Archive for 23 April, 2011

Seals are more popular than Julian Gillard and nuclear crisis

The Australian Prime Minister gets an honourable mention, but the seals get pride of place. The nuclear crisis becomes more cryptic, and adds unstable fuel to the fire.

Julian Gillard is Australia’s Prime Minister. She is currently in Japan and is visiting the tsunami hit regions. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Japan’s NHK news service has neglected to inform its viewership the extent of international support provided to Japan following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Australia’s Prime Minister is here, and it was not announced why. Consequently, I’m sure many Japanese people must be wondering ‘why?’. Obviously she is very well trained for the media. NHK showed a picture of her squatting before a Japanese child with a Koala toy held out for him to take. The face of the koala was plain to see for NHK viewers at home, but the child receiving the toy would have been looking at the back of the koala’s head. Gillard had perhaps one minute of news time dedicated to her posthumous visit. The very next news story was about children from the tsunami hit region visiting a zoo (one minute), and viewing a seal show (two minutes). Australia apparently provided support, according to Yahoo news, and Australia Helps.com.

Nuclear Crisis

Rumours about the true extent of the crisis don’t provide comfort. Apparently within a week of the crisis beginning, it was known to TEPCO that it was in fact a level seven (highest rating) of nuclear disaster, but perhaps not revealed the true extent of the crisis to the government, and so the public by the government that this was a level three event. This was later upgraded to five, and set to level seven about a week ago. Furthermore, it is being learnt that the TEPCO workers in Fukushima saw water spewing out of one of the reactors soon after the first M9.0 earthquake, before the tsunami hit. This is despite the nuclear disaster being blamed on the tsunami swamping the diesel generator that was providing electricity keeping the cooling systems running. Furthermore, the extent of radiation leak was not reported, and NHK did not do their own independent investigation. Consequently, it was only when people began to do their own measurements was their doubt being cast on the credibility and reliability of the governments and TEPCO’s reassurances. Admittedly now, there is now better modelling and understanding of radioactive particle drift that is occurring in the skies in Fukushima.

Nuclear Crisis: Fear for the worst?

NHK, citing government media releases, has stated that the mandatory evacuation zone has expanded from ten kilometre radius to twenty, and includes some up-wind regions thirty kilometres from the Fukushima plant. Though, this is not because of any immediate danger, but staying there for a prolonged length of time might prove detrimental. However, these reports have the added tag, “and in case of unforseen events” (imprecise paraphrasing). Essentially, if feels like the government and TEPCO know that there is a high risk of a disaster occurring, but they don’t want to alarm the public, though hedging their statements. The government has been criticised for not properly informing the public about what is occurring, what their risks are, and what to do about it. Tonight, NHK reports that the fuel storage tank in the number 4 reactor building has water at ninety degree Celsius, which is about 50 degrees higher than normal. Also, direct injection of water to the tank has caused damage to the storage vessel, and the addition of water in the future needs to be done carefully. Again, it feels like hedging statements. What if the vessel breaks? Will the public know what to do? Is this the chief concern and the reason for some towns being evacuated 30 kilometres away? Simply too many unanswered questions.

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Cherry blossom viewing parties are not on

Every year, the cherry blossom viewing parties, known in Japanese as ‘hanami’ (lit flower-seeing) are popular. Groups of friends, company staff-groups, university clubs, social clubs, and others gather under cherry trees to bar-be-que and drink beer and sake. It’s a nice time as the weather is more clement and the air lacks chill, and parks that are loaded with cherry trees are a really nice break from the bleak colours of winter.

However, winter of 2011 in Japan hasn’t ended on the best of notes. Cherry blossom viewing and associated revelry is a national obsession, but anyone having so much fun this year would surely feel a sense of guilt. People living and suffering in temporary shelters (mainly school gyms) have lost everything, including their hanami cliques, and their favourite groves of cherry trees. Furthermore, I’m sure no-one really wants to be seen having fun right now. So, the cherry blossom parties are out, and I’ve found it hard to find any one doing more than strolling past and smiling at the gentle pink hues.

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Donations not from international contributors?

Tonight on Japan’s national broadcaster NHK it was reported that victims of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami would receive financial assistance from the Japan Red Cross. It was reported that the donations collected nationally by the Japan Red Cross would provide each victim with JPN¥350,000 (about USD$4,100 or GBP£2,500). Some people may focus on the amount saying, ‘that’s all?’ with sympathy for the victims, and perhaps there should be more exclamation in their voice than initially said.

The problem is that the report said that the Red Cross collected money nationally, that is, domestically in Japan. This ignores the huge international donations directly to Red Cross Japan via Google (including .com and .co.uk among others), it also ignores the donations made via the British Red Cross, the Australian Red Cross, other branches of Red Cross International, and via alternative charities. It is excellent that the survivors are getting financial assistance to survive and re-establish their lives, however, the international contribution has either been ignored or not counted (yet).

This could be regarded as an understandable omission, however, in the first week of the earthquake crisis there was never a single report of any sort of international response on the evening national news. Only because of the BBC website did I know that other countries were responding to the crisis. It would have been easy for the Japanese people to believe that they were alone in the crisis for at least a week. Though, a brief mention by the Japanese Prime Minister that he spoke to Barack Obama on the phone was mentioned during a press briefing that was aired live just once. Eventually, there was a short news story of the New Zealand contingent fresh from their own earthquake disaster, then a short story on some of the international contingents including a group of Israeli doctors, but several news stories of the US Army and US Navy’s support took the greater portion of the pie. If there is an Australian contingent here, I’m sure the Australians should feel a little ignored and unappreciated. Likewise any German, British or other countries contingents.

What’s the cause of this? I have lived in Taiwan and South Korea, and notice the differences. In Taiwan and SK, the news programmes and general media recognises the international community and contributions in the everyday lives of people in these countries. Hong Kong and Singapore news cannot survive without mentioning their neighbours. In contrast, Japanese media seem very ethno or ego-centric. For instance, their travel reporters only speak to people who speak Japanese (obviously sourced via the embassy) or use charactatured voice-overs. Such voice-overs deny the informant their own cultural identity. Business news programmes only really report on what Japanese companies are doing in Japan, and rarely what they are doing overseas. Very, very, very rarely is there a report of what Japanese competitors are doing. That is, I remember only one news story about how the South Korean government and companies have been investing in Asian countries, and how they are successfully out-competing Japanese interests.

It would be nice for the international community to know that their efforts in supplying support personnel and money are being recognised and appreciated within Japan.

See a photo of Japanese yen here at my Asia Photo Connection Portfolio.

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radioactive water released in the sea

According to the BBC and NHK, TEPCO has released radioactive water that is 100 times the legal limit into the Pacific Ocean. In previous nuclear incidents, TEPCO had deceived the public and safety regulators, and in the current crisis has been accused by the current Japanese Prime Minister for not being clear and upfront. TEPCO claims that this release is of low-level radioactive water. TEPCO also stresses that eating seafood caught or harvested from near the plant will result in very, very low levels of radioactive intake, barely above natural background-radiation levels. They make this claim presumably on the judgement that the water will be quickly dispersed and immediately diluted and without consequence to sea life. The release comes as TEPCO officials admitted that they have a lot of water in the basement of reactor number two, that has radiation levels many, many times higher than what is normally found inside a normal reactor core. Speculation from independent experts suggests that this highly radioactive water is as a result of melted rods from the core some weeks ago. View this and other sea-related pictures at my PhotoShelter portfolio.

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10% Discount in Cherry Blossom Season

That’s right, it’s Cherry Blossom (sakura) season in Japan. To celebrate the new school and company year Japanese go out and get drunk under pretty pink flowers. How can you join in? Well, here’s a 10% discount coupon for use only at my PhotoShelter account for all of April 2011 (minimum USD$25 purchase). Coupon code: SAKURA2011.

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Sumo match fixing

NHK reports that 22 wrestlers and one stable master are to resign for their part in sumo match fixing (or ’bout fixing’), which includes six of the top-ranked wrestlers. Japanese don’t fire people, but expect the offender to ‘take responsibility for their actions’. This confirmation that there had been match fixing will surely rock public confidence in the sumo world, which has already lost fans and saw drops in audience attendance. This action by the Japan Sumo Federation follows accusations of match fixing involving former top-wrestler Asashoru back in 2008 or 2009, as well as the cancellation of the March Osaka tournament, and other controversies in previous years which have also been reported on this blog (see the tags for previous sumo entries). The next question is if this also means that the Tokyo May tournament will go ahead, though this may have no impact on the Nagoya July tournament, which was almost cancelled last year. Parallel to this, the Chinese football league has been accused of the same offences and lacks major sponsors and TV coverage (BBC).

See my portfolios at Asia Photo Connection, Gekko Images, and PhotoShelter for sumo photos. Also see Sumo Metaphors for ideas on how to use my photos.

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Nuclear and other updates

Just some updates. It has been reported on NHK that Singapore has found unacceptably high levels of radiation on mustard spinach (shown below) imported from Shizuoka prefecture. Shizuoka is more than 250km south of the Fukushima power plant  well beyond the 80km Australian, UK, and US recommended exclusion zones, and far south of Tokyo. This report came within one week of two Japanese nationals from Tokyo (240km sth of Fukushima) and had not been associated with the nuclear catastrophe. Chinese officials detected ‘high radiation levels’ of radiation on the holidaying couple and immediately taken to hospital for medical treatment (BBC).

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