Monday 6 May 2013

Childrens' Day

I'm back in Koriyama after 10 days in England. It's Monday, the last day of Golden Week, and a holiday for Childrens' Day. The weather's sunny and warm - it would count as a summer's day in England. Here's a picture taken this evening of the koi-carp streamers over the river in neighbouring Sukagawa. Boys are supposed to grow up strong, like the carp, able to fight a way through the raging torrents of life.

But before I get back into the swing of things, let me mention a few things that struck me during my visit to England - things that you wouldn't see here in Japan.

One day I was changing lines on the London Underground at Oxford Circus and saw this guy with a bright red Mohican about 4 inches high. At first I thought he was in fancy dress but, no, he was a London Underground official, checking the train doors and whistling the all clear. You would never see anything like that in Japan. How would he wear his hat of office, for a start? I felt a kind of pride, confirmation of Britain's respect for diversity. 

Other good things included Wifi which was widely available for free in pubs, stations, even on the London Underground (though there was a small fee on mainline trains). You used to be able to get Wifi in Starbucks here but not any more. Then there was the multi-storey carpark which, to my daughter's bemusement, I much admired. You see it was built in brick to match its surrounds, and a rather handsome building, I thought. Here such buildings don't attract the eye of the planners and are eyesores. I also noticed that Japanese food and sushi was widely available. Sushi and salad seems to be a lunchtime staple. And I saw 'chocolate edamame' and 'wasabi peas' being sold as snacks!

What I didn't like was the way train tickets are priced. I knew I had to book in advance to get a good deal so on Friday, for a journey the following Wednesday, I looked on the internet and saw the price was 30 pounds. I went to the station on Monday to buy said ticket only to find that by then it cost 137 pounds. I went back to the internet, and in the end bought a ticket for 39 pounds by selecting a train that left three hours earlier than I'd originally intended. So visitors to Britain, beware! Don't pitch up at the station on the day to buy a long distance train ticket. You'll pay an exorbitant rate. Book in advance. The website you want is Traveline. 

Anyway, back to Japan. What's been happening in my absence? I see there are more claims for compensation from Tepco.  The prefecture is going to apply to the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) for compensation for money spent to deal with loss of consumer confidence and for loss of tax revenue. And bizarrely, Tohoku Electric (the electric company in this region) is to sue Tepco (Tokyo Electric) for loss of revenue in all those areas that were evacuated and don't use power any more. Crazy. It's hard to see an end to all this compensation. Will it bankrupt Tepco? Bankrupt the country?

The papers have pictures of a relaxed Crown Princess Masako attending the inauguration of the King of the Netherlands, her first overseas visit in 10 years since she got ill with depression. Now people will want her to resume duties in Japan. But how will she be once she gets back to the suffocating atmosphere of the Japanese court?

Back to Childrens' Day. There seem to be lots of events round and about. Japanese have always adored children but now they are a precious commodity. The number of children has been falling nationally for the past 32 years and there were 150,000 less children under 15 on 1 April than a year ago. The situation is worse here in Fukushima. It had been falling by about 5,000 a year but fell dramatically after the nuclear accident (from 281,000 in 2010 to 257,000 in 2012). This year the figure is 7,500 down from last year at 249,000, more than the usual fall of 5,000 per year but sort of stabilising.

Here are some pictures of kids having fun at the Pep Kids indoor play facility in Koriyama. An unused building was donated by the supermarket chain York Benimaru at the instigation of a local paediatrician worried that kids weren't getting enough exercise. It's run by the City and is a fantastic place.

This is the dedicated sand and water play area.

Make believe shop

Bouncy castle

Bike area

External View. Inside there are also kitchens for kids to learn cooking
and counselling rooms for parents.
I had a super holiday meeting up with my family in England. No earthquakes. No worries. But tomorrow it's back to work. I'm just hoping the next few months remain reasonably tranquil.
Love to all

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