Archive for March 31, 2011

Prints and products: temporary disruption

My PhotoShelter account uses a variety of vendors for customers who wish to order prints and products. However, for Exposure Manager there will be a very short and temporary disruption to services. I only just received this e-mail:

Due to unforeseen circumstances, our print partner Exposure Manager will be offline for an unspecified period of time tomorrow (Thursday, March 31st) beginning around 3pm. We anticipate the downtime to be about 3 hours, but as the situation is unfortunately out of our control, we are unable to provide an exact time estimate. We are terribly sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but no orders containing Exposure Manager prints/products will be able to be placed during this outage. During this window, customers attempting to purchase Exposure Manager prints/products from your site will be met with a “temporary unavailable” message when attempting checkout.

Radiation in Tokyo

Sometimes I can be a… a… drama queen. But this time I might be justified. Let me explain a number of facts.

1. Tokyo’s city and regional population is about 20 million.

2. The national government has a 20km exclusion zone around Fukushima nuclear power stations (owned and operated by TEPCO), which forced the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people. Disrupting business, manufacturing, farming, schooling, families, friends, etc, whilst costing countless huge sums of money in expenses and lost productivity.

3. The US and Australian governments have established a non-enforceable and voluntary evacuation zone of 80kms of their citizens (image from BBC). The Australian, British, and US embassies have called for their citizens to evacuate Tokyo (BBC), whilst the French sent two chartered Air France flights to evacuate their citizens completely from Japan (all of Japan is excluded by the French). Furthermore, many countries have allowed their embassy staff families to evacuate from Tokyo. In reality, last week and earlier this week all those who left looked foolish for leaving because of the small incident that Fukushima seemed to be.

4. Someone connected to Chubu Electric (a central Japanese power company) has privately admitted to people I know that the Fukushima crisis is far worse than the government and TEPCO has publicly admitted.

5. Tokyo water supply was found to have radiation levels (NHK) in it unfit for children under 12 months to consume (and see BBC news story).

6. Now, a vegetable grown in Tokyo was found to have high levels of radiation in it (NHK). [image of Japanese grown spinach]

It seems that even the 80km exclusion zone announced by other countries was not sufficient, and there was indeed good reason to leave Tokyo. Why hasn’t the national government been more honest? Well, data readings of radiation detectors hasn’t suggested a major problem (I’ve been keeping an eye on this website: Also, can you imagine evacuating 20 million people? Where do they go? It would simply destroy the Japanese economy. Japan would drop out of the G20 like a lead balloon, and I may be out of work, and out of a PhD before the summer (I’m just about to start the data collection phase this year).

Eat all your greens…

The Fukushima Post Nuclear Disaster Analysis

I do wish I had photos of the Fukushima plant, both before and after, though I won’t be going too soon. No pun intended, but there won’t be much fall out from the Fukushima crisis, and it’s no coincidence of little tangible fallout both literally and metaphorically. The worlds’ media is saying that there will be earth-shifting consequences, as already seen with Germany their re-thinking their nuclear energy policies. Fukushima has apparently put nuclear power back decades in the UK and the US, and undoubtedly here, too. However, the ramifications in Japan are not going to be as large and paradigm shifting as they should be. Undoubtedly there will be few if any new nuclear power plants to be built in the next twenty plus years in Japan, but still the full ramifications of the Fukushima disaster are not going to experienced and felt. Why? Culture.

It is innate in all humans to avoid being seen as the culprit of any disaster. Whether it is the loss of data in an office, or when cars bump into each other at busy intersections, we humans tend to blame others for our mistakes. In contrast, Japanese Prime Ministers don’t have a good reputation for political grit. The BBC uses the term ‘revolving door‘ to describe the Japanese national political culture (see Japan’s Political Revolving Door and What led Shinzo Abe to Resign?). That is to say, at the slightest hint of smoke, at the slightest sign of problems, at the first chink in the armour, the opposition and the PM’s own party demands the leader steps down to ‘take responsibility’, which seems a contradiction. However, it might appear that it’s not so much a revolving door system, but a take-a-number-and-wait-your-turn system of Prime Ministership. Prior to the previous national election in 2009, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan for 54 years until the first election which voted them out, over saw many political disasters. In the electoral term until 2009, there were four Prime Ministers, one elected, Junichro Koizumi, and the unelected Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, and then Taro Aso respectively, with the first retiring, and the middle two extricating themselves for a variety of scandals that were not their fault. The biggest scandal that rocked the public’s confidence in the LDP was the pension system, where many people made sometimes large voluntary premium payments, of which many were not recorded and pocketed by pension-office bureaucrats. Though, the whole pension problem came to light when it was realised that hundreds of thousands of pension records were lost in the computerisation of the pension system. Probably, many were computerised but not matched to the proper owner, but many uncomputerised files (pieces of paper) were destroyed, perhaps mistakenly with computerised counterparts. So far, nobody has been found responsible for the wrongful destruction of so many records, nor was anybody held to account for the decision not to store them for the long term. Furthermore, there hasn’t been a search for, enquiry, nor attempt to prosecute anyone for the pension bungling. The usual fall-guy for such a scandal is the Prime Minister, and the PM of the day was the first one in 54 years not to step down: Taro Aso, who lost the 2009 election, and handed political leadership to a non-LDP lead cabinet, the first since democratisation after world war two. So this shows that there is not a culture of looking for the fundamental root and cause of a problem in Japan. This has been shown in non-political situations, too.

MacFarlane and Saitoh wrote an academic article for an academic journal. The sort of journal that undergrad’s are supposed to read. In their article they focused on the cultural perception of ethics in research in Japanese universities. Since world war II, research subjects (now known as ‘participants’) have internationally recognised rights in human research stemming from the Declaration of Helsinki, in addition to the normal human rights treaty. The problem with the Helsinki declaration is that it is based on Euro-Catholic-Aristotelian principles, and is expected to be applicable in African, Muslim, and Buddhist-Confucianist¬† countries et al. So it was of great interest to see what and if there are any incompatibilities. As it turns out there are. The European Helsinki declaration favours human rights, but the Japanese favour financial integrity.

What background is there to this? During the pre-war Japanese military expansion, the infamous Unit 731 conducted horrible experiments on prisoners, testing chemical and biological weapons. After the war, it was claimed that the scientists were permitted by the Americans to go free in return for their data. These scientists got jobs teaching and researching in some of the top Japanese universities, eventually getting promoted to the most senior positions. Consequently, whenever the subject of human rights in research is broached, it was always briefly, in fear of causing particular members of faculty to lose face. Consequently, in the mid 1950’s, early 1960’s, and early 1970’s when there were other abhorrent medical projects done in Japanese psychiatric wards (on the people with the least protection), which resulted in deaths, the researchers conducting the experiments were convicted for their crimes under local laws, but the root of the matter was never investigated. Interestingly, hospitals including doctors, nurses, ward staff, assistants, research supervisors, and hospital attendants were implicated nor berated for allowing these experiments to proceed; the research cultures where these researchers worked were never investigated.

So, today with the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCo), it is almost without a doubt that those who are truly responsible for the root cause and origin of the problems that occurred will never be held to account. I would expect that the current Prime Minister Naoto Kan will be crucified by the media and the opposition parties for his apparent bungling of the nuclear situation, and there will surely be a new unelected Japanese Prime Minister before summer has ended. In fact, if there was anything like a British or Australian Royal Commissions in a moderately open and transparent society it would certainly find that there may have been improper dealings between previous TEPCo executives and¬† LDP politicians & nuclear regulators. An in-depth enquiry may find that there may have been fundamental failures to ensure adequate protection and updates of these reactors. This is not without precedent. According to the BBC, former TEPCo executives had apparently falsified safety records. In 1999 the Tsuruga nuclear plant of Japan Atomic Power leaked radioactive water and lied about the quantity. People were hospitalised at the Tokaimura incident, and that BBC page lists previous known incidents that occurred in the 1990’s.

During the magnitude 9 Tohoku Earthquake the reactors immediately stopped, as they were meant to, critically cutting off power for their own cooling. This meant that the primary backup was a diesel generator that would provide electricity to maintain the cooling system of the nuclear reactors. The secondary backup were batteries, and the plant was apparently without a tertiary backup system. Critically, it is not clear why there was not a tertiary backup system installed. One guest expert on the BBC commented that earthquake-tsunami proof water vats that could have gravity fed water into the reactors to provide backup cooling. It should not be a surprise that the primary backup for the Fukushima plants would not survive a seawater tsunami, and that the secondary backup batteries would eventually run out. A problem that seems not to have been foreseen is that after a tsunami, roads into the plant might become temporarily impassable, making repairs to the diesel generators impossible to achieve before the batteries ran out. Without a doubt, the engineers and architects who designed Fukushima in the 1960’s did a brilliant job. The Fukushima disaster could have been as bad as the poorly designed Chernobyl plant. It is unfortunate that modern safety management of Fukushima remained in the paradigm of the 1960’s. This begs the question, how many other nuclear plants in Japan are susceptible to fundamental breakdowns? How many other plants are in dire need of updating. How many articles in legislation needs updating. I am not opposed to nuclear power, but only if it is properly managed, if there is adequate oversight, and there is continual and incremental improvements to all aspects of the plants, construction, maintenance, regulatory oversight, updating, and in management paradigms.

The real culprits, those who let lax standards and the non-compulsory updating of safety systems, will not be held to account. The Prime Minister will sure be replaced by the end of summer, and TEPCO will lose its executive directors (second time in five years). However, probably none of the other nuclear power plants will be updated. Regulators will give the appearance of action, but it will be just for show; nobody wants to lose face.

If you visit Tokyo, don’t drink the tap water.


  • (Also see the website references embedded in text)
  • MacFarlane, B., and Saitoh, Y. (2008) Research ethics in Japanese higher education: Faculty attitudes and cultural mediation. Journal of Academic Ethics, 6, p181-195.

Tagata Fertility Festival video

Despite the recent tragedies, and the near 24/7 constant flow of bad news on the TV, Japanese people in central Japan were wanting to see the Tagata Fertility Festival, also known by many foreigners as the ‘Penis Festival’.

I made a video with a selection of images I took on the day of the Tagata Fertility Festival video. These images are available for purchase for editorial and personal use at my Asia Photo Connection and PhotoShelter portfolios. Also see here for more information about the festival.

Tohoku Earthquake Resources

I’ve added some resources I consider to important to the homepage. These have been essential for me on Friday and over these first few days. I hope they are useful for you too.

Tagata Fertility Festival

The Tagata Fertility Festival, Tagata Penis Festival, or Tagata Honen Matsuri is the festival that is becoming famous for the large wooden penis that is paraded around a town. It isn’t a celebration of immaturity or pervertedness at all, as many Westerners might assume. It is actually a ceremony to ask for a rich crop harvest, and the phallus is made of fresh cypress pine each year, to symbolise newness, freshness, and fertility.

A penis? From my time in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, I have come to realise some fundamental differences between an Anglo-Western culture (prominent in Britain, North America and Australia) and the Far Eastern countries: we have Catholicism and they have Confucianism and Taoism. This might not be ground breaking news, but it is particularly relevant in understanding why a Japanese Shrine can have a fertility festival in which families and children will attend to the order of 100, 000 attendees annually, but you will not see a phallus nor 100,000 people at a Catholic church. The main fundamental difference is that in Catholicism anything related to sex is considered a sin, and we Westerners must feel guilty about it. However, the Far Eastern countries don’t have this burden of shame, and so they are happy to celebrate and pray for a good harvest, fertility, and use a phallic symbol as well.

So who attended? To my estimation, it seems that the number of people to crowd at Tagata Shrine was far less than 100,000 people (I have seen crowds of 100,000 people and more at other religious festivals in Japan). But this shortfall shouldn’t be surprising; this festival was on the first Tuesday after the 11 March, magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake.

What happens?

In the winter months the wooden phallus is carved by master craftsmen using traditional techniques, and wearing purified clothing. On the day, it is strapped to a saloon and put on display. Here is a great photo opportunity, and there’s never a shortage of happy old men to encourage any lady (of any age) to pose by the big penis. In the early afternoon the phallus is then paraded very slowly through the town. Also paraded are smaller penises, and bamboo trees with white and red-polka dot ribbons. I still need to find out what the ribbons mean, but I guess it’s more about human fertility than crop fertility.

How to get there:

From Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu train company Inuyama line to Inuyama Station for about 25 minutes. Change to a local train on the Komaki Line to Tagata-Jinja Mae Station (lit. Tagata Shrine in-front of Station), for about 11 minutes. The total oneway trip is ¥730, but check Hyperdia.Com for schedules and current ticket prices. From Tagata-Jinja Mae Station just follow the crowd to the event. Some people go to the destination temple, or to the temple where it all begins, or do both.

My images are available on my PhotoShelter Account, and will soon be at Asia Photo Connection. Also, see Wikipedia for more information.

Nuclear Powerplant in danger in Japan

According to the Japanese national broadcaster, NHK, the Fukushima power plant of the Tokyo Power Company currently cannot cool one of its reactors following the 2.46pm Tohoku Earthquake today. According to Japanese law, residents within 3km radius of the plant have been ordered to evacuate their homes, and residents within 3-10km are to stay indoors. So far, no leakage or other problems have been reported with the facility. It is reported that the plant has been built to very high standards and to withstand strong earthquakes such as the one today.

At the same time, many people are stranded in Tokyo unable to return to their homes. JR trains have suspended their services (no announcement made on TV), leaving buses and taxis being the only alternatives. Due to the winter cold, many office workers who are not dressed for the occasion, will suffer. So far, there has been no concern for hypothermia expressed by Ward Office governments about the situation.

According to NHK, the tsunami that hit various parts of the Pacific side of Japan has swept many people away, leaving scores dead and missing, including 23 junior high school students who are unaccounted for. Many acres of farm land has also been inundated by seawater, fishing boats destroyed or tossed about, buildings destroyed, and many vacant cars swept out to sea. Also, due to the tsunami, over 1,000 people have been trapped in Sendai airport which is currently a virtual an island. Stranded people are reported to have food and water, but say it is very cold.

Tohoku Earthquake


The major 8.8 magnitude earthquake now has a name, the “Tohoku Earthquake”. It seems that by 6pm all the tremors in Nagoya that began at 2.46pm have subsided, and the small tsunami had passed causing one seagull to be slightly startled. Otherwise, all the excitement has been in our living room watching the news on TV.

Japan Earthquake

Fortunately I live in an area where the tremors were weak, but strong enough to put our winter coats on and ready to run out the door. We picked up our daughter from nursery school just in case the tsunami came to our bay-side island. At first a 0.5m tsunami was expected near-by, then a 1m tsunami was forecasted. The Japan Bereua of Meteorology website seemed to have collapsed under the weight of queries. Anyway, there’s so far been no damage here and nothing to photograph in my region at this point. Also, it’s snowing on the near-by mountains.