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Monday, October 31, 2011

Car Dealers Selling Used Radioactive Cars

If the world ever needed an excuse not to trust an used car dealer, surely this story will give one pause.

As reported in the October 24, 2011 edition of the Ashahi Shimbun (Ashai Newspaper), many used car dealers in Japan who are now no longer able to export their vehicles overseas are selling them within Japan--and all have failed Japan's radioactive docks tests for export.

One car exporter says: “What you are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. If a car gives off a high radioactivity count, it’s too much trouble to decontaminate it. It’s better to just sell it in a Japanese car auction where there are no restrictions. It’s like throwing away a bad card you were dealt in poker.”

According to the article, some dealers simply re-register the vehicles with their local registrations, which essentially erases all previous local registrations - which, simply put, makes it impossible to know where the car is from without doing a detailed investigation through a branch of the Transportation Department.

No one now knows where the car came from. It's radioactive background is no longer available.

Another automobile exporter said, “I purchased a minivan for ¥1.23 million (~Cdn/US $16,000) intending to export it to Southeast Asia. However, when it was brought to dockside and underwent radioactivity testing, it came in at 110 microsieverts, far exceeding Japan’s permissible limit of five microsieverts.

“After the car was refused for export, I tried over and over again to decontaminate it. The end result was that I was only able to get it down to 30 microsieverts. So I sold it at an auction in Japan. What do you expect me to do? Take a loss on it?”

Regulations involving the export of vehicles has been increased, with an export limit of 0.3 microsieverts allowed.

The Japan Harbor Transportation Association has said that as of September 2011 only about one per cent of the vehicles tested had actually failed the radioactivity testing, with only a few actually surpassing five microsieverts - but that since August 2011, 660 cars had been refused export permission.

In Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture) the JU Fukushima oversees all car auctions in the prefecture by testing every car and rejecting any vehicle exceeding one microsieverts per hour.

Shioda Yutaka (surname first), managing director of the Japan Automobile Exporters Association, says: “All cars being auctioned in Japan should undergo radioactivity tests.”

Definitely a good idea. However, people in Japan and around the world are still somewhat wary of vehicles (and products) with Fukushima-ken vehicle identification numbers, and as such, are difficult to sell because of radiation fears.

One Fukushima-ken used car dealer told the newspaper that if a vehicle has a Fukushima-ken or Iwaki-ken number plate, it re-registers the car elsewhere in the Kanto region in order to auction it off successfully.

Professor Fukushi Masahiro of the Radioactive Substances Control and Handling at Shuto University in Tokyo says that there are great difficulties in decontaminating a car exposed to radiation or radioactive materials.

“While it’s easy to wash off any contamination from the exterior of the car, it’s difficult to decontaminate the seats and the interior of the automobile,” he says. "I really think that the government should put forth guidelines about permissible radioactivity levels in used cars so consumers can buy them with confidence.”

More stringent guidelines from all sectors of the government (Federal, prefectural and municipal) are needed.

A team of reporters with the Asahi Shimbun were able to track down a car that was left in a parking lot in Fukushima-ken, that was within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the nuclear accident.

According to the newspaper, that car had been exposed to a calculated 30 microsieverts per hour of radiation for 26 hours before it was moved, implying that this car would have been exposed to 20 millisieverts per year of radiation - well above the country's safe limit of exposure.

The newspaper was able to trace the car first to an auction in Saitama-ken (Saitama Prefecture) where it didn’t sell, and then subsequently to an auction in Chiba-ken (Chiba Prefecture).

So... who has the car? When the newspaper contacted the auction company, they were politely rebuffed with: “Sorry, but rules don’t permit us to give out this information.”

Drivers should be on the lookout for white vehicle that doesn't need to use its headlights thanks to the freakishly bright green glow emanating from it and the driver.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What's A Government To Do?

I like to get up on my ivory soapbox every once in a while and ponder things. It's not something I take lightly as I find I ponder quite a bit when I'm doing a mindless activity like watching television or sitting in a car or on public transportation. Don't worry, I'm still very much aware of where I am and who is around me.

It's a gift,  I suppose, because I know many people who don't take the time to have a good ponder. I know, because I ask them.

I ponder quite a bit on this blog and on the other blogs I create. I try to see both sides of a given situation and then, if not plot out a course of action, plot out a course of inaction. Like any good government. I suppose it's why along with being a journalism graduate I am also a graduate in political science... or rather more specifically, the psychological behavior of political science... why people behave the way they do, and how to manipulate people to do what you want.

It's all just stuff to ponder, however, because I don't dare put into action any of my own manipulations in my own personal life. For that, I'd have to be a real prick. And while I have no doubt that I could be one should I choose to be one, I don't think I want to be one.

So what's a writer to do? I investigate and then I write about things. I try to make sense of what's going on knowing full well I am never privy to 100 per cent of the information I fully requite to make an informed decision. I do my best, however, knowing that other people and organizations like to keep things a secret - play their cards close to their vest, as it were.

So... let's look at what is going on in Japan.

It seems that while it is okay to farm next year, soil contamination levels show radiation in the soil, but that washing will remove most of it from the crop and that it is within Japan's safe parameters for radiation ingestion.

However... other reports say there are stupid high levels of contamination in the soil - even outside the 30-kilometer evacuation zone.

Also... Japan has opened schools in the forbidden zone (I'm calling it that), but since radiation is still high in those areas, outside activities are limited to two hours a day... causing many parents to drive their kids to school... fearing they will exceed the two-hour level if they have to make the 30-minute walk (each-way) to school when factoring in possible school activities.

What about livestock? What about people's homes? Their cars, toys, clothing, etc.? Will everything have to be destroyed and replaced? Cleansed well? Has this information been passed down to the people it affects? If not, when will it be?

Meanwhile... the evacuation zone still exists.

I hate that so many people - some 60,000 people were displaced from their family homes. That jobs were lost, people got sick, perhaps even died (I'm talking earthquake and tsunami damage for the deaths - though there were deaths at the Dai-ichi nuclear facility) - these are all facts.

I'm not saying that Japan and its population glows with a radioactive pallor. It doesn't.

Prolonged exposure to radiation is the main concern. What can be done about it? It must be a concern, else why limit outside activities at school to two hours? This may simply be a preventative measure on behalf of the Japanese government.

But, no one in the government is really saying anything.

And that is the problem.

Provide updates. Don't be afraid to tell people the news - any news. It is better than fear-mongering. People just want to know, one way or the other, when or if, they can expect to get some normalcy back in their life.

It's not a question of "how safe is my town?", rather it should be "Is my town safe?"

I know that as of 2011 we know a fair bit about radiation and it's effects on the human body. Then again... we certainly don't know everything.

There are people out there who believe that radiation is actually beneficially to the human body - that it can kick start our immune system into an over-drive whereby it will not only adequately handle the increased dosage of radiation, but will help the body fight off other illnesses or diseases. Is this a real deal? No one knows for sure, but people are willing to build the Hotel Radiation in Fukushima-ken (where fall-out was the heaviest) to test that theory.

Look at that statement. People are willing to put their own money up to have human guinea pigs come and test out a theory. It's like 'screw the laboratory! Let's play god.'

I don't know how mankind can play god when it's not all that good at playing man. Seriously... just because your country lacks the natural resources to use for electrical power generation (IE hydro-electric), or lacks a lot of forestry, coal, gas or oil - let's build nuclear power plants. Let's build something that, if not handled correctly could cause more radiation damage than anything ever suffered at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Why Japan chose to go nuclear as the best way to create electrical power after the horrors of two atomic bombings is beyond me, and smacks of irony.

My did the government at the time (or the government of now) seek an alternative to nuclear power - perhaps using it for a short-term solution until the perhaps more expensive long-tern solution could be found and utilized?

Why build nuclear reactors in a country located in the Ring of Fire, so named because of all of the volcanic activity is spews? And earthquakes? How often does an earthquake shake bits of Japan? Several small ones can be felt every single day in Tokyo, with 10s more deep underground. While earthquakes are believed to have a relationship with volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes can often cause tsunami, why would you want to build a power generating source on a highly temperamental geography. And I haven't even mentioned any of the five-plus typhoons that smack into the country ever year at around the F4 or F5 strength.

Hell, I don't even want to talk about the mental anguish being felt by the people who after seven months since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that came with March 11, 2011 are still suffering in uncertainty.

I know how stressed I was after a house fire... and was displaced for 10 months. At least I knew that I had a home to go back to. These displaced people don't even know that.&

I propose that Japan's government is dragging its heels in releasing data to the populace, but it is doing so because it wants to make sure. There is no use in saying that things are okay, and then two months later having to rescind that statement.

Even then... it needs to provide a decontamination clean-up, along with the rebuilding of facilities damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.

It needs to start rebuilding lives.

Somewhere on my Mister Sparkle soapbox,

Andrew Joseph
PS: As for an energy solution, I still say geo-thermal might be a way. Earthquakes are a concern, but not if it's done off-shore. I've been saying it for 21 years when I first set foot in Japan and learned my television was being powered by a nuclear reactor, and I'm saying it today.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Drunk Dancing Video

Here's a funny video link to my friend Peter Able's blog, Living and Teaching in Japan. In the video below it shows a drunk older Japanese man dancing drunk with a young Japanese-American woman in their own mosh pit.

Peter has his own opinion on things here, but let me just offer a couple more here. The guy knows he is on camera and is playing to it, or he's just stupid drunk and knows he is on camera... all at the expense of the woman.

But... truthfully, dancing to that kind of music, it's always been about dancing within yourself and not with a partner.

Check out Peter's blog from time to time... he's pretty good!


Andrew Joseph


Do you know what my first exposure to Japanese culture was?

It was via a cartoon. Back when I was four or five years-old in 1969.

A wonderful cartoon called Hashimoto-san.

Back when I first watched it, it was in black and white because that's the type of television set we had. It wasn't until I was about 14 years-old that I first saw it in color... and, when you get to the bottom of this blog and see the cartoon there for you, it seemed to have that same yellowy look to it. I'm unsure to this day if that was how it was supposed to look or whether or not the television station just had an old worn copy of film. 

A total of 14 cartoons were made between 1959 and 1963 for the Terrytoons Animation company (the folks who brought us Heckle and Jeckle the talking magpies) as created by Bob Kuwahara, a Japanese-born American animator who drew on his own family's culture.

Hashimoto-san describes himself as a Japanese house mouse. He's a young male, married to Hanako Hashimoto, and together they have a son, Saburo, and a daughter named Yuriko.

Hashimoto-san defied the Japanese Hollywood stereotype of being a businessman with a navy blue pinstripe suit and glasses and stiff non-funny sense of humor. He seems warm, a proud family man, speaks stilted but perfect English with a slight accent in a calm relaxing manner and is intent on teaching the viewer a thing or three about his country of Japan, of which he is quite proud of.

There were a few stereotypes of course. Hashimoto-san was a judo expert (but truthfully, in all my seven junior high schools that I taught at, there was a judo club and there was always about 10 boys there that could kick anyone's ass thanks to having achieved a black belt in three short years), although this mouse did not like to use his judo in case he hurt anyone.

In these cartoons, Hashimoto-san spoke to the camera (and audience) as though he were being asked to describe things about Japan. In fact, he was. His stories were related to American reporter G.I. Joe (no not the army brat with the kung-fu grip).

John Myhers did all of the voice characterization in these cartoons, with Kuwahara directing all of the cartoons.

Between 1963 and 1965, the Hashimoto cartoons were placed into The Hector Heathcote Show on NBC for Saturday television viewing. An unlikely pairing, as Heathcote was known as the Minute-and-a-Half Man,  a U.S. Revolutionary War figure.

Hashimoto-san also appeared in a few Gold Key Comics (see image to right). Unfortunately, this is one of the few Gold Key comic books I do not own! There was also a Hashimoto-san board game. Both it and the comics appeared in the mid 1960s. In the 1980s Hashimoto-san made a cameo appearance in the New Adventures of Mighty Mouse cartoons... only he had aged a bit.

Do you know what was really cool about this character? aside from taking down the evil cat that threatened his family, he was a simple man/mouse with a family. There was no need to portray him as a bumbling stooge, manservant or houseboy - all Hollywood favorites at the time. It is believed that this little Japanese house mouse may have been the first positive representation of the Japanese in U.S. cartoon history... certainly a daring thing since WWII had ended only 15 years previous.

At this time, Hashimoto-san is not yet available on DVD. Sucks. Dame dai-yo! However, a quick perusal of You Tube will net you a few of the episodes. To help you with that, let Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife present an episode for you here. It's called The Doll Festival. Enjoy, please.

By Andrew Joseph

Friday, October 28, 2011

Homosexuality in Japan

 Hi there... Since my wife has a gay cousin living in Japan - apparently never mentioned by his parents and no one knowing where exactly he is or what he is doing, I thought maybe I would examined the subject of homosexuality in Japan.

I recall 20 years ago, that the Japanese were quite homophobic. I will assume there has been some change in that attitude, but realistically assume that it still has a long way to go. 

I'm not going to poke a finger at Japan for its views. People change as the environment changes. They adapt or they die out. Japan does adapt, and with regards to its views on such matters as homosexuality (yes, Virginia-san, there is a faggot), it will do so at its own speed.

Having said that, here's a piece I found on the Internet.

 The Gay Debate: Japan’s Comfy Closet, Part One


The Tokyo Gay Pride Parade in August of 2010.
TOKYO (majirox news) – There aren’t many Japanese people in the public eye who have announced they are gay. However, recently a small number of mainly male artists have started to speak out about being gay. They are on talk shows and other programs.
There are also some critics who complain that entertainers use gay stereotypes to increase their popularity.
According to Aya Kamikawa, a transgender assemblywoman in the Setagaya District of Tokyo, gender identity is highly progressive in Japan and the government implemented laws to protect them.
While Japan, she says, is ahead of most countries including Europe about gender identity, it is behind other Western countries about gay rights.
Five people with different backgrounds discussed with Majirox News how they viewed the gay situation in Japan. While they agreed that most people were not actively hostile to gays, they disagreed about the levels and forms of discrimination against them in society and the workplace.
Catherine Makino talked to them recently in Tokyo and published a two-part series of articles. The first one deals with the Japanese media.
Q: There are many popular entertainers on daily Japanese TV who are gay, transvestite, transgender, or nurture such a public persona, including transvestite Matsuko Deluxe and a transgender singer and personality named Haruna Ai.

How do you think these types of entertainers influence the public’s opinion of gays?

Hideki Sunagawa, a 40-year-old cultural anthropologist and president of Tokyo Gay Pride: It’s true that gay men are portrayed mainly as transgendered people. Even if they are not dressed like women, those who are on TV are very feminine in their behavior and in the way they talk.
Many Japanese people think that gay men are basically the same as transgender people and transvestites. They are extreme and there’s always one who plays a female role in gay couples.
Mariya Goya, a 22-year-old hairdresser in Tokyo: That’s exactly the point. TV portrays gays as overtly feminine, which creates these stereotypes that all gay men have this persona.
Miki Hamano: a middle-aged executive: Sunagawa-san makes a good point here. This is quite true. If Japanese TV is anything to judge by, he is 100% correct.
I involuntarily watch a lot of TV because my wife is addicted. I often glance up from whatever I’m reading and sometimes she’ll say that one of the women is a cross-dressing man. You’ll often see women dressing as men on TV and using male mannerisms. It’s not as frequent as men dressing as women, but it’s frequent enough.
Straight performers on Japanese TV seem to spend an enormous amount of time dressing as women, and some of the more outlandish comedians on TV dress as schoolgirls. Given that many of them are fat and ugly men nobody is going to mistake them for a woman or someone who is transgender.
Q: How about the Japanese entertainer Razor Ramon Hard Gay? In 2005, wearing a leather harness, hat and pants, he danced to the delight of his many Japanese fans. He built a career on using bizarre and extreme antics to parody gays.

Professor, a 30-year-old gay university professor who requested to remain anonymous: Most Japanese knew that Razor Ramon was not gay. We knew he was like most entertainers who wanted fame and to earn a lot of money.
Hamano: And people keep underestimating the sense of humor and the knack for parody that Japanese have. Cross-dressing seems to be nothing more than a cliché of Japanese comedy.
Everyone knows that competition in the performing world is so intense that you have to build a persona different from what any other performer has, and the weirder the better. You’re barking up the wrong tree here.
Q: According to a recent Yahoo News article O-ne-kei (sisterly types) are effeminate gays, transgender gays or drag queens on TV, and they are considered to be in the same group. They are popular because they say things women can relate to.

If they were really women, females would get jealous, but as long as it comes from a drag queen or a transgender person, it’s OK. Gays can get away with being spiteful and not being disliked, says the article.
Sunagawa: While some people realize that O-ne-kei people, who appear on TV, are different, this also enforces a stereotype
Charles Ayres, a media personality and openly gay 33-year-old American in Tokyo: In the United States they are called LGBT, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and people in each of these groups see themselves as separate entities.
And the Japanese public likes gays and transgendered performers as long as they don’t say anything political. I wish the ones in the spotlight would do a little more to focus on civil unions, HIV-infected people, drug abuse or any of the serious topics that affect the LGBT.
Hamano: No Japanese performers say a thing about this. Why should gay Japanese performers single themselves out to make an issue of it? I disagree strongly with his logic. It’s very American.
Ayres: It is their responsibility to bring up important issues to the attention of the public and it’s not an American thing. Japan doesn’t offer any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. There are civil unions in other countries, including South Africa, Brazil, Holland, France and Canada.
Q: Would you say that there is an increasingly realistic awareness about gays today in Japan, especially with the Internet and more information getting out?
Ayres: TV shows such as The L Word and Sex in the City, which were big hits in Japan, have helped in raising awareness in the media, even though some gays find the gay characters in these series overly stereotyped.
Sunagawa: As I mentioned earlier, there is confusion between gender identity and sexual orientation. Still, many people believe gay/lesbian people are immoral for choosing the same sex partners.

he Gay Debate: Comfy Closet, Part Two


The Tokyo Gay Parade in August of 2010
TOKYO (majirox news) – Catherine Makino continues part two of the discussion with people from different backgrounds about the gay situation in Japan. While there are no laws against homosexuality in Japan, there are few openly gay celebrities and politicians. There is little political support for gay rights.
Aya Kamikawa, a transgender assemblywoman in the Setagaya District of Tokyo, has heard from many gay people that they feel discriminated against in Japan.
And yet, she says, “It’s a non-issue here. A government survey on minority groups showed that fewer than one percent of Japanese were interested in gay issues.”
Q: Do you believe Ms. Kamikawa is correct in her perspective that gay rights are not an issue in Japan?
Hideki Sunagawa, 40, cultural anthropologist and president of Tokyo Gay Pride: Gay and lesbian matters are a non-issue because Japanese believe it’s a private matter.
The concept of human rights is different here than in Western countries. Gay people themselves don’t regard sexual orientation issues matters of human rights. If someone were to die or be killed as a result of discrimination, then it would be a human rights issue.
Q: Do you think it’s an issue?
Sunagawa: Some people, myself included, think it’s a social issue. I organized the Tokyo Pride Parade to move the issue more into the mainstream and show Japanese people that being gay is all right.
Miki Hamano, executive in Tokyo: But gay people are generally well integrated into society, and most people are uninterested in others’ sexual orientation. It has little or no impact on their relationships with others. In Japanese society, homosexuality is similar to being left-handed: It is not an issue.
Charles Ayres, 33, media personality and openly gay American in Tokyo: Hamano-san is wearing rose-colored glasses. It is a huge issue in Japan. Most people go to great lengths to hide their sexuality from their families and co-workers.
At an executive level — especially at older, more conservative companies — it is definitely an issue. Sorry, but openly gay men cannot easily join the “good ol’ boy’s club” that spends money at golf courses or hostess clubs in Ginza.
Professor, 30, a university professor who requested to remain anonymous: That’s true. My partner, who works in the travel business, got married because he wanted to climb the ladder and get promoted. He felt he had to protect himself. He had to cover up who he really was or they would block him at the higher levels.
Ayres: There’s also discrimination in housing. If you go to some real estate offices as a gay couple, they will subtly let you know ‘we don’t like your kind.’ That is why most gays move to hubs like Akabane or Nakano in Tokyo.
I’ve heard straight men in Tokyo who, not knowing that I understand Japanese, have talked about how they feel that gay men are disgusting. I’ve known American gay men who have committed marriage fraud (marrying Japanese female friends) to obtain a spousal visa and stay in Japan with their male Japanese partners.
Kenji Sasaki, 31, IT engineer: The bottom line is that there aren’t any merits in coming out to family or the workplace because of prejudice.
Q: Have you come out?
Sasaki: Like most gays, only to my good friends. I’m afraid to tell my father. He’s always asking me if I have a girlfriend and when I’m getting married. He would be so disappointed if he knew the truth.
Q: Is it different in Western countries?
Sasaki: Yes. There’s more solidarity and support groups, and they can vote for political candidates who support them. Of course, there’s also a powerful group that is against them. Japan is about 20 years behind the United States. We need confidence to be gay here.
In a 2008 online survey by Kyoto University of more than 5,500 homosexuals, more than 42 percent said they were depressed. More than 86 percent of those depressed were younger than 39 year old.
Coming Out

: I came out because I don’t like avoiding questions about my partners. I can’t keep pretending to be heterosexual.
I did it in graduate school during an interview test. One of my teachers always made gay jokes. It was painfully embarrassing, especially when the students laughed. However, students outside the classroom ignored the fact that I was gay.
Professor: That’s because Japanese people don’t want to touch this topic. They regard sexual orientation as private and it makes them uncomfortable. It’s polite to avoid talking about it.
Hamano: I’m skeptical about all this. Judging from what goes on with entertainment personalities (see Part One of this series), we are not uncomfortable with it and really don’t worry about the issue at all.
Japan does not share Western perspectives. In the United States, homosexuality and abortion are particular red-button issues, which is not the case in Japan.
Mariya Goya, 22, hairdresser in Tokyo: I disagree. There is a social taboo, and in reality, Western countries have more understanding of this than we have. In fact, my friends and I thought that gays were strange and that men who loved men were weird. My perception changed when I started working with gays and my best friend came out.
I wish the media would handle the subject more sensitively and show that gay people are normal.
Hamano: Why should people have to go out of their way to be sensitive to gay people when there is no visible discrimination or social contempt?

Q: If what Hamano-san says is correct, Professor and Mochizuki-san, why don’t you come out?

Professor: If I came out about half my colleagues would be shocked, and about half of them wouldn’t say anything but would still feel uncomfortable.
Q: Was it hard for you to admit you were gay to yourself as well?
Professor: I knew I was gay in kindergarten; I liked the pretty boys and felt more comfortable being around girls. I had crushes on male singers and actors. I lived in my own world. I didn’t want to talk to my father. I was bored listening to the other boys talk about girls and I eventually became scared to be with other people.
I wanted to reach out to gay men. I was curious about it, but the only ones I knew in school were really feminine and I didn’t want to contact them. It was lonely and I lived in the country side. I’m sure life would have been less complicated had I been born straight.
Sasaki: Today it’s not as lonely because there is a lot more information available to gays. You have the Internet, where you can find a girlfriend or boyfriend, talk to people and go to gay events.
Professor: That’s true. I wasn’t with anyone until I was in my mid 20s. I was in a park in Tokyo and this foreign man — I think he was American — came up to me and said, ‘I’m an English teacher, are you interested in me?’ After that, people said I changed and became more outgoing.
Sasaki: I gradually started realizing I was gay when I was 16 years old and felt isolated. It took a long time and the Internet wasn’t like it is now.
Q: Would you say there is less discrimination?
Sunagawa: There is rarely physical and verbal violence against gays, and many gay people enjoy gay bars and events. There are gay groups interested in music or sports in the urban cities of Japan, so they say they are not oppressed in their daily lives.
But we need to ask why most gay people can’t come out to their colleagues or family members.
Many gay people (especially gay men) say that they are not discriminated nor oppressed in their daily lives. However, oppression against gay people is so strong that many of them don’t even realize it. There aren’t any laws or social systems that protect or recognize gay couples, and that’s discrimination.
Q: Is it true that some gay people get around this by legally adopting their partner?
Ayres: Yes, but the lack of a sizeable movement to change this to a more official bond confirms that they have accepted their status as second-class citizens.
Sunagawa: For example, when a partner passes away, they can participate in the funeral only as a friend. Some say the deceased insist that gay friends not take part in the funeral, as parents and relatives may realize the departed person was gay.
Ayres: Let me also add that I have seen somewhat of an exodus of gay Japanese out of Japan — something of a ‘gay drain’ rather than a ‘brain drain’ — moving to Australia, Canada, France or anywhere the laws protect them to a greater measure. Unless the laws change, I think gays will continue to leave Japan.
Sunagawa: I believe that global solidarity will empower and help us solve the problems we are facing in our culture.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Changes Coming to Maps of Japan

Because of the upheaval of the March 11, 2011 9.0 Magnitude earthquake, official maps of Japan will have to be altered. 
While the average person will not need to go out and purchase these new maps for travel purposes, the changes are significant enough for the map makers looking for something to do.

As part of Japan's map-making, there are tens of thousands of map points that have been measured and charted - some for as long as a century - that are part of the country's surveying, charting and map-making industry, 
Thanks to the big earthquake that affected the northeast part of Japan, it has been noted that there has been a huge shift of these points and intersections throughout the country - huge for a surveyor/mapmaker - that has only been seen once previously in Japan's history. 
(I should note that the article I saw this in did not state when that previous earth shift was!)
Now... to be fair, and a bit more serious, that bloody earthquake moved the coastline (that's what many earthquakes do) and changed the balance of the planet.

Reports indicate that, according to GPS (global positioning stations) closest to the epicenter have moved east by as much as 13 feet.

According to Ross Stein, a geophysicist at the United States Geological Survey, Japan is "wider than it was before."

Of course, not all of Japan moved 13-feet - just those areas closest to the epicenter. Areas farther away did move, just not as much. 

Usually, with tectonic plate shifts, the east part of Japan pushes westward thanks to pressure from the American plate and causes the plate to buckle as one plate slides under the other - meaning that an earthquake doesn't usually cause Japan to move one way or the other too much.

However, after the March 11, 2011 earthquake, Japan snapped back eastward, pushing itself a little bit closer to the U.S. by 13-feet.  

(Ed. Note... using your thumb and forefinger, hold a playing card... now squeeze. This middle will rise until the card pops from your grasp. This is what happens when tectonic plates compress. Pop! In this case, the card flew to the right. For this blog, look at the photo above of someone bending a microchip)   

As it unbuckled, a 250-mile-long coastal section of Japan dropped in altitude by two feet, which allowed the tsunami to travel farther and faster onto land.
For map makers, Japan’s central measuring point from which all other measuring points radiate is located in a small Greco-Roman stone building in a public park in Tokyo. Reports indicate that it sank an unprecedented 2.4 centimeters (1 inch).

Locally in Japan, Toyko's Azabu ward and parts of the Chiyoda ward have shifted eastward.

After the Japanese government enacted a new Land Survey Act to revise Japan’s leveling and geodetic datum, the Geospatial Authority of Japan, announced that 109,000 trigonometric points and 18,000 level points for surveying throughout Japan will change as a result of the extensive geodetic shift (earthquake's aftermath).

That means new maps with new elevations, coastlines and such.

By Andrew Joseph

Dismembered Body in Kanagawa

File this one under "Cooking Papa", one of my favorite Japanese anime from the 1990s.

On October 25, 2011, Kanagawa-ken (Kanagawa Prefecture) police have arrested and charged a woman for butchering a man to pieces.

Shimura Kanji (surname first) was the 66-year-old boyfriend of the alleged killer, and who's dismembered body parts were found stuffed in paper bags and a carry-all bag around Hiratsuka-shi (City of Hiratsuka), Kanagawa-ken during the week of October 9, 2011.

Charged is Nakayama Hiroko, his 55-year-old girlfriend (we'll assume ex-girlfriend) and nursing home worker, who lived with him and allegedly cut him up between one and two months ago, according to police.

According to police reports, Shimura's head was found wrapped in a plastic bag (hopefully not a clear one) and a towel, and left close to a bus stop. He did not get aboard any buses - probably because he didn't have his wallet with him. (Sorry).

This torso was discovered at a nearby parking lot near the bus stop, while his legs were found at a shrine. Probably had his shoes removed, so that is at least not a breach of shrine etiquette.(Should I be making jokes at this man's expense? Someone has to. Hopefully he won't go all to pieces at me poking fun at his horrific death - which I'm sure it was).

Why didn't she just toss out the bags on garbage day? Lazy.

Police are currently questioning Nakayama about her motive.

Japan - It's a Wonderful Rife is pretty sure her motive was to kill him and then spread his remains around the city he so loved...

Files by Andrew Joseph

Anyhow... you'll notice on the link above to the Cooking Papa cartoon that the theme song is about 1/3 the length of the actual cartoon being offered. Yes, it's only a partial cartoon with about another 15 minutes of it lost on the Internet. Sorry. But I only understood about about 25% of any Japanese cartoon I ever saw.... and those were the ones in English!   

Files by Andrew Joseph
Why Cooking Papa? What do you do with butchered meat parts? Cook'em. Man... I'm feeling sick today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tsunami Debris Heading For US And Canada

Reports have indicated that up 20 million tons of debris from the March 11, 2011 earthquake that struck the northeast coast of Japan is making its way to the west coast of Canada and the U.S.

Wreckage , including floating furniture, TVs, refrigerators and other flotsam, is traveling quicker than had been previously estimated, and could reach North American shores by 2014 says Jan Hafner, a researcher at the University of Hawaii.

"We don't want to create a panic, but it's good to know it's coming," Hafner tells Honolulu's KITV television station.

Crew members aboard a Russian training ship spotted the debris 3,200 kilometres from Japan last month, according to the report.

"They saw some pieces of furniture, some appliances, anything that can float, and they picked up a fishing boat," Hafner says noting that the 20-foot long boat was painted with teh word 'Fukushima'.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

Blood Money

Here's a very good story about the people of Japan who feel they are getting a raw deal with the compensation payments being offered them.

It's written by David McNeil and published by The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.


By Andrew Joseph

Earthquake Jolts Fukushima Again

I am sure that any earthquake - large or small - is a cause of concern for the people along the northeast coast of Japan - especially after what occurred back on March 11, 2011 with that massive 9.0 magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami, which in turn set off the worst nuclear crises since Chernobyl.

So, when a 5.2 Magnitude earthquake struck Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture) just after 2AM local time, Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife can assume there was a bit of hysteria.

The earthquake's epicenter was near Iwaki-machi (Town of Iwaki) on the coast, about 186 kilometers north of Tokyo.    

This earthquake was about 120 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Dai-ichi (Big One) nuclear facility that had, back on March 11, lost power and then began to have at least two partial meltdowns as it spewed radioactive materials into the air, soil and surrounding waters.

Later on Wednesday, a second earthquake shook an area about 423 kilometers (262 miles) southwest from Tokyo in the waters off the coast of Japan.

At the time of this writing, I am unable to confirm if there were any injuries or damages.

Files by Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shonen Knife in Toronto 2010

Because I love this group, Shonen Knife, and was unable to go and see them last week when they were in Toronto, I thought I would show you some You Tube clips of the power punk pop trio when they were here at the Horseshoe Club here in Toronto in 2010.

They open up with Konichiwa (Hello) and then Banana Chips.

And because I wouldn't want to leave you hanging, here's the second part of the show:

Enjoy the show! And make sure you go and see the girls when they come to your town - and tell them Konichiwa from their big fan Andrew - and give them my blog website!

Somewhere eating banana chips,
Andrew Joseph

Lookin' For Love (In All The Wrong Places)

Sakuyama Jr. High students read a Haiku marker by Basho, a famous poet.
It's been a while since I posted one of these true tales of my time as a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan, as opposed to my time as a gaijin in Canada. Because Matthew J. Hall requested it, here's a story which truly captures the reason why I created this particular blog in the first place. 

Here's the precursor, as we flip back 20 years in time: Today is Wednesday, October 16, 1991. I'm a junior high school teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme) now on my second year of living comfortable in Ohtawara-shi (City of Ohtawara), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), Japan.

I'm teaching at Sakuyama Chu Gakko (Sakuyama Junior High School) this week, and today is just another typical day here.... not.

Today we're going on a bicycle /hiking school trip!

First off... the students ride out to the town of Kurobane on their bicycles. It took them an hour.

I got a ride in the car with some teachers, who followed them to make sure no one fell into a rice paddy along the way. Do you know what was cool? Not a single car passed us that morning. It's like we had the road all to ourselves to ensure the kids were going to have a safe ride. I wonder if they actually can do something like that - shutting down a public road - like what they do back home for parades?

The thing is... there is probably no other road in or out of Kurobane.

Earlier that morning, teachers had marked out with cones all of the designated danger zones in an effort to direct traffic for the students.

During the opening ceremonies, I open up my camera to change film (I told you this was 1991)  and discover it was empty. I wonder if I have been taking photos of anything these past few weeks. Luckily I have a fresh roll of film in my pocket - and if I didn't, I could buy one at a local film vending machine later.

Getting out of the car at Kurobane, I hook up with a third-year (grade 9) male leader named Ueki-kun (kun designates the friendly form for boy, rather than the formal san or mister). This kid was great. I only wish he had told me his first name... Anyhow... last year, he was the kid I had first taught all of the bad English words to. And, lo and behold, he quietly recites them to me as we hike. He also takes the time to teach me a whole slew of Japanese naughty words and phrases... the meaning of which we are able to figure out through pantomime and broken English and broken Japanese.

To be honest, I haven't had such a good time with the students since this time last year when I went to Nikko with the Nozaki school.

Ueki-kun and I chat as old friends as we walk around Kurobane finding stone markers denoting various poems written by the famous Haiku poet Basho. How famous was Basho? I first learned about him in Grade 3 back in Toronto.

We walk about for five hours. I'm exhausted - and while I get to ride home in an 2-50 air-conditioned car (two windows down - 50 kilometers an hour), these poor kids have an hour's ride to look forward to... but no one complains.

A whole slew of kids come up to me at various times just to say hello and to chat. In fact, I've talked to more students today than at any other time since arriving in this country 15 months ago. There's no rife like it!

It's like this field trip has brought us all closer together—much like last year's Nozaki Nikko trip did at this same time last year.

Click HERE to see my photos of this beautiful place. Presented in order of the ride.

Okay... here's the fun part. It was a beautiful day. Students all came up to me at the conclusion of the hike to slap me on the back and say how relieved they were that my days as the ame otoko (rain man) appeared to be over. You see... everyone knows that I am the ame otoko, and that it rains whenever I travel (see photographic evidence of my recent trip to SENDAI) as proof of that.

While I am unsure if my days as the rain man are over - because hanging around Ohtawara's area does not usually constitute a trip in my watery logs... but tomorrow.... tomorrow is another day. I'm going to Utsunomiya and Nikko on an AET (assistant English teacher)learning trip.

As the hike part of the day is over, we settle down and have some lunch by the Naka Gawa (Middle River)... nothing overly special, we all had to bring our lunches. I didn't, so I bought a bento box (a boxed lunch) at a nearby shop. Unagi (eel) on a bed of rice! Holy cow that was good! (And 20 years later, it is still the one meal I order when I see it on a menu at a Japanese restaurant!)  

I go home and out to practise kyudo (Japanese archery). Ashley (my ex, and now friend-with-benefits) both miss our last shots into the night and lose our arrows. We playfully accuse each other of hiding the each others arrow, because after 10 minutes of searching we can't find them.

We go to Tsubuhachi's for dinner (in Ohtawara), come back to my place and watch videos until 11PM.

We begin kissing, get hot and heavy, strip down and are about to have sex when she says 'no'. She just wants to kiss me. She rides home at 1AM, and I am tired and frustrated and end a great day less than satisfied.

Somewhere too tired to ride,
Andrew Joseph
I chose the blog title because it's obvious I really was looking for love in all the wrong places - whether it was cupid's lost arrow with Ashley (at Kyudo) or back at my apartment getting shot down - I had love from my students at Sakuyama Chu Gakko who treated me with respect. I was probably too stupid to realize that back in 1991. Sort off. I knew I had the kids, but I was still pining for someone I could never get again.
Today's blog title is sung by Johnny Lee, who made it famous:

Monday, October 24, 2011

People Talk And Yen Goes Down

Now despite the headline, your old pal Andrew Joseph, head gaijin on Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife doesn't really have a lot of interest in the inner workings of why a country's dollar, euro or yen is too high or too low.

He thinks it's all just smoke and mirrors done to appease one segment of the country and then the other - depending on the whims of the government currently in power.

He wonders how countries can go bankrupt, how others can renege on a loan, how others can forgive a loan. He also wonders how, if there are countries that always seem to be in some sort of economic turmoil ant one survives. He knows that when money is tight at home, he goes into a self-imposed starvation mode and tries not to spend any money until the next pay-day. he also knows that it is handy to create a budgetary plan and to follow it, but taking the lead from his country, rarely does to any great success.

He also wonders, since most countries are hurting financially, just which countries are not.

He also tends to believe that much of what goes on in the world of the stock markets is all just buyers and sellers screwing around with companies and the world economy.  For example... why is gold is now at $1,660 an ounce? Did some industry suddenly come along and determine that it needs gold as an ingredient? Did gold suddenly become something people want more of in their day-to-day lives? Did gold sudden;y go up in cost/value because the overlords are now being forced to pay fair and decent wages to its miners? Did gold suddenly become a much needed ingredient in jewelery? Did gold suddenly become rarer? 

Yes, there is less gold still in the ground than there was 20 years ago, but other than that... gold hasn't changed all that much. What is driving the price ever higher? Why can I not afford a nice gold chain or jewelery piece for my wife now?

Global money issues are all artifically created by people. Money, whether it is a dollar, euro, yen (or your country's denomination),  it's just small chunks of metal and thin slices of paper or plastic. It has no real value except whatever it is you put in it. Did it really cost $20 to manufacture that bill in your pocket? No. How is it worth that much? Because the government says it is. That's a lot of faith to be putting into an entity that, with a few exceptions, can't balance its own budget.

Okay... I'm getting off my anarchist soapbox now.

Having said all that, here's some data on what Japan is trying to do to stem the tide against the country's rising yen - rising, that is, against the almighty US dollar, which no matter what other countries seem to believe, the yankee buck is where it all stops.

According to a BBC News report supplied to me from my good buddy Matthew Hall, Japan is looking to take steps to halt the rising yen currency.

This is according to Japan finance minister Azumi Jun (surname first) who dared utter such things about the high yen.

(Ed. Note: And lo and behold... he spoke and the yen magically lowered itself in trading against the US dollar on Monday, October 24, 2011. The country didn't actually do anything except have someone say it was looking into doing something about the high yen, and - PRESTO! - the yen comes down.)  

The yen hit a record high against the dollar in New York on Friday.

Azumi's comments came as Japan reported export growth of 2.4 per cent in September compared to a year ago, according to the Ministry of Finance.

That follows a month of growth in overseas shipments during August.

Japan's exports, hard hit by the earthquake and tsunami that struck in March, have been dented by the strength of the yen.

A strong yen makes Japanese products more expensive in overseas markets compared to Asian rivals such as China and South Korea.

(Ed. Note: Gee... why don't we de-value the yen? It will make things easier to sell overseas. Oh yeah... it will make things tougher for the Japanese people to purchase overseas goods shipped into Japan.)

Last Friday, October 21, 2011, the yen touched 75.78 against the US dollar, alarming Japan's companies and government officials.

"This is an utterly speculative move and not reflecting the economic fundamentals at all. This is regrettable," says Azumi.

(Ed Note: Regretable? What, like WWII? Hopefully that was just a lousy translation of what he really said.)

He continues: "If this move becomes excessive, we have to take decisive action. I already instructed my staff on Saturday to be prepared to take action."

His comments will be seen as a warning to currency speculators whose actions could be contributing towards the yen's rise.

(Ed. Note: See... people bet on money to make money. Their actions screw with how a country is able to function. If you take away such frivilous games, you remove a key factor in countries having major economic concerns. Ahh... but by removing this game, surely it will cause some other part of the global economy to collapse - but which one?) 

Now, investors are waiting to see if the government will directly intervene in the currency markets again.

(Ed. Note: Yes... no one should invest in anything until we can figure out what the Japanese government is going to do. Acting too quickly by guessing incorrectly could be regretable.)

The last time officials intervened was in August, when they spent a record amount of money trying to weaken the yen.

Okay... story over... here's some of my comments: 

Yeah... how did Japan spending money to lower the yen go last time? How did that work out? Oh yeah... here we go again. Let's spend money to weaken the purchasing power of our currency? Maybe the finance minister needs to simply say he is looking to do something soon about something - I'm sure it will cause the yen to either get weaker or stronger.

Meanwhile, because I lack a business degree (I am a journalism graduate and a graduate in political science - as well as a piano and clarinet teacher and a qualified soccer coach), I'm sure I don't have all the answers regarding why currencies go up and down or why stocks go up and down. It almost wishes for pure communism to take effect - not China's or the former USSR's, but rather the pure true concept of it, where everyone is equal, no one has any more than the other. Too bad we (and I include myself) are all such greedy bastards and always want more than what we have. I blame my parents.

Seriously...  read this story again and note that the YEN actually dropped in value on Monday after the Japanese Minister of Finance said he was looking at doing something about the high yen.
He didn't actually do anything except make an announcement.

If that was his "something", then mission accomplished... the yen dropped down.

If he wants it lower, maybe he should make another speech. It's all just smoke and mirrors with people playing with us. And I hate it.

On the plus side, I love the fact that the Canadian dollar is at par to the US dollar thanks to news that China's manufacturing MAY grow during the month of October. But what if it actually does grow? Will the Canadian dollar grow stronger against the US dollar? And what if China's manufacturing sector isn't as strong? Does that mean I now have to spend more to buy gold I don't really need from another country? And why does Canada sell gas and oil to the U.S. and then buy it back from them at a higher rate? Are we that stupid, or is this just some sort of scam?  

Money issues? Yeah... we all have money issues.)

Grumpily compiled by Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks Matthew - always feel free to send me a story idea.

Marathon To Be Held in Fukushima City

It's Sunday night as I type this and I'm doing writing for work. Ho-hum. While it may not be as fun as writing this blog, it does pay the bills until such time that someone comes up to me and offers to buy my life story from me for enough money to pay my debt off... which will then afford me enough time to get back further into debt before I die. 

Speaking of death, on November 13, 2011, Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture) is holding a woman's marathon in Fukushima-shi (Fukushima City).

Okay... death isn't really involved... or is it?

According to the video link below, this marathon race will be held for junior high school and senior high school female students. If you listen to the video's critic in the right-side of the video, he is aghast that this race is even being held, fearful that radiation levels in that area still aren't at a safe level.

He is correct in one regard... radiation is still in the area.

The Japanese government is asking people to limit their exposure outside. Previous blogs of mine had noted that schools are limiting the outdoor exposure of its students to just two hours a day.

Now... while I am unsure of the distance of the upcoming woman's marathon, a standard 26-mile race will take well over 2-1/23 hours for an adult male... so perhaps we are looking at a three-hour race or more here.

If it is a 10 kilometer marathon (like the Ohtawara-shi Marathon in Tochigi-ken), well... I was able to run 10-kilometers in a speedy 38-minutes once, but could not complete the actual race owing to the fact that running laps around a track is far different on the legs than running the same distance cross-country style... it's more physically exerting.

Regardless... should there be an outdoor marathon race in Fukushima-shi for these young women a mere six months after the area was sprayed with vast amounts of deadly radiation?

It doesn't seem like a great idea to me... but then again, I don't have as many facts as some people do in that part of Japan.

Hopefully the race sponsors are positive of their data and no one will be exposed to any harmful levels of radiation.

To see this Japanese video with English sub-titles, click HERE.

By Andrew Joseph

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hotel Radioactivity To Open In Fukushima

Okay... This seems a little hard to believe, but there's a Japanese dude intent on building a hotel in Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture) - where the Dai-ichi nuclear reactor facility nearly suffered through a couple of meltdowns, but managed to spew a lot of dangerous radioactive Cesium up into the air, water and ground - to prove that radiation is not dangerous to the human body.

According to Soejima Takahhiko (surname first), he believes that by building his Hotel Radioactivity or what he also calls a Health Land, that he will be able to prove that people can actually receive a health benefit from the hormesis effect of low-level radiation.

Radiation hormesis is a theory that states that low levels of ionizing radiation (more than standard background radiation that we are constantly bombarded with everyday), is something that can be beneficial to the human body. It is theorized that it can stimulate the repair mechanisms with the human body to help it better protect against diseases. It is thought that these repair mechanisms that are started by the extra radiation will also be strong enough to cancel the harmful effects of the extra radiation and will also cancel any harmful effects of ionizing radiation but will also help the body fight diseases.

Sounds wacky, but legitimate scientists think this is possible.

Back in 2005,  the French Academy of Sciences - National Academy of Medicine reported that hormesis works.

But, even now, no one is sure if it will work outside the laboratory - in real life. Soejima thinks it will, and feels that by building the Hotel Radioactivity, it will prove this hypothesis correct.  

Soejima writes on his website that:

"Since the beginning of the nuclear accident in March, our group has done a tremendous job in Fukushima, dispatching the objective news and writing "Such a ultra-minute amount of radiation does not harm human body". However, [these idiots] are still not convinced, and continue to spew their stupid words of radiation phobia."

Sounds like he is serious about hormesis.

Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife feels it is our duty to at least give everyone a heads-up - a warning - when checking into a hotel in Fukushima-ken. It sounds a lot like the Roach Motel product... guests check in, but they don't check out.

Look... we understand that science likes to investigate things. We're cool with that. But to do your tests on human beings - at this stage of the hypothesis? No.  More tests are needed, and more years are needded to ensure that the test subjects - mice, rats, whatever - are not going to get sick months or years later. Cancer has a nasty habit of showing up years after exposure. As well, what about mental illness? Can you test animals for that? Will you? And for yourself, too please?

Okay, that last sentence was unfair... but seriously, can someone tell me what is considered TOO much radiation?

Okay... the theory is not without some interesting things. Human beings have been using toxins to create anti-toxins for centuries. The same for vaccinations... flu shots will give us a fever after - why, because each flu shot actually contains a bit of the flu virus. Same for small pox, chicken pox, you name it.

Want to steel yourself against a poison, many people actually ingest small doses of poison on a daily basis. Yes it weakens then, but then it helps them develop  - not an immunity - but rather it makes them less susceptible to the effects of a stronger dose of poison... it makes our immune systems stronger.

It sounds a lot like what radiation hormesis and Soejima are trying to do.

All this blog can say is this: You go first.

We'll follow - in the first car behind the ambulance.
By Andrew Joseph

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dead Mayor Saves Town From Tsunami

Fudai's floodgate.
If we believed in ghosts (and we do), you might want to file this story under Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

This is the true story about how a mayor who died in 1997 at the age of 88, saved the town of Fudai, Iwate-ken (Iwate Prefecture) from the fury of the tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan back on March 11, 2011.

Okay... it's not really a ghost story. It's about how Mayor Wamura Kotoku (not Kotaku) - (surname first) decided to build a seawall and a floodgate that was so massive and expensive that, back in the 1970s, people thought he was crazy for being so wasteful with the money of the town's 3,000 people.

Now Wamura-san wasn't just your fly-by-night mayor, either. He was mayor from 1947 until 1987 - 10 full terms - so he must have done a few things right - even if he was derided for spending so much money on the floodgate.

Flash forward to March 11, 2011 when a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake caused a 60-plus foot tsunami to come barreling down on the northeast coast of Japan - including the town of Fudai. While other towns were flooded with losses of many people, Fudai was saved by the wall. No people died. No homes were lost. All in all, a pretty darn satisfactory footnote to Mayor Wamura as a politician.

Okay... one dumb fisherman died when, immediately after the earthquake he went out past the floodgate to go and check out his boat.

Wamura's floodgate stood 51-feet (15.5-meter) tall, and was placed between mountainsides. It took 12 years to construct and, in today's money, cost the equivalent of Cdn/US $30-million. For a town of just over 3,000 people back in the 1970s, this truly was an incredible amount of money.

So... why did he do it?

Fudai is situated about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo. It's a small fishing village the depends on the sea, and harvest seaweed for food. It also has some amazing white-sand beaches that lures tourists.
Mayor Wamura Kotoku

As a young man, Wamura was hep to the fact that the sea, while ever bountiful, could turn angry.

Back in 1933 and armed with knowledge of a disaster in 1896, Fudai was destroyed after massive earthquakes spawned massive tsunami that destroyed hundreds of homes and killed a total of 439 people. Considering only 3,000 or so lived in Fudai back in the 1960s (and even now in 2011), losing 439 people is about 1/7th of the population. That's huge.

In his book about Fudai called A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty, Wamura wrote: "When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words."

Simply put, he knew that as mayor, a disaster like that would never happen again to Fudai.

Fudai's Seawall in background.
In 1967, the town first erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. This is different from a floodgate.

But he still wasn't satisfied. He wanted more protection, and wanted to add a floodgate for a cove located up a road from the previously built seawall... a floodgate right in front of the actual village.

That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai-gawa (Fudai River) to empty into the cove and lowered again to protect the village against a tsunami.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall. And while the village council originally were against it, he eventually convinced them.

"They (Village Council) weren't necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size," explains Mifune Yuzo, head of Fudai's resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. "But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives."

Construction on this second floodgate began in 1972. There were still grumblings from locals about the size of this monstrous gate blocking off their village, as well as grumblings from landowners forced to sell land to the government.

Even current Mayor Fukawatari Hiroshi, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts: "I did wonder whether we needed something this big."

The floodgate, made of concrete was 673 feet (205 meters) wide, and was finally finished in 1984, 12 years after it was started. It cost, in 1984 money, ¥3.56-billion (~ Cdn/US $47-million), of which it was split between the town and the prefecture.

Let's flash ahead again to 2011. On March 11, after the earthquake hit (and before the tsunami), workers remotely closed the floodgate's four main panels. While the smaller panels on the sides jammed, a firefighter was able to close them by hand.

The aftermath? The beautiful white sand beaches were littered with debris and fallen trees. At the Fudai port outside the floodgates, boats, equipment and warehouses were destroyed. Estimated loses to its fishing industry was at ¥3.8-billion ( Cdn/US $50-million).

But behind the floodgates, the people of Fudai were safe and secure. It's kind of tough to put a dollar/yen figure on that.

"It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared," states 55-year-old seaweed fisherman Kaneko Satoshi, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.

At Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks stained the floodgate's towers. 

Okay, so it's true... some water did break over the 51-foot barriers... but, it was enough to blunt the main thrust of the tsunami.

The nearby Taro-machi (Town of Taro) and its 5,000 people also thought it had constructed an impenetrable defense with a double-layered 33-foot (10-meter) high seawall that spanned a length of 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It had, prior to March 11, 2011, some 1,600 homes and 4,400 residents. It's seawall did not protect the town.

The tsunami easily flowed over the Taro seawall... and once in past it, the rampaging waters smashed the village, and because it was now stuck within the village, thanks to mountains behind it and the useless seawall in front of it, the waters swirled around like a flushed toilet creating a whirling whirlpool that simply turned the town of Taro into slurry. In fact, the trapped whirlpool may have been responsible for more deaths than the original impact of the tsunami itself.

As many as 2,000 people are dead or are presumed dead.

As crap luck would have it, just eight days earlier on March 3, 2011, the village held its annual tsunami drill, an event that occurs every March 3 to commemorate a devastating tsunami that struck Taro in 1933 and nearly wiped it out.

But Taro was by no means unique in its reliance on a massive and intricate seawall. About 40 per cent of Japan’s 35,000-kilometer coastline is marked by concrete seawalls or breakwaters meant to protect the coast.

And the residents of Fudai can thank their lucky stars for the foresight and bravery of one Wamura Kotoku, who said at his retirement party in 1987: "Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand."

After the tsunami, Fudai residents began to visit his family grave site to pay respects to the dead mayor who saved their village. Check out this site and play with the plus/minus to get up close to the Fudai satellite view. Then notice just how close the Fudai Sho Gakko (Fudai Elementary School) is to the floodgate. SEE.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph
PS: In researching this blog, there are numerous articles out there with Mator Wamura's given name being misspelled as Kotaku. It should be Kotoku. As well, far too many articles confuse the two different Fudai constructs, interchanging the words seawall and floodgate. The same goes for the photography. This blog has it correct.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Volunteer Firefighters Died Closing Floodgates

An example of a floodgate in Miyagi-ken, Japan.
Back on March 11, 2011, a total of 253 volunteer firefighters died when an earthquake-spawned tsunami devastated three prefectures along the northeast coast of Japan. But wasn’t known until recently, was that of those dead firefighters, at least 72 were in charge of closing floodgates or seawall gates in coastal areas, it has been learned.
What is ironic, is that these deaths occurred at the same time calls for a greater number of remote-operated floodgates were being requested, owing to the fact that the firefighters actually have to head to the coastal areas to close gates immediately after an earthquake – an obviously dangerous part of the job.
Despite the large number of deaths, government officials have only did they will consider revising the floodgate operations – not outright saying they will.
There are about 1,450 floodgates in Iwate-ken (Iwate Prefecture), Miyagi-ken (Miyagi Prefecture) and Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture), including some to prevent the inflow of seawater into rivers and seawall gates that will allow people to pass through.
According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, 119 volunteer firefighters died or went missing in Iwate-ken, 107 in Miyagi-ken and 27 in Fukushima-ken.
Of these, 59 and 13 were in charge of closing gates in Iwate-ken and Miyagi-ken, respectively, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey of the municipalities and firefighting agencies concerned.
Within six municipalities in Fukushima-ken, the gate closing was a job sub-contracted to private companies and citizen groups. A local resident of Namiemachi in the prefecture died after he went out to close a floodgate. But firefighters were responsible for other floodgate closures.
According to the municipalities concerned and the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, volunteer firefighters were also swept away while guiding the evacuation of residents or while in transit after finishing gate-closing operations. However, the agency says more firefighters were lost at these times than while closing gates.
There are about 600 floodgates and seawall gates under the administration of the Iwate-ken government, however only 33 can be remotely operated. But some volunteer firefighters still had to go to and close the floodgates after the earthquake damaged the power to them.
Part of the problem is that there were delays i closing the gates owing to the fact that some local residents were still attempting to cross through the gates after having turned back to fetch personal items.
In Ishinomaki, Miyagi-ken, four volunteer firefighters were trying to close the floodgates but fled when it became obvious they were too late. Three of them died (or are presumed missing – and after this length of time... they are dead).
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, volunteer firefighters are classified as irregular local government officials, and many have regular jobs. Their average annual allowance was a mere ¥25,475 (~Cdn/US $337.00) as of 2008.
There were slightly more than 880,000 volunteer firefighters in 2010, a drop of 67,000 from 2000.
According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, there were 25,463 floodgates and seawall gates at least two meters wide at seaports and elsewhere across the country as of March last year. Of these, just 742 units, or about three percent, could be remotely controlled, the ministry said.
The ministry will ask each prefecture to increase the number of remotely controlled floodgates and seawall gates while inspecting how the gates have been used and administered. Based on its findings, the ministry will decide on the order in which gates should be closed after an earthquake, and study a plan to keep shut at ordinary times gates that do not need to remain open.
Another factor that increased the death toll among volunteer firefighters was the fact that many did not possess wireless equipment (radios or walkie-talkies), the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said, and were unable to get any updates on the height of the approaching tsunami.
By Andrew Joseph

Japanese Farming Will Survive Radiation Fallout

Just in case you forgot, back on March 11, 2011, Japan endured a Magnitude 9.0 earthquake that spawned a - depending on whom you talk to - a 60-foot tsunami wave that smacked the northeast coast of Japan. It also took out power to the Dai-ichi nuclear power generating facility in Fukushima-ken (Fukushima Prefecture) causing it to go into near-meltdown but spewing radiative materials into the air, water and surrounding soil for days, if not weeks.

As such, people did have some valid concerns that farming in that sector of Japan would have to be shut down for years until it could be decontaminated.

However, recent studies looking at how the radiation in Japan has accumulated in plants and soil notes that there is no long-term threat and that farmers can get back to work (Ed. Note: even if it is October and harvest time?).

On April 22 (a month later) after the radiation had begun spewing, Japan's government had evacuated a 30-kilometer swatch of area surrounding the Dai-ichi nuclear facility privately-owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). They then imposed agricultural product restrictions.

On October 1, 2011, Japan lifted it's evacuation advisory in certain areas within a 20- to 30-kilometer radius from the shut-down nuclear plant (though it is still considered 'hot'). The effected areas include the towns of Hirono and Naraha, the village of Kawauchi, and parts of Minamisomo and Tamura, all located in Fukushima-ken. At the time, over 60,000 had forced to leave the area.

Even now, however, people are concerned about going back to recreate a normal life there because Japan's government has yet to reveal a proper strategy for dealing with the areas contaminated by radiation.

People are panicking because there are no data," says plant radiophysiology expert Nakanishi Tomoko (surname first) at the University of Tokyo.

Nakanishi is the coordinator of seven teams studying the impact of the disaster on soil, plants, animals, fisheries and forests for the next decade by measuring contamination levels and assessing the long-term threat. Early results - appearing in Radioisotopes, a Japanese journal, say things are looking good for farmers.

Her teams studied crops at a Tokyo research field, including cabbages and potatoes that were planted a few weeks after rains showered the field with radioisotopes from the reactors in Fukushima.

These plants crops were harvested weeks later on May 16, 2011 and were examined, with findings of low levels of radiation—around 9-becquerels per kilogram (Bq kg–1 wet weight), much lower than the 500Bq kg–1 safety limit for human consumption.

It was also determined that since most of the had accumulated on the plant leaves, it could be washed off - meaning the plants were not absorbing dangerous levels of radioisotopes directly from the soil.

Even looking at the more highly exposed fields around Fukushima, Nakanishi's crew found similar results, finding that most of the radiation in the plants accumulated on their surfaces.

Wheat leaves that were open at the time of the greatest fallout were heavily contaminated, with combined levels of Cesium-134 and Cesium-137 ranging from thousands to about 1-million Bq kg–1.

But, the study shows, leaves that unfolded after the fallout were largely free of contamination. Wheat ears from these plants contained 300–500 Bq kg–1 — within the prescribed radiation limit.

"It's harvest time now and farmers are wondering what to do," offers Nakanishi. "They can throw the current harvest away. But it is okay to plant again."

Despite this good news, the team's data also show that the radioisotopes seem to be stuck firmly to the soil, mainly in the top five centimeters, and are not being washed away by rain. This might prevent the radioisotopes from entering groundwater, but suggests that cleaning up the more radioactive public spaces in Fukushima-ken will not be easy.

IMPORTANT: A separate group from Kobe University, led by radiation expert Yamauchi Tomoya, has found that soil radiation levels at four sites in Fukushima-shi (Fukushima City), some 60 kilometers from the reactors, measured up to 47,000 Bq kg–1, surpassing the 10,000 Bq kg–1 human exposure safety level set by the government. Yamauchi says that these areas, which are outside the current 30-kilometer evacuation zone, should be evacuated immediately.

In May, 2011, Japan's agriculture ministry showed off a ¥490-million (~Cdn/US$6-million) initiative to develop clean-up techniques, including removing contaminated soil.

However, results from these initiatives won't be known for many months, says Nakanishi, highlighting again that the lack of information for residents is damning.

Just how deep is the soil contamination in each area? That's what people need to know. As such, just to be sure, some local Fukushima schools have dug out the top 50 centimeters of soil... though even then they aren't positive.

Still, take a look at the graph above... according to that, only a few centimeters of soil are holding the contamination. But... that's just from where they took the samples. What about the Kobe research? Why did they get radioactive sampling well above what Nakanishi's crew did? Were these studies done at the same approximate time?

But, guess what the schools are doing with the contaminated soil they have dug up? After digging it up, the dirt sits in the corners of the schools' property... big mounds of radioactive dirt.... free to blow into kids faces.

The agriculture ministry is also testing how well plants can clean the soil in highly contaminated areas, and several non-governmental organizations have followed suit with a campaign of sunflower planting, with the assumption being that these plants will absorb the radiation from the contaminated soil.

Nakanishi called this "nonsense", noting that this phyto­remediation can only absorb small amounts of radiation

However, Inoue Chihiro, an expert in soil and groundwater remediation at Tohoku University, offers that the phyto­remediation technique is worth examining, but warns that even if it works, there is still the problem of having to dispose of the radioactive plants.

Burying the soil is expensive, however. Inoue says that the cost of cleaning up a school playground could be ¥50 million (~Cdn/US 650,000), and there are more than 100 schools in the affected areas (for about a $65-million outlay of moolah!), not to mention parks and other public places.

As well, there is the additional costs of digging it up PLUS the fact that since Cesium-137 has a radioactive half-life of 30 years meaning it's 30 years to lose half it's radioactivity, and 30 years again to lose that new current half of radioactiviy, and so on), this stuff is going to be around for a long time. This means wherever the soil is buried/stored, it's going to have to be constantly monitored for weather exposure (and thus having it go down into the drinking water table).

By Andrew Joseph