The Great Northern Osaka Earthquake 6/18

Update: Last night (Saturday June 23) at 11:08 PM we experienced a 4.0 magnitude aftershock. I had just finished putting the mattresses from our bedroom back into the kids’ rooms. Alas, Nadia insisted on the kids sleeping in our room another night. 

Our family experienced our first serious earthquake on Monday since we moved to Japan almost four years ago. It was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had. Awesome meaning the formal definition of the word, awe-inspiring, with awe being “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”. Without warning, having the room shake violently for 10 seconds is awesome. I’ve been through many minor shakes and rattles, but never one where it made the room look blurry due to the intense shaking. I never thought the ceiling would collapse on me or I was in danger of dying. My mind was in awe and all of us in the school community were shaken, both physically for the 10 seconds of the earthquake, but more importantly, emotionally and psychologically.

I listened to a recent Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast about memory and he refers to the concept of a “flashbulb memory” This is a person remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news of a big or historical event, like the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. This earthquake for the Kralovec family will be a flashbulb memory. In the episode linked above, Gladwell argues that our flashbulb memories fade and change over time and details become mixed with other events and times. I asked our family members to write down their memories for posterity. To my descendants and others who may be reading this in the future, you should do this for the big events that take place in your life.

Art displays knocked down at school.

The earthquake hit at 7:58 AM on Monday, June 18. The epicenter was only 10 kilometers from our school in the neighboring suburb of Takatski. It measured a 6.1 on the moment magnitude scale and 6-minus on the Japanese intensity scale and we felt the full strength of the quake in our suburb of Minoh.  I was in our daily administrative morning meeting when suddenly the room started moving. The first big jolt was an up-and-down motion, not the side-to-side that I’ve experienced before. We quickly went under the table. One of the other administrators let out an audible cry. Because we were so close to the epicenter, the “advanced” warning call of “jishin!” (earthquake in Japanese) sounded on our phones while we were under the table.

Once it stopped, we left the conference room to assess the damage. There were books and papers all over the floor in the business office. After seeing that everyone was OK, I went on the PA system and asked for everyone to evacuate the building and go to the soccer field as we practice in our crisis response drills. This was different from our protocol because we usually ask people to stay put while we assess the damage and check for fire. However, with so few people in the building and so many people soon to be arriving, I didn’t want a stream of people coming into the school and felt that the soccer field was the safest place to be.

Nadia had the kids sleep with us in fear of aftershocks

It was an odd time for the school because students and parents are just arriving for our 8:30 AM start. For those students who live close to the school, they may have been at home and many were in transit. 75% of our school lives in one of the three neighbouring suburbs, although 25% have longer commutes and use public transport.

As the head of school, I first thought of my responsibilities to our students, faculty and staff. However, I am a father and husband and I was worried about them. When I got onto the field, I saw Oliver’s blonde head and soon thereafter arrived a hysterical Nadia clutching Ocean, so I was relieved they OK.  My eldest son Owen was in Malaysia at the World Scholar’s Cup. He called later in the morning to make sure we were safe.

We eventually got everyone home safely, including loading up a school bus and driving down to Kobe with the students that lived over there. All of the trains and buses were stopped. Luckily, the electricity and internet was not cut and you could text and call people with your mobile phone. Without that, I am not sure what we would have done! We cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday and the faculty and staff spent two days cleaning and tidying the school. The quake was powerful enough to knock paintings off the wall, dislodge books and equipment from shelves, etc. Not only at school, but at homes as well.

A sheet of stucco fell on our wall at our home

At our home, one painting cracked, one light fixture came down and some drywall/wall paper cracked. On our patio, we noticed some of the stucco foundation of the house crumbled and a big sheet of concrete sheeting fell off our wall around our property. It also split the brick bench on the patio.

Nadia was in the bathroom of our house with Ocean brushing their hair in anticipation of leaving for school. Oliver was on his bicycle waiting at a stoplight a few blocks from our house. I’ll record them talking about the earthquake and upload it as a podcast for posterity.

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in our community. The quake killed five people and injured 420 people. Sadly, a nine-year-old schoolgirl was crushed to death by a 2-meter wall collapsing near her school. There were many aftershocks, ranging from 4.0 to 2.1 the two days following the initial earthquake. As I am revising this on Saturday June 23, there has not be any recently.

The earthquake put people on edge, waiting for a similarly sized tremor. Some families left the city and checked into hotels in case of another big quake. I think finally, people are settling down and getting back into their routines.

Japan probably knows more about earthquakes than any nation. I read several good articles quoting geologists and university professors. I am learning a lot about earthquakes!

active fault zones around the epicenter

Scientists believe the earthquake was caused by three possible faults (see diagram). The Uemachi fault runs directly through downtown Osaka is the most likely of the three to have an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or greater in the next 30 years, with geologists giving it a 2-3% chance. My town of Minoh is 10 kilometers directly west of the epicenter, probably on the Arima-Takatsuki fault line. This earthquake was the biggest ever to strike Osaka.

The Great Awaji Earthquake of 1995 was the last big earthquake to hit here in the Kansai region of Japan. That one struck at 5:46 AM on January 17, 1995 and had a magnitude of 6.9. Over 6,000 people died and there was a lot of damage in Kobe.  

Japan also has the most extensive network of earthquake detection equipment in the world with 180 seismographs and 627 seismic intensity meters. They even have their own measurement scale for earthquakes, which is older than the Richter scale. It measures earthquakes in units of shindo (震度, seismic intensity, “degree of shaking”) In the west, the Richter Scale (1930) and its replacement (1970s) the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS) measure the amount of energy released.  The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) scale goes from 0-7. Strong earthquakes, the ones where people are frightened and notice a lot of shaking start at 3.5. We experienced a 6.1 (MMS) and 6 minus (JMA) earthquake this week.

The Nankai Trough off the coast of Japan – the west section across from the Nagoya airport has not had an earthquake in over 160 years. The other two sections, near Wakayama and Shikoku have had quakes more recently.

Disconcertingly, the JMA predicts there is a 70-80% chance that a powerful quake with a magnitude of 8 or 9 will occur in Japan within the next 30 years. Mega-quakes have repeatedly occurred in the Nankai Trough (see diagram) off Japan’s Pacific coast at intervals of 100-200 years.  It says the quake will inflict serious damage mainly on the Shikoku (smallest of the four main islands of Japan, just south of Osaka), Kinki (our region) and Tokai (north of us, basically the city of Nagoya and adjacent prefectures).

I read an article by Robert Geller, professor emeritus at Tokyo University that says seismologists cannot accurately predict earthquakes and the public should disregard the JMA predictions, and I kind of feel he is right. Science does not yet have the understanding and insight of plate tectonics to be able to accurately predict earthquakes. I am surprised that the Osaka Earthquake already has a wikipedia page.

Best reference:


Owen Competes at World Scholar’s Cup Global Round – Kuala Lumpur

Owen with his teammates at World Scholar’s Cup 

This week Owen is participating in the World Scholar’s Cup (WSC) Global Round – Kuala Lumpur. WSC is an academic competition featuring debate, writing, knowledge bowl and other fun stuff. It is such a clever program with a curriculum that is much more interesting and engaging than students get in their regular school.

Owen’s team competed in the debates yesterday. The motions they were debating were as follows:

  • It should be allowed to access the memories of the dead.
  • Negotiations between the US and North Korea have been a success.
  • Secrets can make relationships stronger.


The topics they study are fascinating. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Science – The Science of Memory
  2. History – The History of Diplomacy
  3. Social Studies – Black Markets
  4. Literature – Voices of the Inseparable

Under the Literature category, there is an extensive reading list that includes poems, novels, films and include guided questions and case studies. I would love to dive in on the works!

The founders include much theatre and comedy that really resonates with teenagers.

Saigon: Scooters & Coffee

Scooters Rule the Streets of Saigon

I spent a few days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam this past week for work and wanted to give my impressions of life there. After seeing so many movies and reading so much about the Vietnam War, I was interested in seeing what it was like there.

In some ways, it is another big Southeast Asian city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. In living in developed and sedate Osaka, I am struck by the noise and traffic, masses of electrical wires and general disarray of city life. When I lived in Europe I was getting used to all of the cities having their historic centers with plazas and Hapsburg era buildings. Southeast Asia is like that because of the tropical heat and the huge number of people on the streets.

Landmines in the War Remnants Museum

Saigon had two characteristics right away that jump out.

When you disturb an ant nest, thousands of ants scurry in every direction and create a web of movement. The streets of Saigon are similar, but with motorized scooters (mopeds) instead of ants. Literally, at major intersections, you will see over a hundred scooters shooting through. There is obviously a helmet law and the different styles and colors made my taxi ride in from the airport colorful. There are mostly single men and women, but I noticed several families, including one guy with his wife on the back and one child on the gas tank in front of him and another squeezed between him and the wife. They weave around cars and trucks and even go on sidewalks, so when crossing streets or walking in the city, I needed to be alert and agile. There is no staring at an iPhone and walking in Saigon!

The second characteristic that stands out is the numerous coffee shops. There were several upscale chains, Starbucks and Highland Coffee the two most prominent, but there were also coffee houses for the poor, with plastic chairs set out on the sidewalk and independent shops set in old colonial buildings. I tried the famous “Vietnamese Coffee” as described by Nicola Graydon from the Guardian.

I ordered the classic Vietnamese coffee known as ca phe sua da – literally “coffee, milk, ice”. It comprises strong coffee, dripped from a small metal filter into a cup containing a quarter as much sweetened condensed milk, then stirred and poured over ice in a glass.

At first I couldn’t bear its cloying sweetness, but three days in I’d grown addicted to the sweet buzz that follows a refreshing coolness on the tongue. It suits the humidity of the place in a way that an ordinary latte wouldn’t.

I love coffee and so I like the French introducing it to Vietnam in the 19th century. You can see remnants of the 60+ years the French colonized Indochina in the architecture of the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office and in the street names.

Government Public Service Announcements 

Because the conference hotel was located downtown, I had time to visit the War Remnants Museum and see the famous front gate of the Independence Palace. For Americans, the country is known because of the 20 years of the US fighting the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Over 50,000 US troops were killed and over a trillion dollars spent in trying to stop the spread of communism. The museum is well worth visiting, telling the story in photographs of the tragedy of war. I was troubled by the images of fleeing families, traumatized children, young men killed before they could experience the full arc of life. As always, war is such a waste of life for everyone involved. I was particularly interested in the section documenting the use of Agent Orange, an herbicide used by the US military. The government and NGOs are still trying to clean up areas that were sprayed 50 years ago. The room dedicated to the reporters that were killed in action was also poignant.  Definitely worth a visit. I will continue watching The Vietnam War: A Film By Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. 


Scene of the famous photo of the North Vietnamese Tank crashing through the gate symbolizing the end of the Vietnam War

The city is vibrant and I felt the energy of the place. Perhaps because of so many young people and me staying downtown. The walking street, a huge long plaza running perpendicular from the Saigon River, was full of families. At the end was a statue of the father of Socialist Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Thankfully they have a good open public space because trying to cross the street is difficult because of traffic. It took me 10 minutes to cross the main avenue that runs along the Saigon River. It reminded me of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya, with many barges, small boats and mats of floating vegetation.

Panoramic View of the Saigon River

Owen’s First Prom

Owen putting on the corsage

Last Saturday our school held the annual prom. The event is open to all high school students and Owen being in grade 9, attended his first prom. We invited some of his friends and their dates to our neighbor so the parents could take photos. As you can see, it was quite exciting. The milestones just keep coming and I can’t believe our oldest son is in high school.


The whole process was fun, from shopping for a suit and tie, to talking to Owen about social etiquette at a dance, to watching him dance to his first slow song. I always chaperone the prom and Nadia and I tried not to embarrass Owen too much. The prom took place at the KKR Hotel near the Osaka Castle downtown. It was nice to see the students socializing, dancing and dressing up. I felt that the majority really liked the experience.

Some of Owen’s classmates

Tokyo Broadcast System (TBS) was filming as a follow up to a program they were doing at our school a couple of weeks ago. This gave it more of a sense of occasion. The food was really good and I actually recognized a few of the songs. Thanks to having two teenagers in my house, I am up to date with pop music.



Seongnam, Korea


The Hotel Gallery in Seongnam


I spent a couple of days in Seongnam, the first planned city of South Korea. Two of the international schools in our athletic conference are located there. This was my second trip to Korea and I gained a few more impressions of the neighbor of Japan.

Korea is very similar to Japan in many ways. It is modern, clean and a fully developed nation. The Koreans seem to have a bit more of an edge, both in their demeanor and the architecture and infrastructure, compared to the more sedate Japanese culture. The citizens of both countries come from the same gene pool and both were heavily influenced by China throughout their history. Both countries have extremely homogeneous populations.


Trails along the Bundangcheon River 


There seemed to be more and larger apartment complexes than in Japan cities. The restaurants and hotel were more spacious than in Japan.

My new favorite Korean dish is Bibimbapa bowl of rice mixed with veggies and some type of protein. Delicious, especially when served in a hot stone bowl and lots of red chili paste and kimchi. 


Ginpo Airport has a temple decor


Seongnam started to relieve the congestion of Seoul, but the city has overtaken it. It is a really nice area and similar to our suburb of Osaka. There are lots of parks and they have kilometers of bike trails along the rivers. Our hotel was near a large mall and plenty of really good restaurants. I was working a lot and didn’t have time to really enjoy much of the city.



Latest Reading: The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative


I loved Florence Williams’s book about how wilderness and nature are good for human physical and mental health. She travels the world talking to researchers who are trying to pinpoint, why time spent in a forest, desert, beach or even a park, lowers our blood pressure, helps us think, lifts our mood, alleviates symptoms of mental illness, etc.

The chapters are varied. I particularly like the idea of “forest bathing” shinrin yoku that is popular in Japan and Korea. It hearkens back to a time before penicillin and the cure for tuberculosis was going out to a spa or retreat and taking in the healthy air. Although now, scientists are looking for what triggers these outcomes. One researcher showed how spraying cypress tree oil on someone, immediately lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. What other oils do trees and plants give off that are beneficial to us?

Different cultures view the healthful impact of nature in different ways. The Finns, who live in the most heavily forested country in Europe (74%)  really get into the woods, with the idea of metsan peitto, which means a deep surrender to the forest. I also like jokamiexhenoikeus which means that anyone can go on anyone else’s forested land to pick mushrooms, berries or to camp. Nature is that important to the collective good, that ownership of land cannot deny people having access to it. She came to the same conclusion I did about Singapore which has a lot of nature, but it is mostly artificially set there and controlled. With more people living in cities today on earth than ever before and the allure of games and screens, getting unplugged and out into nature is more important than ever.

Williams describes how time spent in nature can help everyone from former soldiers with PTSD to students with ADD/ADHD, etc. There is a chapter about walking in nature and how it helps creativity and thinking.

She ends the book with the idea of a nature pyramid, similar to the food pyramid. It is the recommended allowances of nature that humans need for optimal health.

daily – nearby nature – birds/trees/fountains in our neighborhoods – pets/houseplants, architecture that allows for natural light, fresh air, patches of blue sky

weekly – outings to parks and waterways where sounds of city recede; 1 hour per week, the larger and wilder the park the better

monthly – forests, state parks, etc.

yearly – multiple days in a wilderness; backcountry hiking and camping; kayaking, etc.

PYP Osaka Olympics – Golden Week

We had a couple of days of school last week during the “Golden Week” here in Japan. Golden Week is a series of holidays strung together to give everyone some extended time off, hence, the week is Golden because you do not have to work. Outside of New Year, this is one of the few times that the entire country is on holiday, so we usually stick close to home to avoid the crowds.

Ocean is shown above running the 50-meter run on Wednesday as part of the PE department’s Osaka Olympics. Our family loves track and field so it was fun to watch Ocean compete. She is not the fastest runner, but she has good endurance. Nadia is prepping her for a 5-kilometer run at the end of the month as part of her Girls on the Move club.


Canal Views in Ibaraki

I have been cycling a lot this week, getting out daily. The cool, sunny weather has been perfect to be outside. I took the photo above on my way back to my house. I usually go for loops of 10-20 kilometers, depending on how much time I have. This is a typical “river” in suburban Osaka. The sides and bottom have cement or stones to prevent erosion, good to prevent flooding, bad for wildlife. There is usually a paved path next to them which makes them ideal for running or biking.


A hot and tired Oliver

Besides Ocean running, we also have Oliver running with us. He beat Nadia and I in a 7 kilometer run yesterday. He complained about going, but once on the route, he ran strongly the entire time. Ollie is getting taller and slimming down as he ends grade 6.