I'm in Ura Bandai. I can't resist a good deal and since a hotel that we have membership of was offering ridiculously cheap deals and as a 'victim of the disaster' I get free travel on the expressways, I decided to get out of Koriyama and enjoy the healing powers of nature. Saturday morning I set off before breakfast on a walk around the Five Coloured Ponds only to find signs warning against bears: the tsukino-guma (Ursus thibetanus). Make a noise the signs say, so I started singing, a few notes that turned into The Farmer's in his Den, and as I sang I remembered the game we used to play in primary school. Dancing round in a circle with the 'farmer' in the middle who would take a wife, a child, a nurse, a dog and then the bone which we would all pat. And the teacher would have to break it up before the patting got out of hand! How strange. A little refrain unlocked memories I didn't know I had.
Back at the hotel, catch up on the news. On Friday a group of people were allowed for the first time to visit their homes within the 3 mile limit. I bet they wish they hadn't gone. Tall weeds everywhere and their houses in post-earthquake mess, the floor covered in things fallen from the shelves. Animals had been in some houses. Mould. They had two hours to salvage important documents and photos.
On Friday the government announced a road map for the clean up which aims to reduce radiation in areas of over 20 mSv/year by 50% in 2 years (40% by natural dispersion and 10% through cleaning up), and bring all other areas to under 1 mSv/year. Even an amateur can see that if levels in the 50 mSv/year band are reduced by half, levels will still be 25 mSv/year and uninhabitable. And there are five places where levels are 100 mSv/year.
The Prime Minister himself visited the governor yesterday and, couched in double negatives, broke the news that residents will not be able to return to some areas. He also dropped the bombshell that an 'interim facility' is to be built in Fukushima prefecture to take the contaminated stuff. Pretty obvious really (no one else is going to accept it) but the governor sounded indignant.
In a separate development, the head of Iitate village said that he had an estimate of 200 billion yen (at 130 yen/GBP that's 1.5 billion GBP) to clean up his village alone. Slowly, the scale of the damage is beginning to dawn on people. No wonder the government's been slow in making announcements.
Let me quote yesterday's leader in the Fukushima Minpo, our local paper which has been doing a great job keeping us informed. 'With Fukushima Daiichi still in a serious state, tens of thousands of people in temporary housing, radioactive hotspots on the increase, the clean up delayed, businesses closed or bankrupt, and with 17,000 primary and kindergarten children forced to change schools including 8,000 who have moved outside the prefecture, we need strong political leadership. We can't do it on our own. How is the party choosing their new leader (and next Prime Minister)? Five separate candidates, no party unity, based on internal power struggles, behind closed doors. And why do yesterday's men - Ozawa, indicted on a corruption charge, and Hatoyama failed ex-Prime Minister - control the votes?' Exactly.
Time to go for a walk. Soothe my spirits. Buy Bear Bell (with magnetic silencer). Feel like a real hiker. Set off again round the Five Coloured Ponds. After a few minutes, stopped in my tracks by a snake slowly sliding off the path. I am petrified of snakes but this one looks harmless (about an inch thick, 2 or 3 feet long, no ominous markings) so I watch in fascination. The head with its tongue flashing in and out seems purposeful enough but the body follows on in a brainless delayed action meandering round every pebble, pine cone or other obstacle in its path. Strikes me as a very inefficient way of getting around.
Twenty five degrees, clear blue skies, a wisp of cloud around the summit of Mount Bandai . Perfect.
Bye for now.