Thursday 18 August 2011

Still Hot

Dear Friends
The heat continues. Still 35 degrees (95 farenheit) in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukushima City, 32 degrees or so here in Koriyama. But as everyone knows, it's not the heat it's the humidity. A friend tells me about the 'heat index' the summer equivalent of the 'wind-chill' factor now on weather reports in America. I looked up Koriyama. Tonight at 7.30 pm the temperature is 28'C and the humidity 79% which makes the heat index, the temperature we feel, 32'C. So far this summer 35 people in the country have died of heatstroke and over 7,000 have been taken to hospital.

In the factory we began to be aware of heatstroke (netchusho  熱中症) as a health and safety issue several years ago and started measuring temperatures in 2009. We distribute sports drinks when the temperature tops 35'C. In 2009 drinks were distributed on 8 days and the top temperature was 39'C.  Last summer the drinks went out on 41 days with temperatures topping 40'C on 9 days, top temperature 41'C. This year drinks are going out at the same or slightly less rate but the temperatures are higher, 10 days in a row over 40'C with top temperature 43.5.  And at peak periods we have to cut what air conditioning there is in the factory because of the electricity shortage.

A few weeks ago (when I was in England) there were heavy rains in the west of the prefecture and Niigata knocking out 25 hydro-electric power stations. So Tohoku Electric faces a shortage and Fukushima and the other disaster areas, which had been exempt from some of the restrictions, had the screws back on. One day last week consumption in Tohoku reached 98% of available power so we all had to buckle down and conserve.

Sales are OK. Still 15% down on last year but the reasons are the same as in April: companies out of business on the coast, factories damaged and not reopening etc. Those businesses that are left seem to be more or less back to normal. But the fruit and veg situation is worrying. We don't pack peaches (they're in the north of the prefecture) but reports about sales of peaches in Tokyo are not good. The beef contamination was a serious setback. If it hadn't been for that, things might have picked up. We're currently designing boxes for nashi pears and apples and just hope that they will sell.

Here's a sorry saga. An artist in Rikuzen Takada thought it would be a nice idea if wood from pine trees hit by the tsunami were burnt in the final o-bon festivities in Kyoto where five bonfires in the shape of the character 大 (dai, meaning big) are lit on hills around the city.  333 logs were cut and inscribed with messages. However, some of the organisors objected  saying the wood might be radioactive (the area is 180 km north of Fukushima Daiichi) so the order was cancelled and the logs burnt in a little ceremony in Rikuzen Takada on 8 August. This was met by uproar from the good citizens of Kyoto and it was agreed that 500 more logs be sent to Kyoto for the ceremony, the Mayor of Rikuzen Takada protesting that they were fine. However, the Kyoto authorities tested the wood when it arrived only to find that it contained caesium (to the order of 1,000 bq/kg). The upshot of this fiasco was that the wood was not used in the ceremony that took place last night. So what started out as a gesture of sympathy ended up hurting the feelings of the tsunami victims. And for us, watching on the sidelines, events followed the familiar course: denial to protect reputation followed by discovery of contamination. And to cap it all, as usual, there was even an expert wheeled out to say that it was perfectly safe: that if someone ate 1 kg of the pine bark (who on earth would do that?) they would not suffer any ill effect.

The country will have a new prime minister by the end of the month. Kan has decided that his conditions have been met (passing of three bills: the 2nd Supplementary Budget, the issue of bonds to finance the recovery and an energy bill that makes electric companies pay a good price for electricity from alternative energy sources). So who will be the next prime minister? Looks like Finance Minister Noda whose main merit seems to be that Tanigaki,  leader of the opposition, says he can do business with him. Odd, but since the LDP control the Upper House (in what's known as nejiri kokkai ねじり国会), if the main parties don't agree, nothing will get done. There is also talk of a Grand Coalition (dairenritsu 大連立). 

They say the weather will break the day after tomorrow. Phew, can't wait.
PS  There have been some interesting comments on the last posting about animals' unusual behavour in earthquakes. Take a look.

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