Sexual discrimination at entrance to Tokyo Medical University

According to the statistics recently released by the Ministry of Education, the proportion of women in undergraduate studies in Japan as in May, 2018 reached 45%, the highest ever. They were 31.3% and 33.6% in master’s and doctorate courses respectively, also the highest ever (https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL825K6WL82UTIL03R.html?iref=comtop_list_edu_n01, 2018/08/02). Despite this trend of women gaining more ground in higher learning, Tokyo Medical University, a prestigious private school, was recently found to be limiting the number of female applicants admitted to the school.

東京医科大学A

The school was said to have been slashing women applicants’ entrance exam scores by 10-15%. The practice apparently began around 2011 after the ratio of women among successful applicants reached 38% in 2010 (“Tokyo medical school ‘changed test scores to keep women out’”, The Guardian, 2018/08/04).

It was reported that in 2018 there were a total of 2,614 applicants to the university, of which 1,596 were men (61%) and 1,018 women (39%). After a mark-sheet exam at the first stage, 451 applicants, comprising 303 men (67%) and 148 women (33%), advanced to the second and final stage, consisting of interviews and essay writing. At this stage, 19% of men applicants (303/ 1596) advanced to the final stage, as opposed to 14.5% of women applicants (148 / 1018). Following the second stage, 171 applicants in total, comprising 141 men (82.5%) and 30 women (17.5%), were admitted. This means that 8.8% of the original men applicants (141/1596) and only 2.9% of women applicants (30/1,018) were successful as shown in the graph below (https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL8254KNL82UTIL02G.html, 2018/08/02).

Successful Candidates at Tokyo Med.U

This discriminatory practice by the school was just uncovered during the investigation of a corruption involving its administrators. They had been accused of granting a back-door entrance to a son of a senior education ministry official in exchange for a handsome government subsidy.

When this scandal was first reported in the media, not only the women but also the men who are currently studying there were outraged and staged a demonstration at its front gate. They demanded that such a practice be stopped immediately and a thorough investigation be conducted. Dr. Yoshiko Maeda, the president of the Japan Medical Women’s Association, also denounced the practice, citing the law enacted in 2016 for promoting more women to be active in the labour market under P.M. Abe. The practice is also in gross violation of Articles 14 and 22 of the Japanese Constitution, prohibiting such discrimination and guaranteeing the freedom of occupation, as pointed out by Prof. Noriko Wakao at Bukkyo University (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/list/201808/CK2018080502000121.html).

The school administrators apologized for the practice; however, they justified it on the ground that women were more likely to drop out of school or quit the profession after marriage or childbirth. Since the medical university provides doctors to the hospitals of affiliation, they feared that there would be a serious shortage of doctors if school admission was strictly based on exam scores (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/s/article/2018080390070239.html). The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare data do support their concern. While 89.9% of men doctors usually remain in the profession 12 years after obtaining medical license, the proportion for women is down to 73.4% (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/list/201808/CK2018080302000139.html).

What I found sad was the results of a survey conducted among women doctors on the practice, carried out by the publisher of a web magazine targeting women in medical profession. A total of 103 responded. Among them, 18.4% were “understandable” and 46.6% “somewhat understandable” of the practice.  Though they were not fully supportive of the discrimination, they seemed to be resigned to the hard reality where it’s necessary for any institution to secure enough staff for its smooth running (https://www3/nhk.or.jp/news/html/20180808/k10011568421000.html).

When women doctors take maternity leave, it seems that they are unjustly made to feel guilty, though, in my view, the lack of adequate medical staff is mainly due to the failure of those in charge of human resource planning at national and institutional levels. Women have all the right to demand that equality in entering any profession be respected. They may also press that friendly work environment be provided to help them remain fully active beyond marriage and childbirth. This is particularly important for the Japanese women who are known to carry far heavier family responsibilities than women in other OECD countries. After all, doesn’t the government now promote a higher birthrate to decelerate the speed of population decline and encourage more women to “shine” and be active to contribute to national economic growth? In order not to allow the government slogans to become mere empty promises, women have to be more vocal with specific demands.

In relation to the above demands, not only women in medical profession but all categories of workers in all economic fields should remind the government of the fact that Japan already ratified ILO Convention No. 156 on Workers with Family Responsibilities back in 1995. Any signatory of this convention is expected to draw up a national policy to provide community services, public or private, to enable persons with family responsibilities to engage in employment without being subject to discrimination. I wonder how much progress Japan has made in this respect since the ratification in 1995.

 

 

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Posted in democracy, Economic development, Happiness, Japan, Labour issues, Men and Development, Multicultural, occupation, skills training, Women & Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women and Tradition

A recent controversy in Japan relating to women and tradition stems from a life-threatening incident on dohyo, a Sumo ring on a square, earthen mound-like platform where wrestlers, clad only in a loincloth-like belt, compete for muscle power and technique. There are 6 major Sumo tournaments annually held in odd months: those held in January, May and September take place in Tokyo, while the rest are organized in Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka chronologically. In between these tournaments, the Japan Sumo Association arranges tours in smaller cities to enable their residents to enjoy exciting matches in front of their very eyes.Sumo ring(from BBC news)

The incident took place when Mr. Ryozo Tatami, the mayor of Maizuru, near Kyoto, was delivering his speech on dohyo on April 4th at one of such tours. He suddenly collapsed, apparently of heart attack. What followed was widely televised on news. Several men rushed onto the ring and knelt down around the mayor lying flat on his back, but they seemed totally helpless, not knowing what should be done next. Seeing those men in utter confusion, two women, apparently medics in the audience, rushed and got onto the ring. Initially they seemed hesitant to get involved, but seeing the men doing nothing useful, they pushed them aside and started performing the artificial resuscitation (AR) procedures. Even if an ambulance had been called, the AR procedures had to be performed immediately and continuously till the arrival of emergency medical servicemen (EMS), if a life is to be saved. However, while the women were hard at trying to save the mayor, an announcement was made repeatedly over a loud speaker, ordering women to get down from the ring.

Everyone heard the male voice loud and clear. The women seemed a bit hesitant, but eventually ignored the order and continued the AR procedure until the arrival of EMS. Thanks to the action taken by these women who knew exactly what had to be done in such a situation, the mayor’s life was saved. Though what came after this incident was not on TV news, it was reported that the association’s staff had sprinkled lots of salt over the ring (http://bbc.com/news/world-asia-43652428, including the above photo) . Salt is traditionally used in Japan to drive evil spirit away or to cleanse/purify oneself/space after getting dirtied or engaging in actions linked to what is considered as impurity, including death (e.g. I had to follow the custom in my native area of cleaning hands with salt upon returning home from the cremation of my father I attended in 1971.).

The women audience must have been offended by this act as it seemed to have implied that the association had considered that its “sacred” ring had been dirtied by the women who had been on it and thus the space had to be purified. After TV viewers heard the announcement while watching the news of the women’s laudable action, the Sumo association was reported to have been bombarded by calls of criticism from both men and women for its clinging to the archaic tradition even in time of emergency. So the president of the association had to issue a statement apologizing for the announcement which, he admitted, had been inappropriate in that situation.

However, the association is still adamant in its position of keeping women away from the ring. Soon after the incident in Maizuru, the Sumo tour moved on to Takarazuka, not far from Kobe, where its mayor, Ms. Tomoko Nakagawa, was forced to stand on a podium outside dohyo to deliver her opening speech. Apparently, she had tried to have the association agree to have her stand in the ring, but the latter did not budge. The mayor found it discriminatory and humiliating, but the association defended its position of observing the “sacred” tradition, which, it said, had nothing to do with discrimination (from the article “Japan female mayor battles men-only sumo rule” appearing on The Straits Times, April 24, 2018).

The issue is nothing new. Back in 1990, Ms. Mayumi Moriyama, the first woman Cabinet Secretary under Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu had planned to hand out, on behalf of the prime minister, the PM’s cup to the winner of the January tournament in Tokyo. However, the association refused her, citing the tradition. A similar incident took place in Osaka in 2000 involving Ms. Fusae Ohta, then governor of Osaka (http://huffingtonpost.jp/20180404/sumou-women_a_23403382/). As far as this controversy is concerned, nothing has changed for decades.

What is then so sacred about dohyo that the Sumo association wants to keep it off-limit to women at all cost when all traditions around us gradually change and adapt to new situation? The popular belief is that Sumo, considered as Japan’s national sport, originated from rituals of Shintoism which is a collection of native beliefs and mythology, worshipping multitude of spirits, including war heroes, and practiced at various occasions such as harvest festivals (Wikipedia). Shinto faith is also popularly known to have associated blood with impurity, thus women have been considered to be ritually unclean because of menstruation and child birth. But, if men seriously believe women to be the sex of impurity, I question their mental soundness as we all, both men and women, were covered with blood when we came out of mother’s womb. After all, blood should be considered as a sign of life.Shinto shrine gate

This controversy brought back my memory from half a century ago when I was a university student in the US. I once followed a cultural anthropology course given by a Pakistani professor. I remember him telling us about an old tradition in his native society where girls/women had to remain in a special house during their menstruation. If I remember him correctly, the reason for isolating such women was also due to linking blood to impurity. It might be a bit understandable that women in olden days without effective feminine napkins or tampons available to them had been obliged to stay in a special location during the period.

Another memory in relation to this issue stems from my first visit to a Hindu temple in Bali, Indonesia during my 3-year stint in Jakarta in the late 1980s. After visiting a vocational training project implemented by my office, I had some free time before flying back to Jakarta, so decided to visit a temple. When I arrived at the gate, however, I was disappointed by a sign in both Bahasa Indonesia and English, barring menstruating women from entering the temple ground. Though feeling a bit uneasy as I was indeed having my period at that time, I decided to enter the temple ground anyway. I was sure that I would not dirty the premises and was convinced that Hindu deities would not reject any visitors in modern age.Hindu temple gate

Another view explaining Sumo’s tradition of barring women from the ring is held by some historians who link its origin to Shugendoh. It is an amalgamation of beliefs, philosophies, doctrines and ritual systems drawn from local folk-religious practices, pre-Buddhist mountain worship, Shintoism, Taoism and esoteric Buddhism, evolved during the 7th century” in Japan (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shugendo). One such historian is Yuhji Seki, who thinks the Sumo association does not even understand where its “tradition” comes from, which, he thinks, is the reason behind the confusion (http://blogos.com/article/295570/?p=2).

According to Seki, Shugendoh’s practitioners have worshipped mountains as the source of mother land with abundance and good harvest. They have also believed mountain kami (or god) to be female who would feel jealous if women were on it. For that reason, women in the past were indeed forbidden to climb many high mountains. He considers dohyo as a symbolic representation of mountain, and for that reason, the Japan Sumo association still clings to that tradition and prohibits women from getting on it. In other words, he believes that the practice of worshipping mountain goddess has been the basis behind the exclusion of women from the ring.

Whatever the explanation suggested, I feel that there was no justification on the part of the Sumo association for having treated Ms. Nakagawa the way it had as we live in the 21st century. It was sexual discrimination, simple and plain. She is apparently determined to have this situation changed by making a petition every six months (The Straits Times, op. cit.). I fully support her effort as nothing will change regarding women’s issues in Japan unless we raise our voices against unfair treatment by men who justify their stance with archaic “tradition” which they don’t even understand where it originated.

Posted in History, Japan, Men and Development, Multicultural, Mystery, Philosophy, Women & Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historical revisionism and Denial

Towards the end of last year, I saw a 2016 film Denial, written by David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson. The movie was based on a book entitled History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, written by Deborah Lipstadt, an American Holocaust scholar. The book is said to be based on Lipstadt’s real experience, in which she was sued for libel in the UK by a Nazi Germany scholar and Holocaust denier David Irving. It stars Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt and Tom Wilkinson as barrister Richard Rampton, among others.Denial_(2016_film)

In a libel case in the UK, the burden of proof lies with the accused, and the defense team had to prove that the accuser had lied about the Holocaust. Irving represented himself. In preparing for the case, Lipstadt and Rampton toured the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and the defense team examined Irving’s extensive personal diaries. Irving tried very hard to discredit and twist the evidence presented by the defense team

During the course of the trial, Lipstadt became frustrated by her team for making her sidelined in the case and for not allowing a Holocaust survivor she came to know during the course of the trial to be given the chance to testify. Her wishes were totally rejected by her team on the ground that Irving would only humiliate and discredit the survivor on cross-examination in case her memories were shaky, which he would exploit to his advantage. Through his skillful cross-examination of Irving, Rampton successfully exposed the absurdity of Irving’s claims, while experts taking the stand clearly showed the distortions in his past written works.

Before concluding the trial, the judge momentarily wondered if Irving truly believed in his own claims, in which case he could not be considered as a liar as Lipstadt had asserted. At the end, however, he was convinced of her description of the Holocaust denier and scholar as deceitful. Her legal team reminded her that though she did not take the stand in the trial, her solid writing was the basis for it to successfully challenge his lies to win the case ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial_(2016_film).

While watching the film, I first thought it was based on a story going back half a century ago, at least, or more. I was surprised to learn that Irving had disrupted Lipstadt during her lecture in 1994, yelling her not to teach lies. The trial ended only in April, 2000 (an article Hitei to Koutei,, Shuukan MDS, Dec. 29, 2017), not so long ago, considering that 72 years have passed since the defeat of the Nazi Germany. I had imagined that the Holocaust as a historical truth had been universally recognized since a long ago. So I was astonished to find out that there were still educated people such as Irving who denied it. I suppose historical revisionist is everywhere at any period. Sad to say, there are many of them in Japan, as well.

A few days after seeing the movie and while glancing at my Facebook account, my eyes were suddenly glued to a photo posted by someone linked to me on FB. It was that of the former defense minister of Japan, Tomomi Inada, giving a speech in Tokyo. A big banner indicating the occasion of the gathering hung above her and across the stage. It said “Important Lecture to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the capture of Nanjing: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wake up! There was no Nanjing massacre!” Though I knew Tomomi Inada to be ultra nationalist and a historical revisionist closely associated with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, I couldn’t believe that she would be openly challenging the official position of the foreign ministry of Japan concerning the historical incident.稲田朋美2017Dec.

I first thought it was a fake news that someone had posted on FB as a joke. However, a newspaper article confirmed that Inada had delivered a speech at a gathering of the “group seeking the truth on Nanjing incident” on Dec. 13th, the day Japan captured the then capital of China 80 years ago (http://www.sankei.com/politics/news/171214/plt1712140010-nl.html). According to the article, Inada had appealed to the audience that in challenging China’s political campaign to attempt to discredit Japan, she could not allow the foreign ministry to accept the Nanjing massacre as a historical truth. She and other speakers proposed that the Japanese government strengthen its communication ability to speak out its position. Inada stressed that “in order to safeguard Japan’s honor, we must firmly refute groundless accusations against our country” and pledged that she would focus her political career on defending national interest.

I find it chilling to see a prominent politician in Japan openly speaking such non-sense to a large audience. It’s a known fact that Japan had invaded neighboring Asian countries in the first half of the 20th century, and atrocities committed in a number of countries in the region are well documented and undeniable, which were the reasons for the unconditional surrender Japan was forced to accept at her defeat in WWII. So what about the foreign ministry’s position on Nanjing massacre Inada is objecting to?

So I checked out what the Japanese foreign ministry had to say regarding Nanjing massacre.   The following is what I found:

  1. The Government of Japan believes that it cannot be denied that following the entrance of the Japanese Army into Nanjing in 1937, the killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other acts occurred. However, there are numerous theories as to the actual number of victims, and the Government of Japan believes it is difficult to determine which the correct number is.
  2. The feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for the actions during the war have been upheld consistently by the post-war Cabinets. Such feelings were expressed in the form of the Murayama Statement on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, and those feelings of remorse and apology were also carried forth via the Koizumi Statement issued to commemorate the 60th anniversary.
  3. Such feelings of remorse and apology articulated by previous Cabinets will be upheld as unshakable, which was made clear in the Statement by the Prime Minister on 14 August, 2015 (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/q_a/faq16.html).

As shown above, the ministry reluctantly admits atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Nanjing, though it takes a defensive position, indicating the difficulty of proving the actual number of victims. However, even if the number of the victims is disputed, that does not allow anyone to say that the incident in Nanjing never took place.  The important thing is that Japan admits the atrocities it committed in the past and expresses its heartfelt apology for the past action, and the issue of the exact number of victims should be secondary. As in the case of Irving denying the Holocaust, is Inada denying the Nanjing massacre as a historical truth entirely? In that case, all I can say is that she does not understand how to safeguard Japan’s “honor” or “national interest”.

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Lies, empty promises and deception around the Japanese nuclear policy

In March this year, Japan commemorated the sixth anniversary of the powerful earthquake and the tsunami responsible for destruction in vast areas along the northeastern coast of Honshu, north of Tokyo. These natural disasters caused power failure at a nuclear station in Fukushima, resulting in a level-7 accident, considered as serious as the one occurred in Chernobyl in 1986. The health of hundreds of thousands of people was threatened.  PM Abe claimed at the IOC Conference in Sept. 2013 in Buenos Aires, where Tokyo was chosen to host the Olympics games in 2020, that the leakage of radiation-contaminated water was “under control.” However, the problem has not yet been contained as of today. Thus, the health of people in affected areas is still at risk.

The survivors of the earthquake and the tsunami have more or less restarted their new lives. For those who had been forced to flee their homes and communities to avoid serious exposure to radiation, however, the problem of having to live with uncertainties is still very much an on-going issue. When the government and TEPCO (Tokyo Power Company), the operator of the Fukushima plant, decided to build a nuclear power station in the prefecture back in the late 1960s, they must have showered the local governments with cash, while promising their communities a bright future with “clean and safe” nuclear energy. This was shown by the slogans splashed across several gates erected in the late 1980s in the town of Futaba, where the plant is located, which still remains as a ghost town. One of the slogans saying “Nuclear Power: the energy of bright future!” used to welcome the visitors to town and to remind the residents of their promising future (the photo taken on Feb. 17, 2015 by Jiji Press). The gates stood till Dec. 2015, reminding the residents of the irony of what was promised and what had actually happened.

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Since the meltdown in Fukushima, most of the nuclear reactors elsewhere in Japan have been idle for check and maintenance. However, PM Abe’s government has been eager to see as many of them as possible restarted under the pretext of energy shortage, and a few of them have managed to obtain a green light by the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to be back in operation. One of the nuclear reactors now in operation since Aug. 2016 is Reactor No. 3 in Ikata, Shikoku, operated by the Shikoku electric power company, commonly known in Japan as “Yonden.” However, this plant is located near the base of Sadamisaki Peninsula, where the 40-km- long, narrow peninsula joins the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands comprising Japan.

四国地図3

The NRC claims that the particular reactor had met all its safety standards, which it asserts as the most stringent ones in the world, but it takes no responsibility with regard to the evacuation of residents in case of an accident. The evacuation operation at a time of a disaster is left for the host communities to deal with. However, Takashi Hirose, a well-known writer in Japan, warns that the the Ikata nuclear plant lies on the Median Tectonic Line, the major fault in Japan that runs from Kyushu, through Shikoku and to Honshu. Thus, the plant is located in an extremely dangerous spot.  There have been two powerful earthquakes in Kyushu causing immense destruction and many smaller ones reported along this fault since 2016. No one knows when a powerful one may hit the Ikata area that may cause another disaster like the one in Fukushima.

IkataNPP

The enlarged map of the peninsula shows that in case of a major earthquake in the area, the main road running to the tip is likely to be destroyed and the residents stranded. Small side roads may also become impassable, and rescue squads may not be able to reach different rural communities sparsely populated. The only way for the residents, mostly old and retired, to escape from radiation-contaminated areas would be by reaching to the shore. This may not be practical if roads and shorelines are destroyed by earthquake and if there is a risk of tsunami. The contamination of the Inland Sea could also destroy the major industries in the area, namely, fishing, tourism and marine transportation.

With regard to energy shortage the government claims, the data provided by Yonden itself refute this, according to the leaflet provided by the Liaison Group in Kohchi Prefecture for the Elimination of Nuclear Power and for the Promotion of Renewable Energy, 2016. As shown in the graph, Yonden had been capable of supplying more than 6 million KW of electricity just from non-nuclear energy sources between 2006 and 2015. On the other hand, the power use at the peak moment had been far below its supply capacity even from non-nuclear sources, especially since 2011. Furthermore, power demand declined since 2011, probably because consumers became more mindful of not wasting energy after the disaster and because many energy-saving electrical appliances have been developed.supply capacity and max consumption H

 

Due to a slow decline in Shikoku’s population, the electricity demand is not expected to increase much in the future. Therefore, the graph indicates that Yonden had no reason for restarting its nuclear reactor. Did it place its business interest over and above the safety and livelihood of the residents in the areas where Yonden has traditionally supplied electricity?

Various citizens’ groups, living near the nuclear reactors now in operation or soon to be restarted elsewhere in Japan, have initiated injunction lawsuits against the operators of the reactors on the ground that their health and livelihood were at risk. However, the separation of power seems little effective in Japan when the policies promoted by the national government are at stake. Sometimes, judges in lower courts are courageous enough to adjudicate in favor of complainants, but sadly, decisions in higher courts often side with the government.

A group of people in Hiroshima brought such a lawsuit against Yonden at their district court.  It asserted that safety measures at Ikata against major earthquake and tsunami might not be sufficient enough and that in case of a disaster, their health would also be seriously affected. On the other hand, Yonden maintained its position that the reactor’s safety had been secured by the measures imposed by the NRC based on the most recent scientific knowledge available. On March 30, the court in Hiroshima dismissed the complainants’ claim. However, this was only one of the few lawsuits against Yonden now going on as similar ones had also been filed at district courts in other cities (Nikkei, digital version, March 30, 2017). The complainants in Hiroshima have decided to appeal the recent decision to the higher court. Thus, their fight continues.

Since the late 1960s, the Japanese government has promoted nuclear power as a cheaper and cleaner energy source compared to fossil fuel, mostly imported. Thanks to this policy, a total of 54 reactors had been built throughout the country by 2011 and the investment in renewable energy remained relatively minor till then. There had always been skeptics and critics against the claims made by the government and the nuclear operators, but their voices had not been loud enough.

Since 2011, the Japanese people have been concerned about the total and eventual cost of the accident and who would pay for that. The government had attempted to estimate the cost, covering compensation, clean-up operations and decommissioning of the reactors. The initial estimate by the government was around 11 trillion yen (about 110 billion dollars), but it kept rising. The last one announced in Dec. 2016 was as high as 22 trillion yen, and this can still go up. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the one responsible for promoting nuclear energy, proposes that a part of the cost be added to electricity bills for all consumers during the next 40 years.

The consumers that METI refers to includes those who now buy power from the companies selling non-nuclear energy only. While well-established power companies enjoyed monopoly in their given areas till the end of March 2016, the liberalization of the market has allowed smaller, non-nuclear companies to enter. METI justifies its proposal on the ground that nuclear energy benefited everyone up to 2011 (Asahi Shimbun, dated Dec. 09, 2016). Does this mean that those who were born after 2011 would also be expected to foot the bill when they start living on their own till they reach 40? The debate continues.

What is more troubling is the new estimate recently presented by a private think tank called Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER). According to JCER, the cost of decommissioning alone could rise as high as to 32 trillion yen, as opposed to the latest estimate by METI of 8 trillion yen. As for the clean-up operation, JCER thinks as high as 30 trillion yen would be required, as opposed to 6 trillion yen estimated by METI. Both were in agreement on 8 trillion for compensation. In total, JCER’s estimate was as high as 70 trillion yen (Tokyo Shimbun, Web edition, April 02, 2017).

Who has more accurate calculation of the cost of accident in Fukushima remains to be seen. What is absolutely clear, however, is that nuclear energy has proven to be extremely costly and dangerous to people’s health and environment. So, what other justifications has our government now found in continuing to promote nuclear energy? If another powerful earthquake hits someplace in Japan, causing disaster like the one in Fukushima, would the authorities and the nuclear operator try to avoid taking responsibilities, as they have done in Fukushima, by saying that such a powerful earthquake was simply unexpected based on the most recent scientific knowledge available?

 

 

 

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Inhumane Treatment of Nuclear Disaster Victims

On October 02, I visited the towns of Tomioka and Naraha in Fukushima prefecture. Tomioka is situated within 10 km south of Fukushima Dai-ichi (No. 1) nuclear power plant, where four of the six reactors exploded following the major earthquake and the tsunami of March 11, 2011. It is now a ghost town as it is still under a mandatory evacuation order. Many houses along the road we toured by bus appeared still new, as if they had been built just before the disaster. They also looked intact, at least from the outside, but the owners may never be able to return to them.

Arriving in front of the Tomioka Dai-ni (No. 2) junior high school, our guide suggested that we get off to take a quick peek through the glass door of its gym. The area had not been affected by the tsunami, and the evacuation order was apparently issued in the middle of a graduation ceremony being held there. One can imagine how panicky people inside must have become at the news of the first explosion close by. Papers and chairs were scattered on the gym floor in chaos. One can imagine that there was at least an auspicious event going on when people suddenly had to flee. The red-and-white-striped curtain still hung around the walls inside.

I then took a quick look at the athletic field. After 5.5 years since the accident, the whole ground was overtaken by thick and tall weeds. One would not realize that it had been the area where kids used to run, play baseball, etc. Even the goals for soccer game were almost covered by the overgrown weeds. Standing there, I wondered where the children and their families had fled to.

img_0348-1

Tomioka Dai-ni Junior High’s athletic field

On the other hand, the situation in Naraha, about 15 km south of the nuclear power station, is a bit different. The evacuation order for the town was lifted on Sept. 05, 2015 after decontamination work had been carried out. According to Mr. Tokuo Hayakawa, the resident priest of a 600-year-old Buddhist temple in town called Houkyou-ji, however, few former residents had returned. For example, out of the 7,363 residents registered with the municipal government at the time of the lifting of evacuation order, only 440, or approximately 6%, came back. Among those under the age of 50, however, only 49 persons, or 0.7%, returned.

According to the priest, the decontamination work normally involved the scrubbing of rooftop and removing of old leaves and the surface of the earth within 20 meters around the house, making the radiation level around the house low enough to live, at least immediately after the work. However, no work is carried out in fields, woods and forests where radiation is still considerably high. As many houses in this rural town stand near wooded areas, the radiation level surrounding the house still varied depending on weather conditions. Under this circumstance, many families with children have opted to remain as evacuees elsewhere as they still feel their hometown unsafe for the children to live normally.

Many victims of the disaster are skeptical of government policies in dealing with them. One such policy concerns the maximum dose of radiation exposure people are allowed per year for maintaining healthy life. Before the accident, the Japanese government had accepted the standard set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), which was 1mSv/year. After the disaster, however, it raised to 20mSv/year. Rather than questioning this decision by the national government in view of protecting its own residents, the Fukushima prefectural government has gone along with it. No wonder that many residents from affected towns and villages have decided to continue living elsewhere as evacuees.

However, the Japanese government is now putting pressure on voluntary evacuees to go home. Those from the areas where mandatory evacuation order has been lifted after decontamination work are now considered as evacuees on their own discretion. The government has announced that the housing assistance to such people would be discontinued after March 2017. Those who resist this pressure rightly demand that the government and TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company which was responsible for the accident in Fukushima, restore the environment in their hometowns back to the previous state. According to the Citizen’s Network for Evacuation from Radiation, a non-profit organization helping the evacuees from Fukushima, there were still 49,333 individuals evacuated to elsewhere within Fukushima prefecture (as of June 20, 2016). On the other hand, 41,532 persons were accounted for as evacuees in other prefectures (as of May 16, 2016). How many of them are now considered as voluntary evacuees is not clear, however.

One other government’s stance that I consider so inhumane and unacceptable concerns people’s health in relation to the disaster, particularly that of children. Since 2011, Fukushima prefecture has conducted rounds of medical exam of the children under the age of 18 at the time of the disaster. The first round held between 2011 and 2013 covered 300,476 children, while the second round held between 2014 and 2015 included 199,772. Among those examined, 172 have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, 131 of them have already been operated, while 41 are waiting to be operated. This is compared with only one or two cases of thyroid cancer reported among 1 million people (Info provided in the Leaflet by the Citizen’s Network for Evacuation from Radiation, dated June 28, 2016).   Nevertheless, the “medical specialists” responsible for the examination conducted under the auspices of the prefectural government assert that there is no convincing link between those cases with the nuclear accident. They claim that it is due to screening effect, meaning that highly advanced instrument used for exam detect even those at the very early stage of cancer that can be ignored for some time. However, this does not explain the fact that so many children had to be operated!

The words of the “specialists”, condoned by the national and prefectural governments, are not comforting to the parents and their children living in fear after the disaster. I consider inhumane for the authorities to demand that possible victims of the disaster prove the link between thyroid cancers or any other sicknesses with radiation exposure. Rather, I suggest that residents demand that the authorities prove that the disaster had nothing to do with the cases of sicknesses reported since March 2011. This can be done by carrying out similar exams on children in some selected prefectures to compare the result. If the cases of children’s thyroid cancer are truly due to screening effect as they claim, they should obtain similar results elsewhere.

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Takae’s Struggle

In early August, I visited Takae, a remote and small district of about 150 inhabitants in Higashi village in the northern part of the main island of Okinawa, to take part in a sit-in against the construction of “Osprey-pads”. Two have already been built near Takae, adjacent to or surrounded by the pristine sub-tropical forest called Yanbaru, rich with its unique biodiversity. About 7,800 hectares of Yanbaru is reserved as the Northern Training Field (NTF) where the US Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center is located. The US Marines have used the area since 1957 for training their soldiers for jungle warfare before they were dispatched to Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere in the world.

Yanbaru forestA

Yanbaru

The proposal to construct new “Osprey-pads” stems from the SACO (Special Action Committee on Okinawa) agreement dating back to 1996, concluded between the Japanese and the American governments. The agreement followed a huge demonstration in Okinawa in 1995, demanding the reduction of US military presence there after a local school girl was raped by three American soldiers. According to the Administrative Agreement under Article III of the Security Treaty between the two countries, Japan cannot even arrest and try any member of the US military forces who commit crime on Japanese soil (ja.m.wikipedia.org). Naturally, the Okinawans have rightly been angry at this situation in view of the fact that they host 74% of US military bases situated in Japan when their prefecture comprises only 0.6% of the total land area of the country (See my previous blog “Okinawa’s Struggle”).

Alarmed by the growing hostility of the locals towards the US military presence, the two governments tried to appease them by announcing that about 4,000 hectares of the NTF be returned to them, thereby reducing their burden. About half of Yanbaru forest now occupied by the US Marine Corps to be given back to the people sounded too good to be true. Sure enough, it was to be delivered with a certain condition.

There are already 22 helipads built throughout the NTF. Therefore, the condition of returning half of the NTF was based on the relocation of six existing ones in the part to be returned to the part remaining as the NTF. Moreover, the six “helipads” were to be built in such a way to surround the community of Takae (“Voice of Takae”, Oct. 01, 2013). However, little had the locals been told that the new “helipads” were no ordinary “helipads”, but were for flight training of MV22 Osprey, “a tilt-rotor hybrid aircraft almost universally reviled for its noise and safety record (See “Fighting to Save A Remote Okinawan Forest” by Jon Letman in his blog dated Aug. 12, 2016). Besides, each new “Osprey-pad” would require a space of 75 meters in diameter, including the landing pad of 45 meters in diameter, much larger than an ordinary helipad (“Voice of Takae”, op cit.). So, this was far from having the locals’ burden to be reduced. It was totally the opposite.

MV22Osprey

MV22 Osprey

In response to the SACO agreement, the Takae residents adopted in 1997 a resolution opposing the construction of new “helipads” in their district, and this was repeated in 2006. Nevertheless, the Japanese government ignored them and went ahead with the construction work in July 2007, when the residents began their sit-in. So, the government took some sit-in participants to court for obstructing traffic on a public road. But it was clearly a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit by the government to bully, harass and divide the villagers. The case, in which 15 individuals had originally been accused, including a child, lingered on till 2014, in which one defendant at the end was found guilty (Information provided at a lecture meeting held on July 30, 2016, at Community Centre in Funabashi, Chiba and “Voice of Takae”, June 28, 2015).

While the villagers continued with their opposition to new Osprey-pads, two were completed by 2014, one of which is located only 400 meters away from the nearest house in the village. The actual Osprey flight training using the completed ones began in 2015. While it has been reported that they are not allowed to fly over residential areas in the United States, they fly low over houses and schools in Takae day and night, destroying the quiet life of the villagers and precious environment in Yanbaru (“Voice of Takae,” June 28, 2015). Due to continuous resistance by the villagers and their supporters from elsewhere, however, the construction of other Osprey-pads had been suspended till July this year.

The work resumed suddenly and forcefully, however, soon after the elections of the upper house of Parliament in July. This was despite that the Okinawans clearly expressed their opposition to new US military installations by overwhelmingly defeating the member of PM Abe’s cabinet who was up for re-election there. As if to take a revenge for the election result, PM Abe sent in early in the morning of July 22 about 500 riot police gathered from different municipalities around Japan to remove about 200 villagers and supporters taking part in a sit-in in front of the main entrance leading to the construction site in the NTF.

Owing to soft soil in Yanbaru, heavy-duty trucks carrying building materials in and out of the construction sites have apparently caused a few places to cave in, hampering dumper trucks to transport materials smoothly. Therefore, the government announced the acceleration of the work by allowing trucks to enter from another point into the NTF, where the villagers have been blocking the entry by putting up a fence.

There was a rumor in early Aug. that the riot police would storm this gate early in the morning of either the 5th or the 6th of August. The villagers therefore appealed urgently to supporters around Japan, asking as many of them as possible to come and assemble in front of the gate to prevent the riot police from destroying the fence and removing the sit-in participants. So two friends and I flew to Okinawa to join about 1,500 others who responded to the appeal that weekend and spent tense and sleepless nights in tents and cars. Perhaps the number of us gathered there was too overwhelming for the riot police, so nothing happened on those days. Since then, the sit-ins by the villagers and supporters continue, and as at this writing, the gate blocking trucks’ entry at the other point is still intact.

The way the Japanese government has proceeded with the construction of new and large Osprey-pads under the pretext of reducing the Okinawans’ burden in relation to the presence of the US military forces has been awful and cowardly. The government tactic cannot be justified in a democratic country where human rights and pursuit of happiness of all citizens, including those of the Okinawans, are guaranteed under our current Constitution. A villager said that although PM Abe and the LDP, the ruling party, had been warning the Japanese people that unless we strengthened our defense, we might be engulfed by China or North Korea, but it was the riot police from the main land Japan who invaded Takae.

There should be open and nation-wide debates on national security and defence matters to agree on what should be done for the future of our country. Once we have a consensus, the burden should be shared fairly, rather than forcing the Okinawans to shoulder a large part of it.

It should be noted here that the US Veretans for Peace (VFP) adopted at its 31st annual convention (Aug. 11- 15, Berkeley, California) the Emergency  Resolution Opposing Arbitrary Resumption of Helipad Construction at Takae.  VFP “condemns the renewed helipad construction at Takae, and urges the US Government, and in particularthe US military, to communicate to the Japanese government that the US wants no part of this shameful, anti-democratic and discriminatory action, that it does not want new bases at such a price, and that it wishes Japan to abandon the plan to construct new US bases at Henoko and Takae.”

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Okinawa’s Struggle

Last November, I joined a three-day study tour to Okinawa. Since Mr. Takeshi Onaga won the gubernatorial race there in Dec. 2014, he has been fighting, in line with the popular will of the Okinawans, against the pressure from the Abe administration concerning the construction of a new US military base in Henoko in central Okinawa. In comparison with P.M. Abe who has pushed for the restart of nuclear reactors and new security-related laws in 2015, both against the will of the majority of the citizens in the country, according to opinion polls, Mr. Onaga appears as an ideal political leader in a democratic nation. Therefore, the number of people who support him keeps increasing throughout Japan. Under this circumstance, I decided to participate in the study tour to better understand the island and its people.

Before our departure from Tokyo and during our stay there, we received six hours of lecture in total on Okinawa from three different university professors. The were thought-provoking and meaningful. The archipelago of Okinawa was once a small, but an independent kingdom called Ryukyu with its unique language and culture. In 1609 it was invaded by the Satsuma feudal clan, which used to occupy the present-day Kagoshima prefecture area in southern Kyushu and became a vassal state of the clan. Then in 1872, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, it was annexed by Japan. From March to June, 1945 at the final stage of World War II, fierce ground battles were fought in Okinawa in which a large majority of the residents were caught under fire. The islanders went through unspeakable misery of the war where 25% of the citizens were believed to have died and most of their houses destroyed.

After the defeat in 1945, Japan was occupied by the US military administration until 1952 when it regained its independence following the San Francisco Peace Treaty. However, Okinawa was disconnected from Japan and was continued to be ruled by the US military until it was finally returned to Japan in 1972. During those years under the US rule, the human rights of Okinawans were not guaranteed by the US constitution. In a sense, even the situation in current Okinawa and in Japan as well, for that matter, has not changed much. Because of the existing SOFA (US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement), the Japanese police cannot do anything with respect to crimes committed by US military personnel.

Immediately after the war and during the US occupation, Japan hosted many US military bases throughout the country. However, after 1952, the US military moved many of its functions and bases to Okinawa, which was still under its rule. As a result, the Okinawans were forced to bear heavier burden of having to live with more noises and base-related crimes. The main reason of the Okinawans’ struggle to rejoin Japan was that they thought they would be ensured of human rights as much as those in the mainland Japan enjoyed and that they would be able to live in peace and quiet with much reduced US military bases.

However, there was no reduction of US bases there even after Okinawa returned to the Japanese rule. Its burden of hosting US military bases has not been lightened at all; in fact, both the Japanese and the US governments intend to maintain the level of US presence there. The area of Okinawa is only 0.6% of the whole of Japan, but 74 % of US military bases located in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa. Moreover, both governments have pushed for the construction of a new and bigger base in Henoko as a condition to close the Futenma US military airfield, which is said to be the most dangerous airfield in the world as it is surrounded by densely populated areas. The governments have been promoting and pushing for a new base in Henoko by ignoring the strong opposition of the Okinawans who have been forced to carry heavy burden of hosting military bases.

Throughout Japan, the proponents of a new base assert to those who oppose it that Okinawa would not be viable economically without US military bases. However, available data show that the base-related revenue accounted for 15.5% of the prefectural gross income in 1972, which declined to 4.9% by 2011. On the other hand, the tourism revenue jumped more than ten-fold from 32.4 billion yen in 1972 to 390.5 billion yen in 2013 (http://www.pref.okinawa.jp). Against the backdrop of Asia’s continuing economic growth, the tourism sector might even grow further if bases are eliminated from Okinawa. In any case, what the Okinawans are now demanding is that the hazardous Futenma airfield be closed as soon as possible and a new helipad in Takae and a new base in Henoko not be constructed. They are not demanding that the US Air Force Base in Kadena or other bases elsewhere in the archipelago be closed.

After arriving in Naha airport, we first visited the Sakima art museum in Ginowan city. There we saw a huge painting by Iri and Toshi Maruki entitled “The Drawing of Battles of Okinawa”, a powerful picture describing the suffering of the people of Okinawa during the war. Just standing in front of this impressive art work, I could feel the agony of the people of the archipelago in those days. From the rooftop of the museum, one can see the Futenma airfield. Later we listened to the talk of Ms. Eiko Itami, a member of Soul Flower Union, a music group, who had moved to Okinawa from the Kansai area of the mainland Japan 10 years ago. She is opposed to the construction of a new base in Henoko, but since 2007 she has been organizing music events in Ginowan city involving those who accept the new base. There seems to be a good atmosphere being created between the groups through cooperative work to make the events successful. Her positive outlook and open-mindedness must be paying off.

On the second day, we visited the seaside site of the group movement opposing a new base in Henoko. We also went to the tent in front of the gate of Camp Schwab, a US Marine Corps base, where a proposed new base is to be constructed by extending the current Marine base into the beautiful sea by reclaiming land. This would definitely destroy the natural habitat of dugons, an endangered species of sea mammal which can be seen only in Henoko around Japan. There, the leaders briefed us on the background and current status of their struggle. We also joined the demonstration in front of the gate, which was conducted peacefully as it was before the riot police from Tokyo arrived.

There is no convenience store or eating place in front of or near the gate. Under such circumstances, the lunch prepared by three charming women was delicious. Clad in a pink T-shirt with anti-base slogans on both sides of the shirt, these three ladies in their 70s, known there as “Zama Candies” apparently make monthly trips to Okinawa from Kanagawa prefecture to support the anti-base movement as volunteers and prepare lunch for the supporters, charging the actual cost. Where there is no eating place in front of the gate, the heartfelt lunch prepared by them was much appreciated.

Those who condone the new base in Henoko claim that those who oppose it are being paid the daily allowance of 20,000 yen for participating in demonstrations. What is the base for their assertion? We did not meet anyone who seems to fit that category. All the members of my study tour group paid for our trips out of own pockets, keeping the expenses down by staying in low-cost accommodation. It was reported that the members of the riot police are staying in luxury hotels costing taxpayers 20,000 yen per person per night (Shukan Kinyoubi News, Nov. 20, 2015 issue). We are different from the riot police who stay in top-notch hotels.

I learned a lot before and during the trip. The thundering noises of jet fighters in training flying overhead from early in the morning was too much to bear, but this is what the Okinawans have to put up with daily. However, the most memorable experience for me was the meeting with Mr. Minoru Kinjo, a sculptor-artist. Being a peace activist, he entrusts his powerful messages of the misery of war and desire for peace in all his works. His numerous sculptures being displayed side by side in both his garden and atelier condensed the sadness, anger and tenderness of Okinawa before, during and after WWII and they captured my heart. When P.M. Abe and other dignitaries of his administration visit Okinawa, I wish them to visit Mr. Kinjo’s atelier to truly understand the people there.

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