBento community

The water in Tokyo is back under normal levels, even for infants: 1.usa.gov/hOoe4c

And another good article from NPR: http://n.pr/hKFvn8

And why such low radiation levels in food are nothing to worry about: http://bit.ly/hHTG0T

See pg 13 of this report http://www.wpro.who.int/NR/rdonlyres/55CDFAF4-220A-4709-A886-DF2B1826D34... for the good point that Japanese standards for radiation in the water are MUCH more stringent than other countries or international levels, meaning that at their current level they wouldn't have set off alarm bells elsewhere.

Also, I wrote an article here: http://hesomagazine.com/featured/cool-heads-must-prevail-to-help-cool-th... about how damaging the media response has been, and how Tokyo and the surrounding area is not dangerous.

Hope you still make it to Japan and quell your family's fears.

C
Re: A message to the JustBento community

Please have a safe trip!! I'm really glad you're stepping forth and setting the record straight. It's a relief that while Japan still needs help, it is not in as dire a situation as I previously thought. The media truly exaggerates...

Honestly, things are getting blown way out of proportion. In California and China, Chinese people are so worried about radiation and food contamination that they emptied the shelves of several stores for iodized salt and water. My friend went into Costco and all the bottled water had been sold out and I've seen families lug about 10 year's work of water onto their carts. I also went to the local Japanese grocery market Mitsuwa and the shelves of snacks were also wiped clean by shoppers worried about not being able to get their candy and munchies due to the disaster.

My only question is, what about the snacks who've been manufactured in the prefectures affected by the nuclear problem? I tried to explain to my mom that they would probably move their factory somewhere else but she pointed out that the ones who use local milk and other ingredients from those prefectures would have to change their recipe a bit. Then she grabbed a couple packets of milk candy and paid.

Folly
Bento-ing from: San Francisco
Joined: 5 Jul 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 18 weeks ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

Thank you, Maki, for the exhausting work you have done disseminating information from Japanese sources these past two weeks. I have never spent so much time reading Twitter as i have since March 11th. Your clear-headed comments and website referrals have helped me to understand what is happening in Japan much better than if I just relied on the American media. My family in Kansai keeps saying that life for them is normal. Some of the Tokyo family have chosen to leave the city, while others are going about their lives adjusting as needed. And even though we have no one in the north, my heart aches for the people up there. Safe travels, dear friend. I'll be looking for your posts once you get to Nihon.

maki
admin
Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 3 weeks 5 days ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

They are not afraid at all really...they are avoiding the problematic vegetables, and coping with some shortages due to stocking problems and hoarding by some selfish people, but not too bad to worry about.

(Neither my sister or my mother even thought about hoarding. Not sure if I should be proud of them, or just think of it as as rational behavior.)

maki
admin
Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 3 weeks 5 days ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

I think the absolutely best thing you can do is to consult the U.S. Embassy in Japan, or maybe the U.S. State Department. Akita itself was barely touched at all by the quake, except for some deaths and injuries - ironic because it's right next to Iwate, whose coastline was devastated by tsunami. But Akita is on the other side of Honshu, facing the Japan Sea.

There's no danger of radiation or whatever in Akita. The water's fine, the air is fine. (It is fine in Iwate too.) For a while it may be a bit difficult getting there, since the roads and some rail lines were damaged - but the reconstruction is going on at an astonishing pace.

I don't know when your semester is starting, but again, I would really recommend asking the U.S. government offices for travel advice. That will also be the most convincing to your parents.

Good luck! I'm sure you'll have a great time if you get there.

maki
admin
Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 3 weeks 5 days ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

What is probably going to start happening now is that the Japanese government will be inspecting food and labeling it as safe before it goes overseas, to assuage fears. Anything on the shelves now is fine (it went out on freighter ships long ago). Most of the dairy farmers and producers in the area are small scale, supplying fresh milk and yogurt and so on. The industrial-level production is mainly in Hokkaido etc, well away from the Fukushima plants. But as I said the government is probably going to start putting llabels on stuff, at least for the time being. The EU has already requested they do so and are stopping shipments of all fresh produce, seafood, etc.

This whole idea of products that are simply made in that area, or even made in Japan itself somehow being 'radioactive' is so stupid I don't know what to say. I'm even tempted to say, you're so afraid, then don't eat it - you don't deserve to. But I know that will hurt the businesses of Japanese people so I'm biting my tongue. A lot.

If your mother is so concerned, why did she ever buy that candy? You should just take it from her and enjoy it all by yourself. ^_^

bronwyncarlisle
Moderator
Bento-ing from: Dunedin › New Zealand
Joined: 12 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 20 weeks ago.
Re: A message to the JustBento community

The most helpful thing anyone can do in the way of long term help for Japan (or Christchurch) is to continue buying goods made there. The immediate cost of rebuilding is one thing, and mostly covered by insurance or whatever, but damage to the economy can't be insured against. Already several hundred small businesses in Christchurch are unable to continue trading, so I shudder to think of the situation in Japan. Failed businesses means job losses and that is a major long term concern. Some businesses are bound to fail of course; you can't manufacture goods in a flooded field where your factory used to be. On the other hand, there are businesses in Christchurch who have been largely unaffected, and who are having to work really hard getting their customers to understand this and not take their custom elsewhere because they are assuming otherwise.

____________________________________

Bronwyn

My blog is Food and Shoes

maki
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Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 3 weeks 5 days ago.
further duscussion

Further discussion about the issue of radioactive materials in the environment are to be found under this post on Just Hungry: http://www.justhungry.com/how-one-retailer-dealing-vegetable-crisis-east... . Note that I have a very low tolerence rate for people throwing around insults in any discussion on my sites.

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