Salt in Hammam, a Japanese style

Going to onsen, or hot spring spa, is a favorite pastime for Japanese. Overnighting at a posh ryokan, offering sumptuous meals and attractive views, is a luxury. Being a volcanic archipelago, however, Japan can provide hot spring anywhere, if deep enough holes are dug up. Thus, onsen have sprung up even in crowded cities like Tokyo, and have become readily accessible. Today we can stop at a spa on the way home after work. In the past, only deep hot bath was available, but it is not rare today to find jacuzzi, sauna and hammam, or steam bath, as well (See a photo of the hot spring spa in Tokyo I enjoy going).Spa in TokyoB

What I like the most at the onsen I frequent in Tokyo is hammam as I enjoyed it in Western Europe while I was based in Geneva. A big difference between the one here and those I experienced over there is a large vaseful of salt placed at the entrance. We scoop a handful of it and rub it all over the body while sitting and sweating there.

I thought salt was being used for the same purpose as in preparing shimesaba, or salted, vinegar-marinated mackerel, as a topping for sushi (see the photo from https://snapdish.co/d/). Salt rubbed around the fish would extract water from the flesh, making it firm. I thought it was a Japanese way to perspire more to turn flabby muscles into a firmShimesaba physique while in a steam bath.Greek Statue

What I was told later was that by scrubbing the body with salt, we let tiny grains of salt do a good job of even cleaning pores of the skin to help us better perspire. By all means, we won’t come out like a Greek statue only after 30 minutes in it. Whatever its effect may be, I prefer to sit in hammam with salt.

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The State of Nuclear Emergency Declared after the Fukushima Meltdown is Still On Today!!!

Most people in Japan do not realize that the state of nuclear emergency declared after the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011 is still in place today, about eight years after the meltdown. In relation to this state of emergency, the following situations can be pointed out.

1.  Radioactive contaminated water still keeps accumulating: In 2013 at the IOC conference, PM Abe declared that the contaminated water in Fukushima was “under control”, which led to awarding of the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo. However, contaminated water keeps increasing, and there is hardly any more space at the plant premises to set up more tanks for storing contaminated water. The ALPS (the apparatus for removing radioactive materials from contaminated water) introduced from France cannot remove tritium and strontium. Currently, about 1 million tons of water containing tritium, despite having been treated by ALPS, remain in the tanks and keep increasing (Handbook on genpatsu-no-ima, by Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, Jan. 2019). For this reason, the Japanese gov’t and TEPCO held a hearing at the end of August 2018 where they proposed the idea of diluting and discharging it into the ocean, but many experts and fishermen were dead against it (See the photo of tanks storing contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear plant, from http://johosokuhou.com/).tanks at fukushima

2.  High-level radiation from Fukushima plant is still being emitted daily: From Fukushima plant, high-level radiation is still being emitted daily. For example, daily average emission from July to September, 2018, was 5.26 million Becquerel of cesium (134 and 137 combined) and in Oct., it was 3.12 million Becquerel. On the other hand, the treated water discharged from the plant into the ocean up to Nov. 2018 contained as much as 119.86 billion Becquerel of tritium (from the blog of a SF novelist Satoshi Haruhashi: https://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/haruhashi/diary/).

3.  Unfairness of forcing Fukushima residents to live with radiation up to 20 mSv/year: fter the nuclear accident, the Japanese government raised the level of radiation exposure allowed from 1 to 20 mSv per year for Fukushima residents. Elsewhere in Japan, it is still 1 mSv per year, the standard set by International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) ( http://minamisouma.blogspot.com/p/20.html).

4.  Termination of housing allowance for “voluntary” evacuees from Fukushima, a serious violation of human rights: Up until March 2017, housing allowance was provided to families evacuated from Fukushima. However, along with the new standard of 20 mSv/year arbitrarily set by the government, evacuation orders were retracted for an increasing number of municipalities, and housing aid to the evacuees from such communities have been terminated. Those who refuse to return to Fukushima are now considered as “voluntary” evacuees and are no longer entitled to housing allowance. By terminating aid, the government is forcing them to return to Fukushima, but the families with small children still fear the risk of radiation and refuse to go back, despite economic hardship (Info. from the “Evacuees’ Cooperative Center”).

5.  The number of children with thyroid cancer is increasing although the government refuses to recognize the accident as its cause: Since 2015, exams on children’s thyroid gland have been conducted in Fukushima. Out of about 370,000 children initially examined, 272 children have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer as of Dec. 2018 (source: OurPlanet-TV, Dec. 14, 2018). Normally, the incidence rate is only 1 or 2 per million people (source: “Network of citizens protecting children from radiation”), but the government insists that it is due to “screening effect” and that “there is no causal relationship with the accident”. The number of cases is expected to rise in the future.

6.  Recommendations from the UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council) to the Japanese government (UNHRC, Oct. 2018): The government is obliged (1) to prevent and minimize, as much as possible, children from being exposed to radiation; (2) to change back from the “20 mSv” to “1 mSv” per year standard before retracting evacuation orders, especially for children and women of childbearing age; (3) to not pressurize families to return to Fukushima by terminating housing allowance. (United Nations Human Rights Council, October 2018).

The extremely serious nuclear accident happened while the Japanese government pursued nuclear program as a national policy. I wonder for how long the state of nuclear emergency will continue. I wonder how the government and TEPCO who were responsible for the accident will resolve the difficult situation we are in. I wonder if we will ever find a solution satisfactory to a large number of the victims.

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Okinawa’s Burden

Recently, I visited Okinawa for the third time, all trips being related to my support for Okinawa’s struggle against their being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Japan. Okinawa used to be a small, peaceful kingdom surviving on trade with parts of current China and Japan till the early 17th century when it was invaded by the Satsuma clan, the military/feudal ruler at that time of the southern part of Kyushu, the southern main island of Japan, and became a tributary state of Satsuma. Then, it was annexed by Japan a few years after the emperor was restored as the almighty ruler of the country in 1868. The Okinawans’ suffering really started around this time and continues even today as they are treated unfairly by the central government in Tokyo.

During the final months of WWII, Okinawa became fierce battle grounds where civilians were caught in fighting, though most cities in other parts of Japan were indeed carpet-bombed by US war planes. The Japanese military leaders made sure the hell-like fighting in Okinawa would continue for as long as possible in order to prevent the US forces from reaching the main Japanese islands. In other words, the Okinawans were used by their own government as human shield, so as many as 25% of civilians there were reported to have perished. When Japan surrendered unconditionally, the Okinawans who survived the war were put in camps for some time while the US forces confiscated their land to build bases and air fields throughout the island. So when they were released, they had little land to live on, and many had no choice but to work for US bases to survive.

In the meantime, Japan was allowed to be independent in 1952 at the signing of the treaty of San Francisco with a condition that Okinawa remain under the US. There were many US bases throughout Japan since 1945, but with exceptions of some air and naval bases in the main islands, the rest were gradually relocated to Okinawa.

The Okinawans suffered under the US military rule. They did not enjoy the kind of human rights enjoyed by the Japanese in the main islands. They were not protected by US law, either, even though they were under the US administration. For example, if US servicemen committed crime as serious as rape or even murder, they were usually not punished under the protection of the Japan-US territorial agreement. Thus, the Okinawans had to put up with injustice as they had no one to turn to.

The Okinawans’ patience reached the limit, resulting in their revolt against the US military rule, especially in the latter part of 1960s, which finally led to the return of their island to Japan in 1972. They had wished for their island to be free from US bases as most main-land Japanese enjoyed since 1952. To their great disappointment, however, the status of US bases remained unchanged. That was why Okinawa until a few years ago hosted 74% of all the US bases existing in Japan. Recently, a large sub-tropical forest in northern Okinawa was returned to Japan, reducing the portion of bases in Okinawa to about 70% today. This forest used to be a training ground for young Marines in guerrilla warfare before they were sent to Viet Nam in 1960s.

The island of Okinawa comprises only 0.6% of the total land area of Japan, yet they are forced to host 70% of US bases under the Japan-US security alliance. This is because the Japanese government still imposes heavy burden on the Okinawans for maintaining the security treaty with the US. One can imagine how much noise associated with so many US bases around that the Okinawans have to put up with and crimes involving young servicemen away from home who are outside the Japanese penal system.Futenma Air Base

One of the US airfields in Okinawa is in Futenma (see above, the photo from daisala.blogspot.com) for the Marines, and it is situated in a densely populated area. Naturally, when an accident occurs, the residents in the area have to pay a heavy price, and accidents happen too often. It is therefore said to be the most dangerous airfield in the world. That’s why the Okinawans have been demanding that the Futenma base be closed and the land be returned to its original owners. They want to see its replacement, if necessary, to be built elsewhere outside their island, but the Japanese government has been unable to find any other prefecture willing to host a new US base.Kadena USAF base

In Okinawa, there is a huge air base in Kadena for the US Air Force (see above), the largest US air field in Asia (from http://www.okinawatimes.co.jp). However, the US Air Force and the Marines don’t seem to wish to share the base. So as a replacement for Futenma, PM Abe keeps pushing for the construction of a new and larger US air field in Henoko, Okinawa, facing a pristine bay of Oura (see below, from Wikipedia), rich in coral reef and marine animals unique to the area.Henoko and Oura bay

PM Abe is destroying the precious and fragile environment by trying to landfill the bay with rocks and earth to be brought from other islands, even as far away as from Honshu. This would surely lead to environmental destruction of not only Oura bay but also other islands where rocks and earth are to be removed in huge quantity.PM Abe justifies his imposition of a new US base on Okinawa on the ground that other prefectures do not accept a new US base. But the Okinawans have been saying “no” to this proposal clearly and loudly for the last 20 years. Why doesn’t PM Abe or LDP, which has ruled Japan most of the time since WWII, listen to the desperate voices of the people of Okinawa and respect their wishes? It’s time and the duty of all Japanese to demand that equality and respect be accorded to all fellow citizens.

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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 school of 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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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