Thursday, 28 April 2011

Of cucumbers and queens

I've just been watching 'The Queen' which NHK put on to get us in the mood for the Royal Wedding in two days time (poor Kate). The wedding will be broadcast live here for four hours at prime time on a holiday and I shall certainly be watching. Pure escapism. Takes your mind off bequerels and microsievelts!

We had a visit from two people from Rengo today. Can't divulge the details but going from a struggling, penny-pinching small company to a big organisation where things are done on a grand scale is going to be another fascinating journey. There was an earthquake during the meeting and one guy, a big guy from Osaka, looked really worried. Poor bugger, being sent to Fukushima. But only a force 3, I said, nothing to worry about.

We were able to report that sales are looking slightly better than two weeks ago. Farmers have been given the go-ahead to get ready for rice planting although I hear they are divided into two camps. Some are saying that any risk is now their own; if the ban was still in place they would be compensated for the lost crop and any future risks to their health. For those of you who're interested, a word that appears a lot and which I’d never met before is 'sakutsuke' (作付け)which means getting ready for planting rice, the whole palaver: preparing the ground, growing the seedlings, getting the irrigation going etc. etc.

We've had a big order in for boxes for cucumbers which is a relief. Did you know that Fukushima prefecture is the top supplier of cucumbers to Tokyo in the summer months (37% no less)? So fingers crossed. But the area we supply, just north of Koriyama, is one of the areas where caesium levels in the soil have been high so we remain cautious. Koriyama city has decided to remove the top 5 cms of soil from 15 schools and 13 nurseries where levels are above 3.8 and 3.0 microseivert/hour. The work is to be done during the Golden Week holiday so children can play outside when they go back to school.

Other good news is that the ban on milk from Koriyama and surrounding area has been lifted and the shinkansen (bullet  train) is now running to Sendai. The whole line, beyond Sendai,  is to be operational from tomorrow.

Back at the reactor 800 people are working to get things under control. Their working conditons (bad nutrition, insufficient breaks) have begun to be an issue. A week ago Tokyo Electric published a timetable for controlling the reactor but they're still doing the preparatory work, not there yet. Unit One seems to be the most advanced and the reactor is being very carefully filled with water. Robots are being used in units 2 to 4 to check the inside. Dealing with the large amounts of contaminated water is a problem. Unit 4 is not cooling as it should and may be leaking. Another problem is handling and disposal of the debris some of which is highly radioactive.

The Nikkei today had an interniew with Rudy Guiliani, Mayor of New York at the time of 9.11. What he had to say was interesting. He stressed how important it was to 'speak with one voice'. He held press conferences three times a day to start with and had all the different representatives at the same conference so questions could be answered on the spot. Contrast that with the press conferences by the goverment, Tokyo Electric and the Safety  Agency and you'll understand why there was so much confusion here. Only two days after the attack he also urged people 'to get back to normal'. This would have avoided the damaging downturn we have seen in the economy due to restraint (jishuku 自粛). This whole saga has been a lesson in the importance of proper control of information .

Tomorrow I'm off to an 'onsen' (hot spring). Two of Naochika's friends are coming to visit and we're going to Bandai Atami where the best ryokan in town is  doing a 'Ganbare Fukushima ' (Go for it Fukushima!) campaign -  only 10,000 yen per person per night, a third of the normal price! Good for us. But the tourist trade badly needs more visitors.

So no blog tomorrow. Maybe the day after, Royal Wedding permitting.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sale gone through

Dear Friends
You're still munching Easter eggs but here we're hard at work. The Golden Week holiday starts on Friday 29th so only four days to go before the shutdown. And it's the end of the month so we're trying to pay our bills on a much reduced income. Mr Micawber was famously sixpence down and in misery - we're in a far worse state than that. Not a good way to repay Rengo Co. Ltd., our new owner as of today. The money came in (to the property company Tohoku Asset Management) as planned, and I am deeply relieved and grateful that the sale of the box business has gone through.

Not that that means I can chuck in the towel just yet. I'm still in charge until the AGM at the end of May and our new owners want a lot of information - right now- so we are very, very busy.

Yesterday I went to the cemetary to tidy up the grave as I'm expecting visitors on Friday. It's the anniversary of Naochika's death (23 years ago) and two of his close friends are coming to visit. One works for Mitsubishi Nuclear Power (Naochka used to work there for a while) so I'll be interested to hear what he has to say. Anyway, back to the grave. I always buy the flowers at the stonemason's and he was telling me his house has to be pulled down. He didn't have earthquake insurance (even though the government has been promoting it for several years making it tax deductible) and grants only cover the demolition costs. Two of our staff are in the same boat: old houses just not able to withstand the quake. 

By the way, the cherry blossoms at the cemetary were stunning. I have never seen so many cherry trees.

Bad news is that Sakubuta Park in Koriyama is closed. They've started monitoring radiation levels in parks now and this lovely little park famous for its cherry blossoms has for some reason a level of 3.9. (Remember, you're only allowed one hour outside in an area of 3.8.) And the headline in this morning's paper was that all the animals in the 20km no-go zone are to be slaughtered (including those roaming free you saw in that video a while back said to have been terrorising those residents returning to pick up their belongings!). But the 100 or so horses which feature in the samurai horse festival in Soma every summer are to be spared and moved to another area.

That's it from Koriyama tonight.
Love to you all.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Schools and Sunflowers

Dear Friends
I spoke too soon about the aftershocks. We had a biggish one (force 4) right after I signed off two nights ago followed by a sharp jolt at one in the morning. Then there was another force 4 just as I was going to bed late last night. Understandably it's the main topic of conversation round here.

The school lunch service has been resumed so Koriyama schools are back for the whole day. There was much confusion when they first went back as schools were left to make their own decisions concerning whether children should be kept inside but on Tuesday the government at last issued guidelines. The guideline is that up to 20 millisieverts/year is safe. If a child spends 16 hours a day inside at 1.52 microsieverts/hour and 8 hours outside at 3.6 microsieverts/hour that adds up to 20 millisieverts/year. So the advice is that if outside radiation is 3.8, then children should spend only one hour outside. (Forgive all this technospeak but this was taken from a letter to parents and we're all talking like this!) This has caused uproar as we were previously told that 20 millisieverts per year was the permissible level for workers in nuclear plants. The radiation levels at some schools in Koriyama are 3.9 and 4.0 (for your information, measurements are taken at a height of 50 cm and 1 m above ground, out in the playground, near the window and in the classroom), so most schools are keeping kids inside. We see pictures of them exercising - running up and down the stairs and along the corridors. Must be a teacher's nightmare.

The CEO of Tokyo Electric is out of hospital and back on the job and the Governor of Fukushima after snubbing him twice agreed to receive him. Tokyo Electric have said that reactors 1 to 4 at Fukushima Daiichi will be closed down but the governor let him know that reactors 5 and 6, and the four reactors at Fukushima Daini (undamaged by the tsunami but currently not in use) would not be reopened without the agreement of people here. He then asked him why he'd only come for the day. You should stay here 3 or 4 days, he said, then you'd know what the people of Fukushima are going through. Exactly.

The evacuation areas have been changed. We now have a 20 km no-go zone (keikai kuiki 警戒区域)with road blocks and fines for entry, a planned evacuation area (keikakuteki hinan kuiki 計画的避難区域)which includes the heavily contaminated Iitate village north west of the plant, while most of the 20 - 30 km shelter area has been renamed the 'prepare to evacuate in case of emergency' area (緊急時避難準備区域). It's all very well imposing these restrictions but as Tanigaki, leader of the opposition said, the government should first make arrangements for the people before announcing the measures. Things are done in the wrong order. Certainly there is much confusion. I was under the impression that arrangements had been made to move cattle but the TV showed one farmer pleading with a stony faced official to give him permission to feed his cows in the no-go zone. Incidentally, the Mayor of Minami Soma has been voted one of the 100 most influential people of the year by Time Magazine. Take a look at him on YouTube and you'll get a flavour of the tension around here.

The governor's advisor on the national recovery committee, a writer and Buddhist priest from Miharu, has had a good idea. Plant rapeseed and sunflowers (which we know don't absorb radiation in the soil) all over the prefecture. Pay the people in the evacuation centres to do the planting. Colour the prefecture yellow! And make oil, for fuel, from the seed. This man has vision.

And on that bright note, I'll leave you.
Good night.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

News Round-up

There haven't been any big aftershocks for a while. I was woken two nights ago and there are two or three that you notice in a day, but only force 2 or 3. You stop for a moment, take stock, then carry on. Over a week ago now the prime minister called for an end to the period of restraint (jishuku mudo) as it was damaging the economy so people were out enjoying themselves in Koriyama last Friday night and generally there are more people out and about. Things are getting back to normal.

I haven't talked about the reactor for a while so here's a round-up of the news. Nothing special, just what's on the television. The main problem seems to be managing the very large quantites of heavily contaminated water. In Unit 2 the water is being moved to a waste disposal unit at the rate of 10 tons/hour (56 tons so far). The trouble is there is 67,000 tons to be moved from Units 1 to 3. They need to get the water out of the turbine halls so that the pumps and cooling systems can be restarted. A little robot has been sent in to photograph the inside of the turbine halls. There was also old footage of the turbine halls before the earthquake: several sets of double doors, lots of pipes and equipment, very complicated set up. Like our homes, the earthquake turned everything upside down so it's a mess inside. Not to mention the rubble from the damaged buildings. Very high levels of radiation within the plant are hampering repair work.

A new facility is to be set up by June to treat contaminated water courtesy of the French company Avera whose delightful lady CEO has visited twice and in between fielding questions at the airport in the most accessible and charming way has pulled off this deal. What a role model. The idea of the CEO of an energy company being a woman is incredible here.

Sorry for that aside. The other big news is that the government (Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano) has announced that from midnight tonight (in two hours time) the 20 km zone around the reactor will be a no-go zone with a 100,000 yen fine for illegal entry. 27,000 households are affected. The TV showed traffic jams of people returning to their homes to pick up belongings although there is also a plan to allow one member of each household to visit the area over the next few months under supervision.

We continue to follow the soil contamination issue closely. A colleague was telling me that there is lots of data on rice growing and it's been shown that only 1% of any radiation in the soil ends up in the finished rice. Rapeseed, for some reason, absorbs no radiation at all. But he was saying there is no data for other fruit and vegetables. Farmers will have to grow the crop and get it tested before deciding whether it can go to market. Which makes it very difficult for us to estimate our sales. Cartons for fruit and vegetables account for about 10% of our annual sales and are concentrated in the three months of June, July and August with another peak in October for fruit. The main crops are tomatoes, cucumbers and french beans, Fukushima being the top bean (ingen) producing region in the country. Then there is fruit. Fukushima peaches are second only to those of Yamanashi. Apples, nashi pears and cherries are important crops too. They are in flower at the moment. I hear growers are uncertain as to whether to hire people to do the time consuming work of  pinching out the flowers when they don't know if they'll be able to sell the fruit.

Another interesting piece on the news this morning was an answer to the question, 'Is radiation catching?' Apparently some children evacuated outside the prefecture are being teased. The answer, we are told, is that  if you get radiation on  your body or on your clothes you can wash it off. And even if it gets inside you, it's not catching! That's nice to know.

It's Easter this weekend, isn't it? This is a non-Christian country and I wouldn't have known except friend Joan in Hong Kong kindly sent me a box of English goodies which included some miniature eggs.
Happy holidays to you all.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Trouble at Mill

Dear Friends
Sorry there was no new post last night. I was working late. More of that in a moment. I have good news about the shelter we went to in Ishinomaki. I've been told that some people were moved out into a nearby primary school. This will have made more space and improved living conditions. The partitions were erected, I was told, on Sunday. And the children started colouring away on Saturday when they came back from school. Someone I don't know 'Anonymous' has  left a comment on this blog saying he/she is in the area and can take photos. I'm trying to make contact. The power of the internet... 

At work we've been trying to piece together information about our customers, but it's still very difficult. The situation is changing everyday and the forecasts seem to be continually revised downward. Factories on the coast which have been damaged still have no plans for re-opening. The Mitsubishi factory in Koriyama is still closed. Growers and businesses in the 30 km evacuation area have left the area and are unlikely to resume any time soon. Because of soil contamination and consumer confidence it's very difficult to make forecasts for sales of boxes to the agricultural sector. On the bright side, Sony Energy Device battery factory has started production and will be working throughout Golden Week to catch up. And JA Shirakawa (south of the prefecture) has announced it will be shipping its cucumbers (in our boxes). But March sales finished 30% down on last year and forecasts for April and May are 15% down. This is a very bad situation, and we're pouring in cash at an alarming rate. We have savings but what about those companies that don't? One company unable to pay could easily set up a chain reaction. It's scary. 

As well as following up on sales and payments, we're cutting back on purchases of paper (we increased them after the earlier shortages), only making what will sell now (not creating extra stock), and I'm sorry to say cutting wages. I've taken a pay cut and tomorrow will explain why we need to cut wages. I hate doing it as we don't pay very much anyway. And of course it has to be done in consultation, following  the proper procedures. But since we don't have any unnecesary spending we can take the knife to, I'm afraid we have to trim the wage bill. The plan is that we close a couple of days a month and the staff receive 70% of the wage for those days. There will also be shortened hours on the same basis. There are grants to compensate us for four-fifths of the 70% paid but the money won't come in for several months.

So after the (dare I say it?) excitement of the aftermath of the earthquake with all its repercussions, we find ourselves in a new, more settled state. But only now is a new, grim reality beginning to unfold. We may not have suffered direct damage from the earthquake or tsumami but indirectly our business and many many like us are fighting for survival. So, if you'll excuse me, from now on this blog becomes intermittent. I think there will be many more late nights in the office in the coming weeks.

As if to match my mood, the weather today was cold with heavy rain. Bad news for the cherry blossoms. But then that's the thing about chery blossoms here. The fragile, single Somei Yoshino, lasts only a few days and a cold storm will finish it off. Like life, it's very short. Catch it while you can.

And to finish, a picture of perhaps the most dramatic earthquake damage in Koriyama!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Cherry blossoms and cold shutdown

It's been a warm, sunny day in Koriyama and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. No revellers, of course, but in the main park (Kaiseizan) quite a few people were picnicking and there were lots of people walking round, admiring the blossoms, taking photos of each other, the usual things. Radiation levels are down, we haven't had any big aftershocks for four or five days so people are feeling relaxed.

The morning news had residents in Iitate and Kawauchi complaining about the 'planned evacuation' which was announced last week due to fears of the long term effects of radiation. Understandably they wanted to know how long they were to be away. A month? Six months? A year?

The answer came tonight. Tokyo Electric announced it hopes to achieve cold shutdown in 6 - 9 months. Funny how this becomes nine months in the BBC headline whereas the same locals interviewed tonight were saying six months. A case of the glass being half empty or half full?

Anyway, the plan is in two steps. Step One (three months) is to stop the radiation leaking by filling the reactors with water and getting the water circulating to cool the reactors except for Unit 2 which they want to repair first. They're also going to cover the buildings. Step Two (six to nine months from now) is to stabilise the cooling system and get to cold shutdown (under 100 degrees).  In nine months they hope to encase the buildings in concrete.

So what does this mean for us? That in three months time, the air will be clean? But what about farm produce? Will cucumbers in July be free from radiation or has the damage to the soil already been done?

Just one more point before I go. I heard that the foreign press were reporting that people in Tokyo were wearing masks because of radiation. That's not the case. Most people are suffering from hayfever. The cryptomeria (sugi) are casting off their yellow pollen and it's  bad this year. One of the guys who went with us yesterday is a sufferer and he says his eyes are so swollen he can't open them in the mornings and his nose is blocked. But he'll be able to cast off the mask as soon as Golden Week ends as the pollen suddenly stops.

I've had some constructive feedback regarding yesterday's trip and I shall continue to follow up on our visit. I'll keep you informed.
Best wishes
Kaiseizan Park

Niho-ji. No cherry blossom viewing here ...

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Dear  Friends
This is going to be a hard post to write. Things didn't turn out as we expected. Coincidentally, when I got home there was a programme filmed in exactly the same area we had been to with a few shots of the same evacuation shelter. NHK had followed up on some people in the town featured in a programme they made a few years ago. It was good television; they helped find the third member of a group of three lads who'd been separated and by the end of the programme the dejected fisherman is thinking about putting his one remaining boat out to sea. Good uplifting stuff. I wish I could be so positive about our experience today.

The expressway was busy, the road bumpy with temporary repairs in places, lots of army vehicles. People at the service station were on a mission, civil servants from Osaka, volunteers in wellies and masks.We passed many army camps: tents and vehicles. When we arrived at the centre we were expected but there was just one woman, one of the residents, running the place, and she was very busy. We unloaded the sheets and wanted to set them up but it didn't work out. Firstly, most of the residents were out, either at work or out searching for missing relatives. Secondly, the hall, a school gymnasium, was crammed full of stuff, blankets on the floor and low 'walls' of people's belongings. People had made little 'rooms' themselves ( all different shapes and sizes) and we couldn't section off an area without their permission. There was no spare space at all, just a narrow path around the outside. So we set one up just to show how it should be done but it had to be put back with the rest of the sheets in the entrance way - along with the boxes of crayons and pens. So we couldn't set it up ourselves and I didn't have the pleasure of seeing them set up and children using them. But I'm sure it will be done by the residents themselves when they're ready to do it.

I asked how many people were staying there and she said officially 270 but more people come in at night and she has no idea of the actual number. The atmosphere was not good. Maybe it was the time we visited but nothing seemed to be organised, a few people sitting around looking lost and dejected. It wasn't like the centres you see on television: smiley kids, shiny floors, buzzing with volunteers and organisors. Whilst we were there there was a delivery of relief goods and from the way people crowded round to see what had come in you didn't get the impression that the supply was adequate.

Someone told us that help was getting as far as Ishimaki city hall but no further. Why were there no officials? Why were there no organisors?

We took a detour through the town of Ishimaki on the way back. The damage is just like you see on televison and we were shocked. Houses destroyed, cars and boats all over the place.

The damage is so great, the scale so huge that as an individual one feels helpless. My conclusion is that perhaps the best thing for us to do is to give money and leave this mammoth task to organisational experts like the army and the Red Cross. There will be a time for smaller grassroot organisations but at least in the centre we saw today it seems like it's still early days. And here's a suggestion: the bureaucrats should get out of Kasumigasaki (Tokyo's Whitehall) and set up shop in Ishinomaki and get things moving.

So I'm a bit shell shocked this evening but I'm glad that I went and I know the things we took have got to where they're needed and will be well used. Thank you for your help.

Osaka City staff at the service station


Ishinomaki town



Natori (Sendai airport area). The trees on the horizon are on the coast.
Two to three kilometres away?

Friday, 15 April 2011

Thank you!

Dear Friends,
The boxes kept arriving throughout the morning. I expected some from my friends but I didn't expect to get so many parcels from people I don't know. Thank you all so much. The power of the internet is amazing. I asked for crayons and felt tip pens, and you sent lots. There were brand new ones, ones gathered up from around the house, and one lady sent watercolours and brushes she must have used herself. Thank you to you all. They look so colourful and cheerful when they're all put together.

So the plan is that we meet at 6.30 am. We hope to get to Ishimaki (north of Sendai) by about 10:00 but we're told to expect traffic jams: there is a lot of traffic and some roads are still blocked and one lane only. Also it's police changeover weekend. I think it's the Osaka police who are leaving to be replaced by police from Kagawa-ken (Shikoku). We've been told to prepare red signs proclaiming that we are carrying relief supplies and stop off at the police station to get a permit so we don't have to pay tolls on the expressway. We're to wear wellies, headgear (helmet if possible), and a mask (there is a lot of dust).

There will be six of us:  our sales manager, two of our salesmen, a guy from the production office, the truck driver and me. The transport company we use has provided the truck free of charge and the driver has volunteered his services. It's a real group effort.

Meanwhile the weather in Koriyama has suddenly improved with day time temperatures in the low 20s. And the cherry blossom is in flower! On time, in spite of the long and snowy winter and the earthquake. I'm getting hot walking to and from work in my raincoat with hood and feeling a bit conspicous so I need to re-think the uniform for the spring.

But tonight it's to bed. I hope to report tomorrow night on my day in the disaster area.
Best wishes and thanks to you all

More stable for now

No big aftershocks yesterday or today but there were a worrying couple of hours the other night after the big aftershock when the electricity failed at one of the reactors. But cooling is now continuing. Diesel electricity generators have been moved to higher ground as has an electricity generating vehicle. Let's hope the cord is long enough this time. One of the farcical elements of the first few days was that the electric cord for this vehicle wouldn't reach the reactors! Underlines the importance of carrying out training exercises. For a reassuring assessment of the risks, here's an update from the UK Scientific Advisor on the British Embassy in Tokyo's website.

So with the reactor under control and radiation levels in the air not causing serious risks, the problem for us is the economic damage, especially to farming, and to our business. Last week levels of caesium around here in Koriyama were high (2 to 3,000 bequerels per kg of soil) and tests were repeated. The results came out yesterday. Much the same as before but below the government's limit of 5,000 bq/kg. so preparations for rice planting are to go ahead. Whether the produce will be shipped is a different matter. If not, no boxes will be needed and we will suffer. (Vegetable seeds are to be sown and the seedlings tested again before they're planted out.) But on the same day that the new test results were announced the Ministry of Education announced that another radioactive element had been found in the soil.  In addition to iodine 131, caesium 134 and 137, :we have a new invisible enemy: Strontium 90 which accumulates in the bones. It has a high density and has been found over a wide area including near our shiitake packing factory.The announcement was made with the usual reassurance that it causes 'no risks to health' but as usual the facts alone are not reassuring. Not so much for us, but that it will make people think twice about buying food from here, thereby affecting the farmers and our sales.

The first meeting of the Recovery Committee took place today and the chairman is a man who was in charge of recovery after the Kobe earthquake. He certainly seems to have some positive ideas: build new houses on higher land; have offices and homes in apartment blocks with the homes on the upper floors out of reach of a tsumami; make artificial hills out of the debris which would serve as parks and evacuation points; and institute a national 'recovery tax' so all the nation can share the financial burden etc. There's also a plan to give (by the end of the month) 1 million yen to households which have lost their homes and to those who have been evacuated because of the reactor, up to and including the 30 km shelter area. This is good news indeed. But I wonder if our salesman, whose house is 30.5 km away will qualify?

Let me leave you with this. The Emporer and Empress are doing the rounds of the emergency shelters and will visit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures soon. They're very sweet, the Empress in her slacks and white trainers. But Sadao was appalled that some people didn't sit up properly (seiza) when talking to the Emperor. What is the world coming to?

All the best

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Crayons and pens please

Dear Friends in Japan
We're all set. The orders in. We're to make up partitions and take them to an evacuation centre in Ishinomaki on Saturday. The sheet will be corrugated with green paper on the outside and pale brown on the inside. We are told there are children in the centre so the idea is that they can draw on the inside of their new rooms and make them their own.

So I have a request. For those of you who can get a package to me by Friday night, I want crayons and felt tip pens to take up with me on Saturday. They don't have to be new. Any you have around the house would be fine. Anything that adults and children could use to write on the cardboard 'walls'. Please send by 'takkyubin' to me here at:

Tohoku Kogyo
1 - 12 - 5 Hohacho
Tel:  024-944-1480

福島県郡山市方八町1 - 12 - 5

Thanks. It's good to be able to do something practical at last.
Love to you all

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

More shocks

More earthquakes today. But only one,  about 2 pm, when we felt the urge to run outside. No one gave an evacuation order. It was instinct, and all of us felt the same. What is it about human beings that you stay at your desk if it's a force 4 and rush for the exit if it's a five?

When there is an earthquake, everyone thinks first about the reactor. 'Genpatsu daijobu?' (Is the reactor alright?)  So far it's not been affected but the aftershocks are interrupting the repair work and removal of contaminated water from unit 2.

And now it's official. We're up there with Chernobyl, a level 7 disaster - though we're told it's more to do with the scale of the disaster with four reactors affected than high risks to health. More confusion.

In Koriyama the trains, including the shinkansen bullet trains, are running for the first time. It's great to see the station open. On TV saw lots of people queueing in Shinjuku station in Tokyo to buy tomatoes and strawberries from Fukushima, as well as a buyer from the Ito Yokado supermarket chain. Could the tide be turning? Are people beginning to wake up to the damage being caused to agriculture and industry by false rumours?

Tonight we had talks with the Union regarding their demand for a 'base up' in spring. it wasn't hard to convince them of the dire state of the business in the aftermath of the earthquake and they settled for a 'zero base up'. They also wanted to know how things will change when Rengo becomes owrner of the business.  The sale is going ahead. The contract was signed at the end of March and money is due to exchange hands on 25 April. There are still some last minute negotiaions going on. Fingers crossed. It's reported that Otsubo-shacho decided to honour all contracts made before 11 March. I am extremely grateful for this. It reminds me of another great business leader, Carlos Ghosn who visited the Nissan factory in Iwaki soon after the quake and pledged to reopen it as soon as possible.

Weather forecast for tomorrow is sunny with minimum temperature of minus 1' and high of 17'. There's also a strong westerley wind which is good news.

One Month Today

Dear Friends,
Well, the earthquake celebrated its anniversary in style. I was awoken this morning with a force 3, a gentle rumble. Just before 2 pm there was a sharp jolt and then at 5.20 pm came the big one. This was a full scale, long-lasting shake You don't stop to think. We all headed for the exit. Out into the yard in the rain, the radioactive rain we've all been trying to avoid. We stood out there for about five minutes before venturing back inside. Half an hour later we all ran out again. Not such a big one, but you get nervous. There have been repeated shocks and the building continues to sway.

At the reactor the aftershock cut off power to Units 1 to 3 and they had to use fire engine pumps but the electricity was reconnected after 50 minutes. A TV programme at the weekend told us that at Three Mile Island cold shutdown (100'C) was reached after 5 days and the evacuation order lifted after 10 days. Fukushima Daiichi will take from several months to a year to reach this stage, we were told. Then it would take 3 - 4 years to clean up, 10 years to close and 50 years for it to die.

On the face of it things appear to be improving. Radiation levels are falling all the time. At the Koriyama city office it's 1.88 (microsieverts/hour) and at Big Palette conference centre 15 minutes drive from here only 0.98. Hey that's the same as Cornwall! And there's no trace of radioactive material in our water.

So why has Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano announced today that people in Iidatemura are to be evacuated? I guess the people in Tokyo are worried about long term effects. Iidatemura had a high of 50 mcsv/hr on 15 March but now it's down to 5. Fukushima city had 5 for a while but they weren't evacuated. It seems like the wrong decision at the wrong time.

Meanwhile the Americans announced the basis for their 80 km evacuation advisory given on 16 March. They admit now it was based on incomplete data on a hypothesis of fuel at No 2 reactor being completely destroyed and radioactive material dispersed for 16 hours. It turns out the Japanese government order of 20 km evacuation and 20 - 30 km shelter was appropriate in the circumstances. These are difficult decisions to make I know but I wish they were more holistic. Evacuating can be more traumatic and unhealthy than mild doses of radiation. At least this time Edano has said that the evacuees will be taken care of financially. The 'voluntary evacuation' recommendation was insiduous.

Here's a clip a friend sent me of Japanese journalists venturing into the no-go zone. Packs of dogs and herds of cattle. Interesting.

The Koriyama schools went back today. But just for the morning. The central kitchens have been damaged and can't yet supply lunches.

And let's finish on an upbeat note since it's the anniversary. The word for recovery is 'fukkyuh' (復旧)which means getting things back to where they were, restoration. There's another word 'fukkoh' (復興) which is much stronger and means renewal, building a new future. Edano has announced the formation of a group to consider renewal, first meeting this week. It'll be attended by the governor of Miyagi who has already come up with a plan: a 10 year plan, the first three years of which will be 'fukkyuh' ie getting things back to normal.
The poor governor of Fukushima looks more and more tired and on every occasion asks for only one thing: an end to the affair (jitai no shuhsoku 事態の収束)。He can't make any plans until the reactor's sorted.
Goodbye from an unseasonally cold Koriyama.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

R & R

Hi folks!
Feeling much better after my weekend away from the office, newspapers and TV. I took a little trip to visit my good friends in Kitakata, near Aizu Wakamatsu in the west of the prefecture. So today here are my holiday pics. It was a sunny day and Fukushima is very beautiful.

I headed for the lake, Inawashiro, the second largest lake in Japan, deep and clear. Lots of snow still on Mt Bandai. Then drove round to the back of the mountain, Ura Bandai, to one of my favourite spots, Goshiki-numa, or the Five Coloured Pools - different colours of blue and green - created when the volcano erupted 130 years ago. Spectacular and very beautiful. But I couldn't go beyond the first lake as the hiking path was still deep in snow. Then on  to Kitakata and at my request a visit to another magical place. Nagatoko is a hall, open on all sides, where shrine maidens used to dance to the gods. It dates from the Heian period (1051). It's famous in the autumn when the leaves of a very old gingko tree turn bright yellow and carpet the ground. Next an onsen. You can't be in Fukushima and not sample the hot springs. This was a municipal facility, part hot-spring, part daycare centre, in a beautiful new building, cost 300 yen! Then on to a local potter, Teshirogi-san of Kangetsu-gama (閑月窯)to choose a teapot or two to replace those smashed in the earthquake.

At Ura Bandai we met some evacuees from Tomioka, within the 20 km evacuation area and right next to Fukushima No 2 Nuclear Power Station (which was not affected by the tsunami). They were on a day out from Koriyama: 1,700 people and the town hall have moved to the Big Palette conference centre (where I was when the quake struck). Then at the hot spring we met some people who had been evacuated to Kitakata. The little boy wanted to speak English but was too shy. I don't know how many evacuees there are. It was on the news just now that there are 23,000 people from Fukushima prefecture who have evacuated to other parts of the country, so there must be tens of thousands remaining here.

Separately, both Sadao and Mary Helen commented that the normally taciturn people of Aizu were talking to each other more! Saying hello to strangers, asking neighbours how they had fared in the quake. There seems to be a new feeling of unity here.

Over our tempura soba at lunchtime we were trying to think of good uses for the area round the reactor, once it's cooled down and closed down. I've already mentioned someone's idea to turn it into a giant electricity generating plant which would supply us this time with electricity for the new industries which will have to be created to replace agriculture and fishing. Or there's this one: turn the whole coast into a giant military base - give the Okinawans back their beaches. But this one from Sadao must be the best: fill the area with temporary housing (kasetsu jutaku, the ones they're putting up for the evacuees) and make it into a retirement village for all the politicians who got us into this mess.
And with that I will leave you!
More tomorrow by which time I should be back in reporting mode.
Fields on the outskirts of Koriyama

Lake Inawashiro and Mt Bandai

Ura Bandai

The blue water in the first of the 'Five Coloured Ponds'

Nagatoko in Kumano Shrine, hall for ceremonial dances  (1051)


The shrine itself

Choosing teapots

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Aftershock

Dear Friends
Sorry about the abrupt end to the post last night. I was sitting here in my apartment on the 7th floor trying to think of an upbeat way to end the message when the quake hit. It was a big one - strong force 5 here in Koriyama. I dived under the table and crouched there hanging onto the wall. It went on for about a minute, strong waves from side to side and up and down. I want to tell you what it was like but it's so hard to put into words. It's noisy: the building creaks and rattles. I really can't find the words to describe it. All I know is it is absolutely terrifying.

The tremors subside. I come out from under the table feeling a bit silly but then go straight into emergency mode: TV on, cycle helmet on, check front door (yes, it opens), switch off main gas tap, fill the bath and every available container with water (don't want to get caught out like last time), sign off the blog. And then I just sat, watching the TV in my cycle helmet. The lowest point was when they reported that three out of four of the electric pumps at Onnagawa nuclear power station in Miyagi (in  the heart of the tsunami disaster area) had stopped. I couldn't bear to think of the Fukushima nightmare spreading. But then the pumps were reconnected. After a couple of hours I went to bed (in my clothes) and slept soundly.

At the office next morning the cracks on the stairs are a bit wider but that's all. The factory is alright. Now I will own up to something. Our new practice of sending the factory staff home early was not entirely altruistic. There were problems with the oldest part of the factory and work was done this last Monday and Tuesday to add extra braces and supports to strengthen the structure. I am so grateful to the CEO of that company who came round one Sunday after the quake and got the work done before yesterday's big shock.

The sales forecasts for the year are in. Sales to just 8 customers should see an increase over last year but there's a pageful of customers whose sales will fall. Some factories are moving production overseas but the vast majority of cases are related to this disaster: four factories closed down, dealers who have lost their customers, factories damaged, production reduced. It makes dismal reading.  And then there are those marked 'depends on the outcome at the power station'.

We make corrugated cardboard boxes and about 15% of our sales go to the agricultural sector so we're following the radiation and soil contamination question closely. As I reported yesterday seven localities, including Koriyama, had high levels of caesium in the soil (2-3,000 bequerels per kilogram). Tests in these areas are to be repeated and they are to decide next Tuesday whether planting can go ahead. Farmers have been given the go ahead to start work in other areas. Nobody has any proper information - there are no Japanese standards or even international standards I was told, although the Japanese government seems to use the figure 5,000 bequerels as the upper limit. The attitude of the farmers and the big farming cooperative seems to be that they will plant the rice anyway and if they're not able to sell it they'll make sure they get compensation (the Prime Minister has pledged to compensate all affected).

The ban on spinach from Gunma and milk from Aizu, Kitakata and Inawasahiro in the west of the prefecture has been lifted. Levels of radiation in the Aizu area have never been raised and the ban was a knee jerk reaction implemented at the prefecture (administrative) level. But as one farmer said, 'once you've lost your reputation it's not easy to get it back'. The damage is done. These are sentiments all of us in Fukushima share. Do the people in Tokyo making these decisions realise the impact they are having? They don't seem to have our interests at heart. For example, I heard today that when they measure the spinach they take a plant from the field, roots and soil and all. Why don't they cut off the roots and wash it? That's how people will eat it.

The results of the survey of radiation levels at schools came out and the levels were in line with those taken at the city office several times a day which are shown on television. So I guess the schools will be going back as planned on Monday.

We have had many more aftershocks today (one just now) and I've got earthquake sickness again: the feeling that things are swaying even when they're not. To be frank, this last aftershock has got to me and suddenly I feel very tired. I'm going to take a day off tomorrow, the first since March 11, and try and get out into the countryside (west of course) so there will be no blog tomorrow. Please excuse.
Keep well

Thursday, 7 April 2011

When will this end?

We had a visit today from the guy I told you about before, who makes printing dyes for us in his factory north of Sendai. We hadn't heard anything more about his request for corrugated sheet to use as partitions in the evacuation centres and I presumed that the need was over, that we had been too late. But it seems that is far from the truth. He says conditions up there are dreadful. There are still places not connected by road and receiving helicopter drops. He was afraid any sheet we sent would be burned since there is still no oil for heating and people are cold! He's waiting till people get more organised, into small groups, and then he's going to measure up and ask us to make the sheets.

He's over 60 and only last year had a bout with cancer and he's lost his own mother in the tsunami but he's volunteering at weekends. He says he's still doing a lot of work with the foreign media, as a spokesman or finding people to be interviewed. I said that everyone abroad was full of admiration for the way the Japanese people are coping but he said the reality is very different. He said the people are getting energy from the many foreign volunteers. He also mentioned a mountaineering group who had got members together from all over the country on Twitter and had come to help.

I relate these facts as he said them. It was a brief conversation but a real outpouring from the heart. Over and over he said, 'Hisan desu' (悲惨です), it's terrible. 'Hisan' translates as wretched, miserable, pitiable, tragic. You get the picture.

The long-awaited results of the soil survey were in the papers this morning but the results are confusing and worrying. The measure is of bequerels of caesium (134 and 137) per kilogram of soil. Normal conditions are in the tens. Only Nishi-Aizu, in the far west, had a reading at that level (42). Everywhere else was over 100. Iidate, north of the reactor where the contaminated milk was found had a whopping 15,031. Hirata where the brown rice I have been living on these past few weeks was grown had a reading of 238 (paddy) and 403 (dry fields). Koriyama had a reading of 875 near Sakuragaoka in my old house where I was staying until last week but in town it's 2,500 and near our shiitake packing factory to the north 3,600. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to these figures. Places near the reactor are low(ish) while Koriyama, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, big towns 60 km away have high readings.The tests are to repeated in these places and farmers have been asked to delay starting work.

As for the other places, this request has not been made so farmers are in theory able to start tilling the fields. But there are no national standards as yet so everything is vague and unsatisfactory. These are not the results everyone was hoping for and will only fuel the damage to Fukushima food and products.

Shocking bit on the news about a delivery company which had been asked not to make deliveries in Tokyo in its trucks with Iwaki numberplates. I've heard similar stories myself and you get the odd comment. Feel like I'm in a biblical leper colony!

Just this moment we have had a massive earthquake. There is a tsunami warning out.
I'm sorry. I can't write anymore.

Nothing to Worry About

Dear Friends
Just as I sat down to write this blog we had a minor quake. Unsettling as we haven't had any noticeable ones since Sunday. Subtitles on the TV told us it was force 4 in Miyagi, force 3 here. They didn't stop the programmes so nothing to worry about. Incidentally listening to the radio yesterday I heard that earthquake-sickness is a recognised complaint, some trouble with the ears, and travel sick pills are effective!

The sales results are in for March -  20% down on last March. Presuming that the first 10 days were the same as last year, it means that sales since 11 March were 65% of the same period last year. We face a big cash shortage at the end of the month. We have money in the bank - for now ...  We are trying to get the years forecasts  together. Our man in Iwaki has put zero forecasts in for many of his customers for the whole year. Surely things can't be that bad? But everytime the sales force come back the forecasts seem to be revised downwards. The Mitsubishi factory is supposed to re-open next Monday but we're not sure. The big companies evacuated their staff early on and are really nervous about the nuclear question.

The results of the big soil survey were due tonight but there's been nothing on TV so they haven't been announced yet. I'm glad. This informaton needs to be properly controlled. We've had too many damaging announcements. It's one thing to try and be open but vague statements (such as recommending voluntary evacuation) or Edano's blanket ban on consuming veg from the whole prefecture have been extremely damaging. One word you hear a lot is 初動 (shodoh) which means the first shock of an earthquake but it seems to be used in the sense of 'knee jerk reaction' to events. Thank you for the comments on yesterday's post. I take on board the fact that nuclear is safe and hardly anyone has died as a direct effect of radiation (the two workers who died were killed by the tsunami) but the real damage is from contamination, doubt about the safety of food, can I even say prejudice, and the huge economic damage we are suffering as a result.

Here's a link to a piece on the BBC website entitled 'Japan Plant - who's in charge?' which voices the opinions of a lot of people here. There's a strong feeling that Prime Minister Kan's anti-bureaucrat mission is misplaced (whatever sins they have committed in the past) and that to get organised we need to get the bureaucrats back in.
One person who has come out of this well is Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo. He's up for election next Sunday. He's been very practical, lending civil servants, crematoria and state of the art fire engines to the disaster areas and has been more statesmanlike than the Prime Minister.

The question I asked in yesterday's blog: what is worst scenario? was answered on TV this morning. Release of radiation, which we all know about, and another hydrogen explosion. The leak from the pit into the sea has been plugged and now they are pumping another chemical into one of the reactors to prevent such an explosion. But since Sarkovy's visit the government top brass have ditched their unfashonable boiler suits and are wearing suits so things must be alright. Nothing to worry about.
Love to you all

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Iodine Pills

Hi folks
I got a phone call today from the British Embassy reminding me that they are recommending British nationals within an 80 km radius of the reactor to leave (Koriyama is 56 km away). I asked why when the Japanese government recommends shelter up to a radius of only 30 km and was referred to their website which merely states that it is a precautionary measure and in line with US recommendations. If only life was so simple! I run a business with 100 staff and after a bit of bother last year with a dishonest employee, I am the sole guardian of the company seals: without me, no cheques would be stamped, no official documents would be authorised. Unfortunately, I can't jump ship.

But the embassy are going to send me some iodine pills. I've been looking at the instructions. You only get enough for two doses and a dose only lasts 24 hours so you haven't to waste them. You have to wait until the 'black plume' of radiation gets near.  I'm old enough to remember the Cold War and the instructions we were given in case of a nuclear bomb. You were supposed to turn the understairs cupboard into a shelter, line it with tin-foil and stay there for two weeks. How a family was supposed to breathe for two weeks in such a small place I don't know. A while back such reminiscences would have been comical. No laughing matter now. But I thought this was not supposed to be a Chernobyl style meltdown, that worst case scenario would be a gradual contamination of the soil (which is certainly happening). If someone can enlighten me I would be very grateful. In the meantime, I'll hang onto the pills.

The news from the reactor goes from bad to worse. The water they dumped last night is drifting south along the coast and not dispersing as expected. The Koreans are angry that it was dumped at night and without warning.The fisherman are devastated. The TV shows diagrams of the food chain which for once are not at all reassuring. The plankton, seaweed and little fish near the shore are going to be contaminated and then they're going to be eaten by bigger fish which in several months time could show levels of caesium 100 times normal  (caesium is the bad one that takes 30 years to disintegrate).

Proofs of my new book, Conversational Japanese:  the right word at the right time  have just arrived and Tuttle, the publishers, want to go to press on April 18th. Yikes! Since I am by training a linguist, I thought I'd finish today, for those of you who are interested, with some of the current words and phrases being used in this crisis.
Love to you all

First, the earthquake:
(Note: I don't know how to do macrons on this blog so long vowels are marked either with an extra vowel or with an 'h')

東日本大震災   Higashi Nihon Daishinsai     The Great East Japan Earthquake (the name changed three       times. This is the final official version)
地震         jishin               earthquake
津波         tsunami              (no translation needed)
震災         shinsai                earthquake disaster (this is used a lot, for example:    震災から初めて買物へ行った shinsai kara hajimete kaimono e itta  I went shopping for the first time since the quake)
余震         yoshin               aftershock(s)
断水         dansui               no water supply
停電         teiden               power cut
避難所        hinanjo             evacuation centre
被災地        hisaichi             area affected by the disaster
救援物資        kyuuen busshi         relief supplies
日赤           Nisseki             The Japanese Red Cross (contraction of Nihon Seki Juuji) 
仮設住宅       kasetsu juutaku         temporary housing
運行、運休       unkoh, unkyuu         These are the words used to tell you if the trains are running. Unkoh means they are running. Unkyuu means the service is suspended.

Next, the nuclear disaster:
原発         genpatsu              nuclear power station (contraction of 原子力発電所 genshiroku hatsudensho)
福島原発事故    Fukushima genpatsu jiko      accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station
東電        Tohden                                     Tokyo Electric (abbreviation of Tokyo Denryoku, usually appears in English press as Tepco)
原子炉       genshiro               reactor
冷却水       reikyakusui              water for cooling
放射能        hohshanoh             radiation
避難地域     hinan chiiki              evacuation area
屋内退避地域   okunai taihi chiiki           area where you should remain indoors, shelter
土壌汚染     dojoh ohsen             contamination of the soil

And finally, a really nice word:
心のケア   kokoro no kea    literally, 'care of the heart', it's an all purpose word with a very wide application ranging from holding a child's hand, to listening to someone's problems, to professional counselling.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Toxic waste

Dear All
Back in my apartment and back to the old routine of a 25 minute walk to and from work. In the early morning and under cover of darkness Toshiaki and I don the 'uniform' (hood, mask and gloves) although it's impossible to keep that up during the day. One stays inside, going out quickly in the car when needed. Don't want to worry the staff. Toshiaki has bought a black North Face windbreaker to replace the red poncho.

Schools are due to go back next Monday (11th) but the prefecture is carrying out radiaton tests at 1,400 locations and it will decide whether to go ahead with the school opening ceremonies on the basis of the results. There's also a big soil contamination survey taking place. I think the prefecture has organised this but I'm not sure. Soil tests are being taken at 10 km intervals on a grid pattern over the whole prefecture. The results will be announced on Wednesday (6th). Our sales manager visited the agricultural cooperative in Aizu today. Aizu is a famous historical castle town, very conservative, known as the last stand of the shogunate in the 1860s. It's 42 km west of Koriyama, so nearly 100 kms from the reactor, and separated from Koriyama by a huge lake and high mountains. No traces of radiation so far. They are understandably very angry at being tarred with the same brush as the rest of the prefecture and they talk of  re-registering their produce as 'Aizu' and ditching the Fukushima name. But they are going to wait for the results of the survey on Wednesday.

At the company sales are down. One small agricultural cooperative halved its usual order of 20,000 cases for delivery on 28 April and has warned it may change again. The famous kamaboko (fish sausage) maker we pack for (Yuzuki) on the coast can't resume production until the water gets connected mid-April, the big Sony battery factory in town re-started at the end of last week but won't be back to normal until the end of the month. On the other hand, we have some orders from dealers who can't get their usual supplies from box makers in the Sendai area. We're trying to make forecasts but there's still so much uncertainty.

The news tonight from the reactor is shocking. Since they have run out of places to put the contaminated water they've been hosing in, they're to dump 10,000 tons of 'low radiation' water in the sea tonight from Unit 2 and 1,500 tons from Units 5 and 6. Although this water has levels 100 times normal we are assured that even if we ate fish for a year from these waters we would not be at risk. Who are they kidding! Who is going to be able to fish in these waters? At least the guy who announced this, from Tokyo Electric, was really cut up when he made the announcement, not like the smarmy spokesman from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency who's usually on the news. But coming now, just as people are beginning to think about rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, this is a heavy blow indeed.

Here's a link sent to Takeshi with a really good presentation on what happened at the Fukushima Nuclear Reactors. It's in powerpoint but if you scroll down the comments there's a link to a google.doc you can access if you don't have powerpoint:

So, goodnight from Fukushima. There's a frost warning tonight.

Back Home

Dear Friends
I moved back to my apartment today. It's still got big cracks in the wall on the north side (see photo Day Four) but the door closes properly now and there's not much damage once you get inside. Senzaki-san and his wife who gave me lodgings for the past three weeks, organised a little dinner last night with champagne. I dressed up a bit and it was wonderful to feel civilised again.

Driving into town from Sakuragaoka the fields were empty. Most farmers around here are part-time farmers so normally a Sunday in spring would see lots of people out in the fields. But I saw no one. Eerie.

Filled up with petrol, no trouble. Gone up to 155 yen/litre from 135 yen. But that's Libya.

At the reactor, they've plugged the crack with plastic but worryingly the radiation levels in the sea have not fallen. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano has announced that the evacuation areas are to be reviewed. Up to now they've been rather crude: a 20 km exclusion zone shown as a red circle; and outside that a 10 km zone (30 km from the reactor) shown in orange, where people are supposed to stay indoors. Some maps which have been circulating for about a week now show radiation levels to be high in a crescent-shaped area which covers Iidate-mura 40 km north-west of the reactor where the contaminated milk was found. These maps were based on computer simulations drawn up after the explosions on the 14th and 15th and warned of radiation being detected as far away as Shizuoka but they were not made public as 'equipment had been damaged in the earthquake and the figures were incomplete'. On the other hand, we now hear that the test for beef last week was mistaken and Fukushima beef is not affected. But it's too late now. The damage has been done. Sometimes the government seems over-zealous in giving out information and at other times seems to be holding it back. It doesn't inspire confidence. But the gist of it is that it's going to take months not weeks to control the reactor - by which I mean stop the radiation - and that new reality is beginning to sink in.

In the disaster areas things seem more organised. For the past three days a massive search has been mounted to try and recover bodies. 25,000 American and Japanese soldiers, 120 aircraft, 60 ships, are searching the coast. What a horrible job. Of the 16,000 reported missing they only found 66 in the first two days.

Officials are also going round assessing the damage to buildings and issuing certificates (four levels of damage) which will form the basis for compensation.

One hears a lot too of restoration and renewal. The Prime Minister has promised the first meeting of a 'Renewal Committee' on April 11th, a month after the quake. He's promised to rebuild towns on higher ground, make them models of ecology and aimed at an ageing population.

As for the area around the reactor, people are saying that the 20 km zone at least will be nationalised. Maybe they'll turn it into a giant power station and let us have some of the electricity this time to power the new industries that will have to be developed here to replace agriculture and fishing. Koriyama could actually benefit.

I'd run out of foundation and replensihing stocks was an important task today but with the shopping mall still closed (I hear there was a fire, which activated the sprinklers and wet all the stock) and the Ati building (old Seibu department store) at the station also closed, I was forced to shop in the pile 'em high sell 'em cheap drugstore near the station. Treacly Japanese female volcalist's rendition of Holst's Jupiter already making me feel emotional when the place began to shake and rattle. A few things fell off the shelves. We all held our breath. But it didn't last long. I grabbed some cheap teenage make-up, paid at the till and left. A typical day in Koriyama.
Love to you all

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Ganbare Fukushima!

Hi folks
They've found a crack in a 'pit' in Unit 2 which is leaking highly radioactive water into the sea. The good news is that if they can plug the gap, contamination of the sea will be stopped. The bad news is that there may be more cracks they havn't found yet. Things are progressing: they're moving the radioactive water around to make space for more water; two ships, one a US ship, have arrived with supplies of freshwater to use for cooling the reactors; pumps are ready in  Units 1 to 4 - just need  connecting to the electricity supply; and 8 monitoring posts have resumed taking readings and collecting data, the first time since they were put out of action by the quake. In addition, plastic resin has been sprayed over the site in an attempt to contain radiation from the debris.

We are continually told that levels are safe and there is no risk of cancer but it turns out that this situation is unprecedented and nobody knows the effects of long term exposure to these levels of radiation. Great. We're guinea pigs.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said yesterdy that stabilising the reactor could take weeks or months, and that it would be ten years before it was finally shut down.

Fukushima is fighting back with a 'Ganbare Fukushima!'(Go for it, Fukushima!) campaign. Nishida Toshiyuki, a famous character actor from Koriyama, munched cucumbers with the governor in a local supermarket in an attempt to dispel the scare-mongering regarding all fruit and veg from Fukushima.

But things are not looking good. Rice farmers have been told not to cultivate the fields and await further instructions but things are tense as the rice is generally planted in Golden Week (first week of May) and it takes a month to raise the seedlings. On a lesser note, I'm wondering what to do about the flower bed at the company which is my domain. The ornamental cabbages planted last November should be pulled up and the bed planted with pansies but is it safe to till the soil? I won't bother this weekend. Next weekend?

Supply of  shiitake mushrooms has fallen 60% since the quake. The women packers have been put on a 3 day week. I've worked out that we can get government grants so we only have to pay 12% of their wages on the two days a week they are laid off. We've used this system before: it's been in place since the 'Lehman Shock' as they call it here since the government will do anything to avoid mass unemployment. The difference now is that we don't have to fill in lots of complicated paperwork in advance. If we submit the paperwork by June 16th everything can be backdated to 11 March.
11 March. This is Japan's 9.11.
Love to you all

Blue sheets, a familiar sight in Koriyama. There's a 6 month waiting list to get your roof tiles fixed.

The weather forecast now comes with wind direction pics ...

... and radiation levels

Friday, 1 April 2011

Three Weeks On

At 2:46 today, exactly three weeks after the quake,  I was driving along an old road, the Oshu Kaido. It winds up and down, bordered by gnarled old pine trees, and with a bit of imagination you can conjure up images of  the daimyo and their entourage making their half yearly trips to the shogun in Edo. It was sunny and had that misty feeling of spring, snow covered mountains in the distance. No sign yet of spring foliage or blossom but spring can't be far away.

More first-hand stories today. The owner of the company who makes our printing dyes visits every week from Sendai and came today for the first time since the disaster. He lives in Matsushima, a famous tourist resort. He lost his 90 year old mother in the tsunami. He found her body the next day and managed to get her cremated straightaway. He seemed to have lost weight and he told me he'd worked as a volunteer in the local temple for ten days:  'I lost only one member of my family but there were people who had lost four or five family members', he said. For the first five days he was busy as the local spokesman for visiting foreign media. Then he got to work using his contacts to get food in for this was the most pressing problem. He had friends in Hokkaido who organised 30 people to come and cook hot raamen (noodles) for the evacuees. He said some people cried when they got this hot meal.

I asked him a question that many of you have asked me. How can people give money and know it's getting to the people who need it? He said they were given lists of where the food and relief items came from. He said the Japanese Red Cross was the main donor in the early days along with donations raised on televison.  I asked if there was anything we as a company could do and he asked for corrugated sheet which could be made into partitions for use in the evacuation centres. Prefabs are being built but many people face weeks if not months in such centres. So we're going to try and organise this and it will be good to do something to help.

Our salesman who used to be based in the Iwaki area visited there yesterday and showed me some pictures he'd taken. It's one thing seeing images on television but quite another for someone you know to show them on his camera with a commentary in his own words. He'd taken pictures in Onohama port: big boats washed up on the quays, one boat quite a way inland. It brought home again the force of the tsunami. We'd wanted pictures of the industrial estate where some of our customers are based but the area was off limits. There are police from all over Japan in the disaster areas, cordoning areas off, making them secure.

Incidentally, the disaster has been re-named (this is the third name) and is now officially the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai). In Koriyama life is getting back to normal. We have petrol and the shelves in the Seven Eleven are almost full. No big aftershocks today. If only that nuclear power station wasn't there ... But more of that tomorrow.
Good night