100. Safety and Peace

Hello everyone,

Charlie’s father again. Nine months have passed since the disaster that struck Japan, and we are still finding it difficult to accept our son’s fate, and understand the terrible events that unfolded. Ayako and Risa have finally arrived here in New Zealand, and have been settling in well. Risa has recently started school, and she seems to be doing well despite everything she has been through. Ayako is as strong and resolute as we imagined.

In addition to welcoming the two of them into our family, Charlie’s final contribution to the world is our granddaughter, Anna (安和), which means ‘safety and peace’ in Japanese. We are so happy and grateful that a part of Charlie is going to live on and hopefully see a brighter future than his father.

She tells us the name includes the character 和, which was selected as the character of the year in Japan. It can be read as ‘wa’, and means harmony or peace, but also stands for Japan. It seems like a very fitting choice of character for her. Interestingly, I was doing some research and the first name for Japan was Wakoku; given to them by the Chinese. However, unbeknownst to the Japanese at the time, the characters used to write this were 倭国, literally meaning the land of the dwarves or the land of the bent over/ submissive people, but with the implication of the land of barbarians. Once this was realised, the Japanese changed the characters in the 8th century for Wakoku to 和国 instead, which suggests the land of harmony and peace. As the character of the year, I do think that it is fitting and I hope that Japan will find peace and harmony again after the turmoil that it has been through.

Ayako has been translating the Japanese news for us, which has been interesting. There is a lot of international support for the rebuild, and it does seem to be progressing surprisingly quickly. There is little mention of specific facts, and instead the promotion of the ‘We are Japan’ programme has taken centre stage. This initiative is focused on the future and the creation of positive feelings about the resilience and strength of the Japanese people. It does have quite a strong nationalistic ring to it, but given the circumstances, I think it’s understandable.

I have decided that this is a good time to finish my contributions to my son’s blog and focus on the future. On behalf of my son and my family, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the interest you have shown in my son and for the support given to him and our family. We hope that nothing like this every happens again, and our prayers go out to the people of Japan. We would like to visit Japan someday to see the country our son loved so much, but may wait until our Granddaughter is able to benefit from the experience as well.

Take care and never take life for granted. We have had a firsthand lesson in how precious and unpredictable life can be, and have renewed our commitment to appreciating each and every day as it comes.

Kindest regards,

Gordon McKenzie and family

 

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99. Emails from Japan

We had a couple of emails from regular readers of Charlie’s blog, which was really kind. I’m sure it will be okay with them to share them here. This one is from a person in the Nagano ski resort camp:

To Gordon and co,

I was living up in Nagano and I just want to say thank you to your son for his work documenting the event on the ground. We were lucky in that we were isolated and safe up in the ski resort, but with the lack of access to information, your son’s blog was our portal into what was happening in the rest of Japan. We are truly sorry for your loss and sincerely wish that we had been able to help him in some way.

Our group have since dispersed, but and everyone has been able to make it back home or to the safety of various camps. Naturally, we are in a very devastated situation, and we have all lost people. We hope you can find solace in these tough times in the fact that hundreds of people relied on him for information, and for a sense of regular contact with someone. We spent a lot of time talking about his blogposts as they unfolded.

Take care and God bless.

Cheers,

Yoshitaka

We also had one from someone who was living in the castle. Thank you very much for getting in contact with us, and we are really glad to hear that things seem to be heading in a positive direction now.

Dear Mr. McKenzie and family,

My name is Toni and I was staying at the castle your son was promised sanctuary at. I am so terribly sorry for what happened to him and feel that we were wrong to offer hospitality when we shouldn’t have been taking people in. In the end I was one of the people who objected to allowing your son’s group into the castle. If we had not promised him a place to stay, he might not have come up to Mie, and instead used a different port to get to Tomogashima. There are so many ‘what ifs…?’ floating around my head at the moment. In the end, all I can say is that I’m sorry.

I am not proud of a lot of the things that went on at the castle in the name of survival, and don’t think I will ever be able to forgive myself for my part the death of Charlie and others. I am so, so glad that Risa was able to make it to safety alive. Children are so innocent and so crucial for the future, yet they are so delicate and vulnerable. Food was so low at the time, so it’s impossible to know what would have happened had we allowed your son’s group into our midst. I just wish we hadn’t offered that initial welcome, and just dealt with our own problems without imposing on others.

Please accept my condolences, and my humble wish to atone for the mistakes that were made. I have since moved to Tokyo and am doing what I can to help the massive number of children who have been orphaned by this horrific episode.

Love to you and your family,

-Toni

98. Combat Action Report – 2

… Continuation from previous post.

Upon inspection of one of the water drains on the roof near his firing position, we discovered the aged and weathered remains of cigarette butts originating from Seven Stars, a Japanese tobacco brand known to have been the personal preference of SSgt. Barnes. Finally, and perhaps most mysteriously, we discovered a seemingly undamaged smartphone hidden underneath an air conditioning unit. Both myself and Pvt. Uehara were able to confirm that it was the same make and model as SSgt. Barnes’ personal phone, however with the battery long dead and no way to activate it, we were unable to confirm its original owner. Capt. Robinson insisted on collecting it. The phone appears to be secured by a biometric fingerprint scanner. Capt. Robinson is convinced that if it is SSgt. Barnes’ phone, their records of his fingerprints on file should allow him to activate the phone once its battery has been recharged and confirm not only the ownership of the phone but also potentially give us any sort of insight as to the fate of our fallen comrade. With no body to confirm his passing, we are officially listing SSgt. Alexander J. Barnes as “Missing in Action.”

As a personal note, I am affixing with permission from my commanding officer an official recommendation for the induction of both SSgt. Alexander Barnes of the United States of America, as well as his companion Charles McKenzie of New Zealand, into the Order of the Rising Sun for their service to the government and people of Japan, their loyalty to the cause in which they served, and their fearlessness in the face of dire circumstance. Captain John Robinson of the US Army has also attached a personal letter of recommendation to grant SSgt. Barnes the honor of a Silver Star, as well as a posthumous battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant with all accompanied rights and privileges therein.

That’s the end of the letter. We’re really not quite sure what to think about it. Charles did an amazing job of looking after Ayako and Risa, but I had not thought of that as being something the military would take the time of effort to acknowledge so formally. No disrespect intended, but of all the people in the world, my son was probably the last person I thought would be recognised with a medal. I have to say that I am really proud of what he did and the compassion that he showed. He was a good lad, and there is not a minute of the day that goes by in which I do not think of him.

For Alex’s part, I am sure his family is so proud of him, and we desperately want his family to know what he did for his friends and the SDF group that he was with. It is a shame that his body was not able to recovered, as that may provide some closure. As it is, there is not even any definitive evidence or eyewitness testimony that he isn’t still alive. Of course we do hold out hope that he somehow managed to escape, but we are aware that that is only a slim possibility.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, and please pass it onto anyone that knows Alex. It is important that his bravery and heroism is known.

Kind regards,

Gordon McKenzie

97. Combat Action Report – 1

Hello again,

I had never thought I would become a blogger, as my son described himself, but it is quite an interesting medium of communication. We have had a rather startling update from Japan. Lieutenant Shinoda, the man who was with my son from their time at the SDF base until the end was kind enough to write an English version of his report concerning Charles and his friend Alex. He was able to get in contact with Ayako, who forwarded the letter to us. I will copy it here, as I am sure there are people who would like to know about the reports contents. We have still not been able to get in touch with Alex’s family, but if anyone can forward this report to them, I am sure they would appreciate it.

Combat Action Report

8-June-2017

Lt. Shinoda, Keisuke

At 0730 this morning, a detail of men including myself and four others boarded an American UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from our temporary base on the island of Tomogashima. We traveled to Mie prefecture, where we returned to the site of the attack that claimed the lives of Pvt. Yamada and SSgt. Barnes. Our group consisted of myself, Pvt. Uehara, Pvt. Onishi, TSgt. O’Connor from the US Air Force, and Captain Robinson from the US Army. Captain Robinson insisted on making our request to return a reality, as he claimed to have been personally acquainted with SSgt. Barnes.

We landed in an open field near the edge of town approximately three kilometers from our previous encampment. We spent the next two hours making careful maneuvers through the urban area. We encountered no hostile targets. We did make contact with numerous survivors and provided them with limited assistance. Their names, birth dates, and MyNumber information has been attached as an addendum to this report for census reporting.

We approached the building from the north, taking note that our vehicles remained out front. They’ve been marked for future recovery. Inside the lobby and reception area we noted twelve corpses – one of which belonging to Pvt. Yamada. His remains were successfully recovered and returned to the helicopter for extraction. In the stairwell, we discovered two corpses that both myself and Pvt. Uehara confirmed as his two kills from our previous operation. We also noted three other corpses that were unaccounted for, all dispatched with entry wounds consistent with bullet damage. Neither belonged to SSgt. Barnes.

On the roof, we found five corpses leading from the door to the retaining wall. None belonged to SSgt. Barnes. They’d been felled in a semi-circle pattern from gunshot wounds. Around the retaining wall, we noted the presence of bullet casings, confirmed by Capt. Robinson to be standardized NATO 5.56 ammunition used by the M-16 assault rifle. We followed the trail of casings as it led us around the roof like breadcrumbs. The trail stopped on the western face of the building, overlooking our previous escape route. In total, we recovered forty-two casings from the roof and eight from the ground next to the building underneath his firing positions.

To be continued…

96. Confidence slowly returns to Japanese markets

REUTERS – After months of confusion and terror, Japan is clawing it’s way back towards economic recovery. It remains to be seen if Japan will be able to reverse it’s fortunes, but long term prospects look good with population demographics in a far more manageable position than this time last year, and a renewed sense of national pride. Japan faced a similar situation after it’s near destruction after World War Two, after which it was swiftly rebuilt with the support of the US and other countries.

Scientists are yet to form a consensus on any of the information regarding the elevated levels of aggression, deaths and cannibalistic tendencies that Japan suffered in the wake of the infection. Despite government sources suggesting a form of Mad Cow Disease as the root of the infection, the international community has not seen or been able to verify any of the research.

Polls suggest Japanese are wary of this message and many are not taking the assessment at face value, in favour of alternatives theories that are making the rounds. The most widely believed ideas include North Korean attack, government conspiracy, and Buddhist suicide cult. Government satisfaction is low, but due to Japan’s lack of a major opposition party, the LDP looks poised to retain their position, as they have done almost uninterrupted since 1945.

It is unknown whether Prime Minister Abe will be retaining his position in the wake of the disaster or if the popular newcomer, Tsuyoshi will take over the reins. Although Tsuyoshi lacks any form of political experience and know-how, he does bring an immense popularity and a reputation for both strength and passion; too qualities that are thought to be lacking amongst Japan’s traditional elites and often dynastic leaders.

Fax machines are out, ‘elehan‘ electronic hanko stamps are in 

 REUTERS – With the swift drop in Japan’s median age, many companies are reportedly using the disaster as an opportunity to modernise their businesses. Although private companies are spearheading these changes, many government agencies are now accepting scanned documents, in addition to the traditional use of fax.

Despite certain sectors being at the cutting edge of many technological advances, government bureaucracy has long been dogged down by an unwillingness to use online applications and email, in favour of personally stamped handwritten documents. However, this may be coming to an end as a new form of electronic stamp is trialled.

Similar to electronic signatures, the ‘Elehan‘ system will allow people to fill out forms and sign them online. These changes are expected to cut staffing costs and will coincide with a considerable downsizing of staff numbers in public offices. The changes also include the move to get all birth, deaths and certificate records onto computer networks. Under the current system, a considerable number of records are held on paper. Despite the lower cost, it is expected to improve efficiency dramatically once implemented, as workers will no longer be required to take time off work during the week to do any government paper work they need done.

95. Korean President expresses concern for Japan amid domestic protests

SEOUL – A joint investigation from the governments of both Japan and the Republic of Korea has been launched this week in regards to potential espionage from the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, known colloquially as North Korea, the semi-official Yonhap news agency reported early this morning. In a rare showing of solidarity between the two nations, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul this week after a months-long self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. The two leaders discussed Japan’s now infamous “Travel Ban” and the economic and social effects being felt throughout Asia and vowed to work together to assist each other in the recovery process. The ban cost Japan “immensely” according to the Prime Minister, though no figures have been reported from the Japanese government. The Korean President also expressed his “sincere concerns” for the economic impact.

The ban was put in place in response to an outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in the island nation earlier this spring, with Japanese government officials citing tainted beef from overseas as the cause of the outbreak. However, no specific origins have been named – leading to activist groups in Tokyo protesting the report while demanding to know which nation was responsible. Prime Minister Abe and President Moon’s meeting this week raised speculation that the beef might have been intentionally poisoned or contaminated by operatives from North Korea. Suspicions have been raised since the apparent poisoning of Kim Jong-nam, the elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at an airport in Malaysia in February using VX gas – an internationally banned nerve agent.

The investigation, to be held simultaneously in both Japan and the Korean peninsula, marks the first cooperation between the new South Korean President and the long-serving Prime Minister of Japan. Prime Minister Abe commended President Moon in a speech given in Seoul at the Blue House, praising his dedication to the safety of the Korean people and in building a stronger friendship between their respective nations – a delicate subject in both nations due to their long history of competition and strife. According to the Prime Minister, the two men are ready to “face the future together in peace, harmony, and cooperation” which is “the only way forward for a healthy world.” American President Donald Trump reportedly called the two leaders after their meeting to congratulate them on their successful meeting and offer assistance, but no statement has yet been issued by the White House. The Chinese government declined to comment.

Not all was peaceful during Abe’s visit, however. Many South Koreans protested the visit, claiming numerous grievances ranging from being unable to contact friends and loved ones in Japan during the ban and accusing the Japanese government of censorship to demanding compensation for lost income and business. A number of members of Korea’s growing right-wing nationalist parties have outright accused Japan of conducting economic warfare, citing the ban as a “weapon” designed to “destroy Korean trade.” The government of North Korea also engaged in saber rattling during the meeting, declaring that any accusations against the government or people of North Korea were “disgusting falsehoods.” The statement denied any wrongdoing and vowed to bring “swift justice” to the “imperialist false leaders of failing states.” The statement did not contain specific details of what retaliation might entail.

94. Two reports on population

Local festivals make comeback as urban to rural shift begins

Osaka – A recent study show that a massive shift has occurred in terms of residence with a significant percentage of the population opting to live in rural prefectures. At the beginning of 2017 Japan’s 94.5% of Japan’s population were crammed into the urban centers. Although this number was predicted to rise to 98% by 2040, in the aftermath of the infection, the urban population has instead dropped to the 1965 level of 68%.

With this shift, local festivals have begun to make a comeback, with the remaining older generation introducing a whole new generation of younger people to the old songs and traditions of Japan.

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When asked about the festival, 26-year-old Daisuke Sugimoto, who recently moved from Osaka City to Hidaka said that he had some memory of similar festivals from when he was a child, but had been out of touch for a long time. After experiencing the hardship of the previous months, the songs, dancing and atmosphere of the festival made him feel both nostalgic and proud. “I used to work in a bank. When the infection began I realized just how out of touch I was with nature and dependent I was on the city. I’m now making rice, have a vegetable garden and am still able to work online instead of going into the office. At the same time, I am re-connecting with what it means to be Japanese.” When asked about Japan’s future, he said that he believed that the Japanese are unique in their ability to overcome challenges and will come out of this stronger than ever. Many young people in attendance at the festival told similar stories and expressed the same sentiments of sadness for their losses mixed with a renewed feeling of pride in Japanese culture and resilience.

Japan’s future looking better than ever

Tokyo – Despite the stream of bad news coming out of Japan, a silver lining has been identified in the recent census. Preliminary research suggests that Japan’s ageing population may have been completely reversed, and despite the massive drop in the population, the current numbers may prove to be more sustainable in the long run. Previously, Japan’s median age of 46.9 was projected to rise to 50 by 2025. Although many people are presently without permanent living arrangement and exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, the estimated median age has now dropped to the 1965 level of 24 years. The is primarily due to the fact that people over the age of 55 seemed to have been more susceptible to the infection.

Only last year Japan’s ageing population posed a significant threat to Japan’s economic and social future, as the dwindling number of young people would have struggled to support the growing number of retirees. Most developed countries face a similar problem, as richer countries tend to have lower birth rates, but the numbers are offset by immigration. In Japan’s case, government resistance to increased immigration has been consistently strong, even in the face of alarming statistics.

Despite a drop in Japan’s overall workforce, the overall population appears to have fallen from 127 million to the 1955 level of approximately 88 million, which is higher than previous estimates suggested. Although workforce productivity has dropped, Japan is on track for it’s third societal overhaul in the past 150 years after the modernization that occurred during the Meiji restoration and the post WW2 recovery.