A little cryptic title for my long-overdue first post in 2013, but I’ll quickly explain. Having a wisdom tooth removed is not an experience I would wish on many people, yet is something I had to go through this past week. A couple of weeks ago I got a pain at the back of my [...]
Archive for March, 2012
What a difference a week makes. Just 9 days ago I published an article based around a story from fukushima-diary.com about how two places in Okinawa (Onna Village and Nago City) had said they would accept radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster; a story that not too many were aware of at the time. Today, I am writing this on the way to a meeting in Naha which RBC (local television) will be attending and the problem will be discussed. Indeed, this has gathered pace so much that yesterday an email was sent out to military members Okinawa-wide, stresing that the Ministry for the Environment has stated that no radioactive waste will be stored beyond the Fukushima area. More about that later.
Soon after I posted my original article up, people started sharing it and talking about it. A guy called James Pankiewicz, owner of the Dojo Bar in Naha, decided to take this matter to heart, and created a Facebook group about it, called “A clear and loud “No Way” to radioactive debris on Okinawa“. Yup, no chance of misinterpreting the point of this group! And from then things have spiralled. The group formed their own logo (pictured right), are making online and paper petitions and gathering signatures, in both English and Japanese. The English petition is here; if you haven’t clicked and added your support then please do. Who knows if it will have any effect, but it can do no harm whatsoever.
James has taken this much further than I ever would, and I applaud him and everyone else who have become involved for caring. I’m happy to report these kind of things and the only times I overstate things, I make it very tongue-in-cheek that I’m doing so. But my aim was just to bring people’s attention to it.
And attention certainly has come. 700 signatures to this online petition, people handing out flyers in English and Japanese; RBC and NHK news companies talked to and consulted, and even the US Military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, running an article. And here is where the plot thickens even more. Yesterday morning, Kadena Air Force Base’s Public Affairs office sent this out Okinawa-wide to all military members (or Air Force members, not 100% sure):
There are rumors circulating via social media and email concerning the possibility of radioactive material being shipped to Okinawa from the Fukushima area. Here is the latest information from the American Consulate in Okinawa.
According to the Japan Ministry of the Environment, none of the radioactive debris will be shipped. All radioactive debris will remain in the Fukushima area. The only tsunami debris considered being sent elsewhere is the NON-radioactive tsunami debris from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. No decision has been made by the Government of Japan where that non-radioactive debris will be shipped to. Any and all debris will be inspected before being shipped, and it will not be shipped if it is contaminated.
BOTTOM LINE: No radioactive debris is being shipped to Okinawa.
18th Wing Public Affairs
Now, while I would like to believe this is the case, this does seem very strange. Firstly, because the final statement goes against what Nago City, Onna Village, Yomitan Village and Naha City are saying. In addition, Okianwan newspaper the Ryukyu Shimpo published stories in Japanese about this a week before I started mentioning it. And finally, it would seem that the Ministry for the Environment is going against with Prime Minister Noda has stated, about all of Japan working together, and local cities helping with the burden of dealing with the radioactive waste. The Japanese government is not renowned for being completely honest and open, especially when it comes to both public safety and Okinawa. So the question is: who do you trust? The governments who are trying to quash any rumours and stop any public unrest about the situation, or the media outlets and personal bloggers? While newspapers and TV companies might have a financial interest in the story (more controversial stories get more readers buying their newspapers or watching their shows), but if this was the case then more would be being made of the story. As it is, it was just a couple of relatively small reports informing people of what is happening and no follow-ups.
And people do seem to be waking up in Japan to the fact that the government isn’t always as open as they should be with them. Okinawans have had this skepticism for a long time, but it appears to be spreading. Both Japanese bloggers and foreigners here in Japan have talked about it to me recently. Now I’m definitely not saying everyone should take to the streets and start rioting (I’d quite like a chance to have my visa renewed and not be labelled a conspirator!), but the past 12 months have changed a lot of things regarding people’s perceptions of the government in Japan. Especially in the past 6 months, people have started asking questions that 3 or 4 years ago I couldn’t imagine people accepting and would assume they would just accept. It will be an interesting thing to watch over the next 12 months and beyond to see if the Japanese people push to get their own voices heard against the government. I’m not talking about Japan being the next Egypt or Libya, but just how people and society will evolve here.
Well, I’m going to make my way down to Naha in a little while for this press conference. If you have the chance, please take a look at the petition. I’m not asking you to sign it, but just to think about it and try to find an answer for yourself. Question what you read and hear, even on here. Discussion and questioning is what helps us progress and evolve. It’s when we just blindly accept & follow that we lose our way.
On something of a roll here, a brief scan around of some of the blogs got me looking at a few stories that the media here will probably not be reporting. And it’s a good way to follow the previous article about radiation from Fukushima entering the food chain, even here in Okinawa.
So, sometime after March 11th last year, the government realised that people, unsurprisingly, wanted nothing to do with Fukushima’s produce. But there was all of this produce going to waste and… well a little radiation can’t do any harm, can it? So with that in mind they hired Dentsu, one of Japan’s largest advertising companies, to devise a campaign to get people eating produce made from northern Japan once again, regardless of whether it’s safe or not.
The result was the “Let’s Support by Eating” campaign. For a start, the English in suspiciously correct (I would have hoped for a “Let’s Supporting the Japan by Enjoying Eat… in English!” campaign). But, Engrish humour aside this campaign was set up to sound like a charity or NPO set up to promote Japanese food, rather than being the brainchild of a government-sponsored advertising campaign. The advertisement comes from an organization supposedly called Food Action Nippon, but whose headquarters is the same as the Dentsu advertising company. While not a crime in itself, it is another example of attempted deception by the government, and potentially putting a lot of the population at risk.
I should also add, there were numerous reports that Dentsu were also being hired by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to track articles on blogs and social media accounts for anti-nuclear stories that may be perceived to be contrary to the government’s/TEPCO’s line on things. Blogs were getting spammed with comments, Twitter accounts hacked, and other things happening to these sites and accounts. Could just be a coincidence, although I’m not a big believer in those.
And this provides a convenient segway to the second part of this article. As part of this campaign, a face was needed that Japanese customers would trust. That ruled out any politician, AKB48 were busy promoting every other product in the whole of Japan, and Hello Kitty was reported as saying, “I ain’t going anywhere near that ****.” So it wasn’t looking good. They needed someone they could control, someone without an opinion of their own who could be manipulated at will, but who the public would trust. Of course, a Japanese idol!
First off, I am not talking about some Japanese version of American Idol. The Japanese idol community is a group of around 30-50 people who seem to be on almost every TV show. On the whole the are vacuous, soulless creatures; the men having less testosterone than your average nunnery, and the women portrayed as either super-cute squeaky-voiced beings, or frumpy comedians who should be laughed at and not with. But Japanese people seem to lap them up so who am I to criticise? And on the whole they seem to be believed by many Japanese, regardless of what they say.
Cue Yamaguchi Tatsuya, from the group TOKIO. I really hope he was forced by his talent agency (most likely) and didn’t know or have any option in doing what he did, but he was to be one of the main advocates of this campaign. He was pictured all over, eating produce from the Fukushima area and beyond, claiming that it’s so “oishiiiiii” (meaning “delicious”) and that everyone should do the same to support Japan at this time.
Well, at the last measurement, he had a radiation level of 20.47Bq/Kg of Caesium 137 in his body. This has a half-life of around 30 years and accumulates in the bones. I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen, but with levels like that, it is surely only a matter of time until he is diagnosed with some sort of cancer. But the campaign continues, telling people that they should do their bit to support Japan by eating Japanese produce, regardless of where it’s from, and especially if it’s from the Tohoku area.
At the very least it’s negligent, and is a campaign that’s putting the whole country at risk. That warm fuzzy feeling you’re getting inside you isn’t because you’re helping the country; it’s the caesium eating away at your organs.
Slight follow-up from the previous two days’ stories about Okinawan towns (Onna Village, Nago City and Naha City) accepting radioactive debris from the Fukushima area. I should stress it is a slightly older article I’ve come across, back from February 8th, but is still worth reporting to those who have not seen it.
For those of you worrying that there’s a chance some of this radiation from the Fukushima disaster may enter the food chain, then worry no longer. It has. Having read over the last year of numerous occasions where radiation has been reported in bags of rice (which have had their “produced in…” locations changed to sound like they haven’t come from the Fukushima area, it is both interesting and worrying to hear it’s entering via another means now.
At least 4 restaurants in Okinawa, including 3 pizza shops and 1 soba noodle restaurant, have bought firewood from close to the Fukushima reactor (source). The firewood was used to heat the pizza ovens and the ash was reported to have a radiation level from caesium of almost 40,000Bq/Kg. To put this into perspective, according to a UN official, over 50Bq/Kg in the human body will cause irreparable lesions in internal organs. Now people aren’t going out and just digesting kilograms of pizza ash, but it’s surely enough to make you think a little. So those were the levels in one of the pizza shops; in the soba restaurant, levels of up to 8,000Bq/Kg were recorded from the ash, and much more worryingly, 258Bq/Kg in the noodles themselves.
Whether the stores knew exactly what they were buying is unclear, but as it seems that everything from the Fukushima area is being sold at a very low price, I am going to hazard a guess they knew it wasn’t just a regular kind of sale. The distributor has said the firewood was washed using a pressure washer, which is apparently going to make all the difference, according to officials at Motosu City.
It’s possible that these were the only restaurants are the only ones to have purchased irradiated produce from the Fukushima to equip their restaurant or feed their customers. It is also possible that Nago, Onna and Naha are trying to help store/recycle this radioactive debris out of the goodness of their heart and for no profit whatsoever. I’m the eternal skeptic, but I doubt either are likely.
Well, it seems that my article yesterday about two towns in Okinawa (Onna Village and Nago City) accepting radioactive debris from Fukushima was not the whole story. It looks as if the prefectural capital, Naha City, also wants some cash from the Japanese government… err I’m sorry, I meant to help with the burden of radioactive waste disposal following last year’s meltdown at Fukushima. And it also looks as if Naha was at the forefront of this.
According to an article posted on March 15th, 2012, Naha City mayor indicated that the city would accept radioactive debris from the Fukushima reactor and surrounding area. Much more worrying is that he has said the plan will be discussed with the nearby Haebaru Town waste management and incineration facility about what best to do with the waste. I just have this awful image of them throwing these fuel rods into one of their incinerators and hoping for the best. What’s the worst that could happen?!
The key sentence is at the bottom of the article though, which states the possibility of the Naha City mayor asking the Japanese government’s for financial help with this disposal. And therein lies the factor as to what is driving places to accept this debris. As long as money is changing hands and someone is making money from this, people’s livelihoods and health can be put on the backburner. Effects of any radiation leak would only be found long after the next few elections, so why worry about it now?
Now to offer another side to this, it is very possible that radioactive materials will be stored completely safely, and “glowing walls” made from radioactive cement by the private company in Nago accepting it will be kept to a minimum. But given that more cracks are found in mainland Japanese nuclear reactors than on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, it does make me feel a little more uneasy about Okinawa.
Just over a year has passed since the devestating earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit northern Japan. While the cities like Sendai have returned to something like normality, people are still living in school gymnasiums, their payments having stopped from the government and the local governments still retaining around 70% of money donated by the Japanese Red Cross (the local governments requested the Red Cross give them the money so they could decide how it should be spent; the Red Cross complied, and frankly that’s more than likely the last we’ll see of the money).
The sea around the Fukushima area is contaminated, having had radiated water dumped into it on regular occasions since last March, and reports of radioactive materials having reached the water table. Farmers in the area are being told from some areas that their crops will be fine as long as they spray them with water, as the water will rinse off the radiation and make them safe again. Frankly, that’s a mentality from over half a century ago, and even then not too many people believed it. But crops are being sprayed and then sold in many places (including Okinawa) with their “produced in…” labels removed or changed to something either very general (e.g. “Japan”) or very specific (a village that nobody will have heard of). The reason for this is that obviously people will not want to buy products from a contaminated area. So of course the answer is to push your goods through deception.
But this article isn’t about the deception of the Japanese public by TEPCO or the government, or about the money waste/laundering going on with funds that people gave to assist the areas (some of which was spent on the last whaling voyage in the southern Pacific). This article is about the radioactive material that is left around the Fukushima area and beyond. A week or so ago the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, appeared to adopt a policy of, “If one part of Japan is screwed, then we may as well all be screwed”, and has said that all areas of Japan should accept radioactive materials from the Fukushima area, so they don’t have to handle the burden themselves. As soon as I read this, I knew that places in Okinawa would be some of the first to put their hands out (in exchange for some cash, I’m sure).
Sure enough, a week later Onna Village in central Okinawa and Nago City in northern Okinawa have said they will accept some radioactive waste from the nuclear fallout at Fukushima. The amount of waste they will receive has not been announced, and the amount they have been paid by TEPCO or the Japanese government will probably never be revealed, but there is no way these places would take it for nothing. Okinawa would be attractive for TEPCO and the central government for two reasons; firstly, Okinawa is far away from mainland Japan and what many mainland Japanese see as “real Japan”; and secondly, the price to buy cooperation in Okinawa is likely much lower than in mainland Japan.
I was looking at some figures on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website, and some of the figures provide sobering reading. Things like, “For example, ten years after removal from a reactor, the surface dose rate for a typical spent fuel assembly exceeds 10,000 rem/hour, whereas a fatal whole-body dose for humans is about 500 rem”, as well as information about radioactive materials’ half lives (the amount of time it takes for a material’s radioactivity to decrease by 50%). Half-lives vary hugely, but the most common radioactive have half lives from 30 to 24,000 years (i.e. not a short time!).
This means this radioactive storage could be a very long term process, going on for generations. And yet Onna and Nago were almost instant in their acceptance of the material. I just hope someone’s pockets here were lined nicely for it. Onna village has said they will accept the radioactive waste and (presumably) store it, but a company in Nago City has plans to recycle it in cement. I can imagine the advert now: “Why waste money on expensive lighting? The walls in our houses glow at night! Powered by Cesium-137, the walls will keep glowing long after the turn your lights out”. OK, possibly a slight exaggeration, but I really wouldn’t put something along the same lines out of the equation completely.
Yet sadly, the acceptance of this waste seems to have escaped the front pages of the Okinawan newspapers or news shows. I have a feeling the question isn’t, “Where will be next to accept waste?” but rather, “Where won’t accept waste?” in Okinawa.
Finally, below is a sneak preview of what’s sure to be Okinawa’s summer fashion hit. Get your SPF 20.000 suncream and let’s hit the beaches!
OK, some of you who know me know that from August to November last year I had the responsibility of coaching a student for the H.I.H. Prince Takamado Trophy in the 63rd All Japan Inter-Middle School English Oratorical Contest. A hell of a long name for a very prestigious trophy. This year was my first experience of the contest, and I was fortunate enough to be able to work with a great 2nd year student with a well-written speech. She made it through the local (2nd) and Okinawa (3rd) contests and qualified for the finals in Tokyo. After getting through a regional contest, she eventually received 6th place in the whole of Japan; a great feat for her and the school.
Anyway, a book of the contest came in the mail today, with lots of photos in, along with newspaper articles from each prefecture after the prefectural contest, so that every student who qualified for the finals in Tokyo could be mentioned and you could read what had been said about them. I scanned down from prefecture to prefecture in the contents, looking for the Okinawa page. I finally find the Okinawa listing at the bottom and see… no page listed. Some mistake, surely? So I flick to the prefecture listed before Okinawa, and after it there is no Okinawa, and it simply goes onto the next section.
While one of the Okinawan newspapers (the Ryukyu Shimpo) has a small article following my students success; nothing is mentioned of the other students who worked so hard to qualify for the finals. From what I can gather, despite reporters from both Okinawan newspapers attending the event, it was not deemed newsworthy enough to be written about or covered at all. I am guessing a US military truck was forced to make a U-turn in a school parking area that day, so the newspaper was full of that earth-shattering story. So we have every other student (around 150 in total) in Japan who qualified for the finals having their name published, not only in their prefectural newspapers, but in this publication commemorating the event, with the exception of Okinawa’s students. While my student gave the performance of her life to gain 6th place, and was in the named prizewinners for the final, there were 2 other students who worked so hard and practiced for so many hours, to not receive the recognition they deserve.
For some mainland Japanese who see Okinawa as being a little backward, this is another great piece of evidence for them to use. From the largest to the smallest, everywhere in mainland Japan recognized the efforts of their students in the prefectural contests, and this was reflected in these articles, and Okinawa is notable only by its absence.
While I couldn’t care less about any personal recognition (my philosophy for the contests is: if the student does well, they can take the credit; if they don’t perform, I’ll shoulder the blame for them), to not show any respect for the efforts of students is embarrassing. The blame can be thrown in lots of places: to the media for not covering the event; to the schools themselves for not pushing their students’ efforts to the media; to the City for barely batting an eyelid when all 3 students qualifying for the national tournament are from the same small area in Okinawa etc.
Okinawa probably has the highest proportion of foreigners in the prefecture in all of Japan. And the English ability and test scores from students is one of the few academic achievements we can be proud of (with it coming bottom in almost every other subject). But when students do excel and do something worth really shouting about, they are ignored by city and prefecture. i would bet every last yen I have that if this was any school sporting team then there would be a big article about them in the newspapers, along with lots of fuss being made by the City and Board of Education. Because it’s language and academic-related, nothing…
And some people question why students lack a motivation to learn English in Okinawa…
I’m sure plenty of you will have no idea who Joseph Kony is, or why we should be making him famous in 2012, but please take the time to read on. The Kony 2012 is a campaign started by a group called Invisible Children, and is going viral on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Youtube at the moment. Its aim is to bring to the world’s attention the crimes of Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. He holds the number 1 spot of the wanted list at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on 33 counts, including 12 for crimes against humanity. These crimes include enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape and murder.
Before I go any further, please take the time to watch this video. I know you might see that it’s 30 minutes and skim it at best, but just take 30 minutes out of your day to watch it.
For 5 years I taught high school students English through the Model United Nations. We would talk about world problems, and students would act as delegates from different countries around the world, trying to find solutions to them. I would always try to tell the students that even if they were the smallest country in the meeting, they could still make a difference and make their voice heard. And this is what this campaign is all about; making voices heard and making the world aware of this man so that he can be invisible no more.
I helped students to learn about child soldiers in Africa as part of 2 or 3 conferences, and they were so passionate about the topic, because it was something they could relate to. They couldn’t believe that this was happening in the world and that countries weren’t doing everything in their power to stop it. It was this passion and motivation that drove one student to produce the poster you see to the right. I had no involvement in it, other than telling her the topic and giving her a country to talk about. The poster still remains the piece of work that has made me most proud as a teacher.
High school students at a small high school out in the countryside in southern Okinawa, Japan, learnt about these things with a view to making a difference sometime in the future. Now this campaign gives them, and you, the opportunity to do so.
Am not asking you to buy anything or donate anything to this cause (but if you want to then that would be great), but to encourage students to strive to make the world a better place with their actions and not do anything myself in this case would be hypocritical. If you didn’t before, watch the video above, and share it with anyone you can think of.
And so we get to Sunday February 26th – the day I’d been counting down from since December 10th of last year when I purchased my UFC 144 tickets. It was another chilly day but at least the rain had stopped. Headed off a little early to get to the arena as it was also the day of the Tokyo Marathon, and I was wary of how many people might be travelling into Shinjuku station to compete or watch. As it turned out I saw 4 runners and possibly the same number of people going to watch on the train, so I arrived there with plenty of time.
And a good thing too as I’d decided to get a couple of event programmes – one for a friend in the States and one for myself. I know the prices were akin to daylight robbery, but unless the UFC comes back to Japan I probably won’t see another event again. But what I didn’t know is how long the queues would be. Even an hour before the gates were set to open, there were hundreds of people around and it seemed that most of them were queuing up for the merchandise stand. So I joined the queue, thinking I really should have bitten the bullet and bought them the previous day, and waited. And waited. And waited. The booth was ready, the staff were all there waiting to take our money, and customers were ready to hand over hard-earned cash. But rules are rules and nobody could be served until the clock ticked over to the right time. At that point the queue began to shuffle forward and after a while I was being served.
Queues to get in were similarly-sized and the gates only opened 30 minutes before the first fight. I thought it was a little late, but there was no huge backlog of people once we got moving. I was the very first into my seating area and so was one of the first to take a look at the arena. And a pretty impressive sight it was too. For the weigh-ins only half of the arena had been visible but now it was fully open and we could get a sight of the 20,000 seats and arena layout. For better viewing of some of the closer aspects of the fights, there were 6 huge screens above the seats. I have to admit it was sometimes difficult to stop myself looking up to them as they offered a perfect view every second of every fight.
So I snapped some photos and video around the arena and took my seat as people began to file in. And it filled up quite nicely. Already full when the first, non-televised fight started at 9:30am, in which Issei Tamura knocked out Tiequan Zhang with a very clean strike. A great sign of things to come, and a big boost for the Japanese fans to go 1 fight, 1 win. The prelims started at 10:00am and almost everyone was in their seats at this time; in contrast to the US events where the preliminary fights look, on TV at least, to have modest crowds at the start. Highlight of the fight for me was Englishman Vaughan Lee (the only Brit on the fight card) beating Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto by an armbar in the 1st round. My big shout of “Get in!!!” as “Kid” tapped out drew a few looks from the Japanese around me, who were obviously in strong favour of the Japanese fighter. No worries, the English were going to go home with a 100″ winning record from the event, so I was happy! The fights were pretty good and 2 hours flew by, and then came time for the main PPV event.
At about 11:50am, the lights went down and the screens above the arena fired up with a montage of UFC highlights, with The Who’s Baba O’Riley as the backing music. Apparently the video montage frequently changes from event to event to include updated highlights, and I have to say it made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It’s only for the crowds at the events and hasn’t been released on any DVDs or anything by the UFC, so is a great little touch to get you psyched up for the fights.
I won’t go into detail about the fights themselves, as you can read much better reports from sports journalists, but for me it was a great event that had almost everything. Knockouts, submissions, a 5-round war of a main event, a little controversy and everything else inbetween. The only disappointments were Yoshihiro Akiyama (aka “Sexiyama”) and Rampage Jackson. Jackson’s excuse was mainly that he came into the fight with a knee injury and was advised that he shouldn’t be fighting, but he wanted to try and put on a show for the Japanese crowds. He was given a huge reception though, especially during his entrance which was to the theme tune from Pride (the now defunct fighting organization based in Japan, and under which Jackson made his name), and even as he limped out of the ring the crowds were cheering him.
As for Akiyama, well he didn’t get the best reception at the weigh-ins and the response he drew from the crowds at the fight was certainly mixed. This was at least partly due to a previous incident he had with Pride fighter, and Japanese fighting legend Sakuraba, and Japan loves to remember its villains. Akiyama has also won only one of his 5 UFC fights, and that win was a very controversial decision against Allan Belcher at UFC 100. There is a strong chance he could get cut from the UFC roster after this loss, although UFC president Dana White does seem to like him and his fighting style. A lot of Japanese fighters are finding this though; they are competing in organizations that are not of such a high level in Japan, but are getting built up by the Japanese sports media as being huge stars and potential champions. They then move to the UFC and find that they are, at best, a mid-level fighter, with the Japanese media left stunned at how their fighters are being beaten by non-title contenders in the UFC.
Following the great main event, the interviews were conducted and the arena lights came up. It was time for everyone to head out and go back home. A really good show for everyone, and the UFC executives must have seen how much the Japanese crowd took to it. he event was described as a sell-out although I think there was a block of 100 seats or so that were empty, but the crowd was much bigger than anyone initially envisaged. Fingers crossed it will won’t be another 12 years before they come back again. Somehow, I don’t think it will be.
For more pictures of UFC 144, check out my full gallery here.