Thursday 28 April 2011

Of cucumbers and queens

I've just been watching 'The Queen' which NHK put on to get us in the mood for the Royal Wedding in two days time (poor Kate). The wedding will be broadcast live here for four hours at prime time on a holiday and I shall certainly be watching. Pure escapism. Takes your mind off bequerels and microsievelts!

We had a visit from two people from Rengo today. Can't divulge the details but going from a struggling, penny-pinching small company to a big organisation where things are done on a grand scale is going to be another fascinating journey. There was an earthquake during the meeting and one guy, a big guy from Osaka, looked really worried. Poor bugger, being sent to Fukushima. But only a force 3, I said, nothing to worry about.

We were able to report that sales are looking slightly better than two weeks ago. Farmers have been given the go-ahead to get ready for rice planting although I hear they are divided into two camps. Some are saying that any risk is now their own; if the ban was still in place they would be compensated for the lost crop and any future risks to their health. For those of you who're interested, a word that appears a lot and which I’d never met before is 'sakutsuke' (作付け)which means getting ready for planting rice, the whole palaver: preparing the ground, growing the seedlings, getting the irrigation going etc. etc.

We've had a big order in for boxes for cucumbers which is a relief. Did you know that Fukushima prefecture is the top supplier of cucumbers to Tokyo in the summer months (37% no less)? So fingers crossed. But the area we supply, just north of Koriyama, is one of the areas where caesium levels in the soil have been high so we remain cautious. Koriyama city has decided to remove the top 5 cms of soil from 15 schools and 13 nurseries where levels are above 3.8 and 3.0 microseivert/hour. The work is to be done during the Golden Week holiday so children can play outside when they go back to school.

Other good news is that the ban on milk from Koriyama and surrounding area has been lifted and the shinkansen (bullet  train) is now running to Sendai. The whole line, beyond Sendai,  is to be operational from tomorrow.

Back at the reactor 800 people are working to get things under control. Their working conditons (bad nutrition, insufficient breaks) have begun to be an issue. A week ago Tokyo Electric published a timetable for controlling the reactor but they're still doing the preparatory work, not there yet. Unit One seems to be the most advanced and the reactor is being very carefully filled with water. Robots are being used in units 2 to 4 to check the inside. Dealing with the large amounts of contaminated water is a problem. Unit 4 is not cooling as it should and may be leaking. Another problem is handling and disposal of the debris some of which is highly radioactive.

The Nikkei today had an interniew with Rudy Guiliani, Mayor of New York at the time of 9.11. What he had to say was interesting. He stressed how important it was to 'speak with one voice'. He held press conferences three times a day to start with and had all the different representatives at the same conference so questions could be answered on the spot. Contrast that with the press conferences by the goverment, Tokyo Electric and the Safety  Agency and you'll understand why there was so much confusion here. Only two days after the attack he also urged people 'to get back to normal'. This would have avoided the damaging downturn we have seen in the economy due to restraint (jishuku 自粛). This whole saga has been a lesson in the importance of proper control of information .

Tomorrow I'm off to an 'onsen' (hot spring). Two of Naochika's friends are coming to visit and we're going to Bandai Atami where the best ryokan in town is  doing a 'Ganbare Fukushima ' (Go for it Fukushima!) campaign -  only 10,000 yen per person per night, a third of the normal price! Good for us. But the tourist trade badly needs more visitors.

So no blog tomorrow. Maybe the day after, Royal Wedding permitting.

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