Sunday, 29 July 2012


Well, I did get up early on Saturday to see the opening ceremony and it was wonderful. I laughed, I cried and felt proud to be British. A grass-covered stadium with sheep and hens and cricketers, a rural idyll, smashed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railways and the industrial revolution. A moment reflecting the 1st World War, then children’s fantasies, and an amazing cameo appearance by the Queen with James Bond.

But what did people here make of it? By the time most people got up after 7 am, the best was over and we were into the fireworks. I’ve been telling people to watch the whole thing but even the you-tube version is unavailable here. In addition, there seems to be something called the ‘Three Minute Rule’ so all we got on Saturday was one shot of the earlier sequences with the rest of the 3 minutes going to the flame coming together and the Japanese team.

Some commentators said it went on too long (hard on the athletes) and that parts were mystifying (chinpun kanpun). Certainly, the initials GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hospital) and NHS (National Health Service) are meaningless and not concepts you can grasp in a one line explanation mid-show.

Later in the day, I’m distracted at the gym. There’s a TV programme here called ‘What are the Neighbours Having for Dinner?’ and it’s gone to London to investigate English food.  My initial interest turns to horror. That evening I meet some friends for dinner. They haven’t seen the opening ceremony but they’ve all seen this. The presenter calls at four houses. The first family is having chicken curry. Chicken pieces cooked with a jar of Chicken Tonite. Served with rice and salad.  Japanese don’t like the way the rice is cooked, but OK. The next family has pasta. The adults get tomato sauce (pre-packed) but the kids get nothing. The mother says kids shouldn’t have salt and additives. So they have plain pasta. No protein, no vegetables. I’m horrified. Next up are a newly married couple. And their dinner is a Chinese takeaway; eaten straight out of the foil containers. You’d think if a foreign TV crew was coming they’d at least make the effort to get out some plates. Finally, a couple in their 50s has a pizza from the supermarket, salad and wine.

Having established that the English don’t eat English food at home, the presenter tracks it down in the pub. But he’s not impressed with the roast. Anyone who’s tasted the melt-in-the-mouth beef that gets served here, say at weddings, will know what he means. Jamie Oliver’s work is far from done, it seems.

The opening ceremony over, the events are in full swing:  judo and swimming (no rowing or tennis shown here). I’m not a great sports fan but I have to say the sight of those people giving their all is humbling. Do I even detect a bigger push than usual in my few desultory lengths at the pool?

Here it’s hot. High of 33’C today in Koriyama, hotter further south. Hundreds of people carted off to hospital with heatstroke every day, and a few dead. I work in an air-conditioned office but like most people here I’m saving electricity and at home haven’t used the air conditioner once this season. I seem to be managing surprisingly well with the electric fan.
Bye from a hot and sticky Koriyama,

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Reports on the Accident

There's a new word being bandied about. Jikocho 事故調  and it refers to the enquiries and reports into the accident at Fukushima. There have been four: one by private foundation RJIF (27 February), Tepco's internal report (20 June), a parliamentary report (5 July) and now the government's report (interim report 26 December, final report 23 July). 

They all agree that insufficient measures were taken to prepare for a tsunami, that the PM should not have meddled in the aftermath, and that the SPEEDI data should have been utilised in the evacuation. Tepco's report puts the blame on everyone else: on the tsunami for being unforeseen (想定外 soteigai), on the regulators for not telling them about US anti-terrorist measures, and on the prime minister for interfering.

This final government report is the most detailed and states categorically that the accident was 'man made' (人災 jinsai) and caused by collusion between the government, the regulators and the industry - what is known here as 'the atomic village' (原子村 genshimura) who promoted the myth that nuclear is safe (安全神話 anzen shinwa).

Fukushima prefecture comes in for criticism too. Particularly over the scandal of Futaba Hospital, just 4 kms from the plant where 130 patients at an old people's home were ignored for 2 days, then rescued by the army and taken in buses on a 10 hour journey around the prefecture. Four of them were dead at the end of the day, 45 by the end of the month. To add insult to injury the prefecture falsely blamed the hospital staff for abandoning them. It's been a long running scandal here but the government report puts the blame squarely on the prefecture. The evacuation was handled by separate departments and these people fell through the net: the evacuation department not sharing information with the department in charge of vulnerable persons. The cause is tatewari 縦割り, a word you hear a lot here. It means 'divided vertically', i.e. departments not talking to each other. The report stressed the need for teams coordinating the work of different departments.

The prefecture was also criticised for trying to stop the town of Miharu issuing iodine tablets on the grounds that there were no instructions from central government. Local government should have more autonomy, was the conclusion.

What we want to know of course is: what caused the accident? It's still going to take years to find out as radiation is so high inside the reactors that no one can get near. But, as far as I can gather, measures taken at Fukushima Daini (No. 2 Plant) prevented the situation escalating whereas mistakes were made at Fukushima Daiichi which resulting in cooling being stopped for long periods. First mistake: it was wrongly believed that the Isolation Condenser in Unit I was working. At 10 pm on 11 March it was discovered that it was not. It was decided to open a vent but this didn't happen until 2:30 pm the next day. Too late: there was an explosion an hour later. Next day, in Unit 3, they mistakenly thought a vent had been opened but the batteries were flat and it hadn't opened. Cooling was stopped, fusion continued producing hydrogen which exploded, spreading to Unit 4. Next day, 14 March, vents were opened in Unit 2 but without checking the water levels and pressure in the suppression pools at the bottom of the reactor. Radioactive materials leaked out of the top of the reactor. (The wind then was blowing south and it was this plume that blew towards Tokyo.)

What shines through is a lack of concern for people on the ground. Not wanting to face up to the dangers of earthquakes and tsunami, putting form and protocol first. Even Minister of the Nuclear Accident, Hosono, said as much on TV the other day.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get to bed. Hope to get up at 5 am to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Stratford.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Back in Koriyama

Hi folks
Sorry about the hiatus. A week in Germany and England, then a week adjusting to the heat and humidity here. Had a lovely time. Gorged on all the things I miss: cheese, finnan haddock, raspberries and as a special treat, wedding cake. First impression on my return? Everything in England - from the people to the ATM machines - seemed big and clunky. Here everything is small and neat. 

In England, preparations for the Olympics were in full swing. With 1 million extra people using the tube and buses, Londoners were being instructed to find alternative ways to go to work. Some had had trial days working at home. Loved the BBC programme 'Twenty Twelve' about cock ups by the Olympic deliverance committee. In the episode I saw it had just been discovered that the Shared Faith building wasn't facing mecca and the Algerian team were threatening to pull out. Great spoof. Unfortunately, it seems a little too near the bone. The army has been called in to make up for a shortage of guards and border staff are threatening to go on strike. In Japan we have wall-to-wall TV about London and the Olympics. Get your act together, GB. The world is watching.

Main news while I was away was the parliamentary report on the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. And there's another out today. Four reports, the last of the current series. I'll deal with them separately, I think.

Then there was a big anti-nuclear demonstration last weekend in Yoyogi park in Tokyo. Speeches by national treasures: Oe Kenzaburo, Nobel literary prize winner; composer Sakamoto Ryuichi; and Buddhist nun Setouchi Jakucho. The Friday night demos outside the PM's residence gather pace and have spread to other cities. Media saying this is a new phenomena, first spontaneous demonstrations since the anti Japan-US Security Treaty demos in the 1960s and anti Vienam demos in the 1970s. Probably not simply anti-nuclear, more, general  distrust of the government.

But the main thing that struck me as I leafed through the pile of newspapers on my return was what a lot of things are going on here. Lots of visitors/volunteers from every walk of life - the arts, sport, education. Schoolchildren invited to climb Mount Fuji, visit Europe, visit the States. And not just passive either. There are groups going out to other parts of Japan, and the world, to spread the message that Fukushima is OK. On my way home from work last night stumbled on a children's festival, and the streets are being decorated with red and white paper lanterns for the big Matsuri next week.

Better start catching up on sleep to watch the Olympics. The time difference is a big problem here. I'd like to watch the opening ceremony (how on earth will GB cap the Beijing performance?) but it starts at 5:00 am.

My family and friends were disappointed not to get tickets in the first round in February but have managed to buy some now. Not cheap at 160 pounds (20,000 yen) a throw .Japan’s Olympic hopefuls are in judo and gymnastics (of course). And in women’s soccer and women’s wrestling. Some wins here might finally put paid to the myth of Japanese women as Madame Butterfly ...
Anyway, now I'm back in blog mode, I'll try and get the regular reports together again.
Love to all

Friday, 6 July 2012

Interesting times

Prime Minister Noda got his bill to revise the sales tax (currently 5%, to be raised to 8% in April 2014 and 10% in October 2015) through parliament but only after major concessions to the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The tax was supposed to fund better welfare and pensions but discussion of these was shelved to widespread disillusionment; taxes are to be raised but we're not sure what we're going to get in return.

Ozawa, old fashioned dealmaker, and 50 of his supporters voted against the bill and promptly got expelled from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). One of them was Koriyama's MP, one of 'Ozawa's girls' Kazumi Ohta. There'll probably be a general election by the end of the year. Will she get in again? I doubt it. At the station bumped into former MP, very expereienced LDP politician Takumi Nemoto. But would he get in? Widespread feeling that there's nothing to choose between the parties (though this is not confined to Japan).

Hashimoto, Mayor of Osaka, has set up a 'university' to train politicians for his 'Isshin-to' (Reform Party) and many people are looking to the regions, to new blood which might shake up the system. But the DPJ was inexperienced and real power lies with the bureaucracy, especially the Ministry of Finance. Would the young Turks be able to control them and make changes?

Only two days after the governor of Fukui announced he was happy for the nuclear plant at Oi to restart, came the announcement, out of the blue, that the shinkansen bullet train is to be extended to Tsuruga (a stone's throw away) and to Hokkaido. Welcomed by those localities which have been campaigning for it for a long time. But what a coincidence! Nuclear plants in Hokkaido to open next? The DPJ came to power on a platform of 'people rather than concrete' and this decision doesn't sit well in the current climate of austerity. Plus ca change.

The new chairman and CEO of Tepco have been doing the rounds. To their credit, they've visited lots of places in Fukushima and ominously Fukushima Daini (No.2) plant. Governor Sato has called for all reactors in Fukushima to  be closed down but apparently Daini has been repaired and could be reopened anytime. I wonder what's going to happen?

But if you'll excuse me, I'm going on holiday. A quick flit to England then to a family wedding in Austria. And I'm going to take a rest from Fukushima. Back on the 14th.
All the best

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Message from Fukushima

Today I went to the awards ceremony for the essay competition 'Message from Fukushima' organised by the Fukushima Minpo newspaper. I translated the three winning essays into English as best I could and the text is below. The experiences of these three young people are very moving. What shines through is a love of Fukushima and a determination to see the recovery through. They get to visit London from 23 July where they'll plant rhododendrons (the prefecture's flower) in the Japanese garden in Holland Park and take part in some Japan related events around the Olympics. If you get a chance to join in any of the events, please do support them. 
The Oi nuclear plant began operation tonight. The words of these three young people is a stark reminder of what is at stake. 
Anyway, here are the essays.

Junior High School Category – First Prize
Title:  Grandad’s Peaches
Written by: Miyu MATSUBARA

Grandad’s Peaches
Me, my family, and Grandad always work hard picking peaches in the bright summer sun. Peaches are very delicate. You pick them off the branches carefully and you have to be so gentle, like touching a baby’s cheek. There’s a lovely sweet smell of peaches in the air  –  but you get drenched in sweat.

It’s like that every year. But last year was a bit different. After the nuclear accident following the Great East Japan Earthquake, we were afraid that peaches might not go on sale. My first thought, amongst all the talk after the accident about the effects of radiation and damage to consumer confidence, was, ‘Would Grandad’s peaches be alright?’.

Grandad grows peaches and apples on his own. Even after the accident he quietly got on with his work as usual. His peaches are like children to him. I’d been watching him all the while but one day as we were working together in the orchard, I came out with it, ‘Grandad, what about the radiation?’.

‘What? The council’s done tests and they’re fine! Don’t you worry!’  Grandad retorted in a loud voice, as if to dispel my fears.

But I heard on the news that some weren’t selling simply because they came from Fukushima. I was sad and frustrated when I thought of all the work Grandad put into growing his peaches.

But then I heard that some people were buying produce from Fukushima on purpose. This filled my heart with a warm glow. When Grandad’s peaches did go to market I hoped someone would buy them.

This year Grandad’s peach orchards are covered in a carpet of pink blossom. And, in their midst, Grandad carefully, and lovingly, pollinates each flower – just as he always does.

 ‘Peaches this year gonna be nice an’ sweet.’  Grandad says this every year and I’m sure he’ll say it again this year as we work. I’m going to try extra hard to help him.

High School Category  –  First Prize
Title:  To me, when I’m grown up
Written by: Kanami AJIMA

To me, when I’m grown up
Hello, grown up me! Where are you now? What are you doing?  Do you have a smile on your face every day?  I hope so.

March 11th,  2:46 in the afternoon. The events of that day will have faded with time but somewhere in an unseen part of your heart I bet they’ve left a deep scar.

I know it’s frightening to recall the events of that day. If you hadn’t gone shopping then…  If you hadn’t met your relatives then…  Just thinking about it sends a shiver down your spine. You would certainly have been caught up in the tsunami. Only because so many chance events coincided, can you get on with your life today.

For about a week after the earthquake you took shelter in the gymnasium. Do you remember? It was cold at night and every time there was an aftershock, everyone would wake up and there would be a communal murmur of fear. Do you remember when we first went back to the house? It wasn’t where it was supposed to be. It was so sad. Your friend’s house was full of mud, the windows and everything gone. The place we’d all lived was changed out of all recognition.

The day the house was demolished, you noticed Mum was crying as she videoed the scene and that made you cry too. It was hard, wasn’t it, watching the house we’d grown up in, being pulled down piece by piece. If only this had never happened …  How many times did that thought run through your head?

Even after you went back to school, you were still anxious and you’d be overwhelmed with sadness and burst into tears. Every time that happened, your teachers and friends would listen to you. People went to a lot of trouble over you, you know. Hope you’ve paid them back.

Never forget that on March 11th a lot of people who wanted to live lost their lives. I want you to live for them, every day, with a smile. I know it's hard remembering, but don't let memories of that day fade away. Pass it on to the next generation. Please. 

Open Category  – First Prize
Title:  I’ll farm in Fukushima
Written by:  Koshi FUJITA

I’ll farm in Fukushima.
 ‘Murderer!’  In all my thirty odd years, never did I think anyone would call me that. I’m a farmer, eighth generation. No one actually said that to my face but that’s what certain individuals called farmers in Fukushima.

The earthquake and tsunami were a nightmare. Then the nuclear accident. That first week was utter chaos: we didn’t know whether we would be able to stay in our homes, let alone whether we’d be able to go on farming. Then just when it looked as if we could carry on with the farm and just as I’d made the decision that it would be better to make a go of it rather than do nothing and regret it later, my world turned upside down when I saw those words on the internet. That first month I was under a lot of pressure.

But some people had kind things to say.  ‘We like the rice and vegetables you grow and we’ll keep eating them.’ ‘We’ll do anything we can to help.’ Things like that really cheered me up. And one person made the comment:  ‘Seven billion people in the world – can’t please everyone.’

One thing I do know. Radioactive materials rained down on Fukushima. That’s a fact and we can’t change it. But what we see in that, what we make of that – well, the possibilities are infinite.

To those who say farm produce from Fukushima is too dangerous to eat, I say Fukushima should aim to have the best safety certification of any agricultural produce in the world.

To those who say they won’t let their children live in such a place, I say I’ll make my family a happy one so my kids will be glad they were born in Fukushima.

Some may stigmatize ‘Fukushima’ and look on us with anger, pity or despair. But to me, Fukushima is beautiful, and I look on it with thanks, joy and hope.

Who’s going to get Fukushima farming back on its feet? The government? The local authorities? No. It’s up to us, the farmers of Fukushima.

Are we to pass on this image of ‘Fukushima’ the tragic victim? You must be joking. No way. I want people to admire the way Fukushima, which suffered so much as a result of the nuclear accident, became an even better place. We have the chance to participate in such a project. Surely this is something worth spending your life on?

Leave Fukushima and break new ground? That would be such a waste. Me, I’ll farm in Fukushima.