Monday 23 May 2011

Dake Onsen

I had a short trip out of town this weekend and it was good to get out. It's a lovely time of year - azaleas in full bloom, fresh green leaves, and in the hills wild wysteria flowering high up in the trees. The rice is being planted out now, three weeks late.

I was heading for Dake Onsen, in the foothills of Mt Adatara the mountain that dominates Koriyama to the north. It was Mary Helen's treat and we had a lovely time: an oil massage (esute, in Japanese), wonderful food, panoramic views, and of course the bath. The waters in this area are high in sulphur and cloudy white; very different from the silky clear water of Bandai Atami where I stayed a few weeks ago. The water travels 8 kms from the source further up the mountain but is still very hot. Geothermal energy there that could be harnessed?

But in Fukushima you can't easily escape the disaster. We shared the hotel with 80 evacuees from Namie-machi, just up the coast from Fukushima Daiichi, and which moved en masse to this area. The town hall set up shop in a ryokan (Japanese style hotel) in Dake Onsen main street, the hale and hearty seem to be in a gymnasium right next to our hotel, with young families and older people in the hotel itself. The people camping out in the gym had use of the hotel's baths so I guess they're pretty well off. But what a life. I commented that if it was me I'd be off making a fresh start somewhere else. Mary Helen thought people were less mobile, and just shell-shocked.

I didn't get a chance to talk to anybody but there were notices around the place: how to claim for money (the donations - gienkin 義援金 - people at home and abroad have been giving), a schedule showing that 1,800 prefabs in Dake Onsen and neighbouring Nihonmatsu would be ready mid-June, and work ads.

The local papers have the news that Tokyo Electric has abandoned plans to build a 7th and 8th reactor at the Fukushima plant. This is hardly a surprise but it's worth reflecting that Fukushima is not simply a victim. Fukushima prefecture and the local councils benefited enormously from the taxes on these facilities. As reactors got old and depreciated, there would be a loss in revenue so the only way to keep the money flowing was to expand and build new reactors. It was like a drug.

The front page has pictures of Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak happily munching tomatoes and cherries here in Fukushima. They laid flowers amongst the debris on the coast and gave panda teddies to children in a shelter. Let's hope they continue the good work and help put an end to the groundless rumours (fuhyo higai 風評被害)that are still seriously affecting manufacturing and tourism, not only here but all over Japan. (Incidentally, one of our competitors found himself in the lurch when his Chinese workers upped and left on 14th March. I'll be interested to hear if they come back.)

At the post-summit press conference today it was all smiles in a big show of solidarity. But I wonder what was said in private? There's lots of finger-pointing going on in the media (currently it's why the pressure in the reactors was not vented earlier, according to the instruction manual, to avoid the hydrogen explosions) and our neighbours can't be happy about the continuous discharge of radioactive materials into the air and the sea.

Ah well, I'm going to bed. Busy week ahead.
Love to you all

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