Stories from the field

Author Sophia Mayen

Sophia Mayen – Blog 3: Yokohama Disaster Preparedness Drill

I had the opportunity to take part and witness the Yokohama Annual Disaster Drill in August. For this blog post I have made an infographic to showcase the event and relate it to what simple things we can do in Victoria to be more prepared in case of an emergency. 

The event was for the local public to engage and learn about disaster preparedness, as well as to facilitate all the different stakeholders for training purposes. The disaster drill began with an earthquake simulation in which everyone was to participate by ducking and covering. Small structures to simulate fallen houses and buildings were used for controlled fires and rescue missions. A multi-story building was used to demonstrate firefighting and a rescue as well. 

Sophia Mayen – Blog 3: Sewage Treatment in Yokohama

This is a podcast about one of Yokohama’s sewage treatment facilities. Nicola and I sit down and talk about some of our take-aways from the tour and discuss Victoria’s sewage treatment (or lack thereof) and the different stances on the hot topic. 

This past week we had the opportunity to go to the water and sewage treatment facilities in Tsurumi, Yokohama. It was a place I was very curious to see and took the opportunity to use CITYNET’s connections to request a tour of the Hoboku Wastewater Treatment plant and the Hoboku Sludge Treatment Center. They were very accommodating and even gave their presentations in English, and one of the CITYNET staff members that came with us acted as a translator between us and the facilities staff. 

The podcast consists of clips from the tour presentations, our discussion, and a final question asked to the one of the heads of the department about their advice to a city that doesn’t have sewage treatment. 

Sophia Mayen – Blog 3: An Education in Yokohama City’s Waste Resources and Recycling

I was lucky enough to have been taken on a tour of the waste resources and recycling facilities in Yokohama City to learn about the City’s process in waste disposal, recycling, and management. The site visit showed me that there is more to garbage than what I had initially thought. Previous to this I hadn’t put much thought into how we treat our garbage and whether it could be viewed as an important resource. However, I had always known that we collectively consume more than is needed and produce far too much waste, which has in turn contributed to much broader issues (environmental degradation, environmental contamination, economic disparity, and climate change just to name a few– but we won’t get too deep into that for now). I realized that growing up I was never taught about our garbage system in its entirety, only that we must recycle and compost; but never about exactly where my garbage goes, what happens to my garbage if it isn’t recycled, what happens when it is, where does my compost go, who uses my compost, or how long will the landfill last? These seemingly simple questions were all answered during my day visit to 3 waste resource facilities in Yokohama.

Group shot with Tsuzuki Resources and Waste Collection Office Workers and CYO Staff

 Group photo of the Tsuzuki Resources and Waste Collection Office workers with CITYNET staff

Our site visit began at the Tsuzuki Resources and Waste Collection Office. Here we were given a brief introduction to waste collection and waste resources in the area.  A lot of what they do in terms of garbage separation seemed familiar to me. However, unlike the recycling, compost, and garbage separations we usually make in Victoria, there are 10 categories in the sorting process of Yokohama: burnables; dry-cell batteries; spray cans; non-burnables; plastic containers/packaging; cans, bottles, and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles; small metal items; paper; used cloth; and oversized garbage. Not only are they very specific about garbage separation, they are also strict, giving warnings and fines to those who don’t separate their garbage properly. Following along a garbage truck to observe how the workers collect garbage, we noticed their due diligence to ensure proper separation was satisfied– even placing a yellow warning sticker on a bag that had burnables and plastics mixed together. 

Workers collecting waste from a collection site

At home we don’t get warnings for our garbage separation; if I throw a plastic bottle into my garbage it gets taken away without question (Don’t worry, I don’t! Save your gasp). We use bins to separate garbage and place them at our curbside, while in Yokohama everyone places their plastic bags into the community’s garbage collecting site, organized by garbage type until it’s time for collection. If there is a problem with the garbage it is the community at fault and not just the careless individual.


Me and the other intern, Tabatha from George Mason University (left) standing in front of a very cute garbage truck   

Photo above: Two collection workers demonstrate waste pickup at a collection site. Photo Below: Intern Tabatha from George Mason University and I standing in front of a very cute garbage truck

Next, we paid a visit to the Resources Separation and Recycling Facilities in Midori. All of the materials that are taken to the facilities are metals, plastics, and glass. Separation commences with machinery that tears the plastic garbage bags open, separates cans from plastics and glass, and even separates large pieces of glass by colour. The rest is done by workers standing at conveyor belts, efficiently sorting their assigned material. 

workers at a conveyor belt separating glass by colour

Three workers at a conveyor belt sorting glass by colour

Then, plastics and metals are compressed into transportable squares and taken to be recycled or sold raw to private companies (in this case mostly in China).

 CITYNET Staff pose with Midori recycling facility and Tsuzuki facility staff in front of compressed blocks of plastic  CITYNET staff, Tsuzuki Resource and Waste Collection Office staff, and Midori Separation and Recycling Facilities staff in front of compressed pastic blocks.

Our final visit was to the Tsuzuki Incineration Plant. This is where the rest of the garbage that couldn’t be recycled or reused is taken. 

Standing outside of the incinerator control room while Mr. Kuroda explains the process

Mr. Kuroda shows the control room and explains the incineration process

We learned that in the 1960s Japan faced a huge waste problem due to the increase in development and industrialization; because of this incineration plants were introduced to reduce the shear volume of waste being put into the landfill. By the early 2000s they introduced the G30 Plan (which promotes the separation of garbage) and as a result reduced the amount of waste by over 42%. This caused 3 of the 7 incineration plants in Yokohama to close down and has elongated the lifespan of the landfill. Plans to reduce garbage even further have begun in 2010, which emphasises on the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) and has targeted reduction to more than 10% by 2025. This particular incinerator not only reduces the volume of waste, it also heats the nearby swimming pool and produces energy for a portion of the city while selling surplus energy to electric power companies. Hearing I was going to an incineration plant I had the connotation it was going to be encased in a dark grey cloud of pollution and smell putrid. I was shocked when we arrived– no smell, and no smoke! The garbage is dumped into a giant enclosed pit and is mixed constantly by giant mechanical claws. 

The giant garbage pit

View from the mixing claw machinery room down to the garbage pit

The incineration process is done on a conveyor belt that gets blasted with air taken from the garbage pit and heated to around 900 degrees Celsius. The air is filtered by a variety of high-performance filters to extract toxins (such as dioxins and NOx emissions), soot, and smoke. The remaining ash then gets placed into trucks and transported to the landfill located along the coast.

Me and Tabatha posing in front of the incinerator stack

Myself (left) and Tabatha (right) pose in front of the incinerator stack

One of the main takeaways for me was how much expertise and knowledge the staff members displayed throughout the site visits. The head of the recycling facility mentioned that he has noticed an increase in how involved workers are in recycling and waste resource education, something he hadn’t seen before. They fully understood the role and impact these facilities have in their city and are passionate to share it. School children get taught about these initiatives and facilities early on, even taking part in tours as part of class curriculum. From what I have observed, Yokohama is very transparent and clear about how you should dispose of your waste and what happens to it. From day one of arriving I was given multiple sheets of information about proper garbage disposal, and told about the culture around garbage disposal. I never received an in-depth education on our garbage system growing up; just bits and pieces that I have acquired through my parents, the internet, school, and city government. Perhaps this has been changing, or maybe other schools received better information on their home’s waste and waste facilities. In Victoria I consider us to be “eco-friendly” or “green”, but I believe there is a lot of room for improvement.

The tours of all the facilities left me thinking about how we can lessen our burden on the environment and each other. Decreasing our waste from what we are consuming seems to be the most crucial part from this point going forward, and something I think Yokohama and Victoria are working on. I am very happy to have been given the chance to visit these facilities, and given an education on Yokohama’s process to this extent. Now to have the same for my home; that is now on my list of things to do when I get back.

Sophia Mayen – Blog 2: Earthquake preparedness // Am I prepared?

This is my second blog post on the CAPI blog website. I discuss my experiences with earthquakes and things I’ve learned about disaster preparedness since my arrival. I reflect on and assess my own sense of preparedness in the case of an emergency. 


The couple of weeks I’ve been in Japan have gone by in a flash. Everything is new and exciting, and the culture is vibrant. Japan has amazing technologies and standards that have surpassed my norm – and yes, I mean the toilets with the 50 buttons for your extra comfort. Although I am experiencing some kind of culture shock this place seems very familiar. I believe it’s because of how structured and organized everything is. Even the train platforms have arrows and neat little standing lanes drawn on the ground for where people should stand and what angle to board from. It didn’t take me long to make sense of the organized chaos and become part of the hive.

Yokohama from the port

       Image: Yokohama – From the port


         Image: Asakusa 

Along with what’s on the surface they have certain regulations and policies to optimize the population’s quality of life. One of the most important (in my opinion) is the disaster preparedness I’ve witnessed. Coming from another country with similar views on disaster preparedness I was very impressed with the earthquake resistant buildings and organized emergency response.  

During the short time I’ve been here I have experienced two earthquakes that sprung me out of bed, and a few moments where I couldn’t be entirely sure – maybe it was just my neighbour shuffling things around.

Before coming, everyone had been preparing me for the likely event earthquakes would happen. Even with this prior knowledge and the assurance the buildings I would be in or around were safe, the relatively “small to normal” (by Japanese standards) sized earthquakes made me feel scared, unsafe, and unprepared. Scared mainly because I was shocked and confused, unsafe because the idea of the building collapsing crossed my mind, and unprepared because I definitely didn’t have enough food or water to last me more than a day and a half if it was a serious situation. AND if that wasn’t enough to freak me out when the emergency announcement came on, it was all in Japanese – for those of you who don’t know I basically know 5 phrases in Japanese. For all I knew we were being attacked by aliens.  

Not knowing what was going on or what the standard earthquake protocol in my dorm was (super unprepared, I know) I walked out into the hall and looked around to see if any of my neighbours were following some sort of procedure – shockingly, or not so shockingly, the hallway was completely empty. I poked my head into the library on my floor and noticed a student still working away on a paper, completely unfazed about what had happened. Now feeling a little silly and paranoid I knocked on my neighbour’s door who I had met before. I asked him if he feltthe earthquake and what the normal procedure is for earthquakes. He (and his friend) said they felt it, and then he thought for a little while before agreeing it was on the “slightly larger than normal” side and that it would be a good idea to go down to the office to inquire. We made our way down in the worst possible manner after an earthquake– we took the elevator. I was the only one that seemed uncomfortable with this decision, but we managed to come out alive.

The man working at the office also seemed very unfazed and told us it wasn’t too big and not to worry. He explained that living on the 13th floor would make the earthquakes seem larger because the building is designed to sway, and when you’re at the top you experience a wider range of motion. All of the assurance and reassurance still didn’t help me sleep easy that night.

The next day I had sparked up a conversation about the earthquake with a co-worker. She again told me about how safe the buildings were and the frequency in which the citizens experience earthquakes. Working in disaster management she reflected on the fact that people seem to be so unfazed by these earthquakes, particularly in countries with more durable infrastructures. Everyone is so used to them and their infrastructure is so resistant that they forget these earthquakes have the potential to be very dangerous. Even with common knowledge about the frequency of earthquakes in Japan, many people don’t have what’s needed in a real emergency or have stopped reacting to the potential of an emergency. While some countries might lack the infrastructure, disaster preparedness and risk reduction management, their experiences through natural disasters create invaluable lessons and are more likely to react or get involved in grassroots risk reduction initiatives. Knowing about disasters and experiencing one produces two very different viewpoints.

So why was I so terrified of this relatively small earthquake? Which I might add, was a magnitude of 5.6, that’s not THAT small.  

 To give you a glimpse of my dreadful experience with earthquakes prior to Japan, I will transport you over to El Salvador in 2001. My mother and I went to visit our extended family over a period of 3 months, and on our last day we decided to have a goodbye dinner at my grandmother’s house. Everyone was eating and mingling outside when a relative told me to go inside to grab an extra chair. Moments later, holding a chair over my head walking through a hallway, I was knocked over onto my side. I thought my vision was going because everything seemed to be blurry and vibrating, but as soon as I realized that it wasn’t my vision I got up and ran out the door to where everyone had congregated outside of the front gate. The earthquake was around a magnitude of 7.8 and caused devastating damage, thousands of injuries, and hundreds of deaths. Luckily the town we were in was one of the safest places to be because of the bed rock material. Even still, we witnessed walls collapsing, glass breaking, and the ground splitting. Our flight was delayed two weeks because of the damage, while aftershocks happened every day –too many to count (and continued to happen months later). Our sleeping arrangements became sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the living room with the door open to ensure a quick getaway. Even with being relatively safe and getting to leave 2 weeks later I still experienced and witnessed the realities of a devastating natural disaster in a country without the earthquake-resistant infrastructure set up. That is something you can’t forget.

Moral of the story: stock up on the life saving essentials and prepare an emergency evacuation plan for you and your family. Being safe (and seeming like a danger police dork) is INFINITLEY better than being sorry.

While we (Canada, Japan, and many countries with strong, durable infrastructure) can endure much less damage from the same sized earthquake (or even larger) due to our disaster risk reduction management, we lack the motivation or sense of urgency in emergencies that may occur. Being born and raised in Canada, I also fall into the same category where my knowledge doesn’t match my actual preparedness for the potential of a real emergency. Experiencing these sizable earthquakes in Japan gave me flashbacks of something I wish I will never have to experience again; but most of all an awareness of those that have or will, and what can be done about it. Interning for CITYNET and learning about their capacity building for disaster preparedness and risk reduction in other Asian-Pacific countries makes me hopeful that we’re helping one another as a global community. Prevention is the key, but community is the foundation and the building blocks. 



         Image: Asakusa

Sophia Mayen – Blog 1: Introduction

 In this podcast I sit down with Elena and give a brief introduction and talk a little about myself and my internship placement in Yokohama, Japan. I will be interning for CITYNET and assisting with a disaster management project for Nepal.  

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