Image Source: Facebook.
As a nuclear crisis hangs in the balance in Japan, symbolism and mythology surrounding the environmental threat gain significance. The slip into an atmosphere of uncertainty begins with strange gekokujō (下剋上) moments, with challenges to conventional, contemporary officials and moral appeals to traditional authority. An illustration comes from the Emperor of Japan's annual spring garden party in the Akasaka Imperial Garden in Tokyo. At the party, the Emperor politely asked Governor Murai of Miyagi Prefecture what workers were doing, exactly, with radioactive debris. Were they disposing of it carefully?
Hard to say. In Minamisōma, Fukushima Prefecture, in February and March 2012, there was talk of mysterious black dust everywhere, which had never before been seen. On 27 April 2012, it was officially confirmed that the dust contained plutonium 238, 239, 240, 241 and strontium 89 and 90. It also has huge levels of radioactive cesium 134 and 137. One concerned city official remarks that all the black dust has "blown away." You can see his video of local dust storms, here, and his blog here.
Then there is this little piece, about Kindergarten children who were engaged to wipe down low level hot spots, namely mailboxes, in Ryozen-machi district of Date City in Fukushima Prefecture, 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the ruined Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Radiation rates are about 1 to 3 microsieverts per hour, with higher doses here and there, which occasioned previous recommendations that the city's children stay inside.
For reference, in May 2011, the Japanese legal radiation level under which under-18s were allowed to work outside was 0.6 microsieverts per hour. You can see a discussion about safe levels of radiation in Japan, including the comments section which has many links, here. On the other hand, a comment from the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons provides an opposing view, and dismisses the dangers of low dose radiation, here. The polishing of mailboxes was done on 20 April 2012 to commemorate Japan's postal service.
New ways of dealing with fallout in Fukushima Prefecture, 21 April 2012. Image Source: Fukushima Minyu via EXSKF.
"Stop calling murder a science!" Video Source: Youtube.
On 1 October 2011, in a huge break from decorum, members of Japan's communist/anarchist student group Zengakuren angrily confronted Dr. Sentaro Takahashi, Professor of Radiation Safety and Control in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at Kyoto University. They were concerned about radiation doses to Japanese children. They also claimed that scholars are providing research results which support hikes in officially-declared safe radiation levels. The students were protesting a lecture hosted by Dr. Takahashi and delivered by Dr. Yoshiya Shimada of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences; the latter has proposed an annual safe dose of up to 100 millisieverts. EXSKF: "I never thought I'd be cheering for what I used to know as a radical, Marxist student organization like Zengakuren (All-Japan Federation of Students' Self-Governing Associations ...), but I am now." Click on the CC button (bottom right) for English subtitles. This version of the video has French subtitles.
Fukushima I Reactor #4, Spent fuel pool, fifth floor (24 April 2012). Video Source: Youtube.
Then there's the open air hot bath on stilts that is Fukushima I Reactor #4's spent fuel pool. Much depends on it staying upright. It was recently toured by the Deputy Minister of the Cabinet Office; his presence was likely a sign of the growing concern over its integrity. You can see it in the video above, starting around the 6:00 minute mark.
Presumably, Emperor Akihito has heard several such stories lately. In his 11 March 2012 anniversary speech on the earthquake and nuclear crisis, he openly acknowledged that the Fukushima plants are not in 'cold shutdown' (somehow, this is still the official line, although insiders acknowledge it is untrue). And even he was censored by the government (the uncensored speech is below).
The Emperor chooses his words far too carefully to be deemed anti-nuclear. His speech was a miracle of imperial understatement. But when he spoke on the disaster, Japanese television incredibly removed all his comments about Fukushima, provoking some citizens, especially those who are active on the Internet. Common Dreams comments on this weird alliance of very old and ultra-new authorities: "Blogs and chat-rooms quickly filled with angry accusations that TV networks were censoring an important communication by the Emperor to his people at a time when his guidance is most sought." Thus, online popular opinion swings in the Emperor's favour because he is seen as an impartial figure, symbolically associated with the country, and not dominated by governmental or nuclear industrial interests:
The garden party on 19 April was part of Emperor Akihito's effort to bolster his people's spirits and support favourable international relations in light of Japan's growing crisis. On 10 April, he delicately approached the Brits for expertise and aid in relation to the Fukushima clean-up. In the past year, the Emperor has increased his public appearances as well as his attempts to strengthen Japan's links with several countries, especially Australia, Germany, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. In 2009, he met President Obama and visited Canada with Empress Michiko; he has also reached out to Taiwan, China and South Korea."Why did it take so long for the world to hear this statement? It does look like corporations control even the emperor of Japan's right to speech. But at least he said it. Few people in authority anywhere tell the truth when it comes to such important matters of public safety, whether from nuclear radiation, chemical spills, oil spills, etc. We get a pack of lies all day long."
The more dire the nuclear news, the more the Emperor's symbolic diplomatic gestures become important, poignant and powerful. Japanese people increasingly feel that the government and TEPCO are failing them: "I know he is a figurehead but he understands Japan better than any of those idiots 'in charge.'" There is talk about signing mass petitions and presenting them directly to Akihito. There is even Internet chatter about appealing to his (symbolic) executive power to close the parliament. A comment on the EXSKF blog, which follows Fukushima, shows that the Emperor provides some of his people with a living, historical symbolic context for Japan's existence, right at the moment when that existence is threatened:
Even anonymous foreigners treat the Emperor as a focal point. They post open letters to him online, in which they beg him to address Japan's nuclear disaster (as here). There is an American e-petition addressed to Akihito and the Japanese Prime Minister, here. Oddly, on 27 April, the government announced that the Emperor and Empress will be cremated when they die.Yesterday I visited a monument to Emperor Kameyama. It's on the site of the 1274 battle in which Kublai Khan's Mongols tried unsuccessfully to add Japan to their vast [A]sian conquests.
This was a very long time ago, but Emperor Kameyama was already the 90th emperor of Japan at the time. Emperor Akihito, Japan's current emperor, is the 125th.
Through its long history, Japan has survived military, cultural, and technological invasions. It was spared Mongol conquest in the 13th century. It has survived both of the world's only war-time nuclear bombs. And from the ashes of WWII, it eventually became the second largest economy of the world.
Japan has survived so long.
But Japan now faces its greatest enemy yet, an enemy so powerful that no man anywhere knows how to control it once it starts its course of destruction. Worse, that enemy has powerful allies in the highest seats of power inside Japan's government itself. At their hands, Japan is on the brink of anaihilation.
Japan's very survival is at stake. The emperor must do more. He must explain the historic priorities to all of the Japanese people.
The Japanese Emperor's speech on the one year anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and nuclear accident (11 March 2012). Video Source: Youtube via Guillaume Erard.
Meanwhile, the media are either oblivious or grim. The Telegraph reported in February that Japan's nuclear industry has long had ties to the country's organized crime syndicate members, or Yakuza, especially for worker recruitment. The four destroyed Daiichi reactors were finally officially closed on 19 April 2012. A recent CNN report covered the disaster up to last Christmas, but tactfully left out 2012's increasingly scary reports. In late April 2012, there were reports of new leaks and possible confirmations that the China Syndrome has taken place or is occurring (here and here). HuffPo reports that the media are "just beginning to grasp that the dangers to Japan and the rest of the world are far from over."
There are some new reports on the impact of Fukushima on marine wildlife:
- Irradiated whales (17 April 2012)
- Cesium in Pacific fish, shellfish (30 March 2012)
- Fukushima radiation found in 2011 in California kelp, fish (8 April 2012; study is here)
- Radioactive cesium found in canned salmon: "pink salmon" or "humpback salmon", in northern Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, Japan Sea, Iwate Prefecture, and Hokkaido (29 March 2012)
- Zooplankton, copepods (tiny crustaceans), shrimp and fish (2 April 2012)
- Canadian authorities not testing Pacific coast salmon for radiation (18 April 2012)
- TEPCO dumping Zeolite in Pacific to absorb radiation (16 April 2012)
Iwakuni Otake Petrochemical Complex is also a nuclear waste storage facility; it was struck by lightning on 22 April, which caused an explosion. Image Source: Yomiuri Online.
As if Japan was not facing enough, Iwakuni Otake Petrochemical Complex of Mitsui in Yamaguchi Prefecture (on Googlemaps here), which manufactures an adhesive used in the making of tires and also stores radioactive materials, was hit by lightning and caught fire early on 22 April 2012 (Japanese time). The source for this information is Fukushima Diary, which stated on the same day: "The complex is still on fire, and 3379 units of radioactive waste (200L in each unit) and Uranium for nuclear fuel are preserved in the site. The state of the uranium and radioactive waste is not reported yet. Windows were broken and several people got injured." One worker was killed. Youtube footage of the burning plant is below. By the second day, after two explosions at the site, remarks about a lightning strike were dropped from media reports; and there were comments in the media that the plant was in the middle of shutting down when the fires and explosions occurred. By late 22 April, firemen were waiting for combustible materials to burn out before an inquiry could begin. Mitsui Chemicals plant officials claimed that the depleted uranium containers on site were still intact on 22 April, and anyway, "[t]he radioactive agent is harmless to people." Further reports are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here .
Iwakuni Otake Petrochemical Complex of Mitsui caught fire, apparently after being struck by lightning, 22 April 2012. Video Source: Youtube (Hat tip: Fukushima Diary).
Video Source: Youtube.
A robot photographed the southeast Suppression Chamber manhole in Reactor #2 under highly radioactive conditions on 18 April 2012. Image Source: TEPCO via EXSKF.
The well in Ringu. Image Source: Scare Tactic.
It is easy to see how the Japanese could feel they face a malevolent god. Painful, heart-breaking stories about the lives and health of affected people move the crisis away from TEPCO's massive engineering problems toward the human and spiritual. The fourth part of the documentary, The Inside Story of the 3/11 Earthquake: Mapping Fukushima (here), shows a family returning to their plutonium-irradiated house for an hour to feed their abandoned cats, with their dog chasing after their car as they drive away (watch the four parts here, here, here and here). An "eerie, post-apocalyptic scene" around Fukushima gives way to reports that recent Japanese immigrants to New Zealand claimed signs of radiation sickness and Fukushima's children are already showing thyroid lumps and thyroid cancer; their early symptoms make medical history, despite denials of health risks.
I have blogged before (also here) about how the threat of nuclear radiation can quickly be carried into the realm of myth. TEPCO has released some footage of the inside of Reactor #2 (see here, here). The image of the Suppression Chamber manhole in Reactor #2, photographed by a robot on 18 April, reminded me of the well in the 1998 Japanese horror film, Ringu (watch it here; see my earlier blog posts on this film here, here and here).
Onryō are vengeful spirits. This image is from one of the Ring movies. Image Source: Paranormal Searchers.
Image Source: Urania Blog.
Image Source: Good Reads.
Earlier Japanese horror stories consider ghosts and curses as tests of the people. Lafcadio Hearn's collection of famous ghost stories from 1899, In Ghostly Japan, depicts Japanese disasters borne on the backs of restless spectres, who demand moments of spiritual transformation. You can read Hearn's collection here (thanks to -C.). It opens with a Fukushima-like scene of two men climbing to a height through a scene of death and desolation:
On through the dark they climbed,—and felt continually beneath them the soft strange breakings,—and saw the icy fires worm and die,—till the rim of the night turned grey, and the stars began to fail, and the east began to bloom.
Then first to the pilgrim's gaze the steeps revealed their nakedness;—and a trembling seized him,—and a ghastly fear. For there was not any ground,—neither beneath him nor about him nor above him,—but a heaping only, monstrous and measureless, of skulls and fragments of skulls and dust of bone,—with a shimmer of shed teeth strown through the drift of it, like the shimmer of scrags of shell in the wrack of a tide.
Behind them the world had vanished. Nothing remained but the clouds beneath, and the sky above, and the heaping of skulls between,—up-slanting out of sight.
Then the sun climbed with the climbers; and there was no warmth in the light of him, but coldness sharp as a sword. And the horror of stupendous height, and the nightmare of stupendous depth, and the terror of silence, ever grew and grew, and weighed upon the pilgrim, and held his feet,—so that suddenly all power departed from him, and he moaned like a sleeper in dreams.
A vengeful male spirit depicted in a demon mask. Image Source: Noh Mask.
Spirit images. Images Source: ハムスター速報 [Preliminary Hamster].
Spirit images. Images Source: ハムスター速報 [Preliminary Hamster].
"Floor surface where water leakage could have occurred," Fukushima Daiichi Reactor # 3 (19 April 2012). Image Source: TEPCO.
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