10 Japanese Certainties

  1. TV presenters will proclaim all food, no matter how disgusting, to be “delicious”.
  2. There will be ten new Prime Ministers by the time this decade is out.
  3. Payment of inducements to public servants serves the greater good by building business relationships.
  4. The miniskirt will never go out of fashion.
  5. Overtime spent in an office = Automatic productivity.
  6. Nature is evil. It must be cleansed by concrete.
  7. Owning an old car is bad for the economy dangerous.
  8. In order to (dis)respect someone, you must first be certain of their age.
  9. English exists solely for the design of unintelligible T-shirts.
  10. The older one gets, the freer one becomes. Once you’re over 90 you can say whatever the heck you want.
cleansed by concrete
#6: Nature cleansed by concrete in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Oi! Oi! Nuclear is Back!

Prior to the accident at Fukushima, Japan relied on nuclear power for around 30% of its generation capacity (with plans to raise that to 50% by 2030), and had a total of 54 active reactors dotted around the country’s coast. For the last few months none have been operational because of ongoing public concern over their safety.

With the summer season now upon us however, demand for electricity for air conditioning will skyrocket leaving the Kansai area in particular with a significant shortfall unless some of the nuclear reactors are restarted. The most likely candidate was the plant at Oi, in Fukui Prefecture, part of Japan’s “Nuclear Alley”. This is a place close to my heart, because when I was last living in Japan it was close to my home!

For weeks we have witnessed a pantomime with the nuclear regulator, plant operator, prefectural governments and the Prime Minister all playing roles. This pantomime slowly conveyed to a largely sceptical public a carefully crafted message: this is safe, and this is inevitable. When the Prime Minister finally announced the restart he framed his argument around the importance of affordable electricity for maintaining the Japanese standard of living.

The Oi reactor was restarted this week and is expected to start to transmit electricity from today.

I have just a few thoughts to share:

Firstly, I think it’s incredible that Japan has to-date survived the loss of 30% of its generation capacity without rolling blackouts. This has been achieved through restarting mothballed thermal plants and encouraging people and businesses to save energy.

Secondly, I note with interest that there is no sunset date for the restarted operation of Oi, something which would seem sensible given that the extra demand will only last until the summer ends and that reaching public consensus over the future of nuclear power in Japan is still far off.

Thirdly, I think geothermal electricity generation could in future play a much larger part in Japan’s energy mix. For this source of electricity Japan’s unstable geology becomes a strength rather than a weakness.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Tokyo area still have no nuclear plants in operation. Several years ago TEPCO boasted in a TV commercial that 40% of its power came from nuclear plants in Niigata and Fukushima. I didn’t want them looking silly (again), so I took the liberty of updating their ad.

before
Before (view commercial)
After

The Sky Tree’s the Limit

Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree

A couple of weeks ago the Tokyo Sky Tree opened to the public. At 634m it is the tallest tower in the world. In a beautiful paradox the Sky Tree is a thing simultaneously with pinnacle and pointless.

The Japanese media’s infatuation with it has been nothing short of extraordinary. We’ve had TV programs on it’s perfect design, on how it was built, its LED lighting plan, the opinions of local residents and distant tourists, on the financial circumstances of its owner (Tobu Railways), on the Skytree-Shaped Food that is currently being sold all around Sumida Ward, and on the trouble being caused by bored youth hanging around at the tower’s foot and trampling on the new garden beds.

In the midst of this wide smorgasbord of televisual nonsense has been pervasive coverage of how the Sky Tree makes people feel. “The tower makes me smile”, one woman says. “It raises my hopes for Japan”, says another. “It makes me feel good about the future”. “It makes me think that Japan is really great”. The upper observatory costs a ridiculous $40 per adult but in typical Japanese style it has been fully-booked for weeks in advance.

In evidence that God has a sense of humour, on the opening day the observatory was shrouded in cloud. The honoured first guests enjoyed a view of perfect white, and then become stranded at the top as the elevator had to be suspended due to high winds.

I now agree with one of the aforementioned interviewees. “The tower makes me smile”.

Disney meets Kiss

Konnyaku is a kinda unique Japanese food. I looked it up in a Japanese-English dictionary; it was defined as “solidified jelly made from the rhizome of devil’s tongue”. It don’t know what that means either. To describe, it is basically a tough, grey, savoury jelly.

Every morning the boys watch a children’s song program, and the clip below is this month’s “song of the month”. It cracks us up every time we see it. It’s Disney meets Kiss in 1978. The words go something like:

Konnyaku, it has no bones,
Floppy, floppy, floppy, floppy,
It suddenly starts dancing,
Floppy, floppy, floppy.
It’s yummy in oden.
Floppy, floppy, bouncy, bouncy.
Konnyaku, it has no spine….

…. you get the picture.

 

For reference, this is the sort of stuff these two presenters usually do: