Monday 21 November 2011

Osaka and Back

Dear Friends
Busy week. Spent Friday and Saturday in Osaka. Took the shinkansen bullet train from Koriyama to Osaka, 470 miles in four and a half hours, and that was on a slow train with a change in Tokyo. Bad weather, not much to see, a few fields of tea in Shizuoka, otherwise mile after mile of conurbation and the factories and head offices of Japan's household names: Pola (cosmetics), Ajinomoto (seasonings), Chugai (pharmaceuticals), Wacoal (underwear).

Went to attend the twice yearly meeting for Rengo subsidiaries. Can't say anything about the meeting but once again it was a chance for me to be thankful that in these difficult times we are now backed by the industry leader's money, brains and expertise. Everyday I am thankful to those who got the deal done. (Photos of our new and old offices below)

My first time in Japan was in Osaka, at Expo 70 when along with 11 other British students of Japanese we worked for six hot months in the British pavilion. At that time visits to Osaka were for okonomi-yaki pancakes and yakisoba fried noodles in cheap dives around the station. Hot, no air conditioning. All gone now. Unrecognisable.

I stayed with an old, old friend from those days. She's now 79 and recently moved into a new apartment on the 14th floor with splendid views, underfloor heating, lights that go on and off automatically and a TV in the bathroom. Her hobby is editing and making DVDs of a lifetime's photos. When I visited her a couple of years ago I was thrilled to find Fukushima veg in her supermarket. But not anymore. And I'm ashamed to say I bought up lots of vegetables and fish from the west of the country and had them sent up here by chilled delivery. Tonight I gorged on tomatoes and cucumbers. I've hardly eaten any all summer.

Big setback here in terms of food. Last week a farmer from Onuma, about 10 kms east  of Fukushima city centre, took his rice along to be tested and it was found to contain 630 bq/kg of caesium, over the limit of 500. Some had got as far as the shops but none had been sold. All shipments have been stopped pending further tests. The area is in a valley surrounded on three sides by steep hills and the theory is that caesium collected in the paddy from streams on the hills. An agricultural 'hotspot' as it were. It's exposed a flaw in the random testing conducted up to now and shown that testing is not straightforward. Experts are calling for detailed 'soil maps' and soil analysis. What is needed of course is testing of every bag of rice (and other food) but we're told there aren't enough machines or technicians.

Election of local councillors today. Lowest turnout on record, 47% (including postal votes). But maybe not too bad when you consider 150,000 are evacuated from their homes, 59,000 of these outside the prefecture. Electoral officers have had their work cut out travelling the country these last few weeks trying to persuade people to vote. The head of Okuma village, where Fukushima Daiichi is situated, fought on a platform of keeping the village together and working towards returning one day. He won but his opponent who said they should all give up and move to other local authorities got 40% of the vote. What is going to happen to those areas within the 20 km zone?
Lovely and warm in Osaka and Tokyo. Got off the train to a freezing Koriyama night.
All the best
The office building at the new site newly emblazoned with the name 'Tohoku Kogyo'. Very satisfying for me to see the company name live on.
The old building, covered in scaffold and netting.

Demolition of the office building. Can you see the water being hosed in to keep the dust down?

Demolition of No 2 workshop complete (the empty space). Now working on No 1.

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