One of the great things about living in Japan is very high level of customer service one encounters at nearly every business. That was (ahem) driven home for me today, for, as Kimie was driving us the twenty minutes home from the grocery store in town, little did we know that the left rear tire of her car was losing air and going flat at some point. Though in retrospect, I had wondered as we neared home why the computer was telling us we were only getting about 18 kpl (42 mpg) on this trip when we would normally get 26 kpl (61 mpg) or more.
It was only after we arrived home, unloaded the car, and she was preparing to drive it into the garage that I noticed the flat. It had been flat for some time apparently and we simply hadn't felt it. The result was a badly damaged tire.
A peculiar "feature" of the Honda Insight is that, in an effort to save weight and space, it has no spare tire. Instead there is a can of "goop" designed to seal a puncture from the inside along with a small air compressor which runs off the car's battery. One is supposed to put the sealant in the tire, then re-inflate it as a temporary fix until the dealership is reached. In this case, it was out of the question. The side walls were deeply gouged by the wheel rim making the tire totally unserviceable. I did try, unsuccessfully, to re-inflate the tire, but as I was doing so decided that even should that work, I was not going to allow Kimie to drive with this tire and risk a catastrophic blowout.
Honda customer service to the rescue. Kimie called the Honda dealership to see what we should do. Coincidentally, the person who answered was Mr. T - no, not the muscular Mr. T with the gold chains of the "A-Team", but the Honda salesman Mr. T, who had sold us the car two years ago. He said he'd come right out and have a look. He knows where to find us, as he comes by personally once or twice a year to make sure we're still satisfied customers.
Thirty minutes or so later, he arrived with a tilt bed truck and another Insight. After inspecting the tire, he put the other car in our driveway as a loaner and loaded Kimie's car onto the truck to take it to the dealership.
No spare tire? No worries. They'll bring you a spare car.
So, if they have the tires in stock we'll have the car back this afternoon. If not, Kimie will drive the loaner to work tomorrow and later into to town to pick up her car at the dealership.
Service with a smile - Japanese style. What a country!
Update: the car will be ready tomorrow. Total cost: ¥13,000 (about US$157). Having such service a phone call away: priceless.
When they say suspended rail service they really do mean suspended...
Cue the mine car chase from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom...
This is north of us on the Kashima Rinkai Tetsudo line - the train I take when I go to lake Hinuma on my own. I'd have to take a bus between two stations now. Too much hassle when carrying a backpack and folding bike. That section will reopen in June. Until then, I'll rely on my crew to drive us up there.
PS - can someone please turn off the plate tectonics for a while?
Regular readers of Pacific Islander know that I don't like the ocean. Oh, playing at the seaside park is great - all that fresh air - but I won't go near the water.
Did you see the dog named Ban in the news? During the March 11 tsunami, she was swept out to sea with her house (I mean her owner's house!) and rescued after three weeks on the water off Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture. Her owner saw the rescue on TV and recognized Ban. Ban looked confused after the rescue, but now that her owner came to get her she's one happy doggy. Happy owner, too.
I wonder what she had to eat or drink in all that time? Anyway, happy she's back and glad to find out that human rescue workers will help doggies adrift at sea.
ここから、いまから (koko kara, ima kara) means simply, "from here, from now on".
Saturday we ventured out to visit lake Hinuma for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake. There were many reasons for not going sooner - gasoline stations were closed, unknown damage and hazards awaited on the roads, wanting to stay out of the way of those involved in repair and recovery efforts. And we still have aftershocks - it would never do to get twenty miles from home and be unable to get back due to the effects of a strong aftershock.
I'll try not to include too many photos of earthquake damage in this post, by now the world knows what it looks like. I will add just a some to share a sense of how things are.
The weather was overcast, but not too cold with the temperature getting up to 60ºF. About six miles from home, we passed the "Rokko" bridge, a section of which fell into lake Kitaura during the earthquake, taking at least one life. (Eyewitnesses said multiple cars fell in, but so far only one has been found). I've always hated that bridge as it is used as a two way crossing but is only one lane wide! To make this possible, there were three turnouts along the span so east bound traffic could pull over while west bound traffic passed. Crossing it always felt like a James Dean style game of "chicken".
A short news clip shows the bridge post-quake. A new, two lane bridge has been under construction close-by for the last several years (stalled for lack of funds for much of the time) and is now about half complete. I think now they will finish it.
As we proceeded north, we saw the typical blue tarps covering the damaged roofs everywhere. A few buildings were badly damaged. One home, burned out. We went through several sections of road where repairs were under way and the road narrowed to one lane with traffic control workers keeping things orderly. There were lots of bumps where cracks had occurred and temporarily patched with macadam.
The road along the south shore of lake Hinuma had been badly hit but was already repaired. The road runs through rice paddies, and the soft earth caved in from liquefaction during the quake. In some areas half the road for long stretches had already been repaved. As we passed Mama's Kitchen we saw that they were open for business. That was a relief. First stop, however, would the harbor.
Turning toward the yacht harbor we saw the Hakuta (owners of the harbor) family's home. Like so many other houses with tile roofs, theirs had lost much of the ridges. Ridge tiles stick up and are filled with clay, so during an earthquake, their mass makes them susceptible to breaking free.
Though not appearing to be damaged, the club house did shift, causing window casements to be out of line. Windows and doors don't work properly. So, Mr. Hakuta brought in a portable building and set up a temporary office in the parking lot.
The showers and bathrooms are functioning, so we'll be able to go sailing as soon as we are ready. I'm ready, but Kimie wants warmer weather. I can wait - it's no fun if the crew is unhappy.
In the boat tie-down area, there were some cracks and the two docks had some damage as well, but things were still functioning. There is a one inch bump in the launching ramp where one slab of concrete sank a bit relative to the other. A fishing boat was out this day and Mr. Hakuta's son was out on a jet ski checking out the damage on the other side of the lake and along the river which fishing boats navigate to get to the sea.
It pays to pull your boat out of the water sometimes.
After our look around, Mr. Hakuta was off on some errand, though I had some questions for him, so we headed back toward Mama's Kitchen.
The building had minor damage - some loose corner tiles, a crack or two in the foundation and one wall. When we walked in, Mama's daughter was in the kitchen placing freshly baked bagels on a cooling rack on the pass-through counter. Mama came in the back door shortly thereafter. It felt like a homecoming. We learned that they did lose half the crockery, but were otherwise OK at the restaurant. Their home, near the ocean, was just above where the tsunami came and in fact, their cars, parked a little lower than the house, had water come up to the axles. Close call. Mama was out doing grocery shopping at the time of the quake, like us, and at first thought something was wrong with her car - also like us.
Kimie had spaghetti in cream sauce with ham. By the way, the front CD in the basket to the left of Kimie, is the one that was being played when we came to Mama's Kitchen after Bluesette's shakedown cruise two years ago. The song, as you may recall, was "Bluesette". (Magic happens.)
I was going to order a basic tomato sauce, but at Mama's suggestion, I had asari clams (called Manila clams in the US) and Buna-shimeiji (brown beech) mushrooms instead. It was a spicy, yet very flavorful, dish. Wonderful.
Mama then surprised us each with cocoa cream cake and fruit for desert.
After lunch, Kimie purchased four bagels and we said our goodbyes. Returning to the yacht harbor, we found the whole Hakuta family in the office, including their daughter in law and two grandchildren. Their granddaughter had just made agemochi (fried mochi rice snacks) and offered some to us. Flavored with shrimp, it was excellent. She was very insistent in offering it to us, and dense old panda that I am, I only realized later it was because she had made it herself, otherwise I would have made more of a fuss over it. The picture of agemochi below is stolen borrowed from Shizuoka Gourmet, a great blog for foodies/Japanophiles.
We inquired about Mr. Y, the owner of the Com-pac Picnic sailboat parked next to Bluesette. We had been concerned since his work was in Sendai. Happily, Mrs Hakuta had called him and learned that he was OK and even his office had not been damaged. I am sure he has much to cope with up there, but I hope he can find time this summer to come down and enjoy his boat.
We took a different road home and near the Hinuma train station there were several more damaged sections of road in various states of repair/disrepair. This was the worst of it...
Hinuma station is in the distant background.
We also saw a railway bridge being repaired. Most of the line going from Kashima to Mito City will reopen in about a week, however, a five mile section nearer to home will be closed for some time longer and a bus will be used to take rail passengers between the stations involved until repairs are complete.
This building in Hokota City really took a beating.
In spite of all the damage we saw, it was a good day. The important things - the people we have come to know and care about - were all OK, and as an old friend used to tell me, "life goes on, despite the odds". With everyone safe, the harbor open, and Mama's still providing gastronomical delights, it seemed as if all was right with the world.
And so, we go forward - ここから、いまから - from here, from now on. In deep gratitude.
UPDATE: We went to the yacht harbor today (Saturday) and learned that Mr. Y is fine and even his office had no damage. More about our day next post.
I have yet to hear from Mr. Y who owns the boat (a Com-Pac Picnic from Florida) tied down next to Bluesette, mentioned in "Bluesette Meets Her Neighbor". We hope for the best. He was working in Sendai last I heard...
The yacht harbor sustained damage to the club house, concrete tie-down area and docks, but not the boats. When roads and/or rail are restored, we shall sail again. We'll try to make our way up there this weekend to check things out further.
If you are of a certain age in the USA you'll remember this tune: