Monday, 24 October 2011

The "Don`t Want to be Troubled" Types

On this week`s post-Fukushima diet plan I ate my words. My back has been troubling me on and off since the quake. First it was my jaw then my upper spine. Lots of friends, colleagues and students have also been experiencing similar ailments. (See last post about hair loss.) Anyway this week my back seized up completely and I resorted to mind-altering medication and walking around doubled over like a wall bracket. At the same time, my computer began to freeze up. I had noticed that the Wifi hadn`t worked since the quake but unlike my monitor which toppled over several times and doesn`t have a scratch on it - thanks Benq - my netbook had simply bounced around on the table. Anyway, on Thursday it died. Since I need a computer for all my classes I had to buy a new one quickly. But which one? I grudgingly looked out "Happy Pasacon (personal computer) Select booklet for Women" (see July post) and started the heartful quiz (see above).

Start: Which do you like, cats or dogs?
Q1: When you love someone do you make every effort for them?
Q3: Do you take your own obento (packed lunch) to school or work every day?
Q4: Are you a little weak at karaoke?
Q5: Do you often buy clothes on impulse?
Q6: Do you go to the nail salon once a month?
Q8: Do you occasionally go to bed without taking off your makeup?

And so on. The results indicated that I was one of four types:

The Particular Type
The Firm Type
The Worrier Type
The Don`t Want to be Troubled Type

I was the Don`t Want to be Troubled by a quiz which has nothing to do with buying a computer Type so I skipped straight to the "Ask a Man" section. In this case the man was my father. He gave me some model numbers and I crawled to Yodobashi Camera and showed the piece of paper to another man who sold me a new netbook.

Back home I booted up and went straight to the "uses for your new computer" section of the booklet which told me how to:

Make postcards of cupcakes
Shop online for shoes
Chat on Skype with my besties

What lovely lives some Japanese women seem to lead ...

Back in the real world, we had our monthly faculty meeting last Friday and a seminar teacher from another faculty came and showed a film he had made of his students` recent project. They had noticed that no-one was buying vegetables from Fukushima so they had gone up there, met farmers, helped with crop planting (there was one photo of a student being shown how to drive a tractor) and then shipped the vegetables down and sold them at a stall in eastern Tokyo. While there was a very brief shot of one farmer holding a white box-like object which looked to me like a geiger counter, there did not seem to be any mention of the dangers involved in such a project. After the film ended, a couple of lecturers made an attempt to clap but in general there was silence. I turned to the Japanese lecturer next to me to confirm what I had just seen. "Some people just refuse to be troubled with the truth" said the lecturer. I wonder where the university stands legally if any of the students get cancer in the next 20 years?

But enough of this pessimism. This is not the Japanese way. We must ganbarou! (Do our best!) Me, I`ve got shoes to buy.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Tokyo Half-Life

(Photo: The Shinjuku skyline from my office. Again. You can see Fuji just to the right of centre, lurking behind a skyscraper.)

A week without vegetables. Fruit I can get no problem: kiwis and oranges from New Zealand, pineapples from the Philippines, papaya from Mexico and mangoes from Chile. But the vegetables on sale now are all from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Nagano and Yamagata. And I`m not touching those. That leaves me with tomatoes from Hokkaido. And I just don`t know what to do about Hokkaido.

When Fukushima ... imploded, melted (I`m still not sure what it actually did but apparently it didn`t explode like Chernobyl) ... the wind was blowing north to south which is why I got out of town straight away. Then the wind changed which was good news for Tokyo but bad news for Hokkaido and the north west coast of the USA and Canada. Just how much radiation landed in Hokkaido, I don`t know. From this Tuesday the wind is forecast to turn again, north to south, as winter approaches. I am keeping an eye on and checking the wind direction for Japan.

That first week after 3/11 I went to Nagoya where it rained on several days. It may also have rained in Tokyo. Now strontium 90 has been discovered on the roofs of several builidings in Yokohama. It is concentrated in areas where rain runs off into the drains. So it may be assumed (until the government decides to tell us more) that the strontium was carried down on the wind and fell over Tokyo and many other areas of Japan in the rain droplets. (Although I don`t think anyone would be surprised if a nearby Yokohama factory wasn`t pumping strontium into the atmosphere.)

The Setagaya hotspot is also interesting. It`s not as radioactive as the parks and neighbourhoods in eastern Tokyo over which the smoke from the nearby incerators wafts. These incinerators are receiving and burning the radioactive sludge from Fukushima. (One broke down last week.) Every prefecture has been asked to take an amount and dispose of it, to share the responsilibity. TEPCO`s responsibility. But the radioactive hotspot in the expatratriate-rich neighbourhood of Setagaya is apparently emanating from some bottles under an old house. They could have been there as a result of a doctor bringing his or her (who am I kidding, this is Japan) HIS experiments home, or even of someone bringing their belongings up from Hiroshima or Nagasaki after the bombs. And as I recall the doomsday cult, Aum Shinkrikyo, (which is still active) toyed with producing a nuclear bomb. And I read that looters stole abandoned items from around Chernobyl which were then sold on and sat in people`s homes giving off radiation. People in Fukushima have been allowed to return to their homes for a short time to collect their belongings. Is that wise? Anyway the current view is that the bottles contained old paint which was made with radium.

Today`s spiel sounds as if I am worried. But I`m not particularly concerned. It`s more of a dull resignation. I liked life before the quake. The food was healthy and delicious, the train companies ran a full schedule, and the loos had heated toilet seats. No more. It`s going to be a cold winter, in some parts more than others.

I wouldn`t even say that I am anti-nuclear. I liked all the neon lights, giant outdoor TV screens and the vending machines that lit up and played music when you walked by. I knew that all that power must come from somewhere. And Japan is a resource-poor nation. They either had to go nuclear or invade China again.

But now everyone around me seems to be suffering from some form of long-term stress. I know of two people in Tokyo whose hair has suddenly fallen out. They were worried they might have radiation sickness but I told them that the number of women in Christchurch, New Zealand whose hair has fallen out has increased by a third and they only had an earthquake. In the last week alone I have also learned that two foreign male lecturers have had heart attacks.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Cooking with Cesium ...

(Sign for the Setsuden: the campaign to save electricity because Fukushima and many other nuclear power stations are currently out of action. The Setsuden officially ended last week. Now we`re just walking around in the dark on a voluntary basis.)

It has been a long summer. At Narita I couldn`t remember my Tokyo address for the re-entry card. Then I couldn`t remember what floor my office is on (the uni have moved my office three times in two years). But I can name every character on Downton Abbey so it`s not Alzheimer's. Just priorities.

I thought the Fukushima situation would have been largely overcome by now but it has not. The plant is still not airtight and last week the papers reported a mystery build-up of hydrogen gas. Nevertheless many Japanese people seem adamant that all food and water is safe. There is even a Support Fukushima campaign encouraging shoppers to choose their products from that prefecture to save their rural industries. Some people are doing just that. With the idea of making a rataouille, I went to my local Co-op to buy peppers and zucchini. The zucchini were from Ibaraki, the peppers were from Fukushima. Instead I have been cycling to various supermarkets and buying anything from west of Osaka or abroad. Consequently I can`t know what I am going to make until I get everything home and see what is possible. Most of the time I`ll make a pasta sauce with canned tomatoes from Italy. The fresh ones are all from Hokkaido at the moment. If I find mushrooms or spinach I`ll make an omelette. But the eggs are all local so I won`t be eating those too often. I went for battery eggs instead of free range - I don`t want my chickens walking around eating anything off ground which may be contaminated. But I still can`t know what the battery chickens are being fed.

Speaking of Hokkaido, some people say it is safe and others say it is not. I have been buying small amounts of Hokkaido fat free milk for my tea but I am steering clear of its other dairy products. At the import stores I buy feta cheese from Greece and Dutch Edam. I`d kill for a yoghurt though.

My city, Mitaka, is conducting daily radiation tests at 104 local schools and playgrounds at 5cm and 1 meter from the ground. The results are posted on Twitter or can be emailed to you daily. The latest results for the school closest to my apartment are 0.07 micro-sieverts at 5cm, and 0.07 at 1 metre. Another neighbourhood shows 0.11 at 5cm, and 0.10 at 1 metre. This seems to be lower than average daily amounts around the world. But I also think it depends on what direction the wind is blowing. Radioactive waste is being transported from Fukushima and burned at Tokyo waste disposal centres. North and East Tokyo are radiation hotspots because of it. Anyway, it is not the wind-born radiation that most people are worried about now but cesium in the food.

The Japan Times had an interesting article recently, Hold the Cesium: `Ways to reduce radiation in your diet`. Kunikazu Noguchi, lecturer at Nihon University, has published a book on the subject so I have been following his tips as much as possible (assuming he is telling the truth and not a mouthpiece for the government from where, one assumes, he gets his funding ... and his job):

* Cesium can be easily dissolved in water so rinse all fruit and vegetable before cooking

* `Most` (most??) radiation can be removed from leafy vegetables if boiled

* 90 percent of wheat in Japan is imported from overseas so most wheat products are safe.

I continue to avoid seaweed, rice, meat, fish and green tea from Japan.

Of course, we cannot know what we are eating in cafes and restaurants. Where possible I eat Italian and choose pasta. And I take my G & T`s without a lemon slice.

Other than that, I am trying to put it out of my mind and get on with teaching.

Time for my Spam pasta ....