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.

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