Tuesday 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!


Happy New Year in the year of the horse! 
Of all the traditional dolls made at Dekoyashiki in Miharu, ten kilometres from Koriyama, I like the horse best of all. Isn't he cheeky? 
Wishing you all the best in the coming year.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas, one and all!

This comes with my very best wishes for happy holidays wherever you are.
As for me, I'll be taking a couple of weeks off from this blog. More in the New Year.
In the meantime, greetings from Koriyama!

Hmm. West meets East?

An acquaintance from the Junior Chamber of Commerce
getting shoppers in the Christmas mood.
Usui Department Store
Mukaiyama Seisakujo's caramels 

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Not in My Back Yard

Suddenly it's winter. On Friday night there was heavy snowfall in the Aizu area and a couple of inches in Koriyama. My friends from Kitakata came over on Sunday to do some Christmas shopping. 'Samui ne', they complained. 'But you've got over two feet of snow' I exclaimed, 'how can you say it's cold?' But it's true - Koriyama is a windy city: add in the chill factor and it is COLD.

A friend in the Shibamiya area of Koriyama was looking forward to getting her house decontaminated (she has two young sons). But the work seems to have got delayed: only a couple of areas of public housing were remediated and the workers have left for the time being. Maybe the weather, maybe budget restrictions. I'll be interested to hear how they explain the process to her and how long they say the stuff they remove has to remain buried in her garden.

With a bit of luck that wait may be shortened with the recent announcement that the government is to buy up land near Fukushima Daiichi and further south near Fukushima Daini for the so-called 'interim storage facilities' which will store radioactive waste from the whole prefecture for the next 30 years. The purchase of the extra land (19 square kilometres in total) should make construction easier and quicker and they're hoping to have them up and running by January 2015. The Minister of the Environment was up here last weekend to negotiate with the local authorities affected. One of their conditions is that Fukushima will not be the final resting place for the waste: that in 30 years time the stuff will be moved somewhere else. That seems a bit optimistic to me. Would they really shift it in 30 years time?

This is nimbyism writ large and crucial to the nuclear power argument. What to do with the waste? No one wants it in their back yard.

I saw in the paper that Koriyama City too is working on a new facility to store radioactive waste. The City has no dumps as yet and the waste resulting from decontamination work all has to be stored on site, in parks, in gardens, in school yards. Apparently the new facility is to store soil removed when they remediate the roads (it's currently buried in parks). The dump is due to open next year, but, interestingly, the City hasn't announced where it is ...
All the best

Friday 13 December 2013

Voices of Fukushima

On Monday I showed a German journalist around Koriyama. We were able to interview some evacuees from Tomioka in the temporary shelter here, and we also visited a supermarket which does food testing on the premises. Let me share some of my impressions with you.

The three people we talked to from Tomioka in the exclusion zone were all very positive and resigned to making the best of things. Two years and nine months on, they have made a new life here and none of them contemplates going back to Tomioka. But it's only when you get talking to them that you realise what they have lost. As one man said, he used to live near the sea and in the summer with the windows open you could hear the sound of the waves. Here in Koriyama there are only cars and the noise of traffic. His relatives lived in the same village and when he walked around he knew everybody. Now he lives with his uncle in the shelter but his other relatives are scattered far and wide. Perhaps the most poignant part was when the journalist asked to see photos of his old house. 'But there are none' he said, 'everything was washed away. I lost everything.'

When we got onto the big questions, the opinions were strong but voiced gently, with an undertone of resignation. There was anger that no recovery work had been done in Tomioka, their early optimism now abandoned; there was irritation at the politicians who come and visit but don't listen; and there was unequivocal opposition to nuclear power (even from one man who worked 40 years in the nuclear industry). All they want now is a decent place to live and settle down. 

They were great people and we had a good laugh. Only writing this down now do I feel humbled by the way they're coping.

Next stop, a supermarket in the Kikuta area of Koriyama called Vereshu (ベレッシュ in Japanese). In October 2012 they built a glass-fronted food testing room right at the entrance to the shop so customers can see the food being tested. Actually it's a privately run farmers' market so the farmers bring the produce in, have it monitored on the spot, then put on the shelves. The manager said custom had plummeted after the accident but risen after installing the equipment, and increased considerably this year. Food in Japan has to have less than 100 becquerels per kilogram but almost all produce now tests ND (not detected). According to the manager, the only things that have shown positive these last two years have been blueberries and yuzu citrus, though these are still well below the permissible level. Although the two gamma testing machines were paid for by the prefecture, the organisation paid for the rest of the facility and foots the bill for the running costs including salaries for two staff. Asked how long they contemplated carrying on with the testing, the manager thought ten years at least. Even though almost everything tested is ND, every time a high level is detected and gets in the papers, say in another part of the prefecture, people start to get anxious again. So the message needs to be constantly reinforced. 

As we left, the store manager accosted us in the car park and in the freezing cold asked us to get the message out: 'Food here is safe. We're living normal lives. Just because there are problems at Fukushima Daiichi, it doesn't mean life here is dangerous. Look at the data, be objective, don't be swayed by scare-mongering on the internet.'

You can't help admiring these people for their spirit in the face of adversity, for taking a bad situation and making it better.
21 January 2014 Saw in the paper that the shop is testing a new machine (GAGG scintillator) which measures the raw veg. No need to chop and liquidise. 

Sunday 8 December 2013

Christmas market

Hi folks
Just take a look at these veggies. Aren't they wonderful? An acquaintance, Koichi Fujita, who is a vegetable sommelier no less, has won prizes for his Koriyama branded vegetables. Today there was a Christmas market in town. As well as wonderfully fresh vegetables at very reasonable prices, there was a delicious aroma of baked sweet potatoes (his new brand Menge which means 'cute' in the local dialect) as well as tarts and sweets made from carrot and sweet potato. No reason to shun Fukushima fruit and veg. These people are doing a great job.  Anne

Fujita-san, me, and another lady in charge of a vegetable growing NPO