September 11th was the 6 month anniversary of the earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, but that fact was overshadowed outside of Japan by the observance of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Here in Japan there were numerous special services held at Buddhist temples around Japan as well as numerous silent vigils in honor of those who were killed. Initially, I had decided not to write about this, but after seeing the advertisement displayed here I changed my mind.
But first, since I’m sure you haven’t heard much about the progress here, I will try to give you a short update. Cleanup of the areas damaged by the tsunami is progressing. In some areas you would never know that six months before the area had been a disaster area. The big problem now is that of the 31 cities, towns and villages that were destroyed by the tsunami, only 4 have drafted plans for rebuilding. Many are still trying to decide whether to rebuild or not, or at least whether to rebuild on the same site or on higher ground. Of course, all of those people who have been displaced are beginning to get anxious to either move back or move on, and signs of frustration are beginning to show.
There is slow progress on the power plants. All of the reactors have been stabilized, and efforts are still on schedule to bring all of the reactors into a “cold shutdown” status by January. To do this, all of the reactors must be below 100 degrees centigrade. At this time, the three reactors not yet in a “cold shutdown” status are 85, 100 and 114 degrees. They have been able to lower all of the temperatures by increasing water to the reactors. However, this has resulted in a large amount of radioactive waste water that is hampering the cleanup process. Initially, a system which combined elements from US and French systems to remove the radioactivity from the water was plagued with numerous problems, and was only able to clean up about 2/3 of the water. A Japanese system was recently implemented which seems to be working well, and they are able to clean up about 95% of the water now. As a result, they have been able to increase the flow of water into each reactor recently, which is hoped to reduce the temperatures of the reactors even further.
The Japanese government has had more time to analyze the radioactive contamination from the power plants. It is now thought that there was much more radioactivity released into the ocean than initially thought. After months of radiation monitoring, areas beyond the 30 km evacuation zone have been found with elevated radiation readings. There are also numerous small “hot spots” around northern Japan, even 50 to 75 miles away from the power plants with elevated readings, although no one is sure how this occurred. Otherwise, all radiation readings around the country including Tokyo are back to the levels found previous to the earthquake.
Efforts to keep the food supply radiation-free have been successful to this point. Many international agencies have noted this pointing out that Russia was unable to do this after Chernobyl. Predictions of the entire food supply being poisoned have not come true. The thing that most people from outside of Japan fail to realize is that 60% of the food consumed in Japan is imported. Personally speaking, as someone who lives in Japan, I am more concerned about the imported food than I am about radiation in food from Japan.
I am sure you are wondering about the ad displayed here. This ad was created by Takarajima, a Japanese company that publishes a weekly news and entertainment periodical. Several times a year, they will create an ad for their periodical like this one. In the last 12 or 13 years since the periodical’s creation, they company have won 5 awards for these ads. This ad appeared as a two-page spread recently in one of their issues, and has been receiving a lot of interest here in Japan. As you can see it is very simple, but, at least to me, the message is very powerful and conveys the general sentiment of the Japanese at this time.
But first, I think a little background is helpful. The picture in the ad has significant meaning to many Japanese people. As you can see, the photo is of General MacArthur. This photo was taken when he arrived in Japan to begin the Allied Occupation of Japan after World War 2. Many Japanese people were very concerned he had been chosen as the person to lead the occupation. After all, he was a soldier with a well-deserved reputation of being a (pardon my French) “hard-ass”. It was widely held around Japan this would be the way MacArthur would manage the occupation. This photo was widely distributed around Japan at the time, and actually gave many Japanese some reassurance that things may not be so bad after all. It shows MacArthur getting off the plane alone. And even though he has his trademark corn cob pipe in his mouth, it shows him without any weapons. These were both something that someone of his rank and importance in the Japanese army would never have done, and it was a powerful signal to the Japanese.
After the war, Japan was in ruins. 80% of all the buildings in Japan had either been destroyed, or had been damaged beyond repair. And the economy had been ruined as well. However, in 40 years they were able to create the world’s second-largest economy with very few resources other than themselves. I don’t think there is another group of people in the world with the determination and work-ethic the Japanese possess, and is one of the things that I most admire and respect about the Japanese people. In retrospect, many Japanese today will say that while most of their success was due to their own efforts, the ground work for their economic success was shaped and forged by MacArthur.
Anyway, as I said previously, I think this ad pretty well sums up the sentiment in Japan at this time. So, what does the ad say? It says “Let’s build a good country, no matter how many times it takes.” Do I need to say more?