Hokkaido train loses parts

Accidents involving trains are few and far between in Japan, so the picture in today's newspapers of a scorched train in Hokkaido was quite a shock. The report said some components dropped off the underside of the train, and sparks from metal friction set off the fire. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.

That said, why would parts drop off?

It wasn't reported in the news, but almost always it is the fault of a bolt that failed.

Since Japan has the world's leading technology in computer controlled thread rolling--technology that makes a nearly fail-safe nut and bolt combination possible--this accident is a little embarrassing.

They should be using the perfect lock bolt, manufactured by Nissei KK.


The Fifth Season

Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring----and then the rainy season. It started in Okinawa in early May. The rainy season usually strikes Tokyo in June and lasts for about six weeks. It is still May, but officially, the rainy season has begun. Bring your umbrella and galoshes if you'll be visiting Japan.


Where do you draw the line?

Nemo got his own movie. The dolphins and whales have armed bodyguards. Everyone goes gaga over newly hatched turtles and seal pups. But what about us? Where's our bumper sticker?

We eels have feelings, too. Come to think about it, so do chickens and cows and pigs and Bambi. Maybe even potatoes! We all want to live, forever if possible. And that's why we eat, because food = life.

Where do you draw the line? Are anteaters evil because they eat ants? Are people evil because they eat the food their gods have set in front of them? Why single out one creature for protection and ignore the rest of us? And what is it with people, that they'll fight to protect us animals and glory in killing each other?

Dunno. What do you expect from a life form that built a magic kingdom and chose a rodent to be king. A rodent! What about us? Dontcha think we're cute enough?


A Small Part of Getting Your Life Back

Photographs are a cherished link connecting people with each other and with precious moments in their life's journey. Many people who survived the tsunami and earthquake in northeast Japan said that, if they could return to their old homes for only a moment, the one thing they would want to retrieve is their photograph albums.

That is assuming, of course, that the photo albums would still be on their shelves, safely indoors.

Unfortunately, a tsunami is not so neat. Many albums were retrieved, but they were soaked in sea water and caked in mud, scoured by salt and sand.

Hopeless? Not always.

Here is what an expert from the Fuji Film company has to say in The Japan Times online:

"On average, a family takes about 200 to 300 photos a year, and over the course of 10 years that comes to about 2,000 to 3,000 photos per family," said Yuichi Itabashi of Fuji Film. "But even a skilled person can only clean 200 photos a day at maximum. Normally, 100 photos a day."

Collaborating with local volunteers, Itabashi spent two days just cleaning photos.

Mud stuck on the surface has to be removed with a soft brush. Each photo is then soaked in water warmed to 20 to 30 degrees for up to 60 seconds, during which further mud is removed with a brush or finger. The warm water helps remove mud and sea salt, according to Fujifilm.

After a rinse with clean water, the photos are dried in a shady, dust-free environment.

Cleaning up photos is one thing, giving them back to their owners is another.

"This is totally different from previous disasters where belongings remained inside homes," said Itabashi. "Photos are valuable only when they are in the hands of the owners. So we thought it was a part of our job to return the photos."

Thus one thing they do is keep album covers as people tend to remember them, he said.

And photos are likely to be returned when local residents participate in the volunteer photo-cleaning activity because they know their neighbors.


PS: What happens if you don't print your photos and put them in albums, but save them on the computer or memory sticks? Time to think about alternative storage locations?


Time for the World to Stop and Think

Someone (probably me) said Japan's disaster news is going to get worse before it gets worse. The nuclear news is dismal, and getting darker by the minute. It's time for the world--especially the parts of it that plug into nuclear power--to stop, look, and listen. And then decide what to do.

For those living in the US, read on:

Risk From Spent Nuclear Reactor Fuel Is Greater in U.S. Than in Japan, Study Says
Published: May 24, 2011 (NY Times online)

WASHINGTON — The threat of a catastrophic release of radioactive materials from a spent fuel pool at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant is dwarfed by the risk posed by such pools in the United States, which are typically filled with far more radioactive material, according to a study released on Tuesday by a nonprofit institute.

The report, from the Institute for Policy Studies, recommends that the United States transfer most of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel from pools filled with cooling water to dry sealed steel casks to limit the risk of an accident resulting from an earthquake, terrorism or other event.

“The largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet will remain in storage at U.S. reactor sites for the indefinite future,” the report’s author, Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the institute, wrote. “In protecting America from nuclear catastrophe, safely securing the spent fuel by eliminating highly radioactive, crowded pools should be a public safety priority of the highest degree.”

At one plant that is a near twin of the Fukushima units, Vermont Yankee on the border of Massachusetts and Vermont, the spent fuel in a pool at the solitary reactor exceeds the inventory in all four of the damaged Fukushima reactors combined, the report notes.


Plan Ahead

It pays to know your neighbors and plan ahead. This happy-ending story is from Kyodo News, published by The Japan Times online:

"On a small island about 30 minutes by boat from Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, Kisako Utsumi, 68, felt herself swept off her feet by the force of the March 11 tsunami. Houses were being torn apart around her.

"I was terrified," she recalled.

The tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake swept away half of about 50 houses on Nonoshima Island, one of the group of Urato Islands north of Sendai. But none of the approximately 80 residents on the island was killed by the tsunami, thanks to a disaster prevention map and an evacuation route created more than half a century ago.

They had also prepared for the possibility of disaster by conducting emergency drills over and over.

In the scant 30 minutes that elapsed between the quake and the arrival of the massive tsunami, town officials knocked on the doors of every home, urging residents to evacuate.
Using a special 2-meter-wide evacuation route that local residents had cleared through a bamboo grove, they fled to a local elementary and junior high school that was built on higher ground."

PS: Imagine having town officials who would knock on every door.


You Have Fifteen Seconds

Earthquake prediction is not an exact science, not even close to the level of weather prediction. As an interesting first step toward making earthquake prediction practical, a new device is on the market. It senses an approaching earthquake and announces: Earthquake in fifteen seconds!

What can you do in fifteen seconds?

Turn off the gas.
Get out of the bath.
Run to your child.

Fifteen seconds! What would you do?

PS: This device is produced by Iris Ohyama and retails for about ¥7000.


Mamma mia! It takes a village!

Some 500 people in the city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas worst hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami, earlier this month received a pasta, soup and wine treat provided by prominent Italian chefs from Tokyo.

The event, named Domenica Italiana (Italian Sunday), was part of the charity campaign "Italians in Japan for the rebirth of Tohoku region."

Twenty-five volunteer workers including staff from such Tokyo restaurants as Elio Locanda Italiana delivered food as well as relief items to disaster victims at an evacuation shelter in Rikuzentakata.

"People enjoyed the food and some even asked whether they could take the leftovers home," said Marco Staccioli, who started the charity project involving the Italian community in Japan. "In Italy, families get together on Sundays after attending Mass and eat food prepared by mothers. We named the event after such a tradition."

(Read the whole story, provided by Kyodo news, in today's Japan Times online)


Got Oysters?

Here is one little-known side effect of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Don't expect oysters if you are dining out in Paris.

"A deadly virus is stalking France's coastline, killing at least 60 percent of the young oysters there since 2008. Japan's earthquake and tsunami may have wiped out the latest rescue plan.

The March 11 natural disasters destroyed the fishing industry in Miyagi Prefecture, which produced 80 percent of Japan's oyster seeds in 2009. That is forcing France to abandon plans to import and breed Miyagi's Pacific oyster species, and find another solution for diners seeing fewer, and more costly, options."

(This is from Bloomberg news, by Makiko Kitamura and Maki Shirai.)


Pre-emptive Nuclear Shut-down, Hurrah!

People are teachable. It would be nicer if we could learn without being beaten by the big stick of tragedy.

This is from Kyodo news agency, published in the Japan Times online edition:

"Chubu Electric Power Co. on Friday successfully halted one of its two active reactors at the Hamaoka power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, marking the first step in an unprecedented government-requested shutdown.

With the No. 4 reactor offline, the utility will move to halt the No. 5 unit on Saturday, which will close down the entire plant. The complex sits on a major active fault line."

To read the entire article, please go to:


Back to Okinawa

This empty harness is for the water buffalo whose job it is to turn the sugar cane crusher. There was a time when these huge animals performed essential labor. Now, when electricity provides the power, water buffaloes are only a bit of nostalgia from Okinawa's colorful past.

[for a fictional look at water buffalo, check out the newest post in the Chura Writer blog]


The Geology of the March 11 Quake

It must be a rare event when a whole country gets shoved out of its place in geography, and that is what happened to Japan on March 11. An AP reporter explains it as follows:

"Japan's northern half sits on the North American tectonic plate. The Pacific plate, which is mostly undersea, normally slides under this plate, slowly nudging the country west. But in the earthquake, the fault line between the two plates ruptured, and the North American plate slid up and out along the Pacific plate.

The rising edge of plate caused the sea floor off Japan's eastern coast to bulge up — one measuring station run by Tohoku University reported an underwater rise of 16 feet (5 meters) — creating the tsunami that devastated the coast. The portion of the plate under Japan was pulled lower as it slid toward the ocean, which caused a corresponding plunge in elevation under the country.

Some areas in Ishinomaki[in Miyagi Prefecture] moved southeast 17 feet (5.3 meters) and sank 4 feet (1.2 meters) lower."

For the full article, go to:


The Little Engine that Could

In a place where tsunami and earthquake wiped out cars, trucks, busses and ambulances--not to mention the gasoline supplies that kept them running--how do you get doctors to patients? Food to the hungry?

With cars that skim over the landscape on battery power.

Mitsubishi and Nissan donated electric-powered cars to Japan's battered northeast. The cars flitted about by day, then at night returned to the City Halls, where they were plugged in to 200-volt outlets. Even the Japanese standard household 100-volt outlet would work, provided more time (12 hours, or overnight) was allotted for the recharge.

More information on these little engines that could can be found in The New York Times online.