Saturday 11 January 2014

Back to work

The holiday's over and it's back to work. To tell you the truth, I've been in England spending the holidays with my family. The weather was awful: rain, more rain, and hail. And dark too. No wonder Europe has Christmas, a festival of light, to brighten up the winter. When I come back to Japan I'm always struck by the strong light as I get off the plane. And back in Koriyama, the cold (lows of minus 5) is mitigated by the brilliant sunshine, and views of the surrounding snow-covered mountains. 

There was hardly any mention of Japan on mainstream UK news. Prime Minister Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine (controversial - war criminals are interred there) hit the headlines one day and another day there were pictures of a Japanese whaling ship's catch courtesy of Sea Shepherd, the Australian anti-whaling activists. But these were the only two bits of news I noticed, neither showing Japan in a good light. I also watched a documentary of amateur video footage of the tsunami. But that was it. At least, all I managed to see.

So I needed to catch up when I got back. Today is the 11th of the month and it's a monthly anniversary (tsuki meinichi 月命日) that's still marked with prayers and search parties two years and ten months after the disaster. The TV and newspapers do special features. Not that much has changed. The Environment Agency has announced delays of three years in the clean up of the exclusion zone. Okuma, Kawauchi and Naraha will be finished by March this year but the rest, including Iidate and Tomioka will not be finished until March 2017. There are no plans for Futaba which I hear is in a bad state. Other figures show air-borne radiation down 50% as a result of decontamination work in Namie and Futaba in the exclusion zone but levels remain high at 3 to 6 microsieverts/hour so no one will be going back soon. You can read these features (in Japanese) here:
Fukushima Minpo 11 Jan2014
Also included in the paper's special is the full text of the government's plan to speed up the recovery - two broadsheet pages of fine print. The detail we get from this local paper is quite remarkable. And I'm sure it's read. People's lives here are affected and they really do follow the news.

Fascinating at the moment is the activity surrounding elections next month for Mayor of Tokyo. The incumbent, Inose, had to step down when it emerged that he had taken a 'loan' from a scandal-tainted hospital group. Yesterday, Hosokawa, who was Prime Minister of Japan for six months in 1993, announced that he intends to stand. And it seems he has the backing of Koizumi, Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006. For the past six months Koizumi has been very publicly advocating a zero nuclear policy. He wants all Japan's nuclear plants closed down for good, forthwith. You will recall that in 2011 the then Prime Minister Noda called for a zero policy and pledged to phase out nuclear power by 2030. 'No more nuclear power!` (datsu genpatsu 脱原発) became the slogan, a feeling supported by most people in Japan. In contrast the present government wants to keep nuclear power plants running. The draft of the basic energy plan announced last month does promise to reduce Japan's reliance on nuclear power and doesn't call for building new ones so in a way it follows the popular line. The question is one of timing. Hosokawa and Koizumi want action now and are opposed to the re-opening of the nuclear plants which could start in the next few months. So you could have the highly unusual scene of two former Prime Ministers pitted against Prime Minister Abe. Watch this space.
Bye for now, from a cold and icy Koriyama.

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