Kumamoto Earthquake Aftermath Photos (a.k.a. the Case for Resilience)

As I relate in my Watson Returning Fellows’ Conference post, I visited Kumamoto, the epicenter of Japan’s huge earthquakes in mid-April, about three weeks into their rebuilding process. Rather than burying pictures at the bottom of that post, I wanted to dedicate a separate space to pictures from my meanderings around the city. First, an excerpt from the aforementioned post:

May 9, 2016Yokohama, Japan

…[M]y visit to Kumamoto, the epicenter of Japan’s huge earthquakes three weeks ago in mid-April, was so powerful. It reflected the reality of a Japan where rebuilding is a common event, where resilient infrastructure has innumerable value. The earthquake had caused major power cuts, gas leaks, and water shortages in Kumamoto, and train and plane services to Kumamoto were stopped for a while. Since Kumamoto is on the Japanese island of Kyushu, it was then basically isolated form the mainland. The rebuilding was well underway by the time I visited – the utilities were back and train services had been restored a few days before my visit – but there was still a lot to do. As I walked around the city, I saw many modern buildings with visible cracks in their foundations, shattered windows, or red “unsafe” inspection signs. I saw older houses, small cottages with grass roofs, caved in like crushed cake frosting. I saw trash piled up three weeks deep, a mix of normal waste and cleanup debris that the city trash services simply couldn’t handle.

To me, though, what was more interesting than observing the infrastructure was observing the people. I saw community. I saw volunteers in the city center serving food. I saw trash trucks from other cities including Kyoto, sent by these other cities to help clean up. I saw temporary vendors in a main market, presumably set up there because their normal buildings were unfit for use. The result was a juxtaposition of permanent shops, closed-off buildings, and stalls with cardboard boxes piled behind them. In this market, I saw lots of people walking around, hanging out, shopping. They were smiling, socializing, and coming together as a community… I saw a city moving on and moving forward.

 

And now, some pictures:

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Watson Fellowship Conference

Wow! I can’t believe I’m back in the US after a year of traveling. I landed in Boston on July 29, flying from Santiago de Chile with a layover in Atlanta. A lot of people have asked me what my first meal was after landing in the US, so to answer the question, it was a spinach, mushroom, and Swiss egg sandwich from Einstein Bros. Bagels. My first “real” meal was atukula, home-made by my loving mother.

Shortly after landing, on August 1, I headed to Bar Harbor for the Watson Fellowship conference. I had an amazing time. The conference involved a fancy welcome dinner and then two full days of breakout sessions, Fellow presentations, and deep conversations with other Fellows during breaks/late into the nights. I really appreciated the sense of community I found among the other Watson Fellows. Although our projects were all very different, we had many shared experiences, and it was great to discuss the ups and downs of my year with people who just “got it.”

During the conference, I gave a ten-minute presentation about my project. From the Watson Fellows’ Guide, “Obviously, one cannot convey the entirety of a whole year’s experience in such a short period of time. One can, however, share a meaningful piece of it… This is not a business powerpoint presentation, but an opportunity to share your experience with each other from your unique perspective.” In the spirit these guidelines, I decided to tell two stories that illustrated my experience. You’ve seen one of these before (in this post) and the other one is new. For those interested, the text of my presentation is below. Enjoy!

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Energy and Venezuela’s Work Week

Note: I’m not in Venezuela; I’m in Japan. However, I found this news development particularly interesting.

Energy crises can have weird consequences. Recently, Venezuela’s government reduced its governmental work week to two days in order to save energy and avert energy shortages. The short Reuters article about it (linked here) is an interesting read.

It’s interesting to observe the (unconventional) energy-saving approaches the Venezuelan government has taken. Besides reducing the public sector work week, the government also did an impromptu “daylight savings,” shifting the clocks by half an hour so the sun shines a little later into the day (saving on energy for lighting). The government also ordered malls to have their own electricity generators (which isn’t as much about reducing energy usage as much as it’s about shifting strain away from the main electricity infrastructure). One can argue about the efficacy of these approaches, but I won’t get into that discussion here.

This crisis is also an important reminder of how inextricable energy and water issues are. Venezuela depends primarily on hydroelectric power from its main dam. However, drought has reduced water levels and thus the amount of electricity available in the country. Oops. Such interlinkages between energy, water, and other utilities/services provide a huge challenge (“In a crisis affecting some service, how do we keep interlinked services running?”) but also a huge opportunity (“How can we use one type of utility infrastructure to solve problems with another?”).

Some Background on Japan

Hello friends, and greetings from Yokohama! I’ve been in Japan for a little over three weeks now, but in many ways it still feels like I’m barely getting started. I just got my Japan Rail Pass (which gives me unlimited travel on Japan’s major railway network), so I’m excited to travel around the country and generally “embark” on this chapter of my Watson journey.

In addition to doing some sightseeing, I’ve done some reading and conducted a few interviews during the last few weeks. I’ll start publishing some interview writeups shortly, but first, here’s some relevant background about Japan’s Smart Grids and power sector.

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Goodbye Chronology!

I had initially planned to publish my interviews chronologically, so that my blog would reflect how my questions and thinking have evolved over time. However, this dedication to chronology has meant low post frequency. It’s also meant that I’m less likely to write up/reflect on new interviews relevant to my present location, since I’m instead focused on clearing my backlog. So goodbye chronology, and hello more frequent posting! (How many times do I have to say that before it’s finally true? :D)