Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Blog I Like

Kitchen Garden Japan: Largely self-sufficient, Tom farms, Izumi cooks, Kento throws our organic fruit and vegetables at the wall. Haruto mainly gurgles and sleeps.

Kitchen Garden Japan


The quake just didn’t reach it this far. And nor, too, did the tsunami. The outlying island of Shikoku, home of Masanobu Fukuoka, an influence whose book “The One-Straw Revolution” partly inspires this project, blocked and diffused the wave. By the time it reached here, the wall of water was thankfully a mere 20cm high.

And now you know why...

Fukuoka’s message is most easily explained by his food mandala, pictured below, in which he advocates growing and eating seasonal foods. It’s not rocket science, just common sense, but it is sense that society’s “I want this and I want it now” culture overlooks all too easily. It’s all about harnessing seasons:

Round and round

So in the orchard, we’ve planted with eyes on succession; taranome, loquats, and cherries segue into apricots, plums and peaches, before passing to apples and akebi and pears and olives and chestnuts before the cold-weather citrus kicks in, with grapefruit, citron, mandarin oranges, lemons, limes, Seville oranges and kumquats. There’s fun stuff in there, too; daffs, iris, gladiolai, tulips, cinnamon, azaleas, butturburr and butterfly bushes, all trying to close that circle, trying to create a natural, enjoyable year-round food-source cycle.

The project within the project I was working on when the quake struck was trying to innovately insert grapes into our mandala by creating an arbor; a place for blossom-viewing and hammocks, for summer shade, for the DJ’s that come and play, for playing with the kids, and maybe even snatching a sneaky kiss (not with the DJ’s, mind you). It was, like the entire orchard project is itself, a labour of love.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Learning to live with less, being innovative and finding ways to consume as little as possible, going with the trend to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Tepco is actually cancelling some planned blackouts because people are doing well, not using more than they need. I see a lot of drink machines that have been turned off, or at least the lamps are off. Factories are running daytime only, many offices tell workers to go home early. It can be done. What does it mean for the economy? Right now, we are all more worried about the workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plants and praying for their success and health and whatever it is that one prays for when one thinks of guys having to do shifts in dark, unknown, unsafe conditions like that.

Power-down is taking its toll but so far we are lucky, as it is spring, and not too cold in Tokyo. Good citizens of Tokyo, we are all doing our part, aren't we? Some have left, others stay. How long can we power-down for? We knew in the back of our minds that something like this could happen. But could it happen to us? Are you prepared? Power-down doesn't mean no power, it just means we learn how to live with less, appreciating what we have more. Reduce, rather than stay caught up in the consume-more economy that made noone that much happier anyway. It seems Japan is once again being poised as a teacher, as noted by Crystal K. Uchino on Ten Thousand Things.

Japan has been a power-engine for the global economy since, well, a long time. This is going to affect us all. Even big media is beginning to take note. Wall Street Journal notes that everything is being re-examined:

In response to calls for conserving electricity, many businesses in Tokyo already are operating with dimmed lights, prompting some to post "open for business" signs on front entrances. The Tokyo metropolitan government turned off about half the city's street lights and many elevators in public facilities in the aftermath of the quake. Train service has been suspended on several routes because of the power shortage. Even the wattage of ubiquitous vending machines on nearly every street corner has been turned down.

Coming from a more interesting point of view, here is Bill McKibben at OurWorld 2.0:

Imagine, for instance, a nation that got most of its power from rooftop solar panels knitted together in a vast distributed grid. It would take investment to get there – we’d have to divert money from other tasks, slowing some kinds of growth, because solar power is currently more expensive than coal power. We might not have constant access to unlimited power at every second of every day. In the end, though, you’d have not only less carbon in the atmosphere, but also a country far less failure-prone.

The solar panels on my roof could break tonight — and I’d have a problem if they did — but it wouldn’t ramify into rolling blackouts across the continent (and no one would need to stand in my driveway with a Geiger counter). Such changes wouldn’t make the world safe: climatologists promise us we’ve already put enough carbon out there to raise our planet’s temperature two degrees in the decades to come, which will make for a miserably difficult century. But they also promise that if we don’t stop burning coal and oil, that number will double, and miserable will become impossible.

With Japan’s horror still unfolding, there’s nothing to do for the moment except watch, pray, and try to find some small ways to help people caught up in forces beyond their control. But the lesson we should learn, perhaps, is that it’s time to back off a little. Suddenly squat and plain words — “durable”, “stable”, “robust” — sound sweeter to the ear.

And elsewhere, such as in Germany, the anti-nuke Green Party makes strides in an important local election, sailing to power as The Mainichi puts it. Not sure anyone thinks this is going to be easy, but at least the press is trying to be cheerful.

Here is Falling by Japanese indie band Buddhistson:

I also liked Eyes in the Dark from 2009.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Port Town Blues

Here are a couple of videos with views from many different harbours and port towns around Japan, and an enka melody first released by Shinichi Mori back in 1969. Here is the karaoke version:

Do watch the version by Teresa Teng from Taiwan, who was a popular artist with a large fan base in Asia. The fan video is dedicated to the victims of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami:

We express great sympathy to those who suffered from disasters in the following port towns in this song: 函館 (Hakodate), 宮古 (Miyako), 釜石 (Kamaishi), 気仙沼 (Kesen-numa), and in many other areas.

I like how Asahi Shinbun wove this old standard into a fine essay about the fisheries of the region. Is a unique fishing culture lost forever?

"Minato-machi Burusu" (Port town blues), an old hit by popular singer Shinichi Mori, mentions the then-fine ports of Miyako, Kamaishi and Kesennuma. Strung along a saw-toothed coastline, these port towns were flattened by tsunami waves that crashed into the bay from all directions.

Cold and warm sea currents merge off the Sanriku coast, rendering the area one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Blessed with plentiful resources, local fishermen employed varied fishing methods, and boasted that the sea groomed them all into "true professionals."

Depending on which of these port towns they were from, the fishermen engaged in oceanic, near-sea or coastal fishing. Fish farming and seafood processing businesses also flourished, generating a "fish culture" unique to the region.

But, as often is the case, the version I like the best is the original, from 1969...

The pictures in the Teresa Teng video reflect these local port towns, mentioned in the lyrics, in this order:
函館 (Hakodate)
宮古 (Miyako)
釜石 (Kamaishi)
気仙沼 (Kesen-numa)
三崎 (Misaki)
焼津 (Yaizu) (Not Yaezu)
御前崎 (Omaezaki)
高知 (Kochi)
高松 (Takamatsu)
八幡浜 (Yawatahama) (Not Yahatahama)
別府 (Beppu)
長崎 (Nagasaki)
枕崎 (Makurazaki)
鹿児島 (Kagoshima)
桜島 (Sakurajima)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Praying, Sutras, Meditating For Japan

The ancient prayer here is the Heart Sutra, but there are many others. The Lotus Sutra (how we can all rise from the mud to become like an amazing lotus blossom) is another. You will hear them at funerals and at temple events, on a daily basis. There are lots of books with commentary even in ordinary bookshops. Many, many bloggers are adding personal stories and videos from such pilgrimage trips.

Since ancient times, sutras, praying and deep mediatation have helped. You can do it too, of course. Whatever your religion may be, or be it science-based, your feelings and deepest thoughts and practice can help immensely at a severe time like this.

Pilgrimages were always a part of how Japan slowly evolved, dealing with new ideas and concepts and medicine from abroad. The Chichibu fudasho here in Saitama is one such trail, with 34 temples that get increasingly difficult. Close enough to Tokyo, you can reach the first temples easily from Ikebukuro. All are worth visiting. You get to buy a beautiful book, and the priests will sign and stamp it. You can also get a scroll, to hang on your wall, or in your tokonoma. I know many of you are rather thinking of going to Shikoku, to do the famous henro trail, or leave Japan entirely, but this is near, if you feel you need to get out and clear your head.

Chichibu temples, from No 19-22. At the end, you will hear the famous sutra, the Heart Sutra, Hanya Shinkyo, that is often recited at special events and at funerals. Do listen. With all that is going on, there has never been a better time to pray and meditate for Japan. Kannon and Jizo (in Kamakura).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Bit Of Relief...?

...of the comic variety, that is. Yosuke Kihara made this brief animation with outtakes from the daily briefings of the Japanese government spokesman, Mr. Ho-hum-ehr. It ends with his usual, "And that's all folks." Mr. Edano has gotten a lot of sympathy for his tiredless efforts to answer and explain questions, but also some flack for all that has gone wrong, so far. Most of the comments are of the "Ganbare, Japan and Ganbare, Tohoku!" variety.

Water In Tokyo Tested

Kyodo and NHK (in Japanese) report that tap water in Tokyo has been tested for radioactive materials:

The Tokyo metropolitan government warned Wednesday that infants should not drink tap water as radioactive iodine exceeding the limit for them were detected in water at a purification plant. According to the metropolitan government, 210 becquerels of radioactive iodine were detected per 1 kilogram of water against the limit of 100 becquerels.

The levels are lower today Wednesday (190 becquerels/liter). For adults, the legal limit is 300 becquerels/liter. These are not dangerous levels, but parents should not let their infant babies drink tap water or use it for powder milk formula, according to NHK.

Official data here (measured in Shinjuku-ku) do not yet mention these levels. The elevated levels were detected at a water plant in Katsushika-ku, which supplies water to all 23 wards (-ku) in Tokyo, as well as Musashino City, Mitaka City, Machida City, Inagi City and Tama City in Tokyo.

Like I am doing with the Tohoku food post, I will update this if I learn more.

Update 1: Kyodo says the Tokyo Metropolitan Government decided to distribute a total of 240,000 bottles of water, each containing 550 milliliters, to families with infants. Officials said three bottles will be given per infant.

Update 2: Kyodo also notes that in a survey of the Kanamachi water plant in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo, and two other purification plants on Tuesday, the metropolitan government also detected 32 becquerels of the substance at a plant in Hamura in western Tokyo, but the substance was not detected at a plant in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture.

Update 3: On Wednesday, slightly higher levels were also detected in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture and at a plant in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, according to Kyodo.

Update 4: Meanwhile Kyodo also reports that as of Thursday, levels in Tokyo have fallen to 79 becquerels, and levels in Kawaguchi, Saitama have also fallen below the Japanese safety standard limit of 100 Bq/kg for infants (300 Bq/kg for adults). Note that Japan's safety standards for Iodine I-131 are actually stricter in Japan than in Europe, where levels up to 500 Bq/kg for adults and 150 Bq/kg for infants are permitted (EU legislation pdf). We are all fast becoming radiation experts these days...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More Testing Of Food In Tohoku Needed

High levels of radioactivity was found in spinach in Fukushima, and in milk at a farm in Ibaraki. The levels are in no way life threatening but show how serious the contamination is in the Tohoku region, near the Fukushima nuclear reactors that were struck by the 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami on March 11. That it has taken this long before testing started (or showed result) is surprising, and it appears the Fukushima milk cooperative was planning to ship the milk without doing any testing.

Wall Street Journal has the levels (hat tip to Japan Probe for finding).

I'm stunned, but we are told by the government's chief spokesman not to worry, and frankly what he says makes perfect sense at this point:

Mr. Edano said that the level of radioactive materials detected in the milk means that if a person drank that milk every day for a year, based on average Japanese milk consumption, total exposure to radioactivity would be about the same as one CT scan. If a person ate the spinach in question for one year, the radioactivity would be about one-fifth of one CT scan, he said.

Mr. Edano said that the health ministry will collect more data to find out whether contaminated foods are limited to certain areas, and whether it is necessary to restrict the consumption or shipment of certain food products. The ministry will also investigate other products besides milk and spinach, he added.

(Note: CT scan = computerised tomography, a kind of X-ray machine)

Late on Saturday night, NHK World reported this and interviewed an expert from Gakushuin University, Professor Yasuyuki Muramatsu:

Muramatsu says consumers should not eat the spinach as the detected levels of radiation are well above the legal limit. But he adds that the standard takes safety into account, and the amount of radiation is unlikely to pose a negative impact on human health, unless the product is eaten consistently.

I will update this post if I find more relevant information.

Update 1: As spinach on farms are contaminated, it could mean that other crops and the natural environment may have gotten doses of radioactivity, at least in some places, but we don't know enough at this point to say if that is posing any risks at all.

Update 2: Videos and more information over at News on Japan.

Update 3: CNN talked to Dr. James Cox, professor of radiation oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who said "the reported levels posed little or no health concerns."

"The immediate risk in terms of health effects are probably nonexistent, and the long-term risk is very low," said Cox, a CNN consultant.

Update 4: On Wednesday, Kyodo reports that radioactive materials have been found in 11 types of vegetable grown in Fukushima Prefecture, including broccoli and cabbage, and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry called on consumers not to eat the 11 vegetables, also including spinach and the komatsuna leaf vegetable, produced in the prefecture.

The ministry detected radioactive cesium that is 164 times the limit -- 82,000 becquerels -- in kukitachina leaves from Motomiya, along with 15,000 becquerels of radioactive iodine which is more than seven times the limit, it said. The ministry also detected a level of cesium drastically exceeding the limit in some of the other vegetables, it said.

Shipments of spinach from Fukushima have already been halted based on a special law for dealing with the nuclear disaster. In the latest test, the ministry detected radioactive materials from spinach produced in seven municipalities in the prefecture, including the city of Tamura.

The ministry decided to call on consumers to refrain from consuming those 11 vegetables after consulting with experts at the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, ministry officials said.

(Note: NHK writes "becquerel" only but the usual unit is "becquerel/kg" to describe levels detected for example in food.)

Update 5: Bloomberg has the details about safe limits set by Japan's government for different foods (the list is also on the MHLW website as a pdf document).

Friday, March 18, 2011

How To Donate To Earthquake And Tsunami Victims

Just a quick post, as people are asking me how to directly donate to the victims in Tohoku region in Japan.

What they need most of all is rice and water. As it is cold, they also need basic things like blankets and warm clothing. Batteries are sent directly from factories to Tohoku (thus you can't find any in your local shops). Other things are perishable goods that may or may not be a good idea to try to send.

From inside Japan, NHK suggests two ways to donate money. One is the Japanese Red Cross, the other is AkaiHane ("Red Feather") also known as the Central Community Chest of Japan and each Local Community Chests.

Here are details on their websites how to donate (in English):
Japanese Red Cross

Source NHK World (in Japanese):

There may be many other good ways to donate and help, but these are two very respected organizations, and no hazzle. Be careful about suspicious e-mails and strange websites with no real history or explanation. Scams are not unusual in times like these.

From abroad, please consider donating via your local Red Cross branch. They know how to get in touch with their Japanese counterpart. From Pacific Islander:

Also, if you want your donation spent on Japan, you have to make sure of it. Many charities, including reputable ones like the American Red Cross, will be asking for donations by reporting on the disaster in Japan. But be advised, that does not mean they will spend your donation on helping Japan.

So, before you give, please read this article at Charity Navigator: Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The article offers advice on making the decision to give, how to avoid scams, and a list of charities that Charity Navigator has analyzed and rated, which will use your donation to directly help the victims of this tragedy.

By all means, help Japan in this time of crisis, but do so wisely.

If you are in Tokyo this weekend, there are many events, including the Nippori station market called Nippori Marche on Monday, March 21 (public holiday). They will accept donations, both cash and stuff (see above). This is a terrific chance for all of you in the capital, who are the main beneficiaries of the electricity from Fukushima, to show your support. trucks will carry the goods directly up to the region. I'm told permits are already cleared so they are eager to go.

Earth Day Market in Yoyogi, Tokyo is suspended. If you have any further information about the cancellation, please let me know.

(Image from with a poster from DaveCT at redbubble, urging you to support victims both in Japan and in Christchurch, New Zealand)

Radiation: A Discussion

Radiation is an amazing thing. We see fireflies glow and we know that clocks used pale green radium paint so you could know what time it was in the dark. How are these waves measured? This is where it gets complicated, and with the current crisis in Fukushima, no wonder there is concern.

I'd like to hear from readers, what do we actually know about Siverts and gray. These are units that make no sense to me or most ordinary people. I konw what a meter is, and if you tell me the distance in yards, I'd be shaking my head. I am not being silly here, but clearly, the radiation from Fukushima is nowhere near dangerous. If you think it is, please evacuate, but you are probably just going to be exposed to more radiation in your jumbo jet flight, than if you stayed in Tokyo, Japan.

Having said that, of course I am worried about nuclear reactors. We should all be. But we have not been educated to deal with this, and do not know what it means. That is what I consider very serious. Since the mid 1960s, these power plants were built, thanks to politicians we all helped elect (or our parents did). Can't blame anyone else, and come on, we did know they were dangerous. We just loved the bright lights and the comfort. Now we know better: they are very dangerous.

Yet, no matter how I interpret the data, there are no terribly high levels of irradiation, at least not today, a week after the big earthquake and the the tsunami. It looks terrible, yes, and by design, the Fukushima reactors will kill people who are there, trying to avoid disaster. But most of us are safe, probably everyone, yet the "fear" is what makes the Yen go to 76 to the Dollar, and countries urging their citizens to leave. What is this "fear" if not ignorance. Do you think a similar nuclear accident cannot happen in the U.S. or in France, or in Britain? What makes you feel more safe in Sweden (a country that has more nuclear power per capita than Japan)?

Do not let media define what is safe, you have better tools to deal with all the information. If you do not know about nuclear power, and its risks, this is a good time to start your education. Be careful about where you get your information from. But do study, as human beings, that seems to be a task we can always do. And meditate, and pray, if that is your thing. Donate to charities you trust, and do not reply to strange emails. If you are a Highly Sensitive Person, this is a unique time to take care, and make notes, write poems, stay sane. You know what to avoid.

As for radiation, we are talking radiation emissions rising from 3,700 microsieverts per hour to 4,000 per hour, today.

It seems we are talking about very abstract numbers. I would like to hear some comments and a discussion about this. For more details, wikipedia offers updates on the Fukushima I nuclear accident page.

No More New Nuclear Plants In Japan?

I hope other countries around the world also follow this news and stop building new nuclear power stations, and move towards a nuke-free planet (from NHK):

Japanese nuclear power plant operators have shelved plans to build 2 plants in northern Japan, in light of the nuclear crisis unfolding at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

On Thursday, Tokyo Electric Power Company, which was due to start building one plant in Aomori Prefecture next month, has notified the local government of its decision.

The No. 1 reactor of the plant was expected to go online in 6 years, with a projected capability of 1,380 megawatts, making it the most powerful in Japan.

Another plant operator, Electric Power Development, said it has put on hold the 3-year-old construction of a plant, also in Aomori.

That would have been the first in Japan to burn a mixture of uranium and plutonium extracted from spent fuel. The target year for its completion is 2014.

Thursday, March 17, 2011 20:20

There is also news that Germany and other countries are re-thinking their plans for future nuclear power plants.

Based in Tokyo, the Citizen`s Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) has a network of scientists, activists, and common citizens, who work to create a nuclear free world.

March 12, 2011

Statement re the Nuclear and Earthquake Disaster Unfolding in Japan

The Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) is deeply concerned for the health and safety of the people affected by the earthquakes and tsunamis that have struck Japan over the last two days. We are particularly concerned for the people in the vicinity of nuclear power plants, including workers who are trying to minimize the scope of the disaster.

Unit 1 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is in a state of meltdown. A nuclear disaster which the promoters of nuclear power in Japan said wouldn't happen is in progress. It is occurring as a result of an earthquake that they said would not happen.

This could and should have been predicted. It was predicted by scientists and NGOs such as CNIC. We warned that Japan's nuclear power plants could be subjected to much stronger earthquakes and much bigger tsunamis than they were designed to withstand.

Besides the question about how this accident will unfold, the big question now is, will the government and the nuclear industry acknowledge its mistakes and change track?

Last December the Japanese government began a review of its nuclear energy policy. The review was commenced in the spirit of essentially confirming the existing policy. That approach is no longer viable. The direction of the policy review must be completely reversed. It must be redirected towards developing a policy of phasing out nuclear energy as smoothly and swiftly as possible.

Philip White
International Liaison Officer
Citizens' Nuclear Information Center
Phone: 81-3-3357-3800 (office)

(Satellite image of Fukushima nuclear reactors on March 14, 2011. Click to enlarge. From ISIS, also mentioned on NHK World)

No post like this would be complete without Pink Floyd, Set The Controls For The Sun (from Umma Gumma) or how about Atom Heart Mother, from that era when it all seemed possible:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Emperor Akihito Speech, Please Be Kind To Each Other

In a very rare occasion, Emperor Akihito has made a heartfelt speech with his messages to the victims of the eartquake and tsunami. He also expresses his respect for the brave men who are trying to deal with the nuclear reactors. And he asks of all of us here in Japan, "to be kind to each other."

NHK World video of Emperor Akihito

Japan's Emperor Akihito has delivered a video message to express sympathy for people affected by Friday's devastating earthquake and call for concerted efforts to overcome hardships.

The speech on Wednesday was the first in which the Emperor expressed his feelings on video.

He said the death toll has been increasing daily and that it is not clear how far it will rise. He said he hopes the safety of as many people as possible is confirmed.

He expressed deep concern about the situation of the quake-hit nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, and said he hopes related people's efforts will prevent the situation from worsening.

The Emperor said he hopes from his heart that all people will pull together and care for each other to survive during this difficult time.

He expressed a wish that affected people will never give up hope and will take care of themselves to continue their lives.

The Emperor also expressed hope that everyone in the country will continue to monitor the process of rebuilding affected areas.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 19:20

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Planned Power Outages: No Fun At All

Considering the suffering in many towns and the rural communities in Tohoku, I feel lucky. I moved to this town because I thought it would be safe, and so far, knock-on-wood, it has been just wonderful. Yesterday and today, we felt the effects of the planned power outages, however, and I can only try to imagine what people are going through in Tohoku region, in shelters, having lost everything.

The schedule for when the electricity will be cut is impossible to understand, and my city hall makes public announcements on the outdoor PA system, which I think was installed before WW2. It sounds something like: "Bing-bong-bang, This is-this-is-is City hall-city hall-alall, We are now-a now-wow, Going to tell you something really important-tant-tant..." and from there on it gets increasingly impossibly to understand a single word. This means a planned power outage is imminent. OK, good, I can handle that.

Last night I had supper with Robert, a friend who runs his own business, cool website, do get in touch with him for hiking and mountain running experiences in the west Tokyo and Saitama area! Perfect if you feel you need to get out of Tokyo.

We sat by the light of a small torch and shared stories and then suddenly there was another big quake, but I swear I can't remember it. Later, the lights came back on and we listened to his Pink Floyd albums and some Blues, I think it was Blind Willie Johnson, Dark was the night perhaps. Today the planned outage was in the daytime, so I headed over to the vegetable patch I'm preparing (remember my post about Kaname-ishi on March 11...) and got back home just in time for darkness. Fortunately, then the lights came back on, but I had mentally prepared myself for the worst.

Planned outages means we know what is coming, which is nice. But walking home on streets with some cars, and no traffic lights working, was not so fun. The big intersections had pairs of police officers directing traffic, but many smaller roads were free-for-all. All shops and restaurants in town were closed during the outage, except for Seven-Eleven, which operated with low lights and only one register, and lots of staff. They had some food, but of course not like on a regular day. Actually, their truck just arrived as I entered. Some people are urgently calling for a complete shut-down of all vending machines, as they waste a lot of electricity. Good idea, however, when no shops are open, make sure the vending machines work as they may be the last line of supply. Difficult call, obviously, as so many nuclear power plants are shut down and TEPCO just can't supply the "juice" (har-har).

Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Okayama, Nagasaki, Kyushu, Shikoku, Hokkaido - everything is all right. Yes, terrible conditions in 4-5 prefectures up north. I am not going to be-little their suffering, but this is actually a large country with 120 million people. We will carry through. This place will be a better place after this.

For some strange reason, in spite of rice supplies being stock-piled, almost all shops have run out of rice in the entire region, and that is clearly due to lack of planning and no sense of logistics. Still after-shocks coming irregularly, but I'm safe and here is Mr Bean to cheer us all up a little bit:

Another Day, And We Are Doing OK!

Live feed from NHK World, about the current developments in Japan

Eat wakame, kombu, nori and yoghurt to get enough idoine, if you feel the need. Stay healthy and strong. Spirit and mind, have you ever had such a challenge? Do you feel afraid, why? What is fear. I bet you have never even thought about it. Fear and worry, we all have to appreciate such opportunity to learn about living, and surviving. Let's rebuild! Frankly, I feel rather calm. How about you?

If you learnt about life lessons from the past, why run away? So many people are putting their life on the line over the past couple of days, to help victims, to try to deal with reactor meltdown, to deal with the outrageous claims in the media. I am impressed that my friends are doing OK. How about you, how would you deal with a similar disaster?

Staying calm does not mean "doing nothing" as you can donate to the Red Cross and other proper NGOs and well known organizations. DO NOT REPLY TO STRANGE EMAILS. Take a deep breath, wait a minute. We are learning a lot.

Take another deep breath, count your fortunes. Write a diary. Create a blog or maybe a Twitter account. Tell your friends you are safe, and you are ok. Write a letter. Post it. We are doing OK. We can handle this.

More details on Japan Probe

For the latest news updates, try NHK World. It is not true that information is being witheld. In an extremely complex situation like this, do not believe rumours.

Good advice from Panda bonium:

If you want to donate to American Red Cross through Amazon, you can do so, but do it by going directly to the American Red Cross website.

Is your donation going to be used to help Japan?

If you want your donation spent on Japan, you have to make sure of it. Many charities, including reputable ones like the American Red Cross, will be asking for donations by reporting on the disaster in Japan. But be advised, that does not mean they will spend your donation on helping Japan.

So, before you give, please read this article at Charity Navigator: Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The article offers advice on making the decision to give, how to avoid scams, and a list of charities that Charity Navigator has analyzed and rated, which will use your donation to directly help the victims of this tragedy.

By all means, help Japan in this time of crisis, but do so wisely.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ganbare, Japan!

MSN had this image as its top news on Sunday evening, conveying the message from The Independent, the UK newspaper. Ganbare of course means "fight" or "hang in there, do your best" and it is such a positive message. Not forgetting all other natural disasters, this is one for the history books.

Where I am living, we are facing planned electricity shortages on Monday, as the 10 reactors in Fukushima are not up and running for obvious reasons.

I got a great reply from my editor at Kodansha, who summed it up like this:

大丈夫です この地震できっと日本はいい方向に国が変わると思います

"We are ok, I think this earthquake will be a great opportunity to change Japan in a good way."

The message from The Independent is: "Don't give up Japan, Don't give up Tohoku!"

Thank you!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Updates On Fukushima Nuclear Reactor I-3: MOX Fuel Concerns

There is concern about the MOX fuel used at the Fukushima nuclear reactor No. I-3. This is the third reactor at the first compound. There are a total of 10 nuclear reactors in Fukushima, with 6 at compound 1 and 4 at compound 2 (Source CNIC and wikipedia, Fukushima I and Fukushima II). All are run by Tepco to supply electricity to the Kanto region and Tokyo in particular.

Unit I-1 was designed in 1967 and went online in 1970. From September 2010, unit I-3, which went online in 1976, has been fueled by MOX fuel.

Mixed oxide (MOX) fuel contains plutonium recovered from spent nuclear fuel (Source: World Nuclear News and The Japan Times). So far, media has not reported about the use of MOX fuel, possibly because it could add to concern and confusion. I have tried to access Tepco's website but it is not responding (I get an error message) possibly due to too much activity.

Fortunately, Units I-4, I-5, and I-6 were shut down for maintenance at the time of the earthquake/tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Green Action, an independent NGO, is carefully monitoring the developments at the different nuclear reactors along the coast in north-eastern Japan.

From The Japan Times:

Monday, Aug. 23, 2010

Fukushima reactor receives MOX

FUKUSHIMA (Kyodo) Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Saturday loaded a nuclear reactor in Fukushima Prefecture with MOX, a controversial fuel made with reprocessed plutonium and uranium oxides, as it prepares to become the leading power utility's first facility to go pluthermal.

The No. 3 reactor at Tepco's Fukushima No. 1 plant will be the nation's third pluthermal facility, but only the first to be refurbished since the plant was built 34 years ago.

Tokyo Electric plans to activate the reactor on Sept. 18 and let it start generating electricity on Sept. 23.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Extreme Flooding Along The Coast Due To Earthquake And Tsunami

Huge areas along the coast of north-eastern Japan are flooded. Mostly small towns, in isolated areas, but also the coastal part of Sendai City (while central areas may be ok).

NHK had some rather disturbing "before-and-after" images from towns like 宮古 Miyako (bottom image) 南三陸町 Minami Sanriku-cho in northern Miyagi Prefecture (center), and 新地市 Shinchi-shi in Fukushima Prefecture (top image, that is supposed to be a station, now all immersed in sea water and debris). Large amounts of people are not accounted for in these small towns.

Shinchi station on the Joban line Wikipedia page here.

Train line between Nagano and Niigata Prefecture also destroyed.

I'll update this as I learn more.

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

NHK is reporting that a outer wall of the nuclear power plant no. 1 in Fukushima has been destroyed in an explosion. The image shows how one building (on the left) is missing at 16:30PM, compared to 9AM this morning. TBS is reporting that two workers have been injured. NHK is saying several people are injured. At a press conference 18:00, they didn't have many details and are urging people to stay calm and not spread information that is not confirmed.

As of 23:00 Saturday night, 3 out of 90 patients have tested positive for radioactive poisoning at a local Fukushima hospital, according to NHK.

The Fukushima nuclear power plants are about 250km (160 miles) north-east of Tokyo.

Image from NHK from UStream

The NHK English website has good updates that so far seem the most reliable source of information...

Updates From Japan

Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima still face tsunami warnings over 24 hours after the massive earthquake. If you are watching photos or TV clips from the scenes in north-western areas of Japan, most of the damage you see is from the huge waves (up to 10 meters in some cases). There are surreal images of large boats up on land, and bridges that have been destroyed, and trains that have, well, fallen off such bridges. The worst devastation is in small coastal towns in the three prefectures, but there is also damage in Sendai, the largest city in those parts. Death toll so far is around 1,000 people confirmed, according to NHK, and many more yet to be confirmed. Still many missing.

The experts working to shut down the nuclear reactors in Fukushima have managed to start the process to release pressure. Still very high temperatures and concern about a melt-down of the core. The concrete structures are thick enough to handle that, we are told, and the reactors are not of the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island types. NHK reports that uranium containers "may have started melting" inside the reactor. We have been told to expect electric outages tonight, according to my local authorities, who are announcing warnings and information via public outdoor speakers. Otherwise, it is unusually quiet today (Saturday) with almost not traffic, and no aircrafts (I live near major military airbases and we regularly have large jets flying above my town).

There have also been strong earthquakes in Nagano and Niigata today.

In Tokyo, 5 people are confirmed dead, so the damage is clearly to the north+east, up along the coast (Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures in particular).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Very Serious...

The huge earthquake and the tsunami are having a huge effect on most of Japan today. There are many after-shakes and even the small ones rattle the nerves if not the buildings. Tokyo is completely shut off and people working in the city cannot go home. Electricity is down and in many places, no mobile phone access (I can't use Vodaphone except for sms messages).

I probably live in one of the safest towns, up in the hills in central Saitama, way north west of Tokyo. I was planting potatoes and broccoli when the 8.9 quake hit. Had to sit down and wait, impossible to stay standing.

I had just had some major trouble with long roots that had to be tugged out to clear the soil. When I told Panda Bonium about this, he wrote:

> It's all your fault! You tugged at something connected to the Kanameishi
> stone and let loose the carps.

That's a good joke considering the circumstances. The Kanameishi refers to a special stone at an ancient shrine in Kashima, Ibaraki Prefecture, which since ancient times have been thought to be directly connected to Earth Central and other-wordly forces, and should not be moved, or earthquakes may happen, due to something related to magic carps...

I'm ok and so are most of the people I know, except for people working in Tokyo, who cannot go home tonight. NHK reports that the official advice is to stay put, and not try to walk home (it is very cold tonight):

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has called on people in the Tokyo metropolitan area who are away from home to wait in safe places such as their offices.

Edano said at a news conference on Friday that the massive earthquakes have halted rail and other transport in the area and it is not known when they will be restored.

He warned that overcrowding on sidewalks could make it dangerous to try to walk home.

He added that some people walking may fail to receive the latest quake information, and have difficulty accessing food, water and bathroom facilities.

(NHK World, Friday, March 11, 2011 19:33)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Wind Power In Japan? Asia Doing Much Better Thanks To China

How should Japan reduce its dependency on imported oil? While solar panels are popular, wind power is less so. Japan ranks 18th among nations in new wind farms, according to The Japan Times. Japan only placed 18th in the global rankings for new wind power installations in 2010, creating 221,000 kw of renewable energy. Compared to the global output capacity of wind farms, which increased to 194,390,000 kw in 2010, Japan is just above 1% of global wind energy production.

China is No. 1 and the U.S. does very well too at No. 2:

Global wind power installations increased by 35.8 GW in 2010, according to figures released by the Global Wind Energy Council today. This brings total installed wind energy capacity up to 194.4 GW, a 22.5% increase on the 158.7 GW installed at the end of 2009. The new capacity added in 2010 represents investments worth EUR 47.3 billion (US Dollars 65 bn).

For the first time in 2010, more than half of all new wind power was added outside of the traditional markets in Europe and North America. This was mainly driven by the continuing boom in China, which accounted for nearly half the new wind installations (16.5 GW).

“China now has 42.3 GW of wind power, and has surpassed the US in terms of total installed capacity,” said Li Junfeng, Secretary General of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA). “This puts China firmly on a path to reach 200 GW of installed wind power by 2020. At the same time, China has become the world’s largest producer of wind energy equipment.”

But other developing countries also expanded their wind capacity, including India, which added 2.1 GW in 2010, Brazil (326 MW), Mexico (316 MW), and 213 MW were installed in North Africa (Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia).

GWEC Data here (pdf)

For Japan, this is not great news, but noone is suggesting that wind will replace oil or nuclear energy. I think it may be a good additional source of energy on the local scale. A farm or a local school or even a city hall should have some wind power generating at least a few kW. It is also good awareness-building. As for larger-scale wind power, we may not have the solutions yet to make it viable. But, doing nothing is also not a solution.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Oil Prices And The Effects On Agriculture

Surging crude oil prices due to political unrest in the Middle East have begun to hit Japan's fishing and agricultural industries, reports NHK World, noting that the price of a liter of light oil reached about 140 Yen ($1.10) in February:

Fishermen at Otsu Port in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, have started to shorten or suspend their operations due to rising fuel prices. A farmer in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, who uses fuel to grow cucumbers in hothouses from December to April says his fuel costs are expected to rise by a few thousand dollars. Workplaces for making wood crafts and lodging facilities in Ueno Village in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, now burn crushed timber called pellets for stoves and boilers. Forestry is the village's main industry.

Much of the food we eat comes from agricultural practices that rely on oil or gasoline in one way or the other. Almost no farmers can produce food without tractors and other tools that runs directly on fuel. But conventional farming also relies on commercial chemical fertilizers, which are energy-intensive to make. It is impossible to produce cheap NPK fertilizers (Nitrogen, Phosphor and Potassium) without factories, and while Nitrogen have been made in the past using hydro (water power, for example near huge dams) this will not easily be an option today. But that's not all: farmers also use plastic, for example for the vinyl tunnels that protect the crops during the cold season, and for packaging. Finally, the food must be delivered to your local shop or supermarket. High oil prices will affect every step from farm to fork. And, don't get me started on imports...