Thursday, 14 April 2011

What's going on...? (as a famous man once sang)

So it's been an interesting month or so, to say the least.

First the earthquake, then a lot more earthquakes, then (not really) nuclear armageddon in Fukushima, then a gaijin-only broohaha (about flyjins or denyjins or cryjins or whatever the label de jour-jins was), then (not really) social and infrastructural breakdown in a large city an awfully long way from the earthquake and (not really) nuclear armageddon zones and a whole load more stuff as well. Phew, it's been a ride!

But for us good folk of Arakawa Riverview (in the large city an awfully long way from the earthquake and (not really) nuclear armageddon zones), life has been reasonably normal, to tell the truth. In the week after the quake there were indeed shortages of foods like milk, bread and dried and canned stuff, but since then things are back on the shelves. There was a subsequent yoghurt scarcity, but that's pretty much OK now, and then a very real scare as breweries suddenly realised that beer producing and shipping capacity was way down and Tokyo running dry suddenly became a very real possibility. So far so good on that one, but we are monitoring the situation carefully (and stocking up on red wine and gin (I will re-label myself a gin-jin)).

Also in the week after the quake the British Embassy (to whom I will doff my cap to a job reasonably well done in the face of enormous stress) changed their travel advice from 'everything is pretty much OK' to 'British nationals should consider leaving Tokyo'. This freaked me, along with the Guru, out and we made plans to move south to a branch of the family down in Kyushu. But after a little reflection and a realisation that the travel advice was more to stop people coming to Tokyo, thereby giving the embassy more responsibilities if things did go bad, rather than a cry to run to the hills (and not Roppongi Hills), we decided to stay put. Others didn't, some went to Osaka or Kyushu, some went to Singapore or Hong Kong, others further afield to Australia or the UK. Fine, I have no problem with that, people make the decisions best suited for themselves and their families. What I find most poisonous is the subsequent name-calling and label-making mentioned above - people that left became flyjins, branded cowards by some who stayed; people who left called the stayers na├»ve, delusional and crazy to put themselves in harm's way. Basically everyone trying to justify their actions, as if a) it matters or b) it has anything to do with anyone else. So, anyway, get over it people as we’re all people and we don’t have to justify our decisions to others.

Now because of the goings on in Fukushima TEPCO (that’s Tokyo Electric Power Company, for those who have been living in the north pole for the last month) and the Japanese Government have come in for some pretty stinging (by Japanese standards) criticism in the last month. The main foci have been:

1) Tepco don’t know what they are doing

2) The govt don’t know what they are doing

3) The govt don’t know what Tepco is doing

4) Everyone is covering up the scale of the nuclear related problems

The first 2 are undoubtedly true as neither Tepco nor the govt have a clue what to do about the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant or, if they did know what to do, they have no idea how to do it. The 3rd point is probably true – Tepco are definitely the bad guys here (except the valiant Fukushima 50 (and probably more) who are trying to cool the reactors and sort out the problems – these heroes are distinct from the homogenous Tepco mass as I think they do have a clue what they are doing and probably a clue how to do it (and are trying to do it the face of seemingly insurmountable incompetence by their “superiors”)). Er, yes, Tepco, definitely the bad guys, or more likely lethally negligent guys…lost my train of thought. Ah yes, so, not only does it look like Tepco have been pulling the wool over the eyes of their staff and the people of Fukushima, it seems that they haven’t really told the whole story to the govt, or the IAEA, or anyone else. This does not, as you may well imagine, fill one with confidence about what is happening there right now, but it will, hopefully, mean that those (ir)responsible will be brought to book when the (radioactive) dust finally settles. One thought – some argue that Tepco should be nationalised, as should all nuclear power production, but I wonder. Private firms will cut corners to save costs, thereby endangering lives like now; however state industries can be woefully inefficient and ‘jobs for life on the state sector’ can very easily lead to similar sloppy work procedures. So what to do…?

Point 4 above, that everyone is covering up, does, I think, have some merit as an argument. The reason, I think, is that the govt need a diversion to take everyone’s mind, and view, off what has happened to Iwate and Miyagi prefectures in the aftermath of the quake and tsunami. The devastation up there, the sheer scale of the rebuild that will need to take place is, I think, on a level that people cannot comprehend, and when they do start to think about it the excrement will hit the slowly rotating cooling device. So, better to keep the focus of the people and the world on Fukushima, which so far has killed 2 people (I think) rather than on the destruction wrought upon Tohoku area on 11th March, after which some 30,000 are dead or missing. So when, again, the radioactive dust finally settles, (the man who) Kan can quickly whip a satin sheet off Tohoku, say ‘ta-daa’ and show everyone that the clean-up is underway, reconstruction has already started and things aren’t as bad as you thought they were, so keep calm and carry on. Mark my words, you read it here first.

But here’s a seditious thought – why bother rebuilding Tohoku? It was full of old people, most of whom were unfortunately swept away by the tsunami. Rural depopulation is such that the areas affected were dying anyway, there was little inward investment above the govt building useless roads to nowhere and empty concert halls in vainglorious but futile pork barrel projects. Schools were closing and classes amalgamating in towns all over the area as fewer and fewer children were born because the kids that were born moved to Tokyo as soon as they were old enough, never to return. So why bother? Rebuild the ports and the fishing fleets as they were useful; and then put all the rice fields together in one big lump and either nationalise rice growing in that area or sell the land as one or two blocks to a major agricultural business and let them grow rice on an industrial basis as opposed to the millions of mom & pop farms that again are slowly dying as the kids realise rice farming is hard work. With the hundreds of thousands of displaced people, ship them to Tokyo or other areas of rural depopulation (which is most of Japan outside the major cities) and start filling up the gaps in those communities – Tohoku is lost, don’t bother trying to find it again. Japan needs a radical rethink towards the countryside, maybe this is the time to do it…

Of course the counter argument to that (apart from the humanitarian one), is that Japan should be trying to de-centralise, especially Tokyo, as there is too much important stuff here so if/when the big one hits us (as it surely will) too much infrastructure will be destroyed. What Japan should be doing is rebuilding Tohoku and encouraging (forcing?) govt departments, businesses and the like to move to these areas to disperse the potential damage when another quake hits (I don’t mean when another quake hits that area – Tohoku could be the place to go as it has now been ‘disastered’ so the chances of another catastrophic event are, compared to Tokyo which hasn’t had a major quake since 1923, hopefully reduced). I don’t know, I don’t think there is a right answer, just options that all seem a tad bleak.

Let’s leave those happy thoughts for a while and talk about fashion.

I don’t, and won’t, claim to know a lot about fashion, especially where young ladies are concerned, but a recent trend has got me confused. As a rule I don’t criticise what people wear – if they want to look foolish then that’s their lookout, also I don’t want to sound like an old fart, which is getting harder as the years go by.

Anyway the recent trend is for women to wear glasses. Nothing strange there, I know, but the fashion is to wear what look like oversized, plastic framed glasses but only the frames, no lenses. Now wearing glasses is a pain in the, well, often the nose and behind the ears, but generally it’s more just annoying having something stuck to your face, so why go to that trouble if you don’t need to?

A pictorial reference to the fashion would look something like this

OK, yes, she’s fit, but she would be without the frames.

The Guru says these women are wearing the big glasses to make their faces look smaller and therefore more cute. If this is true it seems odd, as to me it looks like they have big glasses on, not a smaller face. Another explanation is that they actually need the glasses and lenses, but can’t wear them with the lenses in as they get in the way of the artificially long eyelashes – this, I think, holds more water as a theory.

So I don’t know, but it seems to me that this fashion cocks a snook at people who really do have to wear glasses. ‘Ha haa’ they seem to be saying, ‘I can take my glasses-frames off and suffer no degrading of my sight, whereas you, have-to-wear-glasses-person, you will stumble around bumping into things if you tried to do the same’. This seems a little rude to me, but there you go. If I fine out the real reason I’ll let you know.