Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Company seals

Hi folks,

First the tsunami, today a typhoon. What a bloody country. Heavy rain and gales this morning. But after scare stories that the nuclear plant was not ready for a typhoon (the buildings not yet covered), so far it seems to have weathered the storm.

Journalist on television yesterday talking about 3.11 (san-ten-ichi-ichi). Echoes of 9.11. Strange, as the most common way to say 9.11 in Japanese has no mention of numbers: doji tahatsu tero jiken 同時多発テロ事件 literally,  'simultaneous multi terrorist incident'). But the comparison is real enough. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident were indeed Japan's 9.11.

Nearer to home, today must go down as a red letter day in the annals of the Kaneko family. After 23 years as shacho (CEO) of Tohoku Kogyo, the family packaging business inherited from my husband  in 1989, I have been bumped upstairs to an honorary position (kaicho) and a man from Rengo who's spent the last ten years running a (much smaller) Rengo subsidiary, has taken on the top job. We had the AGM today and the board now consists of the original three directors with three more from Rengo. Toshiaki is auditor.

So big changes for me personally. Some good, some not so good. I've lost use of the Toyota Prius hybrid car I loved to drive. Handed over the keys to the new boss. I've changed rooms. I'm back in splendid isolation in ojiichan, my father-in-law's,  office. It's where I got put in the very early days: a huge room with alcoves, a massive desk and a carpet (in the old days, visitors had to change into slippers before entering the hallowed space). When I came to live here full time in 2006, I moved into a simpler office to be part of the action and it's that office I vacated.

Handed over the company seals too: the daihyosha-in (代表者印). My relief was palpable but for those of you who're not familiar with this an explanation is in order. All Japanese companies have to have a 'legal representative' (daihyosha):  someone who signs the cheques, backs the loans, and takes final responsibility for everything. Unlike a signature which is hard to forge, company seals can easily be 'borrowed' and mis-used.  They are kept in the company safe and, after a bad experience last year, I guard them with my life.The seals are important but they are also symptomatic. No longer is it my responsiblity and mine alone to turn a profit, pay the bills, and make difficult decisions. I feel a great weight lifted from my shoulders. It's already been easier this last month as I've had access to the Rengo head office in Osaka. I could just ring them up with a question and with an office full of bright people I'd get an answer within the hour. It was a novel experience and made me realise how hard, and lonely, it is at the top of a small company.

So one down and four to go. Yes, I'm still daihyosha of four more companies (one with 12 staff). So still lots more work to be done before I can retire and go home. But for tonight, a minor celebration on today's important milestone.
Love to you all

Friday, 27 May 2011

フクシマ or 福島?

Kan is in France and suddenly he's centre stage. Masterminded by Sarkozy in whose interests it is to show that Japan is on top of the accident and that nuclear is safe. It's strange to see French people saying 'Fukushima'. When people used to ask me where I lived, 'Fukushima' met with a blank expression and I had to explain that it was between Tokyo and Sendai, followed up by an explanation of where Sendai was. Now the whole world knows Fukushima.

Takeshi had a question after reading a Japanese newspaper I gave him when I was in England. The editorial in the Nikkei mentioned フクシマ 'Fukushima' written in katakana rather than the usual characters 福島. He was shocked as Hiroshima is written in katakana when people want to refer to the atom bomb rather than the city. He asked me if this is usual. I'm happy to say it's not. When the papers and TV refer to the area, the people or, say, the agricultural produce, it's written 福島. But I did see this usage in the papers the other day. A diplomat was talking about 安全なフクシマ, 'a safe Fukushima' so I guess Fukushima in katakana is being used to refer to the power station and the accident. Doesn't feel good, though.

Heartbreaking scenes on the television this evening. You remember that the hot spring town I was in last weekend is temporary home to the people of Namie-machi. Well, it was their turn today to revisit their homes for the first time since the quake. Four kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi with radiation levels of 44 microsievelts/hour. They showed a makeshift Buddhist memorial service held amongst the debris on the coast. In another context it would be ridiculous - the Buddhist priest with an orange robe over his white protective suit and the mourners in white garb, shower caps, masks and green plastic gloves - but it was just very very sad. The people visited their homes and salvaged what they could (one bin liner full). One family's cat was still alive. They left food for it but couldn't bring it out.

Two and a half months after the accident Tokyo Electric have let it be known that Reactors 2 and 3 suffered meltdown on the 15 and 14 March. Work continues to be difficult with high radiation levels (workers only allowed to work 15 minutes at a time in Reactor 2) and the endless problem of how to deal with the contaminated water which is still being hosed in for cooling. A huge barge (which used to be an island for people to fish off!) has arrived which can be used to store water and the Americans and French are working on systems to circulate and clean the water - but they're not up and running yet. 

Meanwhile we suffer. Sales appalling for May too. Some areas further away (manufacturing in Yamagata and Aizu) are doing well but there are no fruit and veg to pack. We have orders but production hasn't started yet. Everything is so late, three weeks at least. Again, I thank God I've sold the business. I'm not sure we could have weathered this storm. The new CEO starts on Monday. I've had the big cracks on the stairway plastered and painted over. But I don't think I'm going to be able to plaster over the cracks in this year's budget. Poor guy - posted to Fukushima and presented with a budget massively in the red. This is going to test his mettle.

Bye for now

Monday, 23 May 2011

Dake Onsen

I had a short trip out of town this weekend and it was good to get out. It's a lovely time of year - azaleas in full bloom, fresh green leaves, and in the hills wild wysteria flowering high up in the trees. The rice is being planted out now, three weeks late.

I was heading for Dake Onsen, in the foothills of Mt Adatara the mountain that dominates Koriyama to the north. It was Mary Helen's treat and we had a lovely time: an oil massage (esute, in Japanese), wonderful food, panoramic views, and of course the bath. The waters in this area are high in sulphur and cloudy white; very different from the silky clear water of Bandai Atami where I stayed a few weeks ago. The water travels 8 kms from the source further up the mountain but is still very hot. Geothermal energy there that could be harnessed?

But in Fukushima you can't easily escape the disaster. We shared the hotel with 80 evacuees from Namie-machi, just up the coast from Fukushima Daiichi, and which moved en masse to this area. The town hall set up shop in a ryokan (Japanese style hotel) in Dake Onsen main street, the hale and hearty seem to be in a gymnasium right next to our hotel, with young families and older people in the hotel itself. The people camping out in the gym had use of the hotel's baths so I guess they're pretty well off. But what a life. I commented that if it was me I'd be off making a fresh start somewhere else. Mary Helen thought people were less mobile, and just shell-shocked.

I didn't get a chance to talk to anybody but there were notices around the place: how to claim for money (the donations - gienkin 義援金 - people at home and abroad have been giving), a schedule showing that 1,800 prefabs in Dake Onsen and neighbouring Nihonmatsu would be ready mid-June, and work ads.

The local papers have the news that Tokyo Electric has abandoned plans to build a 7th and 8th reactor at the Fukushima plant. This is hardly a surprise but it's worth reflecting that Fukushima is not simply a victim. Fukushima prefecture and the local councils benefited enormously from the taxes on these facilities. As reactors got old and depreciated, there would be a loss in revenue so the only way to keep the money flowing was to expand and build new reactors. It was like a drug.

The front page has pictures of Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak happily munching tomatoes and cherries here in Fukushima. They laid flowers amongst the debris on the coast and gave panda teddies to children in a shelter. Let's hope they continue the good work and help put an end to the groundless rumours (fuhyo higai 風評被害)that are still seriously affecting manufacturing and tourism, not only here but all over Japan. (Incidentally, one of our competitors found himself in the lurch when his Chinese workers upped and left on 14th March. I'll be interested to hear if they come back.)

At the post-summit press conference today it was all smiles in a big show of solidarity. But I wonder what was said in private? There's lots of finger-pointing going on in the media (currently it's why the pressure in the reactors was not vented earlier, according to the instruction manual, to avoid the hydrogen explosions) and our neighbours can't be happy about the continuous discharge of radioactive materials into the air and the sea.

Ah well, I'm going to bed. Busy week ahead.
Love to you all

Saturday, 21 May 2011

GReeeeN summer

We had a couple of big tremours today. One about ten in the morning and the other at half past four. The one in the afternoon was closer (off the Fukushima coast)  and magnitude 5.2, so force 3 or 4 in the office. The big cracks on the stairs were definitely wider after the shocks. I have a plasterer coming in next week as I thought  we were over the worst. I'll be upset if we get more cracks after the work's done.

Spent a good part of the day trying to decide whether to get in touch with our lawyer about claims for payment of goods not delivered to several kamaboko (fish sausage) producers which were swept away by the tsunami in Iwaki. Actually it's nothing to do with us. Our boxes go through two wholesalers and we didn't supply after the quake. We did make 4,000 cases on March 11th but they were never delivered and are still sitting here. In the end it seems it's going to be sorted out further down the line but people are losing money and it's not pretty.

Another hot day. It's getting too hot to walk to work so I've gone over to summer mode - I bike into work - much cooler. As I biked back tonight I heard that summer sound: frogs. You wouldn't think there would be frogs in the middle of town but there's some disused land near the railway tracks which must be home to a lot of frogs. Quite loud. Meanwhile, Fukushima city has announced there will be no swimming in school swimming pools this summer. And according to the news, the shops are full of long-sleeved clothing. What a life.

And now let me introduce you to GReeeeN (sic). This is a pop group that's been going a few years - first hit was Kiseki (Miracle 2008, six weeks at No.1). They're good and have a song you can download for free (see link below) that they wrote in support of and to cheer up the victims of the disaster. It's much better than the 'I love you baby, Fukushima' song I mentioned a while back.

I first heard about them last summer and the interesting thing is that they're anonymous (you never see their faces) and a bunch of dentists from Koriyama! None of their patients would take them seriously if they knew they were musicians! Maybe I'm reading too much into this but this is a very conservative area and to be seen to have outside interests does not go down well. Renaissance man has not arrived here. Whatever you do, you have to give it 100%. Otherwise you wouldn't be taken seriously. Likewise, my blog, and my books are my secret. It would do me no good to be seen to be digressing one moment from my heavy responsiblities. (On the other hand, serious dedication and quiet singlemindedness are just the qualities needed to cope in this disaster.)  BTW another piece of trivia regarding GReeeeN is that some of them  used their knowledge as dentists to help identify victims of the disaster. So after all that, here's the song. It's got translatons in several languages and they're collecting photos too if you want to join in.

Good night,

Friday, 20 May 2011

Tokyo Electric

Hi there!
Working hard, working late. Less to report as life settles into normal routines. We're even getting some foreign news on the telly again. The drama might be over, but we're living in difficult times. April's appalling sales figures (not one single box for fruit and veg sold!) have resulted in a massive loss. On top of that, our main sub-contractor, a sweet man in his 80's, has announced he's shutting shop (18 staff). It's been hard for a long time but the earthquake and the nuclear accident were the final straw and he's had enough. It's going to hit us hard. We're trying to think of a way to keep his business going but it's not looking good.

Somebody must be profiting from this. Certainly all the hotels in Koriyama are full. The town is being used as a base for the technical people and civil servants working for the recovery. But nothing is coming our way. One manufacturer we supply makes insulation material for housing but sales are not peaking as they should. The government announced that everyone who'd been made homeless by the disaster would be in a  prefab by the O-bon holiday (mid-August) so I hear that prefabs are coming from China to meet the deadline! Ironcially, that's not going to help us recover.

There was some film on television tonight that Tokyo Electric had found when it put out an inhouse call for information. Dramatic footage of the tsunami racing over the 10 metre high breakwater and flooding the power plant up to a height of 14 - 15 metres. They've always said that they hadn't planned for an accident on this scale (soteigai 想定外)but people might have been more sympathetic if they'd produced this compelling evidence earlier.

Tokyo Electric revised their schedule a couple of days ago. They're still keeping to the original plan to stabilise cooling by July and cold meltdown by January. But when we've had continous revelations of things being worse than expected people here are pretty sceptical. Will they really get all the reactors under control? As more people are moved away in 'planned evacuations', people wonder whether they will ever be able to return to their land. One of the items in the schedule refers to replacing the soil: not just the soil in the schoolyards but agricultural land too. A huge task and one that will take years.

I was in the local JA (Agricultural Coop) last week and picked up some forms for claiming compensation. Those farmers who got their claims in by the end of April will get a preliminary payment by the end of May. For the next round of payments farmers have to get their claim forms in by end of June. You can claim for produce that was banned, produce you sent to market but didn't sell, crops that had to be destroyed and crops you were unable to plant because of the nuclear accident. An organisation has been set up to fund compensation It will be financed by the sale of land and other Tokyo Electric assets with the shortfall provided by the government (us, the taxpayer) . No ceiling for payments.  How much will it cost?

Here's a black 'recruitment' video for Tokyo Electric (Toden). It's all in Japanese but the refrain is 'Join Tokyo Electric and be a man. Die in glory!' With thanks to Masami Bornoff and apologies to my friend whose daughter, in the current climate, had to postpone her wedding to a man who works for Tokyo Electric.

Bye for now

Monday, 16 May 2011

Sustainable Energy

Last week when I was in Osaka, our new boss, Mr Otsubo, CEO of Rengo, remarked on our new-found 'literacy' when it comes to radiation. Microsievelts, bequerels, these words roll off the tongue these days. Who would have thought it a few months ago? We learnt the hard way. The big problem now is shortage of electricity and he urged us to get basic literacy in this too.

At present 35 out of the 54 nuclear reactors in Japan are out of action. Japan's energy policy previously aimed for 50% nuclear but Kan has ordered a serious look into sustainable energy.
My son Takeshi recommends a book on sustainable energy which I want to pass on. It's by someone who, by coincidence, gave me some solid  advice when everyone was in a panic in the early days (thank you, Ben).

This guy got fed up with people making wishy washy statements about sustainable energy so he wanted to work out the numbers to see if it added up. What he does is calculate how many wind turbines, how many solar panels you would need to power Britain. It turns out that none of these are enough on their own so you need a combination. The conclusion is that if you wanted to power the UK on renewables (including nuclear), you need to invest 870 billion GBP. That's a lot but the UK spends 75 billion GBP per year on energy so it's not unrealisable (p.217 of the book). But there will be opposition, like the HS2, to covering the countryside with solar panels and wind turbines.

Here's a video clip about the book:

You can download the book for free from:

I downloaded the 10 page pdf and was intrigued to see the different combinations: the total renewable plan (need to cover the countryside with solar panels and wind turbines); the NIMBY plan (importing solar energy from the Sahara); the economical plan (nuclear), etc.

Incidentally, this book has been translated into several languages but not Japanese. Any volunteers?

Takeshi adds, 'If any country could switch completely to renewables, it's probably Japan. After the nuclear disaster they have the motivation, also the technology and funds. Japan is also blessed with mountains all over the country where they could store the intermittent energy generated by renewables for later use as hydroelectricity.' And, a bit tongue in cheek, 'The Japanese preference for concreting the landscape might even be a strength'.
This is not an easy subject. There are difficult trade-offs. But we can't go on as we are. We need to get literate and this is a good start.
Koriyama is warming up and I'm beginning to wonder how I'm going to keep cool without using the air conditioner and without opening the windows. I think I'd better buy a fan.
Bye for now


Saturday, 14 May 2011


Shocked today to hear that Reactor No. 1, which we’d understood to be the most advanced in terms of nearing shutdown, has suffered meltdown. 10,000 tons of water had been pumped into that reactor and we’d been shown drawings of the inner vessel full of water, right up to the top. However, when engineers got into the building for the first time this week and actually measured the water, they found only 4 metres at the bottom of the vessel. The fuel has melted and is sitting in this water and must have burnt holes in the casing through which the water has escaped. Where to nobody knows. The good news is that what water there is is between 100 to 120 degrees so cold shutdown has been achieved. But the clean-up is going to be much more difficult than expected and will take longer than the 6 - 9 months announced earlier.

I was in Osaka on Thursday and the boss of Rengo, Mr Otsubo, is very hands-on and impressive. He was in London for a few years before joining Rengo (in 2000) and he peppers his speech with English. He was telling us that the ‘daishinsai’ (大震災) was a ‘catastrophe’, that the earthquake and tsunami were ‘tensai’ (天災) ‘Act of God’, whereas the nuclear accident was ‘jinsai’ (人災) which he translated as ‘human neglect’. He told us his response to the natural disaster had been quick. He’d immediately announced that the Sendai factory would be rebuilt (further inland) and within a month the staff had been given jobs at other factories. But the company’s paper factory 25 km from Fukushima Daiichi can’t be reopened until more information is available about damage to water, soil etc. Yes, we’re all in limbo. It’s beginning to look like years rather than months before things get back to normal.

We were told to think up ways to cut electricity. The government announced today that everyone - households, businesses – have to cut electricity usage by 15% in the summer peak. It’s the peak that has to be cut. Obviously using less is part of the picture but some of the suggestions yesterday included shifting to weekend work and taking two days off in the week, working shorter hours in summer, allowing casual wear in the office and providing specially cooled jackets in the factories.

I heard for the first time about the ‘Shift West’ in production, and for me a new word, ‘shinsai tokuju’ (震災特需) which translates as ‘special demand as a result of the disaster’. It’s obvious that factories in the west of the country are going to take up the slack when factories in the east have been put out of action. And the disaster areas need bottled water and foodstuffs which have to be produced somewhere. This is economic reality. But as one manager after another got up and talked about how well their sales were going, I’m afraid my blood began to boil.

The local paper has photos of the Emperor and Empress visiting shelters in Fukushima. No one wants to see the Prime Minister (he got heckled a few weeks ago when he visited) but the Emperor and Empress are a lovely couple and took time talking to everyone in the shelter. Even the governor of Fukushima, who always looks so tense, was smiling.
All for now

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Two Months On

It's two months since the quake, aftershocks have become infrequent, and I'm happy again in this 7th floor apartment which I hated that first uneasy month. Time does heal.

I wish I could say the same about the company. April sales were 30% down on last April which is a huge drop and as an independent company would have put us in an extremely dangerous position. Again, I am so relieved that the sale to Rengo went through. It's still hard to make sales forecasts. The Shinetsu Chemical factory in Shirakawa which suffered heavy damage to its furnace making silicon wafers we had understood to be a candidate for closure but it has opened and will reach full production in July. On the other hand, a company making plastic trays for food which was supposed to open soon will not re-open until December. The situation is still very uncertain and it will take a while to get back to anything like normal trading conditions.

Rengo wanted to know what our peak electricity usage is. All companies in the group with a peak of 500 kilowatts are, on the CEO's instructions, to devise plans for cutting electricity by 25% or at the least avoiding peak times. This instruction was in place for the Tokyo area but with the decision to close the Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka the instruction has been made nationwide. Turning off the lights is not going to result in a 25% reduction. Some things they were talking about were producing cases ahead of the August peak and keeping them in storage (incurring warehouse costs) or working overnight shifts (paying time and a half). To our great relief our peak usage is 437 kilowatts so we don't have to participate, or at least not to that extent. 

To add insult to injury it seems there are to be fines for those companies that don't cooperate. So, Tokyo Electric has a nuclear accident, reducing the electicity supply, as a result of which we all have to save electricity and if we don't we're fined! Faulty logic there.

But necessity is the mother of invention so perhaps Japan will become a leader in alternative energy.

On TV we've been watching residents in the 20 km evacuation area bussed in to visit their homes for the first time since the earthquake. They look like they're going to the moon rather than to an ordinary house in an ordinary town. They're dresed head to toe in white outfits, with thick rubber gloves, a geiger counter round their necks. They're only allowed in their houses (still in post-earthquake mess) for two hours and only allowed to bring out a bin liner of stuff. Poor people. It's incredible.

I'm off to Osaka tomorrow with our Number 2. There's a big meeting of Rengo subsidiaries and we're to be introduced to the clan. Back on Friday.
Take care.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

All's well in Koriyama

I got back to Koriyama Friday lunchtime. There was a tremour today but that was the first I've felt since being back. Japan is quite a nice place when you're not being terrorised by earth movements! Radiation levels are falling - currently 1.5 microsievelts/hour which is only half as much again as Cornwall. I decided I couldn't live forever in dread of radiation so I donned mask and gloves and planted up the flower bed at the company. We now have a bright display of marigolds and purple petunias.

Round town there is a lot of building work going on. Pavements and  roads are being resurfaced and buildings are shrouded in scaffolding and netting. Some buildings have been demolished. The temple next door has gone but there is a portacabin on site so it looks like we're going to get an instant replacement. I noticed piles of soil covered with blue sheeting at the schools. Having removed the top few centimetres they ran into problems as there are no rules on how to transport the stuff and people living near the tips objected. Today there was an experiment to put it back below the existing soil and if successful this will be done at the other schools. (There's no decision yet as to who is to pay for all this.)

Nothing untoward at Fukushima Daiichi. Unit 1 is most advanced: the air inside has been changed reducing radiation levels and workers are to go in tomorrow for the first time since the earthquake. The Prime Minister has 'requested' that Central Electric close the Hamaoka nuclear plant near Shizuoka as there is an 87% chance of an earthquake of magnitude 8 in the next 30 years - and it's too close to Tokyo for comfort. It provides 15% of the electricity for that region, so more power cuts: Toyota won't be pleased.

There was an interesting programme last night on television about the tsunami. Videos from peoples' phones, amazing tales of survival, it brought home the immense power of the wave. They have data from a GPS antenna that was bobbing up and down in the sea. The sea rose 2 metres at the time of the earthquake and then rose sharply another 7 metres, before dropping again.  We know the earthquake was caused by the North American plate flipping up as the Pacific plate moved under it. This is what caused the first rise in the sea of 2 metres. But what caused the second peak? An expert was saying that it must be another phenomenon, previously unknown, possibly energy escaping through cracks in the thick layer of mud/soft rock on top of the plates. This 7 metre high wave became a 20 metre wave when it reached  the shore. I know Hokusai's wave was pulled in the Western press as being distasteful but it's a good image. The sheer height made the spray at the front of the wave incredibly powerful - like a drill, able to break concrete walls four or five inches thick and of course, tragically, the breakwaters.

I'll leave you with some songs. Maybe the tide is turning. There is certainly a lot of support for Fukushima these days. Partly due to this awful song which is played incessantly on the television and as BGM in town. I do wonder if a prefecture can be 'baby' but here it is 'I love you and I need you, Fukushima' by the Inawashirokozu. (This version is a medley by people, some celebs, around the country.)

Love you,
P.S. AV was resoundingly defeated. Was it because the British are traditionally conservative and opposed to change? Fed up with Nick Clegg? David Cameron's handiwork? It's sad that this chance for reform is gone.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Greetings from Great Missenden

Dear Friends
Greetings from Great Missenden in warm and sunny England! I'm enjoying doing those things I can't do in Fukushima: normal things like going for a walk, hanging out the washing, feeling relaxed and safe.  

My family turned up trumps. Takeshi, Janna and baby Kaj came from Holland and met me at the airport with Reiko and Tom. My mother and two of my sisters travelled long distances to see me. And England is at its best, the footpaths and roads lined with Queen Anne's lace and the hedges heavy with May blossom. I caught the last of the bluebells in the freshly green beech woods here in the Chilterns. I had my beer, at the pub two doors away - Royal Wedding special brew - and very good it was too.

I'm heading back tomorrow but shall exercise my democratic right before setting out for the airport. There are local elections and a referendum to vote for too. It's a referendum on the voting system for UK parliamentary elections:  whether to keep the first-past-the-post voting system or adopt AV. Alternative Vote is different from proportional representation and a system used only in Australia. You have to make several  choices of candidate and, if necessary, the voting goes through several rounds until a candidate with  more than 50% of the vote is found. Fairer certainly but would it mean more hung parliaments, more coalitions and less robust government?

I won't be around for the public consultation in the village on May 12th regarding HS2. This is the big issue here. HS1 is the high speed Eurostar rail line from King's Cross to Dover and HS2 is a 'shinkansen' style line planned from London to Birmingham and beyond. Final decision due in December, work to start 2016. Yes, Britain does need a bullet train, but why does it have to go through my heartbreakingly beautiful valley? The line will be built on the hill on the east side of the valley about a mile from my house. It will be in a cutting so I don't think I will suffer much from noise but like Fukushima it seems very much a case of putting up with the damage and getting none of the benefits.

I shall enjoy England for a few more hours before heading back. According to the Japan Meteorological Office website there were a couple of force 3 earthquakes yesterday but nothing big since. And at the reactor progress seems to be being made in stabilising Unit 1. I'll find out more when I get back.
Love to you all, 
and thank you, family, for giving me a wonderful time.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Rice Fields in Miharu

It didn't seem right to spoil the euphoria of yesterday's fairy tale Royal Wedding with gripes and groans of life in Fukushima. Not that I had anything to complain of. I had a lovely day with Naochika's two old friends. We stayed at Ichiriki in Bandai Atami, a famous hotel with a beautiful garden. The bath, especially my morning bath, outside, amongst the trees with a nightingale singing was magical. (Well, it was an 'uguisu' singing which is translated as 'nightingale', though to tell you the truth I don't think I've ever heard a nightingale sing).

Later in the day we went to Miharu to see the famous weeping cherry. The blossom was all but over but it's a  magnificent tree at any season, a thousand years old they say, with a massive trunk. Funny experience driving there. At first it seemed like a typical country landscape, hamlets and hills - 'satoyama' - but there was something wrong. This is Golden Week and and the fields should be flooded and neighbours and relatives should be out in the fields planting the rice. But the fields had last year's stubble, it was a March scene, as if time had stopped on 11 March. The farmers have been told to start cultivation and some rotavating was being done on the bigger fields nearer Koriyama. But not on these small fields in the hills. And where were the people? It was a nice sunny day. Where was the washing and the futon? Japanese love to get everything out in the sunshine but mile after mile, nothing.

More confusion in the schools. A Tokyo university professor who was an advisor to the government has resigned over the '20 millisieverts a year is OK' message. He says it's far too high for children. The government retaliated by saying that 1 to 20 is the limit and they're trying to keep it as low as possible. But for schools and parents it only adds to the confusion and damages the credibility of the government.

My big news is that the cracks on the outside of the apartment around my doorway have been covered over with sticky tape and plastic board. I know it's only cosmetic but it makes such a difference. I shuddered every time I saw the gaping cracks. Thousands of volunteers, mainly young people, are spending their holidays at the disaster areas clearing up the mess and in the same way this will make a difference to the people there.

In a few hours I'm going to get the bus to the airport and I'm going to spend a few days in England. I've asked the other directors to cover for me in an emergency, say another hydrogen explosion and Koriyama getting evacuated. Not as far-fetched as it might seem: we've been told that as Unit 1 is cooled, pressure is falling and this could trigger an explosion.

But for me for the moment it's bluebells and Real Ale. Here I come!
More anon.