NISA Needs To Take Evil Lessons

It has been recently revealed that in 2006 the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked Chubu Electric company to recruit citizens to ask “pre-arranged questions” (“やらせ質問”) and speak favorably about nuclear power at public hearings on the proposed use of MOX fuel. These hearings took place in the summer of 2006 in Shizuoka and Ehime prefectures. Certain utilities asked its employees and even local residents to say positive things about the plutonium thermal project to win over support for the controversial proposal.

After getting caught manipulating public opinion to be pro-nuclear and to shut up dissent, NISA distributes "bowing in shame" (土下座)figurines to employees, with mini-manual to improve public opinion of NISA with quality apologies. (Not really.) It's not easy being an atomic cheerleader.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has made the requisite denouncements, promising an independent investigation into the matter, to be published by the end of August.

The Sankei Shinbun reports that according to Chubu Electric, NISA requested they put these “questioners” in inconspicuous locations in the assembly hall. They were also asked to “try not to call on those in opposition to the plutonium thermal proposition,” but to have citizens ask questions that have been pre-made by Chubu Electric. They ended up drafting the questions, but after consulting their legal compliance department, they reaching the conclusion that such an act would be extremely dubious and never actually distributed them. In fact, Sankei reports that some Chubu employees encouraged citizens to “speak honestly, even if your opinions are critical”.

Other utilities went along, however. According to the Asahi Shinbun, Shikoku Electric “sought out 29 people, including local residents, to speak up in the government-sponsored session, providing them with ‘example opinions’ beforehand….One person said at the session: ‘I was somewhat relieved to learn that using fuel made from plutonium blended with uranium would not be very different from using uranium in terms of the gases generated’. The words were similar to the sample opinion.”

There is something darkly funny about the provided  “example opinions”. While this is another serious example of collusion between industry and regulators, the incident also just seems pathetic–conjuring ridiculous images of confused citizens reading awkwardly from index cards, stumbling over the terminology, NISA officials shuffling over to help with the pronunciation of the more challenging nuclear words: “No no, thats actually thor-ium…yes, yes, now please start from the beginning.” This is really the best strategy they had to generate favorable public opinion?

Maybe I’m simply unfazed by these nuclear industry “scandals” the press keeps uncovering, but rather than villianous, the attempts at manipulation just seem too incompetent to take seriously. They could certainly learn a thing or two from the oil barons of the US or the bankers on wall-street. Or maybe it just shows how little effort is required to get away with unethical behavior in an environment as saturated with corruption as Japan’s nuclear industry is.

Jake’s note: NISA is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The same agency which is now investigating NISA for “improper behavior”. Allegedly, the job of NISA is to regulate the nuclear industry, not be the atomic energy cheerleaders. There were seven NISA inspectors on the site at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor on the day of the earthquake, March 11. All of them fled immediately, leaving very few people competent to measure the radioactive levels at the site or assess the danger leverl. NISA in response to my questions insisted that this was not dereliction of duty.

NISA has never filed criminal charges against TEPCO although the firm has repeatedly forged documents and altered data in over 161 incidents, which constitutes forgery and possibly fraud under Japanese criminal law. If it wasn’t clear that NISA is more about supporting the nuclear industry than regulating it, it is now. They might as well trade in their geiger counters for some pom-poms. It would make the agency more transparent.

Death by Pufferfish: A short story by Mayumi Shimose Poe

Jake’s note:
In a departure from our usual hard-boiled news about Japan, we’re honored to be republishing a fascinating short story that illustrates many cultural aspects of Japanese society and is simply an excellent piece of fiction.
Pufferfish, part of the title of the story,  is English for  (河豚/fugu) which is a delicacy in Japan often eaten raw as sashimi.  When improperly prepared, it’s also quite lethal.  Chefs operating without a license to handle the fish have been arrested in the past. The neurotoxin in the fish is extremely fast acting. There is a line I once read about the death of a Kabuki actor who made the mistake of eating fugu liver, poorly prepared, and it has always stuck in my mind: “He was dead before his chopsticks hit the ground.”


by Mayumi Shimose Poe

This illustration is by Mari Kurisato・

I. Kazuo Ikeda’s first and last taste of fugu had been the spring he turned seventeen. Seventeen was practically adulthood. Kazuo’s goals for his adult self were:

  1. Do something interesting. This did not include camping in the car amongst redwoods with his parents; eating salted toffee while visiting historic Old Sacramento and nearly as historic old relatives; or catching the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf only to end up overstuffed at Ghiradelli Square.
  2. Interact with a girl.
  3. Become a man. A helpful diagram:

Another way to chart it would be simply to frame a picture of his grandfather Masayoshi, who was up from Los Angeles for a few days’ visit.

His goals seemed causally linked. Doing something interesting would make him more of a man, which would make him more desirable to the opposite sex. And Kazuo knew just the thing: he would eat pufferfish. It struck just the right note. A cultured carelessness, weighing his very life against the pursuit of pleasure. Filleting open the underbelly of fear itself. And unique because San Francisco had just opened its first restaurant where fugu was legally on the menu—“Tora Fugu,” meaning tiger blowfish. Even its name sounded fierce, masculine.

Here was where Grandpa Masa was key. Grandpa Masa wouldn’t tell him Tora Fugu was too fancy. They wouldn’t end up, after exhaustive debate, at a tourist-trap restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf. And Grandpa Masa did not disappoint him; in fact, he upgraded Kazuo’s dream.

“Of course you can get fugu in the U.S.—San Francisco, New York, L.A., et cetera, et cetera—but it’s not the same, ne, Kazuo-san?” Grandpa Masa’s tone was a pat on Kazuo’s head, but Kazuo beamed at the respectful “-san.” Although it had been tacked onto his first name instead of his last, which docked a few points of respect from the greeting, “-san” was still infinitely better than “-chan”—a notable upgrade from Grandpa Masa’s last visit.

“Totally. What’s the point,” echoed Kazuo.

Masayoshi’s son and daughter-in-law were hiding their smiles. Masa saw all of this—Kazuo’s eagerness, his parents’ amusement, that they had raised the boy so weakly that he grasped onto anything stronger to emulate it. It was up to him. The boy was already sixteen. Masa hoped he wasn’t too late. He should have visited more. Kept a closer eye on things. “I’m taking him to Japan,” he announced. “For his seventeenth birthday. We are going to eat real fugu.”

Continue reading Death by Pufferfish: A short story by Mayumi Shimose Poe

Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future that Works

What is the future of Japan? Can the country get back on its feet? It’s a question that the world and the people of Japan are asking themselves. McKinsey & Company have edited a book that aims to answer this question.

Reimagining Japan is a collection of eighty essays that aim to shed light on how Japan can rebuild itself in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. The contributors come from a variety of backgrounds – from CEOs to journalists, to academics – also include a fair amount of both Japanese and foreign writers. Roughly half of the contributors come from the business sector, and 14 of the 80 come from McKinsey itself.

Though the topics explored range in subject, there are a few recurring themes that run through the collection. Outlined in the introduction, they include the need for openness (the unwillingness of young Japanese to venture outside of their country, and of companies to take their ideas global), diversity (Japan has a relatively homogenous population), innovation (Japan’s need to move away from labor-intensive industries) and leadership (strong company and government officials who can act boldly and expediently). Though sometimes the reemergence of these themes can be tiring, and even seems like a bit of a broken record, often the authors provide enough of their own unique insight to keep it interesting.

There are also a few authors who break hard with the general consensus. Just when you think you have certainly heard enough about the  “change-resistant” personality of the population, John Dower shakes it up with several historical examples that belie this characterization of the Japanese. Forced to reconcile these conflicting assessments, it’s a rewarding experience to recognize the truth in both and thus gain a deeper understanding of the problems facing Japan.

I noted this kind of mental progress several times through the reading of these articles; how is it that Japan ranks 4th in Innovation in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, yet one of the most consistent charges against the Japanese is that they fail to innovate? It’s actually hard to put the book down once you get into the discussion.

Chapter 3, Restructuring Japan Inc., was particularly interesting and well-edited, with each consecutive chapter offering a challenge to the one before. Macroeconomic policies, such as decisive quantitative easing vs. restructuring, were debated as each policy expert laid out his case. The article “Reforming Japan, Nordic Style”, I found particularly interesting; author Richard Katz points out the egalitarian ethic and homogenous, well-educated society that Japan has in common with the Nordic countries, and proposes that Japan should consider how these countries have been able to foster growth and improve efficiency through their policy of government provided employment security rather than individual job security.

Interestingly, the Japanese writers were the most critical of their own society, the quickest to bemoan the complacency and resistance to change. Yasuchika Hasegawa, president and CEO of Takeda pharmaceuticals said, “…until this country hits bottom, our people will never get serious about change”. Tadashi Yanai, chairman and CEO of Fast Retailing, which owns UNIQLO, had even harsher words: “Japans biggest problems are conservatism and cowardice”. Foreign contributers, on the other hand, it seemed couldn’t help but temper their criticisms of Japanese politics or economical policy with praise of all the things we foreigners have love affairs with the Japanese over.

After a few days of reading these essays back to back, dissecting Japan’s dysfunctions and prescribing elaborate solutions, I felt overwhelmed by the work ahead of my adopted country. Japan has been lagging not only economically, but also losing global influence, its once formidable share of the tech market, and having recently lost its status as the “linchpin” of American strategy in Asia to South Korea, even its political prominence.  Several authors, noting the shifting power structure in Asia that has accompanied the rise of China, and more than half of the authors inn “Redefining Japan’s Foreign Relations” chapter argues the need for a pan-Asian alliance–one which Japan must lead.

However, the aforementioned broken record comes in handy here: it does the powerful task of affirming the consensus among experts on Japanese culture. Our problems aren’t so varied, and at the end of the day we really aren’t in disagreement about them. In many cases, we aren’t even in disagreement about the corresponding solutions. And indeed, many solutions were offered, particularly by the writers who dealt with political and economic problems.

However, while many also mentioned social issues, (a great number encouraging the use of women in the work force), few offered any solutions to those problems. Here, the heavy reliance on business-sector contributors is seen. Sure, nearly half the population is underutilized, and that could be a great source of labor for a country that faces an aging population, but how does this happen when an increasing number of Japanese women say they would like to get married and stay at home?

And how do we deal with an aging population if women say they only want one child because doing all the work by themselves is too 大変 (taihen/difficult)? As Kaori Sasaki says in her contribution “Putting Families First”, “changing the law can only do so much; our value system needs to change, too”. I had lengthy discussions with my roommate, Shigeaki Baba, about the theories and policies here, and he said, they are missing the biggest problem- there are a lot of ways in which Japanese society sucks. For a country that prides itself on efficiency, the current family set-up seems disastrously inefficient; one member puts in enough work hours for two, and sacrifices time that could be spent with his children; and the other is deprived the individual necessity comes with a fulfilling career. Of course, this model works for some families, but I think that for many Japanese people, both men and women, this set-up greatly contributes to their unhappiness. Maybe people don’t want to get married, pursue careers, or have kids, because in Japanese society these are difficult things to manage even one at a time. I would have liked to have seen more authors elaborating on that.

Overall, this is a highly thought-provoking and inspiring collection of works and recommended reading for anyone interested in Japan. This certainly sparked great discussion among my friends and roommate. I think if you care about Japan, this is an important collection to read, and hopefully add too as well.

Jake’s comment:

The book would have benefitted by having an essay by Kathy Matsui, who at this year’s TokyoTedX, gave a scathing review of Japan’s sexist polices and demonstrates how incorporating women into the workplace could save Japan’s economy and help solve the declining birth-rate. Personally, I also felt that there should have been some focus on the endemic problems of organized crime in Japan’s politics and business. The culture of corruption, collusion, and corporate malfeasance is a huge stumbling block in re-imagining Japan. I hope that the book is read by more than just the foreign population and that some wise souls in the government of Japan pay attention. Unlikely, but one can hope.

The book is also available in Japan from Amazon as well.

Japanese study finds correlation between exhaust fumes and asthma

According to an NHK online article published on May 25th, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment announced last week its findings that children who were exposed to higher amounts of automobile exhaust fumes had a higher probability of being diagnosed with asthma. Previously, the ministry refused to accept the correlation, claiming scientific evidence on the subject was lacking (despite studies that for years have suggested so: here in Environmental Health Perspectives, a cross-continental study here published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and here in the American Journal of Public Health).

Japanese government finally admits correlation between exhaust fumes and asthma in children; staunchly resolves to do absolutely nothing about it.

In the first study of its kind ever done in Japan, the researchers looked at 12,000 children living near 10 different highway spots in large cities across the country between 2005 and 2010.  They administered a yearly questionnaire, asking parents to estimate how much time the child spent outside and in what areas.  From this information, researchers estimated about how much exhaust they had inhaled.  309 of those children were diagnosed with asthma during that time period; further analysis of the numbers (taking into account previous history of respiratory illness) indicated that living near the highways did increase the likelihood of getting asthma.

Those hoping for policies or solutions that might arise in light of the study shouldn’t (or should?) hold their breath – the ministry states in the NHK  article that they “would like to continue researching the influence of exhaust fumes on health”.

Fashion model exodus from Tokyo!

Over the past few weeks, foreign models working in Japan have been gracing a different runway– the one that leads directly out of the country.

According to a recent article in the Asahi Shinbun(朝日新聞), models for major names like Louis Vuitton and Gucci are leaving in great numbers due to panic over the nuclear situation in Fukushima. The parents of one 19-year old Belgian model, while crying on the phone to their son, begged him to come home; “We don’t want you to get cancer!!”

a model and his over-priced garment react to bad news about the power plants

A spokesman from a modeling agency also noted that this panic is exacerbated by the models’ respective governments, some of which have ordered its citizens to leave Japan or move far to the south. That Air France sent 2 planes to begin evacuating its citizens has become a well-known story among the modeling agencies.

The Czech Republic embassy, immediately upon hearing the news of the quake, pulled its models out of a photo shoot and evacuated them, along with other Czech nationals, on a military plane.

A fashion show in March also had to be canceled; although the official stance is that the rolling blackouts were to blame, the reality, one modeling agent claims, is that there were no models left to walk. The weekly magazine Shukan Shincho (週刊新潮)in their April 14th issue, also notes that many fashion magazines are having trouble to go to press after their cover models cancelled on them and left Japan.Editors of fashion magazines have reported trouble filling their pages, as they usually employ Western models. “We had several models scheduled to appear in our magazine next month, and as they have left the country, we may not be able to publish the issue”.

Japan fashion expert, stylist and renown fashion blogger, Misha-Janette, confirms that there has indeed been an exodus of fashion models leaving Tokyo akin to the Jews fleeing Egypt, but she says the fashion Diaspora may be slowly coming to a halt.

“Many of the current high-end fashion models are from Eastern Europe and they left in droves. There have been a number of photo shoots cancelled because there weren’t enough models to do them. There has been an upsurge of casting calls on twitter and other social media as well.”

Misha-Janette also notes that there are two types of foreign fashion models in demand in Japan now. The tall, thin, and drop-dead gorgeous models are in demand for Japanese companies marketing their wares internationally, while Japanese companies focussed on domestic marketing prefer “the gaijin-girl-next-door look”.  She explains, “The word for it is busu-kawaii (ブス可愛い), homely and cute. These are girls who don’t look like typical fashion models. They smile, don’t wear much make-up, seem friendly. That’s the natural look that’s big here. Some women are able to do both.”

Camille Blanchot, a french model, with her red curly hair, freckles, and friendly smile is always in demand as a model and actress, domestically and internationally. However, after ignoring the French government and resolving to stay in Tokyo, she has been besieged with calls for modeling jobs. She’s glad she stayed. Her name Camille, when shortened into Japanese is Cami and she is playfully referred to by those in the industry as Kami-sama (神様)literally  “Honorable Goddess.”  She was nice enough to come down from the heavens and speak with us about this dire crisis.

Continue reading Fashion model exodus from Tokyo!

Of earthquakes, tsunami and the ephemeral

by Orlando Camargo

Those of us living far away from our parents dread the thought. A call in the middle of the night asking you to book a flight – ASAP.

“Dad is not well.” March 2nd.

The next day I got the first possible flight out of Narita to Florida but did not make it in time to say good-bye to my 84-year old Papi. RIP.

Within 9 days I would get another middle-of-the-night call, this time from Tokyo asking me to get the first flight back to Japan.

“Japan is not well”. March 11th.

So starts my March to remember.

After quickly returning to Japan on the 13th of March, and making sure family, clients and work were fine, the decision to volunteer in Ibaraki was a simple one.  27 years ago I first came to Japan to work as a Monbusho  (Ministry of Education) English Fellow, the precursor program to today’s JET program. I was assigned to Ibaraki and lived in what was then a beautiful scenic capital – Mito. After two years helping in Ibaraki schools, I then accepted a government scholarship to attend graduate school at Tsukuba University – also in Ibaraki. So those first five years in Japan rooted me deeply to the Prefecture.

When I was watching the news of the devastation from outside of Japan, the focus was on Miyagi and Fukushima – but I knew that Ibaraki had also been hard hit, especially along the coast, and especially on the northern tip near the Fukushima border.  No one was telling the Ibaraki story. I felt I owed so much to the people of Ibaraki who had given me so much. It wasn’t enough to just send money or make calls. I had to do something.

I was also seeing news of foreigners “fleeing” Japan – the now infamous flyjin. I was amazed upon my return to see Narita airport full of foreigners leaving the country. The only large group of incoming foreigners to catch my attention was the Mongolian emergency rescue team!

Mongolian Rescue Team at Narita

I could not fathom leaving Japan at this time. I had to go up to Ibaraki to help.

I started making calls and seeing how I could help. All the public volunteer announcements were asking for only locals. Apparently the civil servants did not want to worry about housing or feeding volunteers.  “Don’t come unless you can fend for yourself – there are no trains, few buses and long lines for gas,” I was warned. I had prepared for this and had bought plenty of camping gear and goods from the US to both hold me for at least 10 days and to bring on my trip to Northern Ibaraki.

When I arrived to the Kita Ibaraki City Offices looking like a back packer, the head coordinator smiled like he knew me, “So you are Mr. Camargo. We were told you would likely arrive. Welcome”. I had been tweeting and talking to many people in the Prefecture before my departure so apparently news of my possible arrival had already reached them.

As you can guess I was the only foreigner in our group of volunteers. No one would have cared if I had come from Mars. There was work to do. For the next week I would carry boxes of water, bags of rice and bundles of futon with about 40 other volunteers. We would also travel to either the coast or inland to help clear out debris from damaged homes. We would also visit the community centers and deliver goods.

There is where my March moment would come.

It was when I saw so many elderly alone and unattended.

The shelters have and will get plenty of relief aid. They can always use more money but that too will come. But what I saw in athletic gyms turned community centers were elderly folks sleeping on cardboard boxes near kerosene stoves. Many were alone and disoriented. Yes, they still had their lives, but many had lost their homes and some, even their loved ones.

As I watch my the 27th season of cherry blossoms twitter in the spring outside my Tokyo window, I ask myself, “what do the people in the Ibaraki shelters need most?”

Maybe what they need most is what I could not give my Dad enough of –

…..a warm hand and more time to share the blossoms.

Orlando Camargo has worked for the Japanese government, for a Wall Street Investment bank and has headed a global public relations company in Tokyo. When he is not volunteering in Ibaraki ( , he can also be spotted around Tokyo’s rustic neighborhoods taking photos ( in search of the perfect yakitori.


Years of Disaster Drills Prevents Tsunami Deaths At Iwate Prefecture Junior High and Elementary Schools

Despite the fact that Unosumai Elementary School in Iwate-ken was engulfed by a tsunami (津波・tidal-wave), every one of the 350 students who were in the building at the time managed to escape, according to an article in the Asahi Shogakusei Shinbun published on March 24th.

When the ground started shaking, the students initially all ran to the 3rd floor of their school. However, when they saw the middle school students next door congregating in the playground, without waiting for instruction from their teachers, they ran down the stairs, met up with the 212 middle school students, and all together ran one kilometer to a nursing home on higher ground. From the safety of the hill, they watched the tsunami swallow their schools.

The site of both schools, approximately 130 miles (or 210 kilometers) north of Sendai

Both schools are situated on Ootsuchi Bay

Of the 3,000 junior high and elementary school students in the district, only five are missing, four of which were absent from school that day.

This school district had been particularly well-equipped for such an event. Teachers brought in hazard maps created using data from the 1993 Hokkaido tsunami and held disaster preparedness classes for the students. The principal of the elementary school credits the fortunate outcome to the young students’ understanding of both the gravity of the situation and the immediate action required.

Unosumai Elementary School students in a class on tsunami procedure

Although students go through emergency drills a few times a year, they are taught to remember three main things:

1. If the ground starts shaking, don’t go back to your house; run to high ground.

2. Don’t necessarily follow the hazard map; examine the current situation, consult with others, and make the best judgment.

3. Help others.

The Asahi article suggests one bear in mind two other qualities of tsunami: first, even if the tremors felt are relatively minor, a large tsunami can still develop; and secondly, that a tsunami can come in not just one large wave, but several phases; so even if the water does recede, one should never return to one’s house for supplies or possessions.

Jake’s note: These grade-schoolers were better prepared for disaster than the government of Japan. I wish we could replace Prime Minister Kan Naoto with the Unosumai School Principal.

U.S. Embassy is cool with current radiation levels

Addressed to its citizens living in Japan, the U.S embassy’s most recent statement corroborates previous opinions (including Peter Hessler’s) suggesting that radiation isn’t a concern for those living outside a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Plant.

While the embassy urges those living within that radius to evacuate, it seems that areas farther away from the site (Tokyo, Saitama, and Chiba) have been cleared for now. The radiation levels of these locations are being continuously tested by both national and international groups, including the US government and the WHO. All tests have shown that radiation levels in those areas pose no danger to human health. However, the government does recommend avoiding produce and milk coming from areas close to the plant.

Although it is not yet advisable to take potassium iodide, it may become available to families of U.S. government officials living in areas where voluntary departure has also been offered (Tokyo, Nagoya, Yokohama and the prefectures of Aichi, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Kanagawa, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi). Private U.S. citizens interested in potassium iodide are instructed to contact their doctor or employer. However, the government maintains that “in the event of a radiological release, sheltering in place or safely departing affected areas remain the most effective means of protection.”

An Update for American Citizens in Japan

(Updated March 22, 8:30 a.m. JST)

We all recognize the enormous impact that the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, as well as the resulting dangerous situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, has had on Japan. The United States is continuing to do everything it can and should do to support our close friends, the people of Japan, as they respond to this disaster. This includes providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, technical expertise as well as equipment as requested. The American people have also opened up their hearts. Many have given generously to support the ongoing relief efforts. As President Obama said on March 17, we are confident that Japan will recover and rebuild because of the strength and spirit of the Japanese people.

At the same time, this disaster has had a significant impact on the lives of Americans residing in Japan. The Embassy is working to provide the best possible guidance to U.S. citizens in Japan.

Guidance to U.S. Citizens in Japan: With regard to the nuclear situation, which we know is of concern to U.S. citizens residing in Tokyo and other regions relatively close to the Fukushima power plant, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recommends that U.S. citizens who reside within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant leave the area, or remain indoors as much as possible if departure is not practical. That recommendation is based on the steps that the NRC would recommend if a similar situation had occurred in the United States, in light of the scientific and technical data that the NRC, the Department of Energy, and other technical experts in the U.S. Government have obtained from the Japanese government and from U.S. collection assets in Japan. Outside of that 50-mile area, we are urging American citizens to carefully monitor both our guidelines and the guidelines of the Japanese government.

Departure of Embassy Family Members: Given the extraordinary circumstances, the State Department and Department of Defense (DOD) on March 16 authorized the voluntary departure of eligible family members and non-emergency DOD civilians from Tokyo, Nagoya, Yokohama and the prefectures of Aichi, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Kanagawa, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi. Separately, voluntary departure was authorized for eligible family members at Misawa AB (Aomori Prefecture). We took this step out of an abundance of caution, and in order to enable U.S. government officials and the uniformed military to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Our employees remain in country, and we are absolutely open for business – in fact, the number of people working at the Embassy now is much larger than before the earthquake due to the number of experts who have arrived from the United States to augment our operations in these difficult times. We look forward to our dependents returning to Japan once the situation has eased.

Concerns about Radiation: The situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Site has naturally raised concerns about how far radioactive contamination might spread, and to what degree. As stated above, the NRC recommends that U.S. citizens who reside within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant leave the area, or remain indoors as much as possible if departure is not practical. Available data indicates that levels of radioactivity at the reactor site itself are variable, but remain very dangerous. Within the 30-kilometer perimeter established by the Japanese government, aerial measurement data shows the degree of radioactive contamination at ground level varying considerably by location, with the most affected areas thus far stretching to the northwest of the reactor site, well within the 50-mile recommended perimeter.

Farther from the reactor site, radiation monitoring by the Japanese government, U.S. government assets, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) all indicate that levels of radiation measured in Tokyo as well as Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures remain at background levels, well below levels which are dangerous to human health. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is providing regular updated radioactivity measurements by prefecture, available online here. This data appears consistent with measurements generated by WHO, the IAEA and the U.S. government. WHO information is available at and IAEA data U.S. government experts have also continuously monitored radiation levels on Embassy grounds since March 14, using sophisticated radiation detection meters including high-volume pump samplers that collect information on a 24-hour basis. We have consistently observed normal background levels of radiation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Travel Health Precaution as of March 19 states that “At this time, the risk of exposure to radiation and the risk of contamination from radioactive materials are believed to be low, especially for anyone outside a 50-mile radius of the nuclear power plant.” See for details. The United States government will continue to monitor the situation closely and will advise its citizens of any significant developments.

Potassium Iodide: U.S. citizens can consult CDC guidance on the use of potassium iodide (KI) in the event of a radiological emergency, availableonline here. U.S. citizens are also encouraged to monitor information provided by Japanese authorities regarding the use and availability of KI. On March 21, consistent with NRC guidelines that apply to such a situation in the United States, the U.S. Government decided to make KI available as a precautionary measure for U.S. Government personnel and family members residing in the areas of Japan for which voluntary departure of family members is also authorized. The recipients of the medicine have been told they should consume it only after specific instructions from the U.S. Government. There is no indication that it will become advisable to take KI, but it has been provided out of an abundance of caution to be used only upon direction, if a change in circumstances were to warrant. In the event of a radiological release, sheltering in place or safely departing affected areas remain the most effective means of protection.

For private U.S. citizens seeking information about KI, we advise you to contact your doctor or employer. Should you need further assistance contact the Department of State by emailing or calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

Radiation and Food Safety: Japanese government entities have reported elevated levels of radioactivity found in certain foodstuffs, including milk and certain vegetables, produced in areas relatively close to the Fukushima reactor site. Specifically, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has announced that radiation levels that exceeded legal limits were detected in milk produced in the Fukushima area and in certain vegetables in Ibaraki. The ministry has requested the Bureau of Sanitation at the Fukushima Prefectural Office, after conducting an investigation of the relevant information, to take necessary measures, such as identifying the provider of these samples and places where the same lots were distributed and banning sales based on the Food Hygiene Law. We expect Japanese authorities will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to share information publicly, while taking any necessary remedial action. Some useful information on food safety aspects as well as other related topics is available from the WHO online.

The Situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Site: As has been widely reported in the Japanese and international media, the Japanese government is dealing with a significant crisis at the Fukushima reactor site and is putting utmost efforts into taking immediate steps to avoid further deterioration of the site, while preparing for a longer-term process of more permanent remediation. The United States government will continue to monitor the situation closely and will advise its citizens residing in Japan of any significant developments that could impact health or safety.

Leading U.S. experts from the NRC, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. military are in place in Japan, cooperating directly with Japanese authorities to help contain the damage at the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors. They are monitoring technical aspects and engaging with Japanese officials on efforts to cool the reactors at Fukushima, as well as regarding the health impacts of radiation. We are sharing critical expertise, equipment, and technology so that the courageous responders on the scene have the benefit of American teamwork and support. Data and ideas are being shared, and we look forward to continuing to work side-by-side with our Japanese partners in helping them deal with this problem. The situation at the site continues to be fluid; one source of information is press releases from Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Travel within Japan and to Overseas Destinations: Commercial flights have resumed at all major airports in Japan, except Sendai Airport, and commercial seats continue to be available. In Tokyo, most public transportation including trains and subways are operating. Many roads have been damaged in northern Japan, particularly in Miyagi Prefecture where government checkpoints have been established on damaged roadways. In Iwate Prefecture, toll road highways are restricted to emergency vehicles only. Some information on major highways and other infrastructure is available at

Electricity Supply: Rolling power outages continue in the Tokyo Metropolitan area and areas in northeast Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Please monitor the Tokyo Electric Power Company website and local news media for specific information and schedules for the planned outages. Radio stations in the Tokyo area that have emergency information in English include the U.S. Armed Forces station at 810AM and InterFM (76.1FM).

Assistance to U.S. Citizens in the Affected Areas: The U.S. Embassy deployed consular assistance teams around the Tohoku region, where they worked with local authorities to locate U.S. citizens, visit shelters and assistance centers, and help U.S. citizens identify public and commercial transportation options away from affected areas. U.S. citizens requiring emergency consular assistance can continue to contact the Department of State via e-mail to or through the emergency contact numbers below. At times like these, U.S. citizens in Japan should be certain to contact family and friends in the United States to confirm their well-being at the earliest opportunity. Where internet and telephone services are not available, it may be possible to contact people using SMS (Cell text message) or other forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

For the latest U.S. Government information on the situation in Japan, as well as the Department of State’s Travel Warning, please go to the Department of State’s Consular Affairs website – Updated information on travel and security in Japan may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

link to the embassy statement

Latest Travel Warning from the U.S. State Department

Travel Warning
Bureau of Consular Affairs

March 18, 2011

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S citizens of the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recommends that U.S. citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical.  The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Japan at this time and those in Japan should consider departing.  On March 16, 2011, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel in Tokyo (Tokyo Capital Region), Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture), and the prefectures of Akita, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi.  Separately, because of infrastructure damage from the earthquake and resulting tsunami, voluntary authorized departure is authorized for the eligible family members at Misawa AB (Aomori Prefecture).  This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated March 16, 2011.In response to the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy, and other technical experts in the U.S. Government have reviewed the scientific and technical information they have collected from assets in country, as well as what the Government of Japan has disseminated.  Consistent with the NRC guidelines that would apply to such a situation in the United States, we are recommending, as a precaution, that U.S. citizens within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical. There are numerous factors in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, including weather, wind direction, and speed, and the nature of the reactor problem that affect the risk of radioactive contamination within this 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius or the possibility of low-level radioactive materials reaching greater distances.  For the latest U.S. Government information on the situation in Japan, please go to the Department of State’s Consular Affairs’ website.  Information about nuclear radiation exposure risks can be obtained from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and from the Centers for Disease Control.As a result of this assessment, the State Department has authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the U.S. Consulate in Nagoya, the Foreign Service Institute Field School in Yokohama and the prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi.  U.S. citizens should defer all travel to the evacuation zone around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami and tourism and non-essential travel to the rest of Japan at this time. Commercial flights have resumed at all airports that were closed by the earthquake, except Sendai Airport, and commercial seats are available at the time of this posting.  In Tokyo, most public transportation including trains and subways are operating.  Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan, particularly in the Miyagi prefecture where government checkpoints have been established on damaged roadways.  In Iwate Prefecture, toll road highways are restricted to emergency vehicles only.The Department of State is working to assist U.S. citizens to depart from affected areas.  U.S. citizens in Tokyo should review our Japan Earthquake/Pacific Tsunami webpage for updated departure-related information. Hardships caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami continue to cause severe difficulties for people in the areas affected by the disaster.  Temporary shortages of water and food supplies may occur in affected areas of Japan due to power and transportation disruptions.  Telephone services have also been disrupted in affected areas; where possible, you may be able to contact family members using text message or social media such as Facebook or Twitter.Rolling power outages continue in the Tokyo Metropolitan area and areas in northeast Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami.  The Tokyo Electric Power Company reports that three-hour outages may occur in various regions, including Tokyo.  Please monitor the Tokyo Electric Power Company website, and local news media for specific information and schedules for the planned outages.  Radio stations in the Tokyo area that have emergency information in English include the U.S. Armed Forces station at 810AM and InterFM (76.1FM).Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a massive earthquake such as this one.  The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of aftershocks, persons should move to open spaces away from walls, windows, buildings, and other structures that may collapse, and should be alert to the danger of falling debris.  If you are indoors, DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON:  If possible, seek cover under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm.  If there is no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you.  Avoid damaged buildings and downed power lines.  Great care should be used with matches, lighters, candles, or any open flame due to the possibility of disrupted gas lines.Due to the continuing possibility of strong aftershocks, Japan remains at risk for further tsunamis.  Japanese authorities have issued a warning for people to stay away from low-lying coastal areas.  If a tsunami alert is issued by Japanese authorities, evacuate immediately to higher ground.  Further information about what you can do if a tsunami occurs can be found at the National Weather Service’s TsunamiReady website, and the International Tsunami Information Center’s website.  Current tsunami alerts can be found at the Japan Meteorological Agency website, and the website of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.The U.S. Embassy continues to deploy consular assistance teams where needed; these teams are actively working with our taskforce and local authorities to locate U.S. citizens, visit shelters and assistance centers, and help U.S. citizens identify public and commercial transportation options away from affected areas  U.S. citizens requiring emergency consular assistance should contact the Department of State via e-mail or through the emergency contact numbers below.  U.S. citizens in Japan should contact family and friends in the United States to confirm their well-being at the earliest opportunity.  Where internet and telephone services are not available, it may be possible to contact people using SMS (Cell text message) or other forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. U.S. citizens in Japan are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulates.  By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier fo
r the Embassy/Consulates to contact them in case of emergency.Updated information on travel and security in Japan may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  For further information, please consult the Country Specific Information for Japan, as well as the Worldwide Caution.

Related Resources

Person Finder, Shelter Information, Resources and Links
Google – Crisis Response

Scheduled Blackout
Yahoo! JAPAN Emergency Information (English)

Train Operation in Tokyo Metropolitan area (of Sat 3/20)
JR | Metro | Toei | Tokyu | Odakyu | Keio | Tobu | Keikyu | Keisei | Seibu

Please no stealing! (please!)

“If your home was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a tsunami, and radiation from a nuclear power plant, you’d be forgiven for not remaining calm”, speculates Christopher Beam in a recent Slate article. “Yet that’s what many Japanese quake victims appear to be doing. People are forming lines outside supermarkets. Life is “particularly orderly,” according to PBS. “Japanese discipline rules despite disaster,” says a columnist for The Philippine Star.”

Nick Kristof of the NYTimes also observed the same phenomenon during a similiar tragedy in Japan’s history: “Japan’s orderliness and civility often impressed me during my years living in Japan, but never more so than after the Kobe quake. Pretty much the entire port of Kobe was destroyed, with shop windows broken all across the city. I looked all over for a case of looting, or violent jostling over rescue supplies. Finally, I was delighted to find a store owner who told me that he’d been robbed by two men. Somewhat melodramatically, I asked him something like: And were you surprised that fellow Japanese would take advantage of a natural disaster and turn to crime? He looked surprised and responded, as I recall: Who said anything about Japanese. They were foreigners.”

Slate‘s Beam goes on to speculate that the reasons for this uniquely Japanese phenomenon run deeper than the oft-invoked ‘culture’ argument (which, he also mentions, is at any rate fallacious for employing circular reasoning). ‘Structural’ differences, such as the long-standing reward system for honesty, a ubiquitous police presence, and the ironically crime-reducing organized crime groups, may help to reinforce the cultural expectation of group over individual.

Jake also contributed information about how the yakuza are keeping looting down and even assisting, on a fairly large scale, in the tsunami relief efforts; “The Sumiyoshi-kai claims to have shipped over 40 tons of [humanitarian aid] supplies nationwide and I believe that’s a conservative estimate.”

For the full Slate article, please go here

For the Nick Kristof blog, go here

There are 22 organized crime groups in Japan. The top three groups and others are distributing humanitarian aid all over Japan, partly for PR, partly as part of living up to their self-professed codes of 任侠道 (ninkyodo). (List taken from National Police Agency Report 2010)