Skip to main content

The opening scenes of the Japanese Anime movie, Whisper of the Heart (Mimi o Sumaseba) shows the distant skyline of Tokyo, as seen from the suburb of West Tokyo, in the mist of evening. The first images give you a feeling of an almost endless city, overwhelming yet beautiful in the morning mist, then normal street scenes of life in West Tokyo...all accompanied, seemingly incongruously, with a version of John Denver's "Country Roads."

(From the English dubbed version's opening scenes)

To me those opening scenes of Whisper of the Heart always brings a nostalgic tear to my eye because it captures perfectly what life in Japan is like. As I see the scenes from Japan now, after such devastation, I can't get these scenes out of my head.

To understand why the song "Country Roads" (and a parody of it called "Concrete Roads") plays a strong and recurring theme in Whisper of the Heart, you have to know some background on West Tokyo. Today this suburb is a huge, sprawling outgrowth of Tokyo proper, all linked together by a spiderweb of rail lines. Everyone takes the train and you can reach almost any corner of Tokyo by train. West Tokyo was built on the rural area called the Tama Hills. Before Tokyo overflowed into the Tama Hills these were, from what I hear, a gorgeous and quiet mix of forest and agriculture. The beauty of this very Japanese, almost sacred combination of nature and agricultural life is portrayed in another Anime movie from the same studio as Whisper of the Heart. The children's movie My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) is based in a similar hilly region to the north of the Tama Hills. This movie reflects the rural area west of Tokyo in the post war childhood of the famous animator Hayao Miyazaki, and is among the most beautiful movie I have ever seen.

(from the Japanese Tonari no Totoro trailer)

There is a project in Japan, called the Totoro Forest Project, to preserve just a tiny reminder of this old, traditional world:

(Totoro no Mori Project trailer)

So very preserve a small square of forest (with a Shinto Shrine at the center) as a reminder of their past.

The transition from the beautiful rural past of My Neighbor Totoro and the urban sprawl of Whisper of the Heart, can be found in the somewhat strange and mythical Pompoko, an almost racy story of an imagined resistance movement by the Tanuki (a Japanese animal somewhat like a raccoon) trying to stop the development of the Tama Hills.

(the Japanese trailer for Pompoko...the title refers to the sound the fat Tanuki make when slapping their bellies after a good party)

They lost and the Tama Hills became the West Tokyo "Concrete Roads" of Whisper of the Heart.

This sequence of only thinly connected movies from the famous Studio Ghibli in many ways captures the essence of Japan. Its worship of Nature (literally in the form of the Shinto religion where trees and mountains can be sacred and famous warriors become gods), it's rise to an economic superpower in the aftermath of its failure to become a military superpower, and the conflict between the sacred rural past and the superpower of today.

And through all three movies is an innocence that seems to cling to Japan everywhere I looked and yet seems to be belied by the militarism that still lives on in its right wing political movements. Like any nation, any culture, Japan has its contradictions.

I have never been to the north of Japan. I lived in Kyoto which is far from the epicenter and far from the coast. To me Kyoto was one of the most amazing cities I have ever been...perhaps tied with Barcelona and Florence. Sendai is a city I know of because there are frequently scientific conferences there, but I have never been to one. The only scientific conference I have been to in Japan was in a suburb of Osaka.

I have been to Tokyo a few times. In fact when I first visited I stayed with a friend's family way, way, way out in a suburb...I don't know which one but it could have been somewhere in West Tokyo. It was more rural, less built up. Closer to a city like Los Angeles rather than the urban canyons of NYC or central Tokyo. The train ride into Tokyo proper was a long one. Tokyo and its suburbs depend on their trains, so you can imagine what it is like when an earthquake like this one knocks out train service. When I was stranded in Manhattan on 9/11 with my step-daughter in Brooklyn, at least I knew a long walk across a bridge would get me home. Maybe 5 miles. If you are from West Tokyo and commute to Tokyo proper you can be some 15 miles away...a much longer walk.

I have quite a fondness for Japan. It is a conservative, uptight, sexist nation overall, but beyond these flaws it is a wonderful place which often takes an appreciation for aesthetics that I miss living in NYC which seems to almost never value aesthetics. Subtle things strike you and stay with you. The Nightingale Floors in Kyoto's Nijo-jo (roughly "Second Ave. Castle"). Nijo-jo was the castle of the Tokugawa Shoguns and was built to intimidate. But within it had a subtle, beautiful defense. Beautiful, darkly stained wooden floors that were put together just right to make a slight chirping sound whenever someone walked along it. So at night, an assassin could never walk without being heard. Beautiful and practical at the same time. That is Japan.

If you have never been in an earthquake, it is really hard to describe it to you. I grew up in Southern California so I grew up with the instinct of being up, out of bed, and in a doorway before I am even awake. To me a weak to moderate (up to, more or less, a magnitude 5) is kind of enjoyable. Sometimes it is a gentle, rolling motion which translates to a slow swaying if you are in a tall building. I remember one magnitude 5 quake when I lived in Santa Monica in a tall building where the entire building gently swayed and everything was silent except the metallic sound of hangers in the closet and the slosh of water in the toilet. It was actually serene, gentle. It is a great memory.

Then there are the bigger ones. I experienced the Sylmar quake as a kid and was terrified. We had to evacuate because we lived near the outflow of a dam that had cracked in the quake. The tap water was muddy for days afterwards and we had to drink bottled water.

I experienced the Northridge quake as an adult and was about as terrified. I think I screamed both times. Not sure though because first of all it wasn't a conscious thing. It was simply a lizard-brain, woken out of a sound sleep with no clue what was going on kind of scream. Second of all, the noise of the quake was so loud, you could have put all the amps from a Heavy Metal band next to my head, turned them up to 11, and I wouldn't have noticed. In the Northridge quake I was living in a room with wooden closet doors. The sound of those doors shaking was almost deafening! And there were huge flashes of light outside that made no sense to me until hours later I realized they were transformers on power lines blowing. My earthquake instincts cut in and I was up, out of bed and...FLAT ON MY FACE before I was awake. I think it was the pain of my knee slamming into the floor as I fell that woke me as much as anything else. In this quake I couldn't move. The shaking was that strong. I just had to ride the thing out and hope the hillside didn't fall or something.

Big quakes go on for a long time, or at least seem to...and you NEVER know if it is going to get stronger or weaker at any moment. Then, finally, gradually, the earth settles down. The Northridge quake had an extra twist in that it started to quiet, then came right back full force. I remember the growing relief as it had started subsiding...and then the renewed terror when the earthquake slammed back into action. But it finally ended.

Then...for the rest of the day there were aftershocks. About half way through the day I was so sick of aftershocks when one of the strongest ones hit I was sitting on the toilet...and I just said "fuck it" and stayed right where I was doing my business. To hell with the earth if it wanted to shake.

That quake was just shy of a magnitude 7. Los Angeles was, more or less, back in business (with lots of cleaning up and some areas still knocked out) within a few days. Even the collapsed freeways were put back in business with amazing rapidity. That was just shy of a magnitude 7...Even WITH that experience I can barely imagine what a magnitude 9 would feel like. I mean, shit. Almost beyond belief.

Japan got hit with a magnitude 9. That is roughly 1000 times the energy represented by the Northridge quake. And then came the tsunami. That is something I have never experienced other than, along with the rest of the world, watching with horror the Indonesian tsunami wipe out entire villages in a slow, irresistible flow.

Those who watched the footage of the helicopter over the ocean as the tsunami came in towards Japan heard the Japanese pilot repeating something over and over..."Oukii na tsunami...oukii na tsunami..." He was saying "BIG TSUNAMI!...BIG TSUNAMI!.

Then at the end of that footage you see, in silence, jaw dropping devastation...every piece of footage I saw of that tsunami I kept thinking, "I hope everyone got the hell out of there in time..."

But in one prefecture, probably 10,000 washed away. That will probably be the highest fraction of deaths, but...I had hoped the death toll wouldn't be above a few thousand. It will almost certainly be over 10,000...

Words failed me when I watched the footage of the Indonesian tsunami, which hit a much wider area of land and killed far, far more...maybe close to a quarter of a million, though accurate numbers may never be known. The Japanese tsunami was a mammoth 30 ft high in some areas, and basically erased entire towns. The one lucky thing about it was that most of its energy was directed AWAY from Japan, which is why it hit Hawaii and California. Had most of the energy been directed the other way, more of Japan would have been devastated.

Each time I have stood in the heart of Tokyo, far, far more than when I stand in Manhattan, I am struck by the sheer economic power and activity humming around me. That economic force has been hit a severe blow. Many of its factories, ports and airports shut down after the earthquake. And between the multiple nuclear plant disasters and the multiple refinery fires, its energy generation ability has taken a heavy hit as well. I think it can recover, but it already had signs of stress and weakness all through its economy. It is just possible that it will never be quite the same. And that will have echoes throughout the world economy.

Japan is in a tough spot when it comes to energy. Their superpower economy requires a HUGE amount of energy...and they have almost no resources of their own. They don't have a vast desert for optimal solar. They don't have vast steppelands or plains for optimal wind power. They don't have oil or much coal. Of course they have some wind, solar, geothermal and perhaps particularly tidal potential, but little of it has been seriously utilized and even if it was, it may well not really fulfill its needs adequately. I mean the United States has it all. We are STUPID for not developing like crazy our vast wind potential (some of the best in the world), our vast solar potential (some of the best outside of the Sahara), our respectable geothermal and, perhaps most of all, methane production from the vast amount of waste (like trash and pig shit) we produce. In one of Al Franken's books (Lying Liars, I think) there is a horrific description of the pig industry in the United States. These factory farms produce such huge amounts of pig shit that they are collected into vast ponds. And as those ponds of pig shit decay, forming methane (a much, much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide), pressure can build up like in your gut after too much great Mexican Food and beer. And it produces pig shut geysers, as Al Franken describes it.

I read that and thought to myself, therein lies a vast wealth of energy to power America. America could power itself extensively with pig well as its wind and solar potential.

But Japan is limited in all of these. They can do more than they have from domestic sources, but not to the level that their economy requires. America COULD do it. Japan probably cannot. So they have to rely on imported fossil fuels and nuke energy produced from imported fuel. Both are expensive for them and are dangerous.

Last summer I was at a conference in Heidelberg, Germany. The conference was at the European Molecular Biology Lab up in the hills above Heidelberg. From one of the institute's windows was a panoramic view of central Germany. And there, way off in the distance, was unmistakably an enormous nuclear power plant. I have to admit, my first reaction (perhaps my XY nature) was "Whoa, that is SOOOO COOL!" It was so far away and yet dominated the landscape.

In some ways nuclear power really is a super cool thing. You can actually harness the binding energy that holds together atoms and generate electricity to run your coffee maker. There is something so fundamental about that. And radioactivity is something I have dealt with, at low levels. I have worked in labs with both beta and gamma emitters. Some of the radioactive materials I used generated radioactivity so weak that your first couple of layers of skin will block them. As long as you don't get them on your hands and eat it, you are pretty safe. Some I handled required think sheets of lead to block. Of course the materials and waste from a nuclear plant generate much higher energy, though the principles are the same.

Chernobyl is the nuclear disaster that most people think of when they think what could happen to a nuclear plant. This can be viewed as a kind of worst case scenario...and it was HORRIBLE. The official numbers of dead from Chernobyl are probably completely stupidly low. One middle of the road number was 4000 dead. I think we have no clue. The amount of initial cover up by the Soviet Union combined with the fact that so many interested parties have tried downplaying it mean it is hard to know how many of the strange cancer deaths from after Chernobyl downwind of the disaster are due to random statistics (unlikely), other toxic industries in the former Soviet Union (which were MASSIVELY toxic), or due to Chernobyl. I'd say 4000 is an underestimate but not hugely so.

In the Western World and Japan, nuclear plants are not built like Chernobyl. Let me be blunt. In Japan, America and Western Europe we have never been dumb or desperate enough to make the huge errors of judgment that led to Chernobyl. The Soviet Union was trying to out-compete a much wealthier neighbor and so it had to try to do the same things and more with far less money. The results were messes like Chernobyl. The number of really stupid things that led to the Chernobyl disaster are just not applicable to nuke plants like those in Japan. One example: the Chernobyl plant included solid graphite to slow the nuclear reaction. Graphite can burn quite nicely. And in Chernobyl it did burn, which is one of the reasons why the radioactive cloud was so bad. No one in their right mind today would do that. There are several other major differences that all add up to the fact that the Japanese nuclear disaster is not likely to reach the level of Chernobyl...though I will point out that it is MULTIPLE reactors involved in Japan. Here's a new word problem: how many smaller Japanese nuclear disasters does it take to equal one massive and massively stupid Chernobyl disaster? I hope we don't find out.

Let's be absolutely clear: the Japanese nuclear disaster is huge. Don't let the nuclear industry down play it. And already some people have had to be treated for radiation exposure. I also need to mention something that I have seen about the Japanese nuclear industry time and time again: they lie through their teeth. Usually they try to put the absolute best face on things and only update to a more truthful, worse view when they absolutely have to. I suspect things are worse than they report because they have never reported things to be as bad as they really are.

This is one reason why it is hard to trust the nuclear industry. They are never honest in any nation as far as I can tell. If they want to earn our trust, STOP LYING TO US!

But we also have to keep in mind that these nuclear plants have just been put through about the most extreme test that anything could be put through. They are designed to withstand a direct hit from a 747. But not for the fifth largest earthquake in recorded history followed by a tsunami. There is almost nothing human-built that can go through that and not have problems.

Also something else struck me that we have to keep in mind...while we are all fixated on the exploding, partly melting-down nuclear plants we are missing something else huge. Possibly a far, far worse health and environmental disaster is occurring at the same time. The refineries and petrochemical plants that are burning are disasters possibly not so far from the level of the nuclear disaster. The smoke from those fires is going to be quite dangerous in its own right. In fact, they could be worse than radioactivity causing the same kinds of hidden, slow acting deaths from cancer and respiratory diseases, etc. I am betting there are some petroleum executives in Japan who are, in some ways, thankful for the nuclear disasters because at least it draws attention to the possibly equal disaster their industry is causing.

That is part of the nuclear industry argument. Oil and coal cause far worse damage than the nuclear industry. Even in Japan right now, oil might be causing worse damage.

It is unclear what Japan can do to fuel its economy given its lack of resources. Given the horrible choice between fossil fuels and nuclear energy, which is worse? America does NOT HAVE TO MAKE THIS CHOICE. We can pretty much throw out both if we are smart about it. Energy efficiency, wind, solar, methane from waste, geothermal, hydroelectric, biofuels if we do it the smart way that doesn't compete with food production, etc. We have SO MUCH POTENTIAL from each and every one of these. We don't have to make that terrible choice, whatever the nuclear advocates say. Perhaps some small contribution from nuke plants, particularly the already existing ones while we build a green energy infrastructure (pushing aside the Luddite Republicans and creating jobs in the process). But Japan just may have to continue making that choice between the melting down nuclear plants and the burning refineries spewing toxic smoke. I am glad America doesn't have to make that choice...and Republicans had better get with the program before they ruin American even more.

We are witnessing history changing events. This year, with the Middle East uprisings and the Great Sendai Quake already to its name, may be one of the more momentous years of our lives. I hope the nuclear disaster in Japan will soon be contained and I hope Japan can recover quickly.

Originally posted to mole333 on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 06:07 AM PDT.

Also republished by Seriously Seeking Cinema, Japan Nuclear Incident Liveblogs, and Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

    •  Nice diary (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mole333, yuriwho, cville townie, yaque

      I to have a great fondness for the Ghibli movies, even if I am somewhat ambivalent about Japan and its culture overall... I haven't been, but people from my group frequently go to Tokyo to meet with our electron microscope manufacturer, and we usually have one of their Japanese engineers onsite.

      I'll be the first to admit I'm not crazy about the 60's LWR technology used in these reactors, and they facilities should be phased out as they reach their design lifetimes. But I also think that some of the gen IV designs have too much promise to ignore, and should be pursued vigorously as part of our future energy mix. Nuclear has some technical, engineering, and planning issues to solve (as was witnessed here -- "no one expected") but also alot of political and psychological problems that could be better handled with better designs. Passive safety, online recycling, etc.

      Anyway.. EMBL? I don't suppose you're involved with the EBI.

    •  侘寂 (Wabi-sabi) (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mole333, wu ming, FishOutofWater

      Difficult to expalin that little square of forrest but it's a start.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 11:43:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That "Country Roads" sung in Japanese (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mole333, lotlizard

      is just an amazing surprise, isn't it?

      I love Whisper of the Heart and all of the Studio Ghibli movies from Miyazaki and crew. For anyone who hasn't seen them, they're unique and wonderful. Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and even Porco Rosso. My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service are great movies for kids: complicated and interesting yet not too scary... but we owned a copy long before our daughter was born.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 01:30:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Country Roads" gets me every time (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I get a nostalgic feeling too when I hear that song, and even more so when I see that clip you have at the beginning.  It really does capture what Japan is like.  The only possible way to make it more authentic would to add the extreme, humid and sticky heat that persists long after the sun has set.  Watching this movie in a sauna gets close to the mark, but you really have to feel it to know what I mean.

      Damn.  I really am almost crying.  This is too terrible.  Japan doesn't deserve this.

      •  I know what you mean (0+ / 0-)

        Japan is so influenced by its climate. My first white Christmas (I'm Jewish so not such a big deal...) was in Kyoto. It snowed on Christmas eve and the next day I discovered that Japanese architecture seemed designed to look gorgeous in the snow. I also remember one day going for Nabe after a long day of seeing temples and the warm broth was so good...and learning to put the leftover rice into the broth at the end of the meal really struck me...I have even done it in the US much to the surprise of the staff at certain Japanese restaurants.

        I lived in Northern Kyoto and worked at Kyodai. Relatively short bike ride or walk along Shirakawa. Given that Shirakawa is now cemented in it never really made much sense to me...until Sakura season. Then the trees bloomed all along Shirakawa and the trees were white and  the ground was covered in cherry blossoms and tears came to my eyes every day as I walked or biked to work. I have never seen anything so beautiful (with the possible exception of the city of Florence, Italy) as Northern Kyoto when the sakura were in bloom and covering the street.

        Summer was never my favorite in Japan. But still to this day the sound of cicadas (which I never heard growing up in California but now hear in NYC) remind me of Japan. That sound will always bring back memories of Japan at its stickiest.

        Japan will survive. It is one of the most determined countries I have ever seen. It will come back. It will just take time.

        Now I want to go back to Japan! Wish I had the money to do so. My wife and I honeymooned in Japan because my wife wanted to see what I had seen there. But my kids have never seen it and both of them have some affinity to the culture. Someday I will take them...

        FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. Read the PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT Newsletter

        by mole333 on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 05:23:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  One more thing... (0+ / 0-)

        Having a teenage daughter who is discovering her identity, the version of Country Roads that gets me the most is this one...

        FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. Read the PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT Newsletter

        by mole333 on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 05:51:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  greetings from germany (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    under the bodhi tree

    and my best wishes to the japanese people
    what you may miss when you compare or dont compare fukushima vs chernobil
    because of the abscence of the fire the local radiation
    fall out will be worse then chernobil because the fire carried alot of the nuclear material to the west (europe) away form chernobil. i hope i am wrong

  •  ... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gerald 1969, mole333, 7November, lotlizard
    And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
    It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall ~ Bob Dylan

    Amy Goodman on Democracy Now this morning interviewed:

    Yurika Ayukawa, Professor of the environment at Chiba University in Japan. She is formerly with the Citizens Nuclear Information Center.
    Harvey Wasserman, Longtime anti-nuclear activist and the editor of He is also a senior advisor to GreenPeace USA and the author of the book, Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth.
    Kevin Kamps, Specialist in nuclear waste at the nuclear watchdog, Beyond Nuclear. Last year he was in Japan assessing the state of its nuclear facilities.
    Arnie Gundersen, Nuclear industry executive for many years before blowing the whistle on the company he worked for in 1990, when he found inappropriately stored radioactive material. He is now chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates.

    Satyagraha 2.0 ~ there is no force in the world that is so direct or so swift in working.

    by under the bodhi tree on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 07:02:35 AM PDT

  •  "Stop lying to us". Risk communication (10+ / 0-)

    experts agree with you. Once public officials are seen to be untrustworthy, people are apt not to believe anything else they say, even if it is the truth. You leave the public open to misinformation from others. Your opponents can then lie repeatedly, the public will not hold them to the same standard.

    I never heard about pig shit geysers. I think they should install a manure lagoon methane digester right next to the Capital. "Powered by Pigshit" would be quite appropriate for the current House.

    “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”, Theodore Roosevelt

    by the fan man on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 07:38:24 AM PDT

  •  Memo to Mr. Obama (0+ / 0-)

    1.  Oil drilling.  Bad Frikkin idea.

    2.  Nuclear Power  Bad Frikkin idea.

    And we told you so.

    So backpedal and change your position on this as well.

    Or, if you like Nuclear power and it's so safe, build the damn plants in the middle of cities and we can all sit around them and drink our Sbux and wonder why anyone would doubt the nuclear industry.

    By the way, firing ever teacher in Rhode Island was not "reform" and its a little late to be trying to back the right to unionize after endorsing the union busting in R.I.

    "We will now proceed to construct the socialist order."

    by 7November on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 10:15:42 AM PDT

  •  Nuclear plants may be the ultimate in human (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, happymisanthropy, mungley


    Human beings need to recognize that they are part of Nature, not the most important part, just part.

    Remember the Pelicans

    by Irons33 on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 10:26:18 AM PDT

  •  nice diary, well written (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    notrouble, mole333, mungley, elfling

    regarding the vast suburbs of Tokyo, my friend walked to her suburban home on the train tracks after the quake. It took her 5 hours. She says one of the saving graces was that almost every worker in Japan has a backback with earthquake survival items in their office, including walking shoes.

    The nuclear issue is huge. My heart goes out for all those who are working in those nuclear plants, at this point putting their lives on the line desperately trying to contain this mess. I agree that making this a competition of horrors between nuclear and oil/coal is a false choice, we've got to push hard to move away from both, even if it's not doable in the next few years, change will never happen if we don't think bigger and bolder. As you say, especially in a country as big, wealthy and blessed with so much sun and wind, there is no excuse to not start acting.

  •  Excellent diary, thanks. n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Japan has LOTS of wind (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, wu ming, elfling

    Like any country located in the 40's latitude (Roaring Forties), or with a large coastline, or with lots of hills (ridgetops get windy), Japan is a pretty windy country. Winds tend to get more intense as you go north, and then there is the offshore wind potential, such as in the Sea of Japan.

    If there was a will to go mostly wind/pumped hydro electrical energy storage, some geothermal, and some biomass/trace photovoltaic, Japan could do it. No doubt about it.

    The estimated wind capacity of Japan is stated in this article/report reference as 133 GW. But, odds are, it could go up as the offshore potential gets tapped to a greater extent. And yes, they could easily do deepwater wind. See

    But, the big-government-big business hybrid that rules Japan wanted to go the nuke route. They also wanted the business of installing nukes all over the world (as in the GE-Hitachi hybrid).

    But, maybe that will change, now that the mirage of nukes has been peeled back.


  •  lovely diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, elfling

    i spent some time in kyoto once, and a bit of JR pass shinkansen tourism as well, including to the tōhoku. the tension between grey concrete economy, lush green gardens, and a really subtle and sublime sense of aesthetics is really fascinating.

    i hope they get that nuke plant shut down without major fallout.

  •  Thank you for the kind words (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, mungley, elfling, bisonoric

    about Japan. I used to live near where Studio Ghibili is located in western Tokyo and it was a nice (now) suburban area. I moved up north to Nasu about ten years ago, much more of a countryside like I grew up with in the Ozarks.
         Japan is a nation of contradictions from a Western standpoint but once you live here a long time, you get to kind of understand most of them and the reasons for them. It is a conservative and sexist country, though I'm not so sure about the uptight part. Its main redeeming quality is that there is a sincere caring for people. People here rarely commit crimes or hurt others because they have empathy and think about how the other person would feel to have such a thing done to them. Something that no one has really mentioned is how there was no looting after the earthquake. When I mention this to my Japanese wife, she looks puzzled. I don't think such an action would enter the minds of most Japanese--to steal from others (okay, some of you will be wondering about the atrocities committed in WWII. No one can condone those actions but I really think there were done in the hysteria of war).
         No society is perfect. I dislike the rigid, vertical relationships of Japanese society, as well as the ingroup-outgroup way of thinking that forms social relationships here. But these have advantages as well--if you're part of an ingroup, you are treated very well and with kindness and consideration. Many older Japanese men have a kind of pride that makes loss of face one of the worst things that can happen to them, but the younger generation that I teach at universities are different. Japanese women are among the strongest you'll find anywhere. They let the men think they run things and do it without hurting their pride.
         I live about halfway between the epicenter of the earthquake and Tokyo and my house got shook up pretty good. I'm also about 70 miles southwest of the nuclear power plants that are causing all the trouble. I have a lot more at stake than most of you and I have no idea how this will turn out. That's part of life. I'm hoping that if the air gets contaminated, it will blow eastward out across the ocean and not on the people here, including me. I don't want it to hurt anyone else either, of course, and hope that if it reaches populated areas, it will have dissipated enough to cause no harm. It would be much too terrible for Japan to be victimized again by atomic radiation.

    •  Glad all is well with you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Thing about disasters is people behave their best. In NYC after 9/11 and again during the big black out everyone helped eachother in ways you seldom see. Looting usually comes from a place where there isn't an inherent underlying anger towards society, I think disasters bring out the best in people.

      I saw Japanese as having three ways to interact with people (at least gaijin). When you first interact with them like getting on a train or something, with no personal connection, they are as pushy as anyone. As soon as a personal connection occurs (asking a question, being a customer, whatever) they become the nicest, most polite people ever. My favorite example is from the first time I was in Japan to interview. I was staying at a hotel right by Kyoto-eki and, as I was wont to do in those days I was young and traveling alone, I went for a long, long walk, intentionally getting lost. I wound up over the hills in the next region. It was about time to get back but wasn't sure the best way. So I started asking people "Kyoto-eki wa, dochira desu ka?" Each and everyone asked "Basu de? Takushi de?" and couldn't believe me when I insisted "Aruite." But they answered, I'd barely understand but would get a direction, walk until I wasn't sure, then ask again...triangulating my way back. Well, ultimately someone didn't believe I was going to walk so he took me into his office, handed me a GREAT map of Kyoto which I used for years after, and a book of taxi coupons. I thanked him and walked on.

      Later it started to rain. So I stopped for lunch at a random cafe and contemplated whether I'd take a taxi if it didn't stop raining by the end of lunch. I took out the taxi coupons and realized it was more than $100 worth (at the time) of taxi coupons!

      In the end I took a taxi.

      The third level of interaction I had with Japanese was basically when you go out and get drunk it's just like getting drunk with anyone else from anywhere else in the world.

      FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. Read the PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT Newsletter

      by mole333 on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 12:34:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Spent nuclear rod in cooling pool (0+ / 0-)

    Could melt down,if exposed, All bet will be off ,if that happen   

  •  I Respectfully Disagree - (0+ / 0-)

    The earthquake/tsunami combo has long been known.
    Without any doubt since the Sumatran earthquake/tsunami.

    Being hit by a 747 is highly unlikely - unless by terrorist attack.
    Being hit by a strong quake and tsunami in Japan - although improbable in any short time span - becomes increasingly likely over longer periods.

  •  Spent fuel pools now the major concern. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    "There should be much more attention paid to the spent-fuel pools," says Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear engineer and president of the anti-nuclear power Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "If there's a complete loss of containment [and thus the water inside], it can catch fire. There's a huge amount of radioactivity inside – far more than is inside the reactors. The damaged reactors are less likely to spread the same vast amounts of radiation that Chernobyl did, but a spent-fuel pool fire could very well produce damage similar to or even greater than Chernobyl."

    From the Christian Science Monitor, one hour ago.

    •  More info here: from UK Telegraph (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of the nuclear safety authority in France, the world’s second-largest producer of nuclear power, said the accident was now “worse than Three Mile Island but not as great as Chernobyl”. The partial meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979 was rated five out of seven on an international scale, with Chernobyl put at seven.

      While Japan’s nuclear safety agency rates Fukushima as level four, Mr Lacoste said: “We have the feeling that we are at least more than level five and probably at level six. I say this after speaking to my Japanese counterparts.” ...

    •  I was thinking about that just this evening... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It occurred to me that those don't seem well contained from what I can tell from the diagrams I've seen.

      FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. Read the PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT Newsletter

      by mole333 on Mon Mar 14, 2011 at 05:30:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Energy has a cost (0+ / 0-)

    These past few days have done a lot to illustrate how much care must be put into designing nuclear power plants.  There are obviously serious risks involved in harnessing the power of the atom.  That said, the price of other power options should not be ignored:

    -Fossil fuel use pollutes our air and contributes to global warming.
    -Biofuels compete for space with foodcrops and encourage the destruction of natural environments.
    -Solar and wind plants have lower outputs per unit space and while they can be stuck out in the desert or midwest out of sight, natural environments are disrupted by the size of the installations and there's a lot of NIMBY attitude towards these power sources.
    -Hydropower disrupts natural waterways causing loss of habitat to many freshwater species of fish.  I also wonder how most of our dams would have held up against 9.0 magnitude quake.

    Nuclear power offers a lot of energy from a small footprint and is largely clean.  Yes, there is a risk of long term damage in the event of a melt down.  However, I feel this risk is more to human settlement than to wilderness (just look how the wilds have reclaimed the area around Chernobyl).  This argument also downplays the long term damage caused by other forms of energy production--just ask the salmon or sturgeon who are endangered by dams.

    The best we can do is understand the risks and take every reasonable precaution.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site