Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Sea

It's hard to know what to believe. Got an e-mail from avaaz, the protest organisation, urging me to take part in a petition to be sent to Edano who is trying to evict some Fukushima mothers who have set up camp outside his Ministry. Save the Fukushima mothers. There's a link to one Mochizuki-san and his Fukushima Diary (though he himself seems to have fled the country) and references to a 'media blackout'. Certainly I've never seen or heard of these demonstrators. His blog has some interesting information (and a live webcam of Fukushima Daiichi). Is there a media blackout? Are we getting the truth?
(Correction: Got a comment (see below) on this from Ruthie who has supported the demonstrators. The leader of the Fukushima Mothers is a photo journalist who has covered Minamata pollution and Three Mile Island  Aileen Mioko Smith . Also forget Mochizuki but try for worldwide media coverage of Fukushima and translations of articles in the Japanese press.)

Surprised then by the tone of this NHK documentary on TV a couple of Sundays ago. NHK is the national broadcasting company, mainstream, establishment, and generally falling over backwards to portray people battling (succesfully) against the odds. But this is a measured and damning report of the contamination in the sea caused by the nuclear accident, and of the government's response. Let me run you through the programme.

On land we now have a 'contamination map` but there's no such map of the sea. NHK, with the help of university researchers set out to make one. Again and again it was said that this was the first time such research had been done. One has to ask why a television crew should be doing this and not the government? Anyway, their ship was allowed into the 20 km area round the reactor and they set about measuring the radiation in the water. It's highest on the sea bed. 2.5mSv/hour. The mud registered 4,250 bq/kg. So much for the Nuclear Safety Agency's announcement after the accident that toxic water would be dispersed. It didn't disperse. Radioactive particles sank to the bottom of the sea.

Fish in the 20 km area were registering 2,300 bq/kg. (Current food safety level  500 bq/kg, to be reduced to 100 bq/kg in April.) It turns out that little worms on the seabed eat the mud and the fish eat the worms. They did tests and the flatfish which ate the worms had the same amount of caesium as the mud. Conclusion: as long as there is caesium on the sea bed, the fish will be contaminated. Bad news for the fishermen eager to get back to work.

The boats then travelled south down the coast testing radiation levels and taking samples of mud. 80 kilometres from the nuclear plant, caesium in the mud was down to 30 bq/kg, but at a different spot further down and 120 kms from the nuclear plant there was a 'hotspot' of 380 bq/kg. Worryingly a place which showed 38 bq/kg in October showed 111 bq/kg when the test was repeated in December. Unlike the land, contamination in the sea is continually shifting, the map ever changing.

Next we're taken to a  lake high in the mountains in Gunma prefecture 200 kms from the reactor where fish are far too contaminated to eat. The lake acts as a basin collecting rainwater from all around with only one river flowing out. Moreover it's deep. Contaminated fish die, sink to the bottom, become part of the food chain, and radiation concentrations in the water increase in a vicious circle.

Cut to Ukraine where for 25 years researchers have been testing fish in freshwater lakes.  'Difficult, hard to deal with. You just have to keep on testing. Basically you have to wait 30 years for the caesium to reach its half life' says the expert.

The survey boats travel next to Tokyo Bay. Most of the bay is clear but there are hotspots at the mouth of the Edo and Arakawa Rivers. Seems that caesium joins with salt molecules and sinks to the seabed creating hotspots. The situation will get worse as rain continues to wash caesium off the land, levels will peak in 2 years but the problem will persist for 10 years.

Doom and gloom. And the programme makers were saying that no surveys have been made of rivers, lakes and ponds. Again it goes to show what an intractable problem we have here. We're OK in Koriyama. Levels down to 0.6 μSv/hour these days and everyone's busy getting on with their lives. But there must be food for thought in all of this. More of that another time.

NHK Special シリーズ原発危機 知られざる放射能汚染 海からの緊急情報
                      Shiriizu genpatsu kiki, shirarezaru hoshano osen, umi kara no kinkyu joho        
                      Nuclear Crisis Series, unknown radioactive contamination, urgent report from the sea
(broadcast on Sunday 15 January 2012)

Monday, 30 January 2012

This and That

It's been a funny few days. At the end of last week a Tokyo University professor announced that  the odds of a big earthquake occurring in Tokyo had increased since 3.11 and there is now a 70% probability of a Magnitude 7.00 earthquake striking within the next four years. Then on Saturday morning there was a series of earthquakes over 20 minutes at the foot of Mount Fuji  (Magnitude 5.5). Everyone of course thinks Mount Fuji is waking from its 300 year sleep but  the experts assure us that the tremours are not connected with volcanic activity. Then there was a big tremour in Kyushu. Certainly since the March quake, the geology has changed (some parts of northern Japan have moved 5 metres east, trig points are having to be moved and contour lines on maps re-drawn) and the number of (after)shocks has increased many times over. Wierd and wonderful deep water fish are leaving the sea bed and getting caught. Whales are being washed up in New Zealand (Japan and NZ are on the same plate). If it really is only aftershocks then that's OK. But it's unnerving.

Then today the news that on current trends the population of Japan in 50 years time (2060), is forecast to be two thirds what it is now (from 128 m to 87 m) with 40% of the population over 65. That means each working person would have to support one oldie (half their salary in insurance!). Open the doors and let immigrants in, I say, (England currently has a shortage of primary schools) but the state here is not so welcoming.

Amidst all this we have discussions in parliament to raise the consumer tax (VAT) from 5% to 10%. The pledge was to use it all for welfare but it's getting watered down. And anyway there'll still be a shortage and more burden on the deficit (currently 200% of GDP).

You can see why people are worried. In addition, distrust of central government is widespread. There's been too much back tracking, too many disclosures after the event. Ishihara Shintaro, Tokyo mayor, the one who sent the fire engines to douse Fukushima Daiichi and the only person so far to accept debris from the disaster areas, has vowed to start a new party. If young Hashimoto in Osaka and tax-cutting Mayor of Nagoya Kawamura join him, we could see change from the provinces. It seems to be our only hope at this stage.

But enough of national affairs. I am very happy. I have a new front door. Still a mess at the back of the apartment as repairs continue but I no longer have to duck under the support put in a week after the earthquake to keep the door frame intact. However, after 10 months ducking, I find it hard to walk straight through the door!

Top temperature in Koriyama today minus 1.6'C. Snow has put a stop to the clean-up. Pipes at Fukushima Daiichi frozen and reports of leakage. But only water that's been treated and is clean, we're told. So nothing to worry about.
Good night

Monday, 23 January 2012

Hollowing Out

Happy Chinese New Year.
Not a good day though today. There was an earthquake at quarter to nine this evening. Sudden vertical jolt followed by swaying for quite a while (force 4, nothing fell over). I was working late on my own in the office and got out pretty quickly, taking  the stairs rather than the lift.

No, it's not been a good day. In the papers over the weekend was the news that Sony Energy Devices Corporation (SEND), our biggest customer, will be moving assembly of its batteries overseas, to Singapore and China. Sony is the fourth largest manufacturer of batteries in the world and most of them are made in Koriyama. The decision's been taken because wages are cheaper abroad and because of the strong yen. It's all part of the 'hollowing out' of Japan (kudohka 空洞化). Two factories in Koriyama will continue to make lithium ion cell electrodes - the core technology of the batteries - but the factory about 50 miles south in Tochigi will be turned into a research institute. That's not much good for us. We need people to make stuff so we can supply the packaging.

And jobs will be lost. The employment situation is dire. Unemployment benefit in Japan is generous but it only lasts for six months. It's been extended twice but for a lot of people it will come to an end next month or in March. If they can't find work they'll have to go on benefit. On the other hand, some businesses are doing extremely well: construction of course, and hotels housing all the insurers, police and other temporary workers. Bars and restaurants are doing well, I hear. And then some people are doing well out of compensation. Tepco pays out 100,000 yen a month which isn't that much but if there are five in the family that's 500,000 yen, double what most families get. The pachinko halls are doing good business.

We need some good news. The Foreign Minister the other day announced that several international conferences on renewable energy will be held here this year. There's also going to be a centre for new sources of energy set up here in Koriyama. This must be the future for Fukushima. The governor has announced that he wants all nuclear plants in Fukushima closed and surely there's no other place in the world where people are more committed to new forms of energy. We just need the know-how and the money.

Meanwhile Tepco has announced it's raising electricity prices to business customers by a whopping 17%. It doesn't affect us here in the Tohoku region but it's another big hurdle for companies doing business in Japan.
Good night

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Taira no Kiyomori

Those of you who know me will know that I'm not to be disturbed on Sunday evenings. Three years ago I got hooked on the NHK historical drama which starts in January and lasts for a whole year (50 episodes). That year it was 'Atsuhime', the story of a young girl (brilliantly played by Miyazaki Aoi) from Satusma in the far south of the country, who was married off to Iesada (third from last Shogun) and who singlehandedly (well it was a drama) engineered the bloodless return of power to the Emperor in 1868 paving the way for modern Japan.

Next it was the story of Sakamoto Ryoma, who according to the drama, saw with his own eyes Perry's 'black ships' in 1853 (Mississipi style paddle steamers belching black smoke) and persuaded  arch enemies Choshu and Satsuma to put their quarrels aside and unite against the outside enemy, catch up with the West and create a strong modern Japan. Known as a peacemaker and assassinated at the young age of 31 in 1867, singer and heart-throb Fukuyama Masaharu played the title role with passion and to die-for good looks.

Last year it was the story of three sisters whose lives spanned the period in the late 16th century when Japan was transformed from a country of warring tribes to a peaceful nation by three consecutive leaders: Oda Nobunaga, cruel but with a penchant for wine and Western dress (think Sir Walter Raleigh); Toyotomi Hideyoshi, wheedling, cunning, nouveau riche love of gold; and Tokugawa Ieyasu who bided his time but won in the end creating the Tokugawa Shogun dynasty that ruled Japan for 250 years. The acting was awful and in places beggared belief. Our heroine Goh, the youngest of the three sisters,  looked the same age at the beginning as at the end even though she'd been married three times and had seven children. And would she really have called Hideyoshi 'monkey' to his face? However the story was compelling. The girls are nieces of Nobunaga. After his assassination they are taken in by Hideyoshi. Goh's elder sister Cha-cha becomes Hideyoshi's mistress (even though he was responsible for the death of their parents) and bears his child. Goh is married off to Ieyasu's son, Hidetada (second Tokugawa shogun). Later as Yodo-dono, Cha-cha chooses to die in Osaka castle rather than give herself up (the same fate their mother chose). The Tokugawas are the victors. Goh has lost a sister but sets to creating the female domain in Edo castle, Oh-Oku, which by the time Atsuhime inherited it was made up of over 1,000 women and a net of intrigue. Yes, it's fascinating stuff.

This year it's the story of Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181). The Heian court is failing, the warrior class are the 'dogs' of the ruling classes doing their dirty work, killing robbers and pirates. Taira no Kiyomori is billed as the first samurai, the man who paved the way of the warrior: honor, duty to one's master, and loyalty unto death. Too much blood and guts for my taste but it promises to be a good story.

Another spin off from the series is the boost to local tourism. So this year Hiroshima is expected to do well and the famous shrine in Miyajima was constructed by Taira no Kiyomori no less. Next year's drama is the story of Niijima Yae, a young girl from Aizu in our very own Fukushima prefecture (NHK doing their bit to help the recovery here).  Aizu was the last stand of the shogunate and in 1868 she defended Aizu Castle, in the front line shooting with a rifle. After the defeat people from Aizu were persona non grata.  Paradoxically, many, who traditionally were very conservative, had to forge new lives and ended up as key players in the new international Japan. Iijima went to Kyoto, married in one of the first Christian marriages in Japan and with her husband founded Doshisha University, today one of the top universities in the country.

You have to watch each series from the start. In the course of a year there are so many characters and numerous sub-plots it's hard to pick up half way through. The second episode is repeated tomorrow (Saturday 21st) lunchtime, then edisode 3 is on Sunday. I watch it on digital TV and can get Japanese subtitles which for me is a great help. NHK doesn't offer anything in English (though I've suggested it, I think it would be a good export) but if you look on the internet there are lots of afficionados out there translating away. Here's a short trailer that's been subbed.
Good night from a cold and snow-bound Koriyama.
I wonder what's on the telly?

Monday, 16 January 2012

Radioactive Concrete

Strange news item today. Nihonmatsu, about 10 miles north of here, was monitoring the glass badges that schoolchildren wear to measure accumulated radiation and found that children living in a certain building had high levels of exposure. Levels were higher on the ground floor than the upper two floors and in the downstairs rooms double levels outside. The building was completed in July and it turns out that concrete used in the foundations and outside was made from stone which had been piled up outside in Namie at the time of the accident.

I was talking to someone today whose father is (or rather, was) a dairy farmer 3 or 4 miles from that quarry. He said people were evacuated from their homes on the second day but businesses were allowed to keep going for a couple of months. (On TV tonight it said that the quarry was closed on 22 April.)

So first there was the ban on milk, then beef when it was found that cattle had been fed rice straw which had soaked up radioactive rain. Then rice, over the limit in various hotspots, and now concrete for goodness sake.

It all goes back to that SPEEDI map. This was a system designed specifically to forecast how radioactive materials would spread in case of a nuclear accident. The recent report on the accident said that three government ministries had access to the data but the Cabinet Office didn't know of its existence and no one in any of the ministries thought to tell them. It was not made public until 23 March. What with electricity down and some monitoring posts not working properly the information may not have been perfect but surely the general drift of the plume to the north west was obvious. It is unforgiveable that some people from Namie moved northwest into Iitate, UNDER the plume. Why were they not told? Why were the people (mainly dairy farmers in slow-life Iitate) only evacuated much later? Why was rice, straw and even stone in this area not monitored?

Interestingly, according to one of the experts who wrote the report, the Americans had access to the SPEEDI data. He was saying  on TV yesterday that they asked the Ministry of Defence for it and were sent an e-mail everyday! And that, together with their own research, made them implement the 80 km zone.

By the way, the man I was talking to today was saying his father was thinking he wouldn't be able to return home for 10 years.
What a crazy place.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Indies Scientist

Hi folks,
The government has said it will clean up the 20 km zone (the rest of us have to do it ourselves together with local authorities) and today showed off their 'model case' in Minami Soma. Hoses and shovels, masks and rubber gloves and tons of toxic waste in bin bags buried in two huge pits. It's like BSE.

Meanwhile the mayor of Kawauchi in the 20-30 km zone has said he's going back and will reopen the town hall and get back to work. The government lifted the ban in September but only 5% of the inhabitants have gone back. Hardly surprising when nothing's been done. But good for him for taking the lead. He says he wants to get on with the clean up so people can go back in March, do more cleaning up and hopefully plant crops next year.

On Thursday I was driving along and heard Shinzo Kimura on NHK Radio. He's a scientist, a specialist in radiation hygiene, who studied the effects of radiation on health workers and has done studies in Ukraine. He famously quit his job at a Ministry of Health research unit when he was banned from going to Fukushima last March. Since then he's been a maverick, nicknamed the 'Indies Scientist'. He came to Fukushima, monitored and measured and drew up the first contamination map. But not such a maverick. He was featured on NHK TV last May and again in August. On the radio the other day he was passionate about scientists using their knowledge to contribute to society and help people. He said he was based in Koriyama at the moment.

I found this programme broadcast in August last year. It's a bit old but for those of you who can understand Japanese it gives a good view of how people here are reacting: the young girls who ask 'is it true our hair will fall out in 5 years time?' (The answer is no.) The extended family with the newborn who are hoping for the best but quietly anxious and not knowing what to do. Kimura decides to clean up the vicinity of the house and the results are encouraging - levels in the house cut by half. But it takes 8 men two days to do the work and produces 4 tons of waste which is stacked up some distance from the house. An ordinary film but a good flavour of what's going on here.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Kit Kat

The exam season is in full swing and I came across this in the local post office. You can buy a packet of Kit Kat, stick a stamp on it and send it through the post as a good luck message.

But why Kit Kat? Well, you probably know that you can't have a single consonant in Japanese; consonants are followed by a vowel (except for 'n'). So Kit becomes 'kit-to' and Kat becomes 'ka-tsu'.

Now 'kitto' means 'certainly, for sure'. And 'katsu' means 'to win'. So we have a good luck message: kitto katsu  きっと勝つ  'you're sure to win',  i.e.pass your exams.

I hail from near York where Kit Kat originated in the Rowntrees chocolate factory. Childhood memories of winding down the car windows to smell the After Eight, and the brick around the factory windows white with Polo mint powder. But that was another age. Nestle took over Rowntrees and Kit Kat went global. So here in Japan we have aduki flavoured Kit Kat, eda-mame Kit Kat, green tea Kit Kat, and pink Kit Kat at cherry blossom time. But Kitto Katsu takes the biscuit (if you'll pardon the expression). The Yorkshire marketing people in Rowntrees of old could never have dreamed that one up!
Correction: I'm told on good authority that the Kitto Katsu idea was bandied around in conversations with Rowntree Mackintosh's then JV partners, Fujiya, in the late 1970s. So apologies to all Yorkshire marketers.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Accident Report

Cold here in Koriyama. Top daytime temperatures of 3 or 4 degrees. Snow on the ground and swirling in the wind. I've taken to living in one room. The back part of the apartment is freezing what with the cracks in the wall and the gaps in the door frame. But, hey, work starts on Monday to fill the cracks and holes and put in a new door and window.

I didn't get round to telling you about the interim report on the nuclear accident that came out on Boxing Day. The main points were first, that in 2002 seismologists had warned of the possibility of a large tsunami and Tepco had calculated that a 15 metre tsunami was likely before 2008. But defences were not built.  (Incidentally, Yoshida, head of the plant, who had been something of a hero after the accident comes out badly in this as the person who shelved the plans due to cost.)

Secondly, operational mistakes were made. It seems that there are emergency condensers in each reactor which keep going even when all the electricity is down and can be operated by hand. Little was known about this system and no training had been given. In Reactor 1 they thought the condensers (IC) were still working when they had stopped. It was six hours before they realised and got fire hoses in. But valuable time was lost, the fuel was exposed and meltdown occurred that evening. In Reactor 3 the high pressure coolant injection system (HPCI) was stopped by hand even though it was working on batteries. Again,  cooling was critically delayed leading to meltdown.

Third, criticism of the way the crisis was managed. The Prime Minister was on the 5th floor of his residence with the control centre in the basement and communication was bad. No one in the government thought to publish the SPEEDI map which was set up specifically to forecast the spread of radioactive materials. And information was withheld and vague.

The fundamental problem is systemic: the cosy relationship between the government and the electric companies with no one taking responsiblity for people's safety, the so-called Atomic Village (genshi mura 原子村), and the myth that was created that nuclear is safe (anzen shinwa 安全神話). At the moment only about four of Japan's 50 some nuclear reactors are working pending stress tests and agreement from local residents about re-opening. The report doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Following on from the tremor on New Year's Day, we had three earthquakes yesterday. Force 3 in Koriyama. When they're announced on radio and TV they always add, 'No danger of tsunami, no reports of damage at the Fukushima plants'.
So that's alright, then.
Bye for now.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The First Year of the Clean-Up

The New Year starts with resolutions. So we have 'The First Year of the Clean-up' (josen gannen 除染元年). In theory at least, the Clean-up is underway. A special law came into force on 1 January and the Ministry of the Environment has set up a dedicated office in Fukushima City.  The government will clean-up the 20 km zone and Iitate to the north-west, but the rest (about two thirds of the the prefecture) has to  be cleaned by local authorities. The government has promised to pay for decontaminating areas over 1 mSv/year (that's 0.23 μSv/hour). (The official readings for Koriyama - 1 metre height at the city office - are currently in the region of 0.7 μSv/hour but readings vary a lot.)

The plan is to hose and brush down buildings, roofs and roads, remove soil from school playgrounds and parks or cover with 10 cm soil. Fields that have not been cultivated are to be sprayed with herbicide and deep ploughed, woods have to have fallen leaves and pine needles removed. But there's still a lot of research to be done and resuts of major tests haven't been published yet so most local authorities don't have plans in place.

The main obstacle is where to put the stuff. No one wants it in their back yard. Koriyama seems to  have had more success than other areas. It decided to store the waste on municipal land in the area it came from, i.e. not even try to take it anywhere.

The waste has to be stored for three years until an Interim Storage Site is completed. (chukan chozo shisetsu 中間貯蔵施設). This is a facility covering 3-5 square kilometres where the radioactive waste will be stored for 30 years whilst a permanent solution is worked out. The government seem to have decided that it should be built in Futaba (home to Fukushima Daiichi reactors 5 and 6) and the Prime Minister was here yesterday to put pressure on the Mayor of Futaba - who rejected the proposal. You can't blame him really. It's the kiss of death to any hopes of the inhabitants returning, even the end of the place as an administrative district. But the thing's got to be built somewhere.

Meanwhile Professor Kodama (who made that impassioned plea to the Diet in June shown on You-Tube)  was on TV this morning. He's travelled all around Namie (about 6 kms from the reactor) and has produced a contamination map showing pockets of low radiation and suggesting that some areas might be habitable in future. He's very brave and committed. But then how do small areas function without connecting roads and other infrastructure? Another idea he has is for forests to be felled, the wood burned to produce electricity (the caesium removed by filters). Hope, certainly, but again, we're probably talking 30 years ahead.

Here's a link to a blog whose author had the presence of mind to photograph the programme!
TV Asahi 9 Jan 2012, Kodama in Namie

And now for something completely different. You know the new word Su-ma-ho (smart phone). How about this one: Su-ta-ba (スタバ). Get it?  Not 'stabber' but Starbucks! So if someone says, Ikkai no sutaba de aoh (1階のスタバで会おう), they mean 'Let's meet at Starbucks on the ground floor'. I don't have any problem with even quite technical Japanese but really get stumped by these words!
Goodnight from Koriyama

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Photo Series: New Year 2012

To continue the holiday mood a bit longer here are some pictures of our New Year here in Fukushima.

In December took a little trip out of town to the farmhouse where they make traditional papier-mache dolls (Takashiba Deko Yashiki). These are  little dragons for the Year of the Dragon.
On December 28th invited to watch people making 'mochi', sticky rice cakes for the NewYear.
The rice is soaked in water for 36 hours, then drained, and steamed in these cookers.

The cooked rice.
First, the rice is mixed and kneaded gently.

Then the fun begins. Two people beat the rice in rythm moving clockwise round the mortar.
More difficult than it looks.
And someone has the dangerous job of turning the rice from time to time.
At our host's insistence Reiko and I, very gingerly, have a go. (If you miss the rice and hit the mortar you can damage  the hammer and get splinters in the rice. Determined not to fail!)
Our New Year food to go with the ricecakes (bought in not home-made I'm afraid). If Christmas Dinner is the ultimate Sunday lunch, then this 'o-setchi' New Year food must be the ultimate bento box.
We drove out to the mountains on the 30th. There was a white-out on the expressway and the flatlands off Lake Inawashiro - scary. But we were rewarded the next day with sunshine and fresh powder. The silver birch look like they've been dusted with icing sugar - magical.
On December 31st we skiied at Nekoma  in Ura Bandai. Bowl shaped area with a variety of slopes.

Next day, New Year's Day, went higher up to Gran Deco ski resort. Great views, better (warmer) lifts, easier runs.

Then on our last day, 2nd January, we managed to walk the Five Ponds trail (Goshiki Numa).

The main lake, Rashomon, was frozen at the start of the walk but further on we could see the characteristic blue.

Someone else has been here ...

Back in Koriyama on the afternoon of the 2nd. People queueing up to pay their respects at the Hachiman Shrine.
My daughter's  fortune - suekichi 末吉, 'the last of the good fortune'. Good luck, but not that good.
 Ah well, just mediocre good fortune sounds okay to me after the trauma of last year!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

And a Happy New Year!

Hi everyone,
Sorry about the long silence. I've been enjoying myself with my daughter. Spent Christmas with friends in Tokyo, then five days here in Koriyama, ending with 3 days in Ura Bandai where we skiied for two days then walked the Goshiki Numa (Five Pools) trail. Didn't expect it to be passable but people had walked it and we did all four and a bit kilometres in the thick snow. Beautiful.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't feel the earthquake at 2.30 pm on New Year's Day. Force 4 in Tokyo, force 3 in Koriyama. Reiko's Twitter was going mad.

Back to work yesterday. The New Year started at the box company with us all standing outside in the freezing cold in front of the Shinto shrine. Shinto priest brought in specially. Getting good at this. Two deep bows, two claps, one bow. Strong whiff of fish when you get near the altar.

One of our youngest factory hands was the centre of attention. He'd been on nationwide televison on 28 December in a programme about radiation. His wife and two small kids are in Sapporo in Hokkaido. I don't know how he does it on his salary but it turns out that two of our staff have evacuated their families there. Rent is provided for two years by an NPO. And he'll be helped by a new fund administered by the prefecture which is to provide travelling expenses for volountary evacuees. 25,000 at the last count. Still it must be hard. His wife was saying the kids hadn't seen him since August.

The day before, January 4th, attended the New Year Party of the Koriyama Chamber of Commerce. 1,500 people, 20 women at most. But don't let's go into that. The governor was there. Told us about his plan for the recovery announced end of  December and asked all those present to do their bit. So far so good. It was when he said, 'so that in 20 or 30 years time Fukushima will see a marvellous recovery', that the scale of the task became evident. How many people in that room will be around in 20 or 30 years time?

This is the Year of the Dragon, tatsudoshi  辰年, in Japanese. Most New Year speeches seem to make a play on the word tatsu for it also means 'stand up, arise', in a kind of  morale boosting exercise. I'm told that historically the stockmarket does well in dragon years so here's a toast to the New Year. It can't be worse than last year that's for sure.
Keep smiling. More later.