Monday, 21 March 2005

From one natural disaster to another...

Been a quiet week, on the whole, the last week. Trying to cast my mind back for some of the odder stories to make themselves heard, but nothing seems to spring to mind. Baby stuff is going along without much of a hitch (this week!). Young Fuu chan seems to be moving around an awful lot, which is still one of the weirdest sensations I have ever felt – an unborn baby, moving around inside another person, it is such an everyday thing to hear but such a weird and wonderful thing to actually feel. I am not, I suspect, the first man to think this way (or, indeed, the first man to have a mental image of the first alien movie when he has his hands of his wife’s stomach).

A couple of months ago a parental warning was issued about the high pollen count that was poised to sweep the valleys of japan, bringing hay fever upon the unsuspecting inhabitants. “Ha” I scoffed, “the advanced and on the ball Japanese news media have made nary a mention of this” was my considered response, forgetting, it would seem, by usual scepticism of the aforementioned Japanese news media. Well the pollen hit with a vengeance this week, liberally dusting the entire Kanto plain with its yellow sneezing powder. This is all due, apparently (according to Alex Kerr in Dogs and Demons), to the Environmental Ministry (to whom we show deference and respect), who decided that natural deciduous woodland was not in any way ‘a good thing’ as it wasn’t made of concrete. So at first they decided to cut all the trees down and replace with greyness, but even the average Japanese bod thought this a tad too much and complained, just a little, so the Ministry rethought their plan and planted miles upon miles of cedar trees. Their thinking was, I suppose, not bad for the time, as they believed that they could maintain the forests and sell the wood (Japanese houses are, as mentioned elsewhere, 90% wooden in their construction, much like a Keanu Reeves role in a movie). But of course, as this is Japanese wood it is far more expensive than imported wood (which isn't nearly as good), illegally cut down from virgin rainforests in Indonesia, so no one would buy it.

So, combine one part huge numbers of cedar trees planted all over the mountains encircling the Kanto plain with two parts exceptionally hot summer in 2004, add a dash of springtime and mix thoroughly with the spring winds and, et voila, you have a hay fever epidemic that is 30 to 500 times worse than anything Japan has ever experienced before, depending on what news you read. Not really a natural disaster, I grant you, but at least a national commotion.

Me? Not a problem. Hardly a sneeze or a sniffle to be seen. I would crow or gloat about it, but I know that it can start within the blink of an eye, so nothing but sympathy from me. At a meeting at work last Friday a chap who had never suffered in his life looked as if he had the worst case of Spanish Influenza on record. The Guru, herself never been susceptible in the past, has been sneezing and spluttering he way through the week, no doubt worrying Fuu chan as she hasn’t got the hang of sneezing yet so always needs to have about 8 goes (or should that be go's?) to get the tubes unblocked.

But as you can no doubt imagine, if the only thing that I can think to write about is the state of hay fever in the nation, things must have been slow.

Two Japanese and one Philippine sailor were captured by pirates in the Malacca straights on Wednesday or Thursday. Now this sounds cool, full of action and derring do, that sort of caper, but no, they were released unharmed over the weekend and are now recovering in Penang, which is quite a pleasant place to do it, by all accounts.

Also a magnitude 6- (on the Japanese scale of 7) earthquake rocked the top of the southern island of Kyushu, 1 fatality and over three hundred hurt, but thankfully none of our teachers where caught up in anything unpleasant. Though with big earthquakes now having hit Kyushu, Niigata and Hokkaido (not to mention the Indian ocean quake and tsunami) in the last year or so, I am getting just a little antsy about living in Tokyo. I am a firm believer in the ‘if there are lots of small and medium earthquakes this is a good thing as it relieves the pressures building up underground’ school of misplaced optimism, but even my usually sunny outlook is getting just a tad worried about all this seismic activity. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but the big insurance company Munich Re produced a report recently of the most dangerous cities to live in across the world, graded by likelihood of dying horribly in a natural disaster.

Top of the list was, of course, Tokyo, with a get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here index of over 700. Second placed San Francisco came in with a glad-I-don’t-live-in-Tokyo score of about 160.

Oh well.

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