3/11:The Fallout

3/11:The Fallout
Just what the heck is going on?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Japan's Right-Wingers make their move; Tohoku disaster funds go missing

Japan was rocked last week when the current Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, suddenly announced that was resigning his post and launching a new political party. He intends to run against the DPJ and LDP in the next general election.
This move has shocked the public because of its unexpected nature, and also because Ishihara has suddenly dropped the cause he was so passionate about - promoting Tokyo as a venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Ishihara is a confirmed nationalist, and it is largely his interference in the Senkaku Islands land dispute that angered China and Korea and raised the possibility of armed conflict breaking out in South East Asia.
This development is one more sign of Japanese politics edging towards the right wing. In his career, the 80-year-old Ishihara has consistently made racist and sexist comments that have angered just about every sector of society, and is a self-confessed believer in the Imperial, disciplinary ideology that led to Japan's 1930s military government. 
Some observers have speculated that Ishihara's sudden move was a reaction to the growing popularity of a much younger politician - the Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, and the political party he has created (Nippon Ishin no Kai). Hashimoto certainly cuts a dashing figure in the media, but observers have pointed out his worrying off-the-cuff comments that bordered on social elitism and racism. His autocratic nature was further revealed this month when an article attacking Hashimoto, written by journalist Shinichi Sano, was published in the Shukan Asahi magazine on Oct 16th. Hashimoto's reaction was to unleash a tirade of hate against the Asahi in general and Sano in particular, threatening them with lawsuits, and forcing an apology.
         Ishihara? Hashimoto? Saviors of Japan? No. They are not "The One". Conservative? Yes. Nationalistic? Yes. Racist? Yes.
Whoa now. That's a strong word to use. If you want to start throwing the word "Fascist" around, you'd better understand what the word means. If we take the textbook definition, as stated here -
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to unify their nation based on commitment to an organic national community where its individuals are united together as one people through national identity.
 Then yes, let's use it.
Why now, you might think? Why Japan? Why does Ishihara suddenly feel the need to go into national politics?
Because it is becoming increasingly clear that Japan's economic woes are not a "recession", but a permanent decline.  As Japan keeps aging, it will lose 1% of its GDP every year from now on. Some politicians have given up trying to compete internationally and are circling the wagons. Relaxed immigration would give society a shot in the arm and create a multi-racial, multi-cultural transport hub like Hong Kong or Singapore; but of course the fascists don't want that. They want "Japan for the Japanese", and they will be prepared to shut the doors and kick the foreigners out, just so they can hold on to their own power.
The government has failed. The promised political and economic overhaul after 3/11 did not happen. The public is getting angrier and angrier, and the politicians are getting scared - after all, look what happened in Iceland after the credit crunch. Forcing their own government to resign and nationalizing the banks? Throwing out their constitution and rewriting a new governing document for the nation by asking for suggestions from Facebook and Twitter?
Why have we not heard of this? Because there's a media blackout, that's why. The fascists of Japan realize that if millions of Japanese people catch on to the truth and decide they've had enough, then - that's it. Game over.  

The day after Ishihara's announcement, more disturbing news emerged, this time concerning the Government funds pledged for the reconstruction of the devastated Tohoku area.  Yoshimitsu Shiozaki, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto who is an expert on reconstruction of disaster areas, was put in charge of examining the third supplementary budget for the fiscal year, which included ¥9.2 trillion for 488 "reconstruction" projects. He found that at least 25% of that money is going to projects that are the "brainchildren" of individual politicians, and have nothing to do with the disaster-hit zones in northern Japan.
 These projects include ¥500 million for road construction work in Okinawa, ¥330 million for repairs to the National Stadium in Tokyo's Yoyogi district and ¥10.7 billion in subsidies for a government-linked nuclear power research organization, much of which will be used to study nuclear fusion.
The Justice Ministry meanwhile secured about ¥30 million to purchase power shovels for prisons in Hokkaido and Saitama prefectures, and the fisheries ministry was given ¥2.3 billion for countermeasures against the Sea Shepherd antiwhaling group (i.e. protecting whaling ships against those pesky foreigners who would prefer whales to stay alive).
Of the ¥19 trillion earmarked for reconstruction, the government will come up with ¥10.5 trillion by keeping higher rates for income, corporate and residential taxes by up to 25 years.
"Taxpayers accepted the tax hikes because (they thought) the money would be used for helping disaster victims. And disaster victims were thanking them," Upper House member Kuniko Tanioka of the parliamentary group Midori no Kaze said during a recent Audit Committee session to scrutinize reconstruction spending.
"But it has turned out that (the funds) have been used for (projects) they never imagined. . . . It has dampened the disaster victims' will to rebuild their lives," she said.

 Patrick Fox, in the forthcoming book "3/11:The Fallout", says that the seismic event that changed Japan forever would spawn a whole new school of literature, film and drama. The first results are now being seen - such as the new movie on general release, entitled "Kibo no Kuni (The Land of Hope)", from director Sion Sono. The 37-year-old Sono is best known for his underground hit "Jisatsu Sakaru (The Suicide Club)" - and this new film may repeat his knack for capturing the spirit of the time and courting controversy while doing it.

The setting is a near-future rural Japan that has suffered another Fukushima-style nuclear accident, and the story focuses on two families, the Ono and the Suzukis, whose property lies on the periphery of the evacuation zone. 
Although the film uses the same disturbing images from last year's crisis, such as white-suited and gas-masked technicians marching through eerie, deserted town streets, the film doesn't go for sensation-seeking. It aims for challenges a lot of the popular myths that surround 3/11 - such as the popular conception of the "stoic, selfless" Japanese. Sano's cast behaves not like stereotypes, but real people, reacting to the danger with fear, anger and frustration. The film also is a merciless attack on Japan's corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy, setting the blame for the film's events - and by extension the real 3/11 - firmly at their feet.
 Needless to say, Sono found it hard to raise funds to make the film. "The theme of nuclear power is still taboo in Japan," he explained in an interview with the Japan Times on Oct 26th. "I finally ended up getting the money from England and Taiwan."
Though hundreds of news programs and documentaries have been made about the triple disaster by the mass media, Sono claims they often do not tell the truth about the victims' real feelings, preferring instead to show their public face.
"The people I had connections with spoke frankly to me, but when NHK interviewed them, they went like this," he says, making a faux-polite face, "and talked about how hard it was. When the camera was on, they said something different from what they had told me. I realized that they would be more honest if I didn't film them and just listened sincerely."
Sono spoke with dozens of victims and, when he finally wrote the script, put in what much of the news media had left out, including not-always-noble words and emotions.
The film is currently showing in Tokyo cinemas.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Art and Science: Healing Tohoku Together

Starting off our news round-up with art, Japanese and British artists have been working together to offer their skills to help communities in Tohoku. These programs, coordinated by British curator Kevin Whittle, include innovative architectural designs that utilize new high-tech materials and tsunami debris, and art exhibitions that offer both moral and financial support. Artists such as Kate Thomson, Kaori Homma, Ichiro Endo, and others from the London-based Japan Foundation have been offering their help to schools and community centers. This has encouraged interest in the planned 'Temporary Autonomous Zones' - communities who design their own cities, and distance themselves from central government in Tokyo.
Japan's manga artists have also been lending a hand. The "Heroes Comeback" project consists of renowned manga artists releasing new stories in various magazines, and donating their loyalties to 3/11-related charities. Names include Rumiko Takahashi (creator of Inu Yasha and Ranma 1/2), Masami Yuki, Sensha Yoshida, and the whole concept has been organized by Fujihiko Hosono.     
Now - for SCIENCE!!! On Wednesday 17th October, researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory in the USA announced they had developed a method to locate molten nuclear fuel in the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors: cosmic rays. Placing a pair of muon particle detectors in front of and behind the containment vessels would provide detailed images of the interiors, they said.
(They did not mention whether hats made out of tinfoil would be provided.)
The day after, in Tsukuba city, Japanese industrial manufacturer Cyberdyne Inc. revealed a robotic suit (see picture) developed to help workers wearing heavy protective gear at nuclear accident sites, specifically Fukushima. The HAL suit weighs 70 kg, is made out of secret metallic material, and contains servomotors, radiation monitors, thermometer, heartbeat monitor, cooling system and air filters.
(The press conference was briefly interrupted by an unnamed 'doctor', who claimed that Cyberdyne Inc. was engaged in secret projects that could endanger the public. Cyberdyne Inc. declined to comment.)

Sunday, 14 October 2012

TEPCO finally admits responsibilty

Above, you can see the final draft of the front and back cover for "3/11:The Fallout". As we count down to the publication date in November, here are the same of the latest revelations concerinng the event that changed a nation forever.
TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) released a statement on Friday Oct 12th stating for the first time that the nuclear accident could have been avoided. It said that important safety measures were not implemented because they thought that protracted debate on safety would damage the reputation of nuclear power and arouse doubt and fear in the public mind.
The statement was released during the Friday meeting of TEPCO's Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, headed by former US nuclear regulatory chief Dale Klein. This marks a major reversal of TEPCO's earlier stance, where they maintained the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami were wholly responsible for the nuclear meltdown. This comes at the end of the week when Prime Minister Noda travelled to the destroyed plant to meet the Fukushima 50 - the popular name for the TEPCO crew who struggled to bring the reactors under control back in March 2011.
The prospect of a nuclear-free future was dealt a surprise blow on Sep 18th when the Cabinet failed to approve the Government's new energy policy. Despite the typical attempts to avoid responsibility,
Although the Government has been typically vague this month about the details of the plan to phase out nuclear power in Japan,
 there are signs of hope. Japan's New Energy and Industrial Development Organization (NEDO) unveiled its plans for nationwide "smart-grid" systems, inspired by President Obama's Green New Deal policy back in 2009. A number of major companies, such as Sony, Panasonic and Microsoft Japan, are encouraging their employees to begin 'teleworking' from home to reduce commuting. Mori Building Co. and Yahoo Japan held a large earthquake drill in Roppongi to test how Twitter could be used to find shelters and locate casualties.
Despite these events. however, fears are growing over whether the government funds marked for the stricken areas in Tohoku will ever reach the people they are intended to help.
More data to follow...

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Reconstruction of Tohoku: Where are the Funds?

The struggle of the people of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures is not over ... in fact, it's only just beginning.