Japan: Once Upon a Time (2)

Japan now makes regularly scheduled expeditions to Antarctica, and for years, the ship the explorers sailed on was the Shirase. The ship was named for Nobu Shirase (1861-1946), who got his start as a niche explorer on an expedition to the Kuril Islands--in the area opened up by Takadaya Kahei.

Nobu Shirase took on another cold ocean when he led an expedition to Antarctica. On his first try, the ice kept him away. More than glory, he treasured his crew members. When the Antarctic ice proved impassible, he withdrew to Australia. Penniless, he and his crew were rejected by the Australian public, but embraced by a former member of the Shackleton Expedition to Antarctic--to the extent that they could make a second attempt to reach Antarctica.

This time, they were able to disembark at two locations, burying mementoes of their expedition as solid evidence of their presence on the icy continent.

Nobu Shirase is, to me, the embodiment of prudence plus daring plus master of the art of the possible. On the first attempt, ice prevented the ship from reaching the continent. On the second attempt, they reached the shore of Antartica but were faced with a 300-foot vertical cliff of ice. Shirase and his crew set to work carving a stairway in the ice, step by slow step, until they reached the top.

There is a famous story from the golden age of the samurai, about a samurai and his blacksmith. A certain Lord prepared two buckets of boiled rice, challenging the samurai and the blacksmith to pound the rice into the smooth paste known as mochi. The samurai attacked the rice with the flat of his sword, smashing away ruthlessly. The blacksmith took one grain of rice, placed it on his anvil, squashed it with his hammer, and repeated the process grain by grain until he was done.

It was the blacksmith who won the contest, and it was Nobu Shirase who not only reached Antarctica but was able to return home to Japan with ship and crew safe and sound, successful in the end.


Japan: Once Upon a Time (1)

When we think of the great voyagers of the world, names like Columbus and Magellan come to mind. Here is a good opportunity to think about what I call the "niche" voyagers, explorers who went where others didn't think to go. One of my favorite niche voyagers is Takadaya Kahei.

Takadaya Kahei was born in a land of mild waters, in a part of Japan then called Awaji, near what is now called Kobe, in 1769. He found work as a fisherman, and as soon as he could afford it, he bought his own ship. It was a ship unlike any the western world has ever used. Why? Because in those days, Japan was a closed country and ships were deliberately built to be unfit to go very far: no sturdy sides to keep out wild waves, no protected cabins for shelter on long trips, no Viking dragon-boat sort of industrial strength steering system.

Still, Takadaya Kahei went as far as he could make his boat sail: to Hokkaido, a huge northern territory not yet incorporated into Japan. What did Hokkaido need? Rice! Salt! Sake! Takadaya had those. What did Hokkaido have to sell? Marine products like salmon and edible seaweed. Takadaya Kahei had a ready market for all of them.

There is a lot more to tell about this intrepid merchant seaman. If you go to Hakodate, a port city in Hokkaido, by all means visit the Takadaya Kahei museum where the tools of his trade are on exhibit. Takadaya Kahei was a man who made boatloads of money in the kinds of trade we today call "win-win" transactions. He was a merchant who not only did well but also did good. Hakodate became a wonderful place to live, largely because of the efforts of Takadaya Kahei.


Meanwhile, back in Fukushima...

Before you read another word, this needs to be said. This episode of withholding data is NOT an example of what can happen with Japan's new secrecy protecting policy. This is about a public utility keeping the public uninformed, and it is about news being reported as soon as it became available.

Now, on to the latest revelations about the damage to sea water, from Jiji press, through The Japan Times online edition:

Regulators expected to demand detailed explanation for latest evasion

Tepco hid record-level radiation data last July


Feb 11, 2014

Tokyo Electric Power Co. did not tell the public until recently that massively high levels of radiation were found in groundwater collected last July at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, even though the utility was aware of the data that month, according to sources.

Tepco released the data on Feb. 6 showing that the groundwater contained a record 5 million becquerels per liter of radioactive strontium-90.

When Tepco reported the data to the Nuclear Regulation Authority last week, it initially claimed that it had only recently compiled the data, NRA sources said.

However, the embattled utility later corrected the timing, apparently showing that it had withheld the record readings, the sources said.

The withholding of the radiation data looks to be the latest in a long line of missteps for the utility, experts said.


Grabbing the Wrong End of the Stick

Boy, did they get this one wrong. People voted for Mr. Masusoe because they like his priorities and because they understand the difference between what Tokyo as a local entity can do and what the national government can do. Can you say "spin doctor" at work?

Here is something about the Tokyo election from The Japan Times online:

The defeat of two anti-nuclear candidates, including former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, in Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election has given the central government a boost of confidence as it prepares to move forward with an energy policy supporting the use of atomic power.

“We plan to compile a feasible and balanced Basic Energy Plan (for medium- to long-term energy policy),” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Diet committee Monday morning.

Nevertheless, Hosokawa’s attempt to focus attention on nuclear policy — a politically sensitive issue since the Fukushima nuclear crisis started in 2011 — appears to have put more pressure on Abe’s government to refrain from rushing toward endorsing a draft energy plan that has been criticized for its strong pro-nuclear tone.


Tokyo's New Mayor

Yesterday's election had a poor turnout, possibly due to an unusually heavy snowstorm. The voters who did turn out in spite of the snow and ice elected former health minister Yoichi Masusoe. There is a lot of love being shown to a candidate whose priority is the health and welfare of the people.

The 25 cm of (not quite knee deep) snow surely influenced voter turnout, but it also needs to be said that votes can be cast at government offices during the week before the official election day.

It may be more reasonable to assume that voters understand that "big posture" issues like ridding Japan of nuclear power generation may be important, even desirable, but nuclear power plants are not an issue that Tokyo has any control over. They are in the national government's domain. Whether or not Grandma gets home nursing and whether or not your child finds a place in day care--these ARE issues that fall within the Tokyo mayor's mandate.

The people who did turn out to vote on Sunday showed that they understand politics a lot better than some of the professionals.


Mt. Fuji is beautiful, but what if...

Seismologists and volcano experts such as Dr. Masaaki Kimura, graduate of Japan's Tokyo University and the Lamont geological institute in the US, have observed preliminary signs of a potential eruption of iconic Mt. Fuji. It is thinkable that, within our lifetimes, possibly within the next ten years, Mt. Fuji will erupt. If so, the greatest risk to people living in the vicinity will be from volcanic ash. Do you have goggles in your disaster kit? Dr. Kimura reminds us that volcanic ash is a lot like grains of ground-up glass.

Meanwhile, the government is making contingency plans. The Japan Times online has this to say:

"Mount Fuji, a 3,776-meter volcano, straddles Shizuoka and Yamanashi and is close to the border of Kanagawa. The iconic mountain, registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site last year, has erupted many times in the past.

The 470,000 people live in areas where 30 cm or more of volcanic ash is expected to fall based on data from the previous eruption in 1707 and a Mount Fuji hazard map prepared by the central government in 2004.

In these areas, wooden houses are at risk of being crushed under volcanic ash, which becomes heavy after absorbing rain."

(for the complete article, please go to The Japan Times)


Agree or Disagree?

Would owning the responsibility for these tragedies help?

Today's Japan Times online carries a letter from people who believe it would:

U.S. and Japanese apologies for war crimes could pave way for nuclear disarmament

Acknowledging responsibility for the atomic bombings and atrocities in Asia could serve as first steps toward a world free of nuclear arms

Special To The Japan Times

To see the whole letter, please follow this link: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/02/05/voices/u-s-and-japanese-apologies-for-war-crimes-could-pave-way-for-nuclear-disarmament/#.UvK77DGmoiQ


NY Times re Japan's National TV (NHK)

from The New York Times on Japan's NHK and Prime Minister Abe's Agenda:

These are hard times for the broadcaster, NHK, which is widely considered the country’s most authoritative television and radio news source and like its British equivalent, the BBC, has been troubled by scandal.

But the current controversies at NHK have also stoked Japanese liberals’ fears about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters, who critics believe are behind what they call the efforts to muzzle criticism amid a push to impose an expansive right-wing agenda.

Related Coverage

Japan’s Public Broadcaster Faces Accusations of Shift to the RightJAN. 31, 2014

Japan Official Under Fire for Saying Public Broadcaster Won’t Criticize GovernmentJAN. 27, 2014

The prime minister is already pressing for more patriotic textbooks and has pushed through a secrecy law that will allow Japan’s notoriously opaque government to hide more of what it does. The actions come as Japan is mired in an emotional tug of war with China and South Korea over their fraught wartime history and recent, potentially explosive, territory disputes.

“What I am worried about is that NHK will become loyalist media, become the public relations department of the government,” an opposition lawmaker, Kazuhiro Haraguchi, said in unusually harsh criticism in Parliament on Friday. NHK is “part of the infrastructure that forms the basis of our democracy.”