Saturday 27 October 2012

Two Winds

Hello again,
Sorry to have been off the wire for a while. I've been mega, mega busy. I'm in the process of closing down a subsidiary, twelve staff, three shops. The shop in Utsunomiya, an hour south of here is closed, and the shops in Koriyama and Sendai are to be taken over on Thursday (1 November ) by existing staff. Two men in their fifties are looking for work (not something I'm proud of), and one lady decided to retire but the others keep their jobs. Yours truly has been negotiating contracts - from machinery to coffee machines - and shifting 10 years worth of records which I'm told we have to keep.

Drove up to Sendai today and that inspired me to write. It was good to get out of town. The weather is glorious - blue skies, sunshine, mild - (our reward for getting through that long hot summer) and the hills a patchwork of autumn colour.

There are two words you hear a lot these days here in Fukushima, both containing this character 風. On its own it's the word for 'wind' -  kaze. Put with other characters it's pronounced 'fu'. So we have fuhyo (風評) literally, reputation of the wind, or rumour. And fuhyo higai (風評被害) the damage caused by rumours, or perhaps we should say 'loss of consumer confidence' which remains a big problem here. 

I was at a conference of business people earlier in the week and the chairman of the company which runs the Hawaiian Centre, a spa complex in Iwaki, was saying that although turnover this summer was back up to 90% of pre-disaster levels, that was due to promotions and stupendous efforts on the part of all involved. Their core customers, families in the Tokyo area, are still reluctant to come to Fukushima  (back up to only 60% ). The guy who runs the castle in Aizu was saying the same thing: tourism in Aizu only 70-80% of what it was. There was also a man from a company making precision machinery and he said sales were back up to 80% of pre-disaster levels. But all three were of the mind that the difference had to made up by their own efforts and by creating new business and that what they'd lost in terms of buildings and a terrible balance sheet was made up for through a sense of purpose and working together they'd got from their experiences.

But back to the other 'wind' word which was  new to me. Fuka 風化, literally 'changing with the wind' which when I looked it up in the dictionary means 'weathering, erosion'. But it's used here in the sense of people getting used to Fukushima, forgetting Fukushima. Another speaker at that conference made the point that an ongoing scandal about government funds earmarked for the recovery being used for non-related  projects was the result of fuka, a lack of urgency and comittment to the recovery. 

Imagine the interest then in the news that 80 year old Ishihara resigned as Mayor of Tokyo on Thursday and is to form a new party. This has really got people talking. He's a man of action, charismatic. Could he lead this country out of its current slough? Things are getting interesting.

As an aside, out of 540 people at that conference, I counted only 5 women including me. A sea of besuited men. The Buddhist priest (and literary prizewinner) who gave the opening speech made a comment to the effect that you don't often see so many men except at yakuza events which was rather daring. I don't think it went down well though I thought it was hilarious.

So I'm back to writing the blog - doing my bit to stop interest in Fukushima waning. Bear with me just another week and hopefully I'll have more time to do it properly.
In the meantime, thanks for reading this.


  1. Hello Anne,

    Reading that comment made by the conference opener has really made my day!

    I've been reading your blog for a while but I've held off on commenting until today. 風化 is a new word for me, too, but nicely explains why I've been reading your blog. My close friend and her family live in Motomiya - just outside of Koriyama - but she seems mostly concerned with the everyday grind of her job (which has essentially returned to pre-disaster tedium). Her mum spoke with me about her concerns (particularly for the children of Fukushima) following the March disasters when I last stayed with them in August 2011, but for the most part I think 風化 applies to my friend and her family, too! That's why I'm so glad to be able to get a different view from your blog.  感謝しています!

    But the main reason I'm commenting is to ask for help. My timing is terrible, considering everything you have on your plate, but on the other hand it's nothing pressing. I'm still very sorry for choosing this precise moment to dump it all on you!

    I've been hoping to get back to Fukushima for the best part of the last year, but it looks like it won't actually happen until spring next year. I'd very much like to volunteer with organisations involved in some way with the people displaced from Fukushima by the disasters - whether that's at temporary housing (in Fukushima or elsewhere) or at volunteer centres or anywhere else, really. I think my Japanese is up to the task - and I'm certain that it'll improve in leaps and bounds while I'm volunteering! - but finding out about this kind of volunteer work is something of a struggle on my own. If you have any ideas or leads then I'd be very grateful to hear about them!

    I volunteered with All Hands Volunteers in Ofunato-shi, Iwate-ken in 2011. I don't regret a thing about it, but I found the group to be badly lead and organised, and very happy clappy and American in its culture. It was great to get the opportunity to help and speak to the folks living in Ofunato, but I found that being part of such an obviously English-speaking group formed a strangely rigid kind of cultural barrier, to the extent that I didn't speak to people as much as I would've liked - though I did shift several tons of debris and mud (and no doubt other even less pleasant substances) during my time there!

    The most startling revealation for me was that most of the people in the disaster-hit areas (I briefly did clean-up work with All Hands in Rikuzentakata and Yamada as well) just want to talk to other human beings - even if they don't actually understand Japanese!

    So, getting back to 風化, I can't help thinking that my half-decent Japanese could combine with my obvious foreign-ness in a positive way to help people overcome 風化 at least a little bit.

    And now I've written far too much... Sorry, and thanks in advance for any words of advice you may have!

    1. I am SO sorry for taking so long to reply to your very kind message.
      I don't have a lot of information but certainly most gaijin here who volunteered in the disaster did so through Japanese based groups, e.g. the school they were teaching at etc.
      Can I point you to a Facebook page 'Fukushima Info' which is a focus for foreigners based here in Fukushima. You could put a request in there.
      Also, I was interviewed by a man called Mohammed Faiz Shah who is a researcher at Tsukuba University who has money from the Japanese government to find out how Japan can utilise foreigners' potential for disaster rcovery in Japan. If you scroll down the Fukushima Info page to 12 November (sorry I didn't contact you earlier) you will find my question to him with your request. He says he is at the data analysing stage. It will probably be ages before something concrete comes out of it but please contact him.
      I'll keep asking around. Please email me (gmail) if you want to keep in touch.
      Good luck! Anne

    2. Thanks very much for your reply - now it's my turn to apologise for not getting back to you sooner!

      I've checked the Facebook page you mentioned and also sent you a message on there. I've also contacted Mohammed Faiz Shah, so here's hoping 2013 will find me doing something useful in Fukushima at long last!

      Thanks again!


  2. Dear Anne, thanks for explaining the phrase (Fuuka). I also looked it up in the dictionary and realized it was being used differently, but couldn't articulate the feeling. I was so obsessed with the American presidential election this past three months that I didn't watch any Japanese TV at all, and apparently even I was able to forget about Fukushima because I was literally depressed when I started watching the Japanese news again and hearing the same sad stories of the victims. How could I have forgotten? I live here! Sad, but true story.

    On a different note, it must be difficult to dismantle a lifetime of work, but I hope your new road will be a happy and successful one.

    Sokyu (the monk in your story, I believe) has quite a sense of humor, and has mentioned that he sees a lot of concerned women at events in Fukushima since the Nuclear Incident. He's an interesting guy. Have known him for almost thirty years. A friend once asked him if he had ever achieved enlightenment, but I think I had better not share his answer here as it might be misunderstood. Next time we share a beer, I'll let you in on the secret.

  3. I would love to meet Sokyu-san. I am currently reading his Akutagawa prize novel, Chuin no Hana (Flower between life and death). Struggling with the Osaka dialect in the story!