Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’
Category Food, Japan, Japanese Politics, News, Shopping in Japan, Tokyo
After a week’s worth of uncertainty over whether or not we would a) have a massive aftershock, b) be inhaling clouds of radioactive dust, or c) endure a and b at the same time, things in Tokyo are getting back to normal. We’re not out of the woods as far as Fukushima Daiichi is concerned, but the likelihood of radiation causing harm to the capital’s residents was minimal to begin with (as this transcript between the British Embassy in Tokyo and the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor makes clear), and further decreases as the days go by. Obviously it is a massive problem for those who live near the power plant, and will probably cause health scares for months to come as scientists discover traces of radioactive materials in food and soil, but I’m confident that Japan will get through it. The real issue at hand is the colossal scale of destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami in north eastern prefectures. Entire towns have been wiped out, thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been made homeless.
As for whether events at Fukushima Daiichi will cause Japan to switch away from nuclear power, in the short term yes, they will. Fossil-fuel will have to make up for the current electricity shortfall until damaged nuclear plants can be fully checked and repaired. In the medium term, though, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a dramatic shift away from nuclear power. The industry is very well established in Japan and, unless there is a truly monumental change in energy policy, the government will continue to support it. Efforts will be made to make existing nuclear plants safer, but at present the only viable alternatives – coal, gas and oil – carry health risks of their own, and are hardly the best way forward for a country looking to reduce its greenhouse emissions and dependence on imported fuel. It would be fantastic if the government embraced renewable energy sources, but current investment in them is pretty dire: hydroelectric and other renewable sources produce about 3-4% of Japan’s electricity – a smaller share than in 1980. Nuclear power, on the other hand, produces about 30%. (In stark contrast to Japan, Germany produces more than 16% of its electricity from renewable sources, and intends to increase this amount to 80% by 2050. It’s also on course to shut down all commercial nuclear power plants by 2020.)
Anyway, back to the situation in Tokyo. Rolling blackouts will continue for the near future, though the inner-city commercial districts have not been disastrously affected by them. This weekend most shops in Marunouchi were open, but they shut early (6pm). They’ll probably continue to operate shorter hours until power supplies stabilise and suburban commuter trains are able to reliably bring staff to work. Incidentally, there would be little need for blackouts if more offices turned off unnecessary lights and heating systems: too many are paying lip service to power conservation while suburban households are having to make do without electricity and water for hours at a time.
Food supplies are getting back to normal. (Most supermarkets and convenience stores are restocked three or four times a day, which means that even the slightest disruption to logistics causes headaches.) Milk and bread were in short supply last week, and actually still are today. I couldn’t even buy orange juice this evening!
Yes, I know that picking on British tabloids for their accuracy is like shooting fish in a barrel, but it’s so much fun!
On Friday the Daily Mail ran the following story:
You could find a few die-hard Brits and other expatriates who wouldn’t leave their beers on the counter in the party-time district of Roppongi for any threatening radioactive cloud, but mostly Tokyo has become eerily quiet. Nobody wants to venture out and the streets are deserted.
…a city in fear – a city that was plunged into darkness last night as electricity was cut to conserve power following the massive loss of production at Fukushima.
‘They’ve said I can leave early,’ the blonde [British hostess], heavily wrapped in leather and furs, said in her north country accent. ‘A lot of us haven’t seen much of the news – how bad is it, then?’
There was no one in the whole of Tokyo who could tell her that, and even if they did, would it be the truth?
Today, however, another Mail reporter, probably in desperation after not finding anyone selling their own baby for a ticket out of Tokyo, has decided to put a “Well, they’re behaving in a very British way. Good on them” spin on things:
For a ghost town supposedly on the brink of imploding, Tokyo was rocking last night.
…the streets of the world’s third-largest city are teeming.
…there had been no ‘mass panic’ among the Britons in Japan. One aircraft carrying those wanting to fly out was leaving later that day, with further flights due over the weekend – ‘although they are no way going to be full’, she said with a disappointed shrug.
[the reporter's translator said] ‘You can see for yourself that is not the case. Here in Japan we are more like the British with their stiff upper lip.
‘We admire you because we are similar. We don’t panic.
Panic? Of course not! None of the Brits even considered leaving, and I’m sure none of them phoned the British Embassy to bollock civil servants for not doing enough to get them the eff out of this nuclear hellhole. Whatever gave you that idea?
Well, today I:
- went to work in central Tokyo (just 15 mins walk from the British Embassy) on a busy-as-usual train;
- had curry for lunch – as I often do – at the Indian restaurant up the street from my office;
- left for home an hour early because of a feared power cut (that never happened);
- bought dinner from an entirely normal seeming food hall at my local station;
- watched TV.
Keely Fujiyama, on the other hand, probably spent her day scraping radioactive lichen off her bathroom wall for dinner. Nerima-ku (which is actually closer to central Tokyo than where I live) is apparently “like London in the zombie movie 28 Days Later.”
Yesterday’s massive earthquake and tsunami has caused widespread damage across the coast of north east Japan. The Japanese television networks are getting lots more reporters to affected areas today; the devastation is enormous.
Here in Tokyo the damage has been minimal, though several people have died, mostly from falling masonry. I was at work in Chiyoda (right in the heart of the city) at the time and knew it was serious when books started flying off shelves. The urge to leg it out of the building as fast as possible was immense, but there really wasn’t time: the only thing I could do was leap under my desk.
It wasn’t really possible to leave work straight after the quake hit. Aftershocks were frequent and mobile phone call and text message services were jammed because of the sheer number of people trying to use them.
Amazingly, the most reliable way of communicating with people on mobile phones was through Twitter and Facebook, as cellular data services were still working okay. If you haven’t got either of these services installed on your mobile phone, I suggest you do so, just in case another big quake hits over the next few weeks. I’ve just opened a Twitter account (@AndyInTokyo) for this reason.
Most, if not all, the trains stopped, so my wife (who works nearby) and myself – as well as hundreds of thousands of other people – had to walk all the way across Tokyo to get home. It was all quite surreal.
Train services are operating in Tokyo today, but service is limited. The best place to be at the moment is home.
If anyone wants to get in touch by email you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If I was the mayor of Tokyo the following people would be thrown to starving lions:
- Rush-hour commuters who stand directly in front of ticket barriers while they look for their train pass
- Cyclists who cycle through, rather than wait for, groups of pedestrians at crossings
- Housewives who walk four abreast – and at a snail’s pace – along narrow pavements
- Kids who are so busy playing with their phones that they can’t walk in a straight line
- Old men who think out loud, loudly. Eg, “Souu KA”, “Sore wa giri-giri KaNAAA”
- People who run for empty train seats as if sitting down was the Most Important Thing in the World, only to get off the train ten minutes later
- People who don’t hold doors open for others
- Middle-aged men who spit anywhere and everywhere
- Customers who fail to use common niceties, like “Please” and “Thank you”, when talking to waitresses and staff
- Salarymen who clip their fingernails at their desks
- Middle-aged women who talk in high-pitched voices because they think it’s “cute”
Did you know that you can go to the top of Mori Tower (that’s the biggest building in the Roppongi Hills complex)? Well, you can, and here are the photos to prove it:
Although going on the roof is okay, standing on the helipad is a no-no. Spoilsports.
There are a number of security guards posted around the edge of the roof, just in case you should try anything terroristy.
The view from the roof is pretty tasty. Shame that my phone’s camera isn’t good enough to take a really decent photo of it.
Earlier this month it seemed likely that Ichiro Ozawa, backroom wheeler-dealer and master of the political dark arts, would be successful in his bid to become leader of the DPJ, a result that would also make him Japan’s fourth prime minister in four years. However, it now appears that victory is far from certain: DJP MP Banri Kaeda, one of Ozawa’s most prominent backers, now thinks that “the situation is very severe”. In other words, he doesn’t think Ozawa will beat incumbent Naoto Kan.
Although a recent opinion poll showed that less than 20% of the Japanese public think Ozawa should be prime minister, he continues to enjoy the majority of support among the DPJ’s MPs. While this may look like – and indeed probably would be – electoral suicide on the MPs’ part, a large number of them owe Ozawa their political careers. To vote against him would be to make a very powerful enemy – Ozawa isn’t called ‘the destroyer’ for nothing.
It isn’t just MPs who get to vote, though: local assembly members and regional officials are also having their say, albeit with reduced influence (MPs’ votes are worth twice as much as the other two combined). If Kan can sway enough members of these two groups to back him, as well as a large number of the 60 MPs who have yet to decide, he may be able to hold on. Kaeda seems to think that this may very well happen.
Defeat for Ozawa may be good for the DPJ’s electoral chances – and for Japanese politics in general – but it could spell disaster for Ozawa himself: he is currently under investigation for funding irregularities. Holders of high offices in government are immune from prosecution, but as Ozawa’s chances of becoming PM slip away he may very well be indicted, just like three of his aides were this February.
Category Japan, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Technology, Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Politics, News, Only in Japan, Tokyo
My, doesn’t time fly in the world of Japanese politics? It seems like only yesterday that Yukio Hatoyama and the DPJ finally managed to chuck the pork-barrellers of the LDP out of power, and yet here we are, just months later, with yet another unelected Japanese leader on our hands.
Putting questions of legitimacy to one side for the time being, it’s good to see that Naoto Kan, the new prime minister, isn’t from one of the grotesque political dynasties that dominate the Diet. The grandfathers of the last four prime ministers – Hatoyama, Aso, Fukuda and Abe – were also prime ministers themselves. Tellingly, none of these political darlings lasted longer than a year in office. It comes as no surprise that their ‘superior’ breeding and first-rate education failed to prepare them for the real world, and for the demands that come with governing the world’s second largest economy.
While Hatoyama doggedly dug his own grave over the US military base on Okinawa, Naoto Kan kept mum. By neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the idea of moving the base off the island he may very well be able to dodge the issue entirely, or at least kick it into the long grass for the time being. Hatoyama’s dithering seriously damaged the US administration’s trust in Japan. Kan needs to repair that trust, and also begin to enact the policies that the LDP fought last year’s election on, most notably reform of the institutionally corrupt bureaucracy.
The political elite have been in a malaise for so long that, like the chained prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave, they have little or no understanding of how the real world functions. Hopefully, Kan will be able to drag some of them towards the blinding reality of the outside world. Unfortunately, content with their world of shadows, most of them will probably try to get rid of him as swiftly as possible.