Friday, April 29, 2011

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Blowing in the Wind

South Jersey and Yokohama - During a trip to some southwestern US state my sister picked up a wind chime made from old kitchen utensils, beads, and more. It was whimsical, musical and, since it was made essentially from trash, completely in tune with the environment. I fell in love with it instantly and began picking up scrap along the road of life to fashion my own similar wind chime. Then one day about 15 years later while poking through a small gift shop near the eastern seaboard State of New Jersey's famed shore, I spied my exact vision of whimsy and environmental harmony hanging from the ceiling. I had to have it, so I plucked down two sawbucks on the cash register counter and the work of art was all mine.

It's basically the same as the swinging sculpture my sister had carried home from her westward sojourn with one or two striking differences. With the fate of our planet may be swinging in the balance, her chimes seemed to tip the scales in favor of the environment. When I hear them blow in the wind, mine, made entirely from newly mined raw materials and fashioned in a factory somewhere in China to look like authentic recycled Americana, sound just a little out of sync. But, if you don't look at the label, mine is still kind of  pretty to look at.

Related post: Jammin'

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wanted: Teacher

Learning English in Japan

"This is a pen."

"What would you call this?" That was the first question out of Mr. Peters mouth the day I arrived for my first job interview in Japan. It was with a huge English language chain school (there are such things) that is now no longer in existence. Boasting locations that were strategically situated at the most travelled intersections, the schools were magnets for bored housewives who would while away the week honing their near perfect dictions in the school’s famed conversation cafés. Dead-tired businessmen would congregate there to sacrifice the few precious evening hours they had to spend with their families all to worship at the alter of English. Then there were the most pitiful of the whole lot, the school kids who would make a mad dash for the after-hours program the minute they dropped their school books off at home. It was one of the best money-making schemes I’d ever seen and I was bound to be a part of it.

I had been told on good authority that they hired anybody with a pulse. I really needed the income and was so nervous about the interview that mine was beating double time so I thought I would be a shoo-in for sure. The question Mr. P. asked was in reference to an 8 x 11 glossy color photo of a truck laden with ripened bananas parked in a teak wooden frame at the corner of his desk closest to where I was now sitting. Like all good language instructors, he repeated the question, “What would you call that?”

“I would call that a truck,” I answered matter of factly.

“I see,” replied P as he pursed his lips and nodded his head up and down.
“And this, what about this? What would you call this?” he uttered while waving a lit flashlight he had just retrieved from his top desk drawer.

Shielding my squinting eyes in face of the blinding light, I told him it was “a flashlight of course.”

“Yes a ‘flashlight,” retorted P.” Then he sat his scrawny frame back in his luxurious black imitation leather high-back chair on coasters, crossed his legs and began to size me up. As he stroked the small crop of whiskers that he cultivated just below his bottom lip and looked at me with a gleam in his eye, I realized that the interview had begun and that I had probably just passed the rigorous Q&A segment. I was already thinking of ways to spend my first week’s paycheck when he spoke again.

“We really speak an entirely different language you and I,” he said with a wry smile.
I would refer to what you describe as a ‘truck,’ as a ‘lorry.’ As for this little device, it’s called a ‘torch’ where I hail from.”

“Ah, yes,” I replied.

He elucidated further explaining how he had spent the better part of the morning compiling a list of words, Briticisms that were virtually unknown to the North American continent. I’m sure I would have found it all terribly fascinating, but my mind was on getting the job. He then went on to describe the teaching position I was interviewing for, spending the next thirty minutes outlining salary, work hours, responsibilities, plus all the perks. It all sounded great so when he asked me if I was interested, I told him I definitely was in.

That’s when he pulled out the standard textbook the students used and started to quiz me with a battery of annoying questions. The first one was based on chapter one, “What’s a noun?” he asked.

What’s this? A question about grammar? I wasn’t at all prepared. Wouldn’t he rather check my pulse instead? Then I suddenly realized that I knew this one. “A person, place or thing,” I answered. He puckered his lips, nodded in approval and continued to the next chapter. We were up to chapter five or so and I was doing swimmingly. “Bring on the next one P,” I said to myself. I was ready for anything. Then he hit me with a trick question.

“Can you tell me what a present participle is? No?”

There were about ten more chapters to go and my brain was spent of every scintilla of grammar knowledge it contained at chapter three. All this time he had been merely loading the barrel of the gun, now he had cocked the trigger and was about to fire.

“What is a past participle?”

My jaw dropped as I shook my head in total stupidity. Then coming to the realization that it was all over I looked Mr. Peters in the eye and said, “We really do speak totally different languages.”

He smiled, nodded his head and asked, “Can I show you to the elevator?”

That’s when I realized I had him dead in my sights. I returned fire immediately, “Don’t you mean the lift?”

“Exactly,” said P pointing the way out the door.

Later that evening as I lay sprawled across the floor of my apartment, a piece of emotional wreckage washed up along the shores of this Far Eastern archipelago, I received a phone call from an administrative assistant at the school. She informed me “the interview didn’t go as well as it could have.” Just to make sure I didn’t get the wrong impression, she translated the message into words I could understand, saying, “You didn’t get the job I’m afraid.”

I told her I understood and I really did.

Related post: My Pet Name

Friday, April 22, 2011

Today's Forecast

Yokohama, Japan - Before I leave the house in the morning I check the weather report, just to see if I'll need an umbrella at some point in the day. Of course nowadays I also always check the radiation report, a new addition to my newspaper (The Tokyo Shinbun) that has appeared in the wake of the continually evolving disaster at the TEPCO nuclear power station in Fukushima. It looks like all is clear for today in my neighborhood of Teraya (an idyllic name, meaning Temple Valley) in Yokohama, no need for an umbrella or protective radiation garments. 

The measurements in the newspaper are appropriately given in microsieverts. To tell the truth, I have absolutely no idea what a microsievert is so I just go to the website for a "visualization of radiation levels in the Kanto area" of Japan. Using data provided by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the site compares hourly readings of radioactivity in various prefectures of Japan. The web page also includes different information to use as a familiar point of reference like natural background radiation and more. Based on the assumptions of Dr. M. Yamauchi of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, it’s all very scientific but easy enough for anyone to understand. The site features twelve monitors displaying depictions of radioactive particles falling like snow against a black background. Right now Fukushima Prefecture, where the leaking nuclear reactor is located, looks like it's experiencing a mild flurry. In my prefecture of Kanagawa the “precipitation” is hardly noticeable.

Looking at these reports, the outlook seems bright and sunny. They stand in stark contrast to the scary image of radioactive clouds drifting over the horizon that has filled my mind recently. That is until I start thinking about cumulative exposure over the last month and more. Calculating that would take more fingers and toes than I ever hope to grow. Most denizens of Temple Valley I talk with seem to trust government and nuclear industry sources who continue to stress that the levels of exposure are safe but some have their doubts. An area resident I spoke with today told me that she heard the radiation levels in Tokyo's downtown section of Shinjuku is at times higher than it is in areas bordering Fukushima prefecture over 150 miles to the north. She says the dispersion depends on terrain and how the air streams across the landscape. According to her the buildings which form the man-made canyons of Tokyo can act like a funnel for the radioactive wind. I’m learning something new here every day. Just last week the government announced that they were
planning to raise the threshold limit of radiation exposure for children in Fukushima Prefecture. What was dangerous a week ago is now apparently safe.

While the forecast for the future is hazy at best, there is one thing that's clear. The folks here in Temple Valley have learned more about nuclear power in the last month than they've ever wanted to know in their whole lives. Perhaps they have a lesson to teach us all.

When accused of being ill-prepared, representatives from TEPCO, the company that owns the leaking nuclear power station in Fukushima, have maintained that the scale of the earthquake and tsunami that hit the plant was beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. I never expected to be living in a world seemingly ripped from the pages of a science fiction novel, a world where a Geiger counter is almost as commonplace as a thermometer. Maybe when we are dealing with a form of energy as volatile and unpredictable as nuclear power, we should expect the unexpected. 

Related story: Postponing the Inevitable

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Love Song for Fukushima

This is a musical tribute to Fukushima and the people who call it home sung by some famous and not-so-famous folks from all over Japan. You can learn more about it on Rocket News 24.

According to Rocket News 24 the song can be purchased via the Tokyo FM mobile site as well as Ototoy (both sites are in Japanese). All proceeds go to the Fukushima Disaster Countermeasures Office.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ah Mutha ....


...Nature. Thank you for planting this little one in my garden. We weren't so sure what to call this new life form that has sprung up amidst us, so using a classification system* developed by my late uncle, T.C., we have categorized it as Farhoda Miniflora. Lacking any familiar common name we just call it Teddy.

*Under the T.C. unscientific classification system if a plant is near a road, it's a Nearhoda. Now if it's proximity to a roadway is distant, it's categorized as a Farhoda. Plants with big flowers are Grandefloras, while plants with smaller diameter blossoms are Minifloras.

Related post: God is My Gardener

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dagen Haz Anyone?

Copyright 1895 by The Gribler Bank Note Co. from photo by Bakers Art Gallery

I discovered a great money making opportunity while surfing the web the other day. It was the homepage of a company called, crowdSPRING. The site says it's the "world's #1 marketplace for logo design, web design, and crowdsourced writing projects." New businesses looking for a name or logo; record companies looking for a CD cover design; and a host of others go to crowdSpring with their needs. The company then posts those needs as projects on their site for anyone to submit their creative solutions.

The folks at crowSpring say they "hope to challenge the current thinking on where great ideas come from. The truth is that a great idea can come from anyone, anywhere - whether they're a janitor by day and a designer by night or a stay-at-home mom who doesn't have the time to run her own web studio." That was me all over I thought so I looked over the list of projects and saw one that looked tempting. It was a branding project for a European styled ice cream parlor/coffee house(serving Belgian ice cream and Italian coffee). They had a great product, all they needed was a name to match. It came came to me immediately: Dagen Haz. Well actually it came to my wife immediately but I was the one who had the marketing sense to harvest the idea for the whole world to feast upon. Anyway I'm still waiting to hear back about my pitch. I think they were willing to pay three hundred dollars for a good name.

Okay I'm not holding my breathe. Maybe the name Dagen Haz isn't ripe for the American market but I think there are some places where it could really take root. Take a look at this new coffee shop opening up in Liuzhou, China.

Talking Dollars and Sense

Postponing the Inevitable

And the winner is....

NASA image of the Earth as seen from Apollo 17

Tokyo - Earlier this month Japan's giant media conglomerate, Fujisankei, announced that it would be postponing the award ceremony for its 20th "Global Environment Award." The award is given to corporations who have made a lasting impact on the global environment via environmentally friendly products, etc. Who do you think this year's top honors went to (hint: a corporation that has made a lasting impact - with a half life of forever - on the environment)? If you said TEPCO, the owner of the leaking nuclear power station at Fukushima, you're right.

Fujisankei first announced the prize results back in February and I guess now they don't know what to do. Their latest press announcement about the postponed awards ceremony avoids mentioning the first place winner altogether. Now the question is when they do hold the ceremony, on what remote island will everyone gather and will TEPCO outsource accepting the award to a third party just like its done with attempting to clean up its radioactive mess.

Related story: Shaken Not Stirred

Saturday, April 16, 2011

God Is My Gardener

Spring's Shinining Star

Here is a  new flowering plant that has sprung up in the garden this week.

A distant cousin of the onion, ipheion uniflorum has been dubbed the Spring Star, or Spring Starflower.  Like me, this American native now calls Temple Valley (and other places around the globe) home.

Shaken Not Stirred

This is a clip from a recently surfaced video made for the Japanese government back in the 1990's. The animated short features the loveable Pluto-kun (Little Pluto, as in plutonium) who tells us that it's perfectly safe to drink water containing plutonium. Outrage from the international scientific community prompted officials to shelve it, and there hidden away on the shelf it remained until now.

I like my plutonium and water shaken, not stirred.

Related story: No Nuke Protests Erupt

Friday, April 15, 2011

Outlook for the Future Bright

Guys smoking cigs totally oblivious to the solar energy  miracle around them

Kawasaki - I boarded the train for Kawasaki during my jaunt today. The five-minute rail ride away from the placid environs of Temple Valley took me light years ahead into the future. The glass surfaces of the structures in the station plaza incorporate solar cells that turn sunlight into electricity as well as photocatalytic materials that make it entirely self-cleaning! It's a bright idea that has turned the once dark station area into a shining example of how we can harness the power of the sun for something other than tans and tomatoes.

The solar panels that serve as the roof for this taxi stand provide the energy needed to fuel the LED lighting that illuminates the station plaza, including this huge electric candle (below).

Isn't it romantic!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Lions and Men

While the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 wreaked havoc on this island country's northeastern seaboard, it also rocked the national psyche to its core. No aspect of Japanese society has gone unscathed. On that fateful Friday, people everywhere sat with their eyes riveted to TV sets, watching in horror as images of the monster tidal wave that swallowed entire cities spilled over into their living rooms. Those surfing through the channels for some relief from the reports of death and destruction, soon noticed that in the wake of the tsunami commercials were swept from the airwaves as well. Then one by one billboard ads began to vanish in cities across the land. Against this barren commercial backdrop, patrons of once thriving bars, restaurants and concert halls all began to disappear too.

This happens here. It occurred in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Kobe over a decade ago and it was happening again. It’s sooo Japanese. If one member of the group is hurting, the entire group feels the pain. When Mother Nature delivered her double earthquake, tsunami punch on March 11, hundreds of thousands were hurting and the entire nation felt their pain. There is a pervasive sentiment that it’s just not right to enjoy yourself while others are suffering. They call it jishuku, a self-imposed barrier to limit oneself from overindulging in the eyes of the those who have been left with nothing.
It’s an admirable social course of action paved with the finest intentions that is leading many to financial ruin.

The worst hit by this tidal wave of self-restraint has been the restaurant industry followed close behind by the music industry which has cancelled the shows of performing artists across the country. When panicked crowds of consumers stripped Tokyo metropolitan area grocery store shelves bare, those who didn't hoard soon found themselves desperately scouring the city for a roll of toilet paper and other basic commodities. Yet amid this virtual famine, restaurants and bar owners were sitting on a stockpile of supplies just waiting for their usual customers to return. They didn’t come back for weeks. While it’s been a month since the killer quake and tsunami struck, Japan’s famed hot spring resort areas are still floundering but the local bar and restaurant trade has picked up again.

Some say it’s the incessant public service announcements (PSAs) appearing on their TV’s that have driven them back to the bars at night. When major television sponsors requested that their regular ads be replaced with corporate sponsored PSAs, TV stations made an earth-shattering discovery. There just weren’t very many to choose from. TV stations scrambled to fill their ad spots with a handful of uninspiring PSAs. One featuring a menagerie of cute animated animals and a boy in a yellow cowboy hat was aired countless times a day. Seemingly aimed at kids, the PSA encourages everyone to be more friendly to one another by greeting people they meet. "The more people you greet the more friends you will make," says the PSA. Appearing on every channel at every hour of the day, it was incessant and driving viewers to the brink of insanity. It took more than a week for the industry to fill the commercial air time with a wider variety of PSA’s but by that time it was too late. The damage was irrevocable as the incessant chorus of the maddeningly friendly characters voices echoed over and over in people’s minds.

Luckily the PSA's message wasn’t lost on everyone. After viewing the spot one afternoon, a young resident of Tokyo named Jun wondered if what the cute little cowboy character was saying was true. Could greeting people you meet in your everyday travels lead to a more civil society? He decided to put the thesis to the test and so with pen and paper in hand he headed for the busiest part of town, the local train station.

On his way to the station Jun runs into a friend. After explaining his experiment, Jun’s friend is intrigued and decides to join him. At first the two pass by an older man. They say, “Good afternoon,” but there’s no response. They run into another man and try again, “Good afternoon.” Once again there is no response and so it goes on and on. As more people ignore them they begin to question the wisdom behind the message of the boy in the yellow cowboy hat. Then finally the sixth person they greet responds! He says, “Good afternoon.”

The pair, pick up another friend along the way and the threesome continue with their experiment. People seem to go out of their way to ignore them but out of the next 15 or so people they greet, the majority greet them back. They are somewhat startled but encouraged by the results. Then something else startles them. They utter their usual greeting and are blasted with a resounding “Good afternoon!” in return. This time voiced in chorus by several uniformed police officers. A brief interchange follows between Jun and one of the policemen. Jun records the conversation on his blog as follows:

Cop: What are you doing?
Jun: Greeting people.
Cop: Why?
Jun: Is there something wrong with it?
Cop: Are you campaigning for office or something?
Jun: No, just trying to be friendly.
Before they know it, Jun and his companions are being escorted to the local police station where they continue with their social experiment. The results seem positive at first. All the officers in the station house greet them in return. Then they are put in the box for questioning. Jun recalls the interrogation as follows:
Detective: What were you guys doing?
Jun: Saying hello to people.
Detective: Why?
Jun: Do we have to have a reason for saying hello?
Detective: If you want to go home you better answer the question.
Now Jun straightens up as he suddenly realizes he could be in for a world of trouble. More than a bit frightened, he apologizes and explains how everything started. After listening to the whole story, the detective looks Jun in the eye and tells him, “What you’re doing is not a bad thing but it’s a little suspicious so I suggest you cut it out. Just try to behave normally.” Next from the distant and darkened corner of the room bellows the voice of authority. It's the verdict of an older officer who has been observing the whole time. He pipes in saying, “I think what your trying to do is really great and I would like to see you keep it up but the sad fact of the matter is these days I’m afraid that kind of thing just doesn’t go.” On that note everyone is freed to go home.

Before they leave Jun and his friends thank everyone and in the style of the lovable lion character from the PSA shout out, “sayonara rah-yon (goodbye lion, but kind of like 'see you later alligator').” On that note one of the policewomen in the precinct house chimes in with the final chorus from the all too familiar televised PSA, “ba ba ba bah.” In a world where sympathy can lead to bankruptcy and civility breeds suspicion, it seems that even the best intentions of man (and lion) can go awry.

Little Silver Evacuating Hood

Tokyo -This month the Mannekin Pis replica at the JR Hamamtsuchou train station in Tokyo is fittingly decked out in disaster prevention gear. The hood, known as a bousai zukin (literally "disaster prevention hood"), is de rigueur for practically every elementary school kid in Japan. Serving as a comfy seat cushion most of the time, in the event of an earthquake children are trained to don the protective covering before orderly evacuating the school building. On 3-11 it would not have been uncommon to encounter Tokyo metropolitan area school kids wearing these hoods as they navigated their way home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

No-nukes Protests Erupt

Tokyo - Anti-nuclear power rallies were held throughout Japan on Sunday. Two rallies were held in Tokyo alone. Japan's public broadcasting company, NHK, put the number of demonstrators taking part in a protest near TEPCO headquarters at 2,000. A much larger rally held on the western edge of Tokyo boasted 15,000 participants. Those are impressive numbers for the anti-nuke movement to turn out in a country still reeling from the double punch delivered by Mother Nature only a month ago.

As radioactive clouds loom over the horizon the outlook for a nuclear-free future in Japan is hazy at best. The drama of today's protests played out against the backdrop of elections that secured the seats of two staunch nuclear power proponents. The gubernatorial reelection of nuclear power advocates, Shintaro Ishihara in Tokyo and Issei Nishikawa in Japan's western prefecture of Fukui, (home to the MOX-fueled Monju reactor) is an ominous sign of the obstacles that lie ahead for Japan's no-nukes movement.

Related story: The Revolution Will Not Be Downloaded

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Downloaded

Yokohama - As workers try to rein in the colossal radioactive disaster at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) nuclear power station in Fukushima, Japan, another battle is raging across the country. The first salvo in that skirmish was fired Thursday morning when rock singer, Kazuyoshi Saito, uploaded what some are calling a revolutionary music video to Youtube. Unlike others in the same genre, this one breaks the mold as it delivers a biting political message. The video and song takes dead aim at Japan's nuclear power industry and the Japanese government for selling the public what the composer believes is a pack of lies about the safety of the country's 54 nuclear power plants. Set against the backdrop of a nuclear meltdown, the song entitled "Zutto Uso Datta (A Lie All Along)," is a call to take action against an industry that has forever poisoned the once fertile farmlands and fisheries of Fukushima and beyond. In his ballad, Saito says he longs for a sky from which radioactive rain doesn't fall.
Fans of Saito were mystified when minutes after the video was posted on Youtube it vanished, presumably removed at the request of the artist's label, the Victor Company of Japan (JVC). Then like Lazarus rising from the dead, the footage remerged only to be taken down again minutes later. Soon ensued a game of cat and mouse as the song popped up on video sharing sites across the Internet as quickly as it was getting shot down. One would be removed and three more would take its place. At one point they completely disappeared from Youtube only to show up on similar venues like Vimeo or Daily Motion, the anti-nuclear power message multiplying all the time.
At a time when Japan is pulling together as a nation in the aftermath of multiple disasters, any criticism of TEPCO or the nuclear power industry as a whole is often viewed as an attempt to pull that reconstruction effort apart. The anti-nuke fight has been portrayed as more of a distraction than a solution to the myriad of problems facing those hardest hit. It's been difficult for the no-nukes camp to make the case that the accident at Fukushima is a man-made monster rather than purely the result of Mother Nature's earthquake and tsunami double punch.
As the disaster at Fukushima closes in on Chernobyl for the distinction of being perhaps the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, that line between man-made and natural is beginning to come into focus. Saito's song borrows a line continually repeated by TEPCO executives that the natural disasters were "beyond anything we could have expected." He says it's nothing but a repeated lie and maybe he's right. While the country's nuclear power experts didn't see the tragedy coming, others did and even put their vision of an impending nuclear nightmare to music. In the wake of the meltdown at Chernobyl, Japanese rock legend, Kiyoshiro Imawano, released a song called Summertime Blues, warning of the dangers posed by the 30 reactors dotting the Japanese landscape at the time. Signed to the Toshiba EMI label, a subsidiary of the same Toshiba Corporation that makes nuclear reactors, the song and the message it carried never made it to the airwaves, nor the ears of most Japanese. Now it looks like the music industry and their corporate partners are playing the same tune in an effort to silence out any cries to end business as usual.
Thirty five years ago the poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron wrote, "the revolution will not be televised." While popular opposition to nuclear power grows across Japan, there is an unseen force at work here doing everything it can to nip it in the bud and make certain that this revolution will not be downloaded. At the end of the day that may not matter much at all though, because here the anti-nuke revolution is live.

Related story: This is Not a Test

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dig This!

Signs of ancient Romans in Japan!!!

Yokohama - I stumbled upon this ground breaking archaeological find while traipsing through my garden.

This is the biggest story to hit Temple Valley in weeks.

This Is Not a Test

Tokyo/Yokohama - Before the devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, its epicenter of Sendai was at the middle of another gripping event that rocked the nation. At the center of that story, which dominated headlines for weeks, was a 19-year-old native of the area caught ......(read on at Japan Today).

Read the comments section below the article and see how many people hate me in Japan Today.

Related story: Reaching Critical Mass

Outrage Sparked!

Yokohama - I recently penned an op-ed article that appeared in the U.S. daily, the Baltimore Sun. While the essay dealt with the tragic events that have occurred in the wake of the enormous quake and monster wave that has devoured so many towns and lives along the northeast coast of Japan, I was excited at the prospect of seeing my words standing along side the commentaries of kings, queens, heads of state, and Dan Rodricks. I quick as I could dashed off an email to my beloved family residing in the Baltimore area to tell them of my latest publication with a request for the small favor that they clip the little opus from those pages and post it to me at their earliest convenience. Upon receiving my correspondence, my brother-in-law, Sparky, had this earth-shattering reply:

Oh man, I wish you would have mentioned that sooner, bunky.

Fact is, the lady of the house just wrapped up some crabs with that edition. Sorry, but, hey, tell you what, I can go outside in the trash and shake them crab scraps off the SUNPAPERS, then send 'em to you by M bag.

That work for you, bunk?


Related post: Never Forget!

Reaching Critical Mass

April 3 protest outside TEPCO building in Tokyo
As radiation levels from Japan's melting reactors reach new highs, public anger toward the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the power company that owns them, seems to be below the boiling point.
"Get caught in the rain and you'll lose your hair." That's what the kids used to chant when I was a girl, says a fifty-something native of Yokohama. It was the late sixties and radioactive particles carried by the wind from above ground nuclear testing in the South Pacific had pushed radiation levels sky high. "Compared to now, the radiation level was actually much higher around here back then," she utters with a shrug and look that says she has seen this all before. "Shoganai," says her nephew. It's a common Japanese expression, an almost fatalistic resignation that we are powerless in the face of events that have unfolded like a rolling pair of dice or perhaps fate. It seems to roll off peoples tongues here at the worst of times.
In the wake of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered the monster wave which has swallowed whole towns and rocked the Fukushima nuclear power plant to its core you can here "shoganai" echoing from just about every corner of Japan. Fears of radioactive contamination blowing downwind have touched off a roller coaster of emotional responses in the capitol area 170 miles south of the leaking power plant, but anger seems to be the most subdued. While Twitter and internet sites rage with tirades against TEPCO, for a chain reaction of failures in response to the accident, that anger hasn't spilled over into the streets. Japan's nuclear nightmare has sparked huge anti-nuke demonstrations as far away as Germany, yet a rally outside the TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo this Sunday barely drew a crowd of three hundred.
The idea of a public demonstration is not an alien concept here either. In March of 2003 thousands filled the streets in protest of the US-led coalition's impending invasion of Iraq. The Asahi Shinbun, a major Japanese daily, in their coverage of that anti-war demonstration quoted rally organizers who estimated the number of protestors at 50,000. The successful turnout at that event was largely credited to a full-page announcement of the rally paid for by Greenpeace that ran in an area newspaper days before. The well-planned organizing strategy paid off in big crowd figures. That was eight years ago and long before Twitter, the social networking tool that is being leveraged to topple regimes across northern Africa, was a twinkle in anyone's eyes. If any place were ripe for a Twitter revolution, it would be Japan where a cell phone is de rigueur for just about everybody over the age of ten.
One would think that an impending nuclear nightmare on their doorstep would send Tokyoites out their doors in droves but that's obviously not the case. A recent survey by a major metropolitan daily newspaper, the Tokyo Shinbun, revealed that residents of Tokyo are evenly divided with more than half willing to accept whatever risks may accompany nuclear power in return for the electricity they need to keep everything humming along. While for now self-restraint has prompted the nuclear power industry to put the breaks on new plant construction from one end of this island nation to the other, it looks like that could all change. The nuclear power industry could be back to business as usual before we know it. If you look at the numbers at the Aril 3 demonstration in Tokyo, it would seem that Japan lacks the critical mass of people needed to erase nuclear power from the energy map. Then again when it comes to nuclear physics you need only just enough material to sustain a chain reaction. It's possible that Japan's anti-nuke movement has enough momentum to keep the sustainable energy ball rolling. While the Japanese no-nukes revolution may be hushed, I hear the words of the famed cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead echoing: " Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Related story: Downwind from Disaster