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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Winds of long-term hope.

'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.' And to know everything is impossible. How to find the truth, the bare objective facts gets harder every second in almost every area as new stats or discoveries are published.

Especially surrounding the secretive world of the Fukushima clean up and Japan's path toward alternative renewable energy sources. There is a massive amount of confusing data and political discrepancy about what is being planned longterm for energy infrastructure. There is no smart-grid reference, no clearly defined govt endorsed policy or map forward and we are left with all the big name industrial companies proposing agendas with diff priorities and timelines. It is so confusing.

Recently I learned that one of the leaders in our town for the promotion of wind energy was receiving threatening phone calls from citizens directly opposed to the expansion of the wind turbine program. It was just one of many incidents that have shown that the seeming solidarity of the anti nuke force has an equally solid and active opposition party.

One of the main objections to the expansion of WWS energy sources from laypeople is the initial cost and the necessary increase in electric bills needed short term in order to pay for the shift to an alternative energy network. Materials needed like neodymium for turbine gearboxes and indium for solar cells; lithium for ion batteries and fuel cell platinum. These are all metals or compounds that given funding can eventually be replaced with man made alternatives but as with almost every scientific innovation ever begun involve initial financial investment.

Surely the world and Japan needs to think long term not short term. Of course short term management and considerations are important too- dealing with the food labeling and testing of radioactivity for example, but short term projects are band aids not cures or promises that the same will not happen again.

Since 3.11 seismic activity along fault-lines under Japan, and in fact the whole world has increased dramatically. It is entirely possible that another major quake could hit Japan and another nuclear meltdown happen.

The cost of cleaning up Fukushima as well as the appalling health risks of any nuclear disaster has to be included in the package of 'cheaper' energy.

If the main public opposition to wind and solar power in Japan continues to be the initial expense we need to find a way to explain in simple terms to people the disparity of logic within the concepts of short term and long term gains.

If we continue to rely on nuclear energy in a land rocked by quakes and tidal waves (all nuclear plants in Japan are coastal) we will need - middle term- new plants, repair and huge safety reforms as well as long term the hidden costs of pollution, contamination of soil water and food supply, climate interference and more. Are the short term economic benefits really worth all this long term ecological and therefore ultimately economical sabotage? And if not, do we really care about our future as a human race?

The shift to dependency on wind and solar power is absolutely do-able. The initial expense and inconvenience is a small and reasonable price to pay. We should be embracing the idea with excitement and hope , not fear and suspicion. Japan lies under one of the highest wind density zones in the world. Wind can be harnessed at both ends of the inland sea by tidal flow turbines, generating electricity in both directions. Wind power produces zero greenhouse gases and pollutants; in terms of environmental impact, long term and middle term cost efficiency it is the top energy source available to us in Japan.

It is a crying shame that a commitment to change is so difficult to orchestrate and co- ordinate; and that we cannot widen our vision from macro to panorama.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Wind power

There are currently 1,870 wind turbines in Japan. Almost all are coastal (shore based) and few as yet are offshore. Offshore, meaning actually rooted in the ocean bed, would offer a huge new area for future wind power development and be preferable for many coastal residents who have complained about shore based turbines. They would also be able to tap more wind power, given that the best source of wind power has actually been found to be not on land at all. Energy returns from offshore wind turbines can actually double the total energy generation from inland turbines.

Away from natural land masses that act as wind barriers, such as mountains and man made constructions the ocean offers an open field that experiences constant wind which is the best wind supply for sustained blade turn, and therefore sustainable wind power.The energy created can be easily harnessed for inland use.
There would be many more turbines produced in Japan, generating much more power if there was not so much opposition from various parties for various reasons.. Some of these anti-turbine reasons include; noise pollution, sonic wave health and hearing effects, initial expense and aesthetics. These are reasons given against, by local coastal residents and government alike. When compared to the alternative (nuclear power plants) these reasons not only seem weak but are also surmountable with offshore alternatives..

Each average sized wind turbine is capable of producing between 1.000 to 2.000 kilowatts of electricity for a total of some 2.5 million kilowatts. Therefore, just one wind turbine has the capacity to produce more power than 2 or 3 small nuclear power plants. If this was not enough justification for the expense, it has to be noted that the Japan sea coast has the exact meteorology to favor this kind of energy resource. Average wind velocity is higher than that found and harnessed at Walney Wind Farm, in the United Kingdom which is the biggest offshore wind farm in the world.

On October 22nd, NEDO presented one of the largest turbines so far in Japan. It is situated off the Chiba coast and it features 46 meter long blades and stands 40 meters above sea level and is embedded in the ocean floor 3 kilometers deep. Perhaps this is the beginning of something to hope for just as recent news finds Japan ill disposed toward joining the Unted Nations` total outlaw of nuclear weapons.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

hikikomori : note #3.

 My dear friend Eiko has a best friend in Tokyo who she talks of. This friend has a son she told me who is 21 now and she has only seen him a few times in 4 years. She noticed he had a shoulder length beard last time she caught sight of him. He lives in her house however. In fact, he lives in the kitchen, locked himself in. They had to build another kitchen. Why did she not knock the door down and demand he came out? Because these kids are so fragile she said, they live in fear of him committing suicide. She doesnt want to lose him, she loves him. Maybe, she is scared of him too. She leaves food outside his door on a tray. He never leaves his room except to take the tray. This kind of acceptance and waiting may be impossible for Mothers brought up in other cultural societies to understand. It is a very complex integrated jenga block system of emotions,  walls and communication breakdowns that are involved in all family and social  dynamics leading here and something I cannot explain or anyone explain simply or quickly..

There are as many non-Japanese journalists, psychologists, spectators and travelers,  as Japanese who are researching the domestic problem we have with the rising number of the peculiar-to-Japan phenomena of hikikomori ..

The social problem is becoming a political agenda with writers blaming everything from over-mothering parental style to Japan`s economic recovery after the war. Some in the US are even wanting to have it officially named as an official psychotic disorder. Hikikomori   is however not something to be used as a weapon for our own agenda and I would like to question if we are making a big mistake giving it disease status . Yes, it is a very serious and painful problem here that touches all who are even remotely involved with it and discussion of it by people who have no direct experience of it and wish to use it as proof for any number of theories does not help because exactly like the shutting away isolation main feature of hikikomori itself, it lumps all the shut- ins into one category which is exactly what they are all running from.

Hikikomori is not simply playing truant. It is not just shutting the door of their room as many teenagers the world over do with a sign saying Keep is not only about teenagers wanting to be alone. It is a scream from the heart of a child who is so sensitive, he or she is unable to shelter from the stress of what is expected of him/her and so he or she hides and waits. More often than not, for years and years. It is peculiar to Japan for many reasons, too many to list, the most commonly mentioned being the associated stress features of shame/failure/face and a one way- one rule structure to society that is particular in this culture BUT this too I believe is not what we should be focusing on because we cannot change the culture overnight and we cannot change the cultural roots and values of a person overnight. We must instead, provide these people with coping strategies and recovery strategies and most importantly ways out. Practical help for real people who we respect for their own ways of thinking, and not sympathy and blame shuffle for diseased people who we give help to with drugs.

 In discussing the problem as one big bucket social issue that must be dealt with by education and governmental ministries alike, are we not missing the whole point? That these children and young adults are crying out for individual attention, for their own voice to be heard, for having  opinions or thoughts that are not the norm or they fear may be ridiculed, for being... bless them...a little different.

In 2011, over 200,000  elementary and junior high school students (小中学生, ) were futoukou (不登校, absent from school) almost all  due to ijime, bullying problems, according to stats reported in the Asahi Shimbun. Futoukou is often a precursor for hikikomori. Not always but it is definitely the first sign we have a child who is having difficulties adapting to expectations and now might be the time to encourage latent talents that are not being noticed. To allow for students to drop subjects they hate, to allow for students to have more options. As of now, for example curriculum requirements focus on Japanese, English, Maths and Social studies only as the 4 main classes students must excel in equally to enter a top university to Changing this to allow for equal status to be given to an optional class is a simple curriculum innovation we could take if Monkashou  文部科学省would let us. It just might help to prevent the pile up in later years of hikikomori.

As Mother of a Japanese son who has now recovered from hikikomori, this subject is dear to my heart and I welcome any personal stories to add to my ongoing research.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Still no clear decontamination path mapped out.

On May 4th there was a conference in New York given by a group of research Professors (including Hiroaki Koide -nuclear specialist and Prof. at Kyoto Nuclear Research Reactor Institute and medical professionals on the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan) for the benefit of the global community,mainly Americans and with the purpose of bringing the latest data by word of mouth directly to America where there is understandable concern about the ocean carrying nuclear waste to the west coast shores.

Although this was a valuable lecture, it was frustrating that many things were not mentioned, challenged or discussed. The new data is alarming, but we knew and feared the worst anyway. From the perspective of someone who must remain here in North Japan, and all of us who have families, roots here and lack financial means to escape I would have liked to have heard more about what suggestions are being made for decontaminating hot spots and addressing fishery and ground water problems.

Now is the time when great minds should turn the focus from analyzing exact data and put their wisdom into innovations to set global standards for dealing with this kind of unimaginable scenario. This is all new territory and we need global help and we need it now. While Chernobyl can teach us much, Fukushima has become the world`s largest nuclear meltdown and as such, Japan has to act as world leader setting out new protocol in clean up and decontamination strategies.

These strategies have to come out of University Research Centers and be presented to the government with more pressure because the govt has proved it will not initiate research funds in any other way.. Yes, the govt has lied to us and the whole country is angered by the way that Fukushima has been dealt with from day one, but in a govt led country with such extremely stringent law enforcement there is no other way but to get acceptance through them and the go ahead for all decontamination/nuclear core location efforts via global pressure.

There has to be some way (robots, by air etc) to get closer to plant 4 for longer periods to speed up it`s cold shutdown. There has to be a place thought up for hotspot debris to go. There has to be a decontamination method or chemical sanitation process that carries least risk. It was these kind of repair issues I wanted to see discussed and am so disappointed to find are still not making news.This is where research is needed now. The conflicting data and arguments over precise becquerel figures is no longer a priority.

Meanwhile people living here, continue to fight depression by reading about and supporting those individuals who are doing their best to help others who have it worse than themselves. NPO charities and groups who are making things better in small ways for some people. And yet there is something intrinsically heart breaking about the limits of all this love and care that is a small band aid on a gaping wound. We are all grimly aware (despite carrying on our lives as close to normal as we can for sanity`s sake) that we are floating in a time capsule, a grisly experiment that will show results in decades to come and which is the first of its kind worldwide. We have to hope that the fascination with stats, numbers and graphs finally subdues, and that nuclear scientists will find practical, viable solutions to the plethora of problems that need solutions and that these will be adopted by the govt, under global pressure asap.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Packing Up. Moving On.

Sendai is the longest I have ever lived in the same place. It is my home, where I gave birth to my kids, and journeyed with them through kindergarten to high school; where I too grew up in mind and spirit and made so many dear friends. It isn't just the emotion of leaving a city you love it is the emotion of leaving the security of a place that is all you can remember as being what life is and means.

I am surrounded by boxes. Small piles of memories packed into boxes to move to Sakata. Actually I feel again the need to discard possessions and live barely. When i left England  decades ago, I left all my material possessions behind, a complete re-birth, so liberating. I'd like to do the same now but the books..I will need...and the practical, essential necessities to keep oneself clean and healthy I cannot afford to re-purchase.

I want to still support Sendai. I plan to continue the 'yakuin' volunteer work for Kokoroya and Dr Odaira's suicide prevention and support work. Not that I did as much as I would have liked time to have allowed, but it is a soul satisfying part of my life I wish to continue. There is also plenty I am in a position to do, in terms of encouraging students to continue supporting restoration efforts, despite living a distance away.

It's a 3 and a half hour drive to west-coast/Japan sea coast Sakata. It's an old port city, steeped in tradition like the Sankyo Storehouse and it is  also home to the famous photographer Ken Domon.and his museum.
Population is only 111.477 with extremely low density compared to Sendai where density is high and population now well over a million. It is the city where Okuribito/Departures and Silk were filmed.

I found a little cottage like home just a 10 minute or so walk from the beach. So pretty.It's also 10 minute walk to the University where I start work from April 2nd. My research will be in how we can adapt educational curriculums to be more appropriate for better global interaction/communication and at the same time develop a more eco- friendly style of living in the community. And of course I will continue with my research passion for the serious and ever-growing social problem of hikikomori.

Sakata is home to the biggest solar power and wind power installation in the whole of Japan. This is exciting.
I want to learn so much more.