Memories of a Favorite Toy …..

My favorite toy was a beloved 1972 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser.  Purchased in 1977, it was the last vehicle I sold before I departed for Japan in October 2019.  It was a tearful ending of a 42-year love affair.

The original Myer FJ40 Land Cruiser – Virginia, 1978

I spent countless hours and dollars restoring, upgrading, maintaining and operating my venerable FJ40, one of 35 vehicles I have owned in my lifetime.[1]

The Myer FJ40 Restoration 2 – Maine, 2003
The Myer FJ40 Final Restoration (mostly significant mechanical/electrical upgrades including 5 speed transmission, off-road lighting & anti-theft security system) – Maine, 2005

Toyota’s legendary Land Cruiser has a history that stretches back to the ’50s.  Launched in 1951, the Land Cruiser is Toyota’s longest-selling vehicle.  Over time, the once rugged short wheel-based 4X4 with awesome off-road capabilities became a powerful luxury SUV.  Sadly, the latest model revamped in 2021 for the first time in 14 years may also be its last.

1975 Toyota advertisement

With waiting times already stretching out to two years, Toyota just announced that customers in Japan face a four-year wait for the delivery of a new Land Cruiser.  It is unclear when and if the vehicle will be available elsewhere in the world.

I found it interesting that the Land Cruiser’s popularity in Japan has only recently increased as outdoor camping boomed here amid the pandemic.  According to news reports, Tokyo area car dealerships are asking buyers to sign pledges saying they aren’t purchasing the new model for resale purposes reflecting after-market prices of more than ¥15 million ($132,000) for the new Land Cruiser model compared with the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of around ¥5 million to ¥8 million, including tax.

The FJ 40 is the most popular variant of all Land Cruisers.  Introduced in 1960, the FJ40 has achieved classic car status with a significant world-wide following of enthusiasts and collectors.  In South America and Africa, the classic FJ is not really a classic—they are still indispensable for daily personal and commercial use.

I have seen only a few FJ40s in Tokyo but suspect there are more scattered throughout the country and I expect interest in the restoration of the classic 40 Series models will grow in Japan as is has in the United States. I had explored shipping my FJ40 to Japan, but found the import entry restrictions prohibitive.  Had it been possible, just imagine the enjoyment (and potential resale value)!

I no longer have a driver’s license but remain an FJ40 enthusiast and still carry a torch for the classic FJ.  The detailed 1/12 scale RC model I built of this most fondly remembered Toy is a remaining treasure.

Toyota receives numerous requests for the return of the FJ40 series or a later upscaled model called the FJ Cruiser. There have been many hopeful rumors circulating and fading for years. Is it just wishful thinking? Or will Toyota one day bring back the iconic FJ40 Land Cruiser?

[1] Be sure to see a series of upcoming posts on my first car, the complete FJ40 restoration story, and information on the many other vehicles I have owned in my lifetime.

Tokyo Japan Covid Update

Wednesday Tokyo reported 7,377 cases of coronavirus as Japan grapples with another wave of the pandemic. According to the health ministry, the number of cases nationwide was 454 on Jan. 1, but has reached a record high of more than 46,000.

Japan has so far weathered the coronavirus pandemic relatively well, with infection numbers and deaths just a fraction of many Western countries. But it is now struggling with a surge in the number of people infected with the highly contagious and rapidly spreading omicron variant of the virus.

The timing of the current surge in cases is clearly related to public behavior during the New Year holiday period.  Evidence suggests that the central government’s slow and inefficient rollout of a vaccination plan and the inconsistent start-stop decisions tightening and loosening guidelines on activity have greatly undermined business and general public confidence and compliance.

To curb the rapidly spreading omicron variant, the central government has once again decided to implement quasi-emergency measures designed to restrict social and business activities across 16 prefectures through February 13th.  It also temporarily suspended its so-called vaccination-testing package that was designed to maintain economic and social activities.  The decision comes less than four months after Japan attempted to resuscitate economic activity by fully lifting emergency measures.

Under largely voluntary quasi-emergency measures, residents are asked to refrain from non-essential activities and avoid traveling across prefectural borders.  Prefectural governments can impose targeted measures including shortened business hours for eateries and other establishments, restrictions on the sale of alcohol in restaurants and bars, and/or limits on the number of customers in enclosed spaces.

Tokyo may ask restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.  Establishments that have been certified for having approved anti-infection measures will be able to serve alcohol until 8 p.m. Uncertified restaurants and bars will be asked not to serve alcohol and close at 8 p.m.

However, there is unusual skepticism about the government’s decision being voice by business leaders, health care professionals and the general public.  Skeptics question the need for and effectiveness of the policy citing Japan’s high vaccination rate, the less-deadly nature of the omicron variant and the predicted damage to the economy.  With recent public opinion polls demonstrating that much of the population seems to believe that the omicron variant is not a serious disease, it is unclear how many people and business establishments will be willing to cooperate.

While current data suggests that people infected with omicron are less likely to get severely ill and most cases in Japan are among the young, government officials and health care professionals are concerned that if the number of infections continues to surge, the wave of infection could eventually spread among elderly people who are more likely to develop severe symptoms and quickly overwhelm the nation’s health care system.

Health care professionals have urged the government to speed up the rollout of booster vaccinations, especially for Japan’s considerable aging population. In response, the government has shortened the interval for third doses — not only for people age 65 and above but also for the general public from March.  (I am scheduled to receive my booster on February 8th.)

All said, it remains to be seen whether these renewed quasi-emergency measures will successfully reduce the spread of infections.

Preparing for Disasters

Every day at 5:00pm, the gentle melody of the Japanese children’s song rings out across our neighborhood from a loudspeaker in a local park – one of hundreds of loudspeakers situated at schools and parks throughout Tokyo.

The daily jingle does more than signify the arrival of evening. It is a test of the system that has been designed to warn Tokyoites of an earthquake striking the most populous city in the world.

Natural disasters are a reality of life in the island nation of Japan –– earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods and landslides.

Japan lies on the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire, the most seismically active area in the world and has about 10 per cent of the world’s active volcanoes. The most famous, Mount Fuji that is visible from Tokyo on clear days, last erupted in 1707 but is still active.

Around 1,500 earthquakes strike Japan every year and minor tremors occur somewhere nearly every day. Experts say the question is not IF a magnitude 7 earthquake will hit Tokyo before 2050, but WHEN.

National and local government agencies maintain sophisticated disaster monitoring, warning and recovery systems. When earthquakes or severe weather conditions are expected or occur, the Japan Meteorological Agency issues official advisories and warnings. Recognizing that survival requires planning, the government agencies provide the public with significant preparedness information.

For example, the Meteorological Agency publishes National Seismic Hazard Maps for Japan. One displays probabilistic evaluations of earthquake occurrences for specific locations and another, the Scenario Earthquake Shaking Maps, show strong motion scenarios for probable location specific earthquakes.

Another example are visible reminders of potential dangers. Tokyo, given its seaside location and network of large and small rivers, is very vulnerable to flooding when heavy rains cause major rivers to overflow. The Tokyo municipal government provides area flood hazard maps, warning signage and buildings in areas most likely to flood display expected high water markings.

However, much of the country’s disaster preparation comes down to personal responsibility.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government published a disaster preparedness book to help get the residents of Japan’s capital ready for “the big one”, the earthquake long conjectured to take place with an epicenter under the city itself. The book, which translates as “Tokyo Disaster Prevention”, carries the subtitle “Let’s Get Prepared!” is available in English.

People are advised to maintain a “Disaster Kit” with enough food, water, first aid supplies and essential items to survive for up to a week. Keiko has provisioned our kit in a backpack and has identified the local shelters that accommodate pets.

We have also taken other precautions, bolting or otherwise securing furniture, like the 65” tv, clothing cabinets and bookcases to the wall so they won’t topple over during an earthquake.

I find it interesting that the thought of being impacted by a natural disaster is not at the top of my mind. Perhaps that is because I have confidence that the government will do its best to forecast and issue advisories and warnings of potential natural disasters. Perhaps more significant is that I know everyone is ever mindful of and prepared for such occurrences, and together we will help each other survive. That is a really nice feeling. I am alive and well, and loving it!

Japan Tsunami Alert

A smartphone alert in the middle of the night woke both Keiko and myself. It was a tsunami warning message from the Japan Meteorological Agency issued after an underwater volcano in the South Pacific exploded in a violent eruption. Although government officials had initially ruled out a damaging tsunami, the agency said that some waves had already hit some areas along Japan’s Pacific coast and more were expected.

As morning dawned we learned that waves of 1+ meter had been observed along the Pacific coast. The Meteorological Agency noted that higher waves may arrive after the initial ones, and expressed concern that waves of 3 meters could hit Iwate prefecture located in the northern most region of Honshu, Japan’s main island. A 1.1-meter wave was recorded at 2:26 a.m. on Sunday in Iwate Prefecture’s Kuji Port sinking a number of fishing boats.

According to the agency, the tsunami waves may have been magnified due to changes in atmospheric pressure caused by the eruption.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said at least 210,000 people in seven prefectures were asked to flee from the seaside. Fortunately, there was no observable impact in the Tokyo area.

Japan Covid Update

Will Japan’s “good fortune” again make up for slow or deficient government action in combating a dreadful disease?

Cynics say that new year optimism lasts until at least the second week in January. My personal hope that the Japanese government had learned something from the ineffectiveness of previous efforts to mitigate past Covid episodes here sadly supports the point.

With Covid cases attributed to the highly infectious Omicron variant in Tokyo and other population centers increasing at an alarming rate, the new Prime Minister and Ministry bureaucrats have promised that decisions will be made and announced this coming Monday.

That they will represent an effective response or be quickly and efficiently implemented remain significant questions. Past experience is not a cause for optimism.