The schools in this area were supposed to go back on Monday but it's been postponed until the 11th. Some people are saying if there's no improvement at the reactor, schools might not go back until after the Golden Week holiday in May. It must be boring for the kids, cooped up inside, away from their friends, with the telly showing either scenes of devastation or updates from the nuclear power plant. Several mothers have told me they're worried that their kids aren't getting enough exercise and even if schools do resume next week the kids won't be able to play outside.
The academic year starts in April and graduation ceremonies and opening ceremonies are impotant milestones here. Most graduation ceremonies were cancelled and many pupils didn't finish the syllabus for the year so they're in limbo. The TV showed one headteacher taking the certificates to each pupil and doing a little presentation ceremony at home. I was impressed by the way the children (12 or 13 years old) responded. They sounded very grown up. Like the rest of us they must have learnt a lot in the past three weeks.
I'm going to tell you a true story that was told to me by my sister-in-law last weekend. It's not my usual style and I hope you don't find it mawkish. She told me that in the Niigata earthquake four or five years ago a young mother ran out of her apartment block carrying a young child who she bent over to protect. Then an elderly couple ran out of the same block and put their arms around and over the mother and child to protect them, another layer of safety. My sister-in-law, who is 78, said that she had heard this story before but here in this disaster for the first time she really understood the feelings of the old couple. (She added impishly that when people get older - her own mother is 99 - they can get selfish!)
An old lady round here is still eating the vegetables she grows in defiance of the government ban. As she says, in the local accent, she'll be dead (shinderu bai) before she gets ill. I know what she means. I've spent a lifetime travelling between Japan and Europe so must have had more than my share of radiation. It's the young who are so vulnerable to radiation that we need to protect.
Politicians talk blithely of doing things for our children and grandchildren, platitudes that fall easily off the lips. But a disaster sharpens the senses, focuses the mind and allows no arbitrary thinking. The French, the Americans are here to help us. Please get that reactor under control and make our children safe.