I was lost in my thoughts as I stood on the shore between the Fukushima Daiichi (first) and Daini (2nd) nuclear power plants, feeling the roaring waves of the Pacific Ocean through my whole body. The wind was fierce. The gigantic tsunami dealt a devastating blow to the whole area. Not a soul could be seen since the area was only about 10 kilometers from the plants. I told myself, “I’m witnessing a historic scene at this very moment.”
I visited Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, and disaster-stricken areas near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant yesterday. I uploaded my tweets during the trip to this blog after adding information and revising them a little.
Good morning. I’m heading to Iwaki today for the KIBOW Iwaki Meeting after attending a morning meeting of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives advisory committee. Landslides, power failures, water cutoffs, and other damage seem to have occurred in Iwaki because of an aftershock last night that registered 6 on the Japanese seismic scale. We’ve stuffed my car with lots of stationery for children to use. I’ll be driving my car to Iwaki with Mr. Shujiro Kusumoto and Mr. Kuranari of Cafe Company, Mr. Shingo Miyake of Nikkei Inc., and other KIBOW supporters.
I’m typing on my PC keyboard in my car, heading for Iwaki. I’m traveling the Joban Expressway northward to Iwaki with the three KIBOW supporters I mentioned and two Globis employees, Mr. Hirano and Ms. Miyo. We stopped by at the Tomobe Service Area along the way. Mr. Kusumoto had an original natto dog (a local rendition of the hotdog that uses fermented soybeans as relish).
While we were traveling to Iwaki, I called my older brother who was in Japan on an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission. He was on his way to Tokyo after completing his work in Fukushima. We were traveling in the exact opposite direction. “I’m leaving Japan for Vienna tomorrow,” my brother told me. He was one of the members of a multinational IAEA team that consisted of experts from England, Russia, and Hungary, studying radiation levels in Fukushima.
“The radiation level in Iwaki is less than 1 microsievert (μSv) per hour. There’s no problem eating vegetables with this level of radiation. It’s safe into a 20-km radius of the plant since the maximum radiation level is about 5 μSv per hour within a 16-km radius. But there are areas northwest of the plant where it goes over 10 μSv per hour.” My brother’s information was roughly the same as the Japanese government’s announcements.
The standard radiation level Japan set for evacuating residents is 20 millisievert (mSv) per year while the IAEA standard for this is 100 mSv per year. The Japanese government’s approach is more cautious than the IAEA’s.
In the car, I heard the news that the Japanese Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency raised the level of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to the maximum of 7 on the international scale. The current level of radiation at Fukushima is said to be less than 1/100 of that of Chernobyl. Assessing this crisis at the same level 7 as Chernobyl could lead to needless misunderstanding overseas. I’m worried about rumors causing further damage.
Our car reached Iwaki City. Ms. Miyo, who is from this area, said happily, “Oh, I’m home.” We’re driving from here to Onahama where her parents liver. Then we’ll head north to areas near the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The water supply was cut off in Iwaki, affected by last night’s earthquake in the city. I saw long lines at gas stations again. We arrived at Ms. Miyo’s parents’ house. There was a destroyed liquor store across the street.Her father said that the aftershock yesterday was stronger than the big quake that struck East Japan on March 11.
We arrived at Onahama Port. We saw stranded fishing boats and scattered debris there. Cars were upside down. Boats were aground. They were buried in debris. It was obvious that an 8-10 meter tsunami had swept this port over. The tsunami reportedly claimed the lives of about 300 people in the city of Iwaki alone. Wjoined our hands in deepest prayer for the victims.
We’re traveling north to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant now. Fukushima is blessed with natural beauty. The sky is blue and the land is green. I can see the Abukuma Mountains in the distance. Here and there I see cherry blossoms in their full glory.
We walked into a sushi restaurant, finding a noren (a traditional short curtain hung outside to show that a business is open) saying Iwaki Sushi. The restaurant had hung in there, staying open despite there being no water supply. I ordered the nigiri (hand-rolled sushi) set. The restaurant was stocking its fish via a route different from the usual one since locals had stopped fishing due to the tsunami damage.
While I was at the sushi restaurant, an earthquake made the ground rumble. It shook in a way that was different from earthquakes I’d been through in my life. The first strike was a vertical bump; then the ground trembled sideways. An earthquake warning from mobile phones went off two to three seconds later. The warning seemed unable to sound soon enough when the seismic center is directly underneath. The news flash said the earthquake registered a 6 on the Japanese seismic scale. The seismic center was directly under our feet. The ground jolted once again just when I caught the flash report.
This sushi restaurant was made of wood. I felt quake directly in my rear in a Japanese-style room with a straw-mat floor. Sliding paper doors made rattling sounds that amplified our fear. A middle-aged woman working at the restaurant brought our sushi after the jolt was over, as if nothing had happened. Her voice was full of vigor. I admire her incredible professionalism. I began eating my nigiri set, still feeling uneasy. Then another quake struck, and the ground was still shaking.
I searched the Internet and found that the Ibaraki Prefecture section of the Joban Expressway was closed to traffic following the quake. We made a good choice by leaving Tokyo early. After confirming online that there was no trouble at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and then paying the bill, we left the restaurant and headed northward.
Our car reached the town of Hirono. Then it entered an area within a 30-km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. I saw a thermal power plant in Hirono as our car traveled the area. We made our way into the zone within a 20-km radius of the nuclear plant. Our car passed by a billboard restricting traffic.
After a short drive, we came across three policemen in protective masks. They stood firmly in our way, stopped our car and asked us our reason for entering the zone.
I took over behind the wheel and drove the car away from the spot and on a different route. Strangely, we saw no signboard that said “no trespassing” this time around. Maybe we missed them. We drove north from where the police had stopped us. All the residents seemed to have evacuated. It was like a ghost town. Doors and windows were shut. Not a soul was in the streets.
Taking a right, I drove in the direction of the coast a little after we passed by the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant. I parked our car near a farmhouse about 500 meters from the seashore, hoping to catch a view of both the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini plants. We walked from there. We crossed the Joban Line train tracks covered with debris. We walked to the seashore, placing our feet flat on the soft ground that was muddy in places by tsunami. Settlements along the coast had been swept away and destroyed. We joined our hands to pray for the tsunami victims.
I was deep in thought on the shore between the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants, feeling the raging waves of the Pacific through my whole body. The wind was fierce. The gigantic tsunami had dealt a devastating blow to this coastal area. Not a soul could be seen, since we were only about 10 km away from the stricken Daiichi plant. I told myself, “I’m witnessing a historic scene at this very moment.”
We came across three men in white, full-body protective suits. They seemed to be police officers. We left the spot and Mr. Kuranari called out to them, “Otagai ni ganbarou!” (Let’s keep trying our best!) We saw about a dozen grazing cows on our way back. They were eating grass in a yard around a house as if nothing had happened. No people, but cows. The scene was unreal. A bit later we spotted several more cows on our left.
We found holes and dislocatons in the road here and there on our return trip. We also saw several roads that were closed to traffic. The strong feeling that “something incredible” had happened rose in our hearts at the sight of roads depressed for several meters. As I had imagined, this trip changed our awareness dramatically, compared with our previous understanding in Tokyo.
When I attended the KIBOW Mito Meeting, I wasn’t able to visit stricken areas because I took the express bus to Mito so that I had no cars to drive. This time, I was able to confirm the effects of the quake, tsunami, and nuclear power plants with my own eyes, thanks to the decision to travel by car. We’re about to arrive at the venue for the KIBOW Iwaki Meeting. I got word that the quake that struck a little after 2 p.m. closed down the Joban Expressway section north of Ishioka and stranded Asahi Kasei Corporation’s senior adviser Shiro Hiruta at Tokyo Station. What a pity!, I thought.
We arrived at the KIBOW Iwaki Meeting venue in Taira, a central district in Iwaki City. There were few people on the streets of Taira.
I walked across Iwaki Station and visited the ruins of the Taira Castle. The site was designated as off-limits because the castle’s stone walls had collapsed. Looking over from the small hill, downtown Iwaki somehow looked sad.
I was at the venue for the KIBOW Iwaki Meeting. It felt like the venue was constantly trembling because aftershocks were continuing. Friends of GLOBIS and KIBOW were coming in one after another for the meeting. The meeting was going to start any time now.
Group discussions began after my opening address. Participants put forth their different opinions. “People in Iwaki have returned to their normal lives (except for those living along the coast),” said a participant sharing the table with me. “The important thing is to let people outside Iwaki know this, and ask them to visit Iwaki for business and sightseeing, like they normally do. That’s our number one priority.”
The program for the meeting moved to the plenary session where all participants shared the opinions expressed in groups. “We worked hard to rebuild for a month, but the quake yesterday brought everything back to the starting point. We had no electricity last night. The water is still cut off,” reported an Iwaki municipal assembly member.
“Iwaki was originally a coal town,” the assemblyman went on. “But nuclear power plants are at the center of Iwaki now. Energy is key here. I heard all apartments in the city are now full. Engineers and other atomic energy workers are visiting Iwaki from Toshiba and external organizations. We want to think about how we can live with nuclear power plants. And we want to think about alternative energy at the same time.”
Another aftershock rocked Iwaki while the audience was listening to these views. I thought this quake was pretty big, but people in the audience calmly responded to the shake about three seconds later, saying, “It’s OK. That was probably about a 4.” People in Iwaki had already reached a point where an earthquake that was 3-4 on the Japanese seismic scale didn’t surprise them at all. They were strong-minded. “We have to live with earthquakes now,” continued the assembly member.
“Iwaki has now become a famous place in Japan,” noted a worker at the Iwaki City Office. “Iwaki should turn atomic energy to its own advantage. It should highlight atomic energy more as a town resistant to radiation risks. This is a golden opportunity for us. One idea is to invite many researchers and engineers involved in atomic energy and turn Iwaki into an advanced town in terms of atomic energy.” (Personal comments: This was even more positive than I expected.)
“People in Fukushima and Iwaki take pride in the fact that they have supported the energy supply for Tokyo and Japan through production of coal and atomic energy,” argued a manufacturing company employee. “It’s not a matter of receiving subsidies or not. Companies cooperating to operate nuclear power plants have created employment in Iwaki. The plants have given us opportunities.”
“I’m against the current dangerous state of the nuclear power plants, but I’ve never opposed those plants before,” offered an e-commerce company president. “From here forward, we have to think proactively about how we can live with nuclear power plants.”
“Iwaki and Los Angeles have similar climates and lifestyles,” said another participant. “People carry out the same car-centered lives; working, daily life, playing. Both places are blessed with sunshine.”
“The tsunami swept away the house where my younger brother lived with his wife,” revealed another participant. “I’m transporting goods every week from Tokyo to help them out. I’ve visited all evacuation sites by myself. The atmosphere at evacuation sites depends on whether there is someone who can display leadership. The atmosphere becomes positive when there is a good leader. The atmosphere turns heavy when no such leader is present.”
“Business managers in Iwaki are thinking that there’s no better way to cooperate in efforts to rebuild their community than to secure employment,” explained a third participant. “I’d like to ask people in Tokyo and other parts of Japan to sponsor fairs focused on products made in Tohoku and Iwaki. At any rate, we have to make goods and services move from Iwaki.”
“I run a club that has live music,” said an Iwaki nightclub manager. “Artists are coming to my club to play at their own expense now. Believe it or not, more than 30% of customers are visiting our club from areas outside Iwaki to see these artists live. I’m thinking about booking artists with reconstruction as a theme for the next 12 months. I’d like to ask all people (outside Iwaki) who come to my club to spread the word that ‘Iwaki is OK’ when they get home.”
“I heard Iwaki tops the list of communities where Japanese people want to live in their old age,” noted another participant. We have the ocean, plenty of sunshine and mountains. We should take advantage of these assets.”
“The city of Mito is supporting Iwaki,” said a municipal assemblyman from Mito. “When we brought goods from Mito to Iwaki, people there said, ‘We’ll rush to Mito if something terrible happens there next.’ Their words made us happy.”
“I’d like to talk about one annoying trend,” said a municipal assembly member from Iwaki. “Citizens, nonprofits and volunteer groups are creating an antinuclear bubble. It’s dangerous when people and organizations start taking actions in the name of ‘justice.’ I became an assemblyman after being in the first reserve for the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Many people used to take a stand against the SDF. These days no one is objecting to the SDF. I want to be sure we’re doing the right things.”
“We shouldn’t keep complaining about harmful rumors forever,” reminded a fish market operator. “Look at Sendai. Hotels there are open even though there’s no gas service. As many as 70 people came together for this KIBOW Iwaki Meeting. We can’t do anything if it’s only by ourselves, but we can always achieve things when this many people work together. From this point on, we should speed up our reconstruction efforts.”
Unexpectedly, many people traveled from Tokyo to this meeting; perhaps more than 10 from among the 70 or so participants. Surprisingly, no one spoke against nuclear power plants. I went to Iwaki to offer my encouragement, but I felt that the people there instead energized me with their high level of awareness. The KIBOW Iwaki Meeting ended just now and never lost steam. More than 3,500 people followed the event live on USTREAM, too. We were happy that we received terrific responses from them. The meeting was ultimately a great success.
(After the meeting, I attended a follow-up party and spoke with Iwaki residents, participants from Tokyo and KIBOW friends from Mito until after 1 a.m.)
April 14, 2011
Completed at my office in Nibancho after adding information and revising my own tweets