Japan Fieldwork Workshop invites you to a timely presentation…

Nicolas Sternsdorff
PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology,
Harvard University (affiliated with Sophia University)

Sophia University, Yotsuya Campus
Bldg. 10, room 301
Thursday, March 15th

Lecture in English (Japanese discussion welcome)
Free and open to all; no registration necessary

(We usually go out for a beer around the corner
after presentations–and again, all are welcome.)

Abstract: My research looks at questions of food safety
and quality in Japan. I explore how producers, distributors
and consumers are dealing with the fallout of the nuclear
accident, and how notions of what is safe to eat are
being reconfigured in post-Fukushima Japan.

People on all ends of food supply chains have to deal
with the science of radiation, and this has become a
significant part of my study. I am particularly interested
in how safety is defined, and the ways in which people
mobilize scientific arguments to construct foods as
safe or unsafe. The government has set safety standards,
but many of the groups I have been following consider
those to be too high, and I am trying to trace how they
define and put into practice their own safety standards.

At the same time, food safety was already a concern
to many Japanese consumers before the earthquake,
and one of the themes I am exploring is how these
concerns co-exist and affect the ways in which people
approach the threat of radiation.

year, is an open forum for those who are doing
fieldwork in any discipline. It is designed to give
scholars of any status a chance to present work
in progress and to get feedback on the content,
methods and possible directions of their research.

David H. Slater, Ph.D.
Faculty of Liberal Arts
Sophia University, Tokyo




If you are on Facebook, I highly recommend a site:

The Photography of Mariko Nakabayashi

She has displayed her photos taken right after the quake and tsunami of 3.11. Moving, tragic, a visual piece of history of what Japan experienced. 




Update on Marika Yoshida’s moving piece, “I get furious every day, I pray every day” – now available in 6 languages. 

Reblogged here from

I get furious every day, I pray every day : Sharing the words of Marika Yoshida

Ten months after the triple disaster of March 11, Marika Yoshida wrote a note describing her feelings about her daily life in Fukushima. Initially she had not intended to share this, but after being encouraged to do so by friends, she decided to make it available on her Facebook page in edited form. Her note clearly struck a chord with a very large number of readers. Her friend, Reiko san, translated it into English.

When I read Marika san’s note, I was extremely moved. When I learned that she was a friend of Senrinomichi, I felt humbled.

Marika san clearly has enormous energy and enthusiasm, and a wonderfully infectious smile. Otherwise, I only know her through her note, which is quite simply one of the most eloquent and moving pieces I have read in the past ten months.

I have written a lot about wanting to understand the silence in Japan. Marika san’s text helps me to perhaps understand a little better. When people ask why I speak so much about the situation in Fukushima, I will show them her note. I thank her for this, and salute her for her courage, eloquence and for the common decency and humanity which shine through in her words.

Previously we were able to share the Haruki Murakami speech in many languages. I decided that we must try to do the same with Marika san’s note.

To date we have published new translations in French, German, Greek, Italian and Portuguese, as well as Marika san’s original Japanese and Reiko san’s English translation. Thank you to all involved.

English translation

French translation

German translation

Greek translation

Italian translation

Portuguese translation

Original Japanese text

If you are able to help with translation into other languages, please get in touch at or via our Facebook page.




If you haven’t been following the volcanic activity in Spain (Canary Islands), there is a lot of jacuzzi action out in the water off shore. It just yesterday brought hot lava to the surface. Someone managed to get some webcam footage. More details at:
but will add the YouTube vid here (watch the top-left quadrant of the screen):



From EX-SFK:

Ministry of Education Radiation Council’s Official Position: No Need for Special Standard for Food for Infants

Not surprising at all coming from the Ministry of Education, who declared 20 millisieverts per year external radiation exposure for school children would be safe and acceptable.

The Radiation Council, the organization under the Ministry of Education and Science who officially endorses the new radiation standards for foods, has already expressed its dismay on stricter standards as harming the producers. It has just made it “official”.

In an unusual “opinion”, the Council, staffed with nuclear industry insiders and nuclear and radiation researchers, has said the lower safety standards for infants are unnecessary, even though the Council will go along with it.

Which means, perhaps, the new safety standards will be full of “exceptions”, not just beef and rice, rendering the new standards as good as the old. Not to mention the local governments may not even possess or have access to the detectors with much lower detection limits. Maybe the cheapest way to solve the conundrum is going to be the renewed PR campaign that everything sold in the market is safe.

From Jiji Tsushin (2/16/2012):


Radiation Council: Food safety standard for infants “unnecessary”, 100 Bq/kg radioactive cesium limit “sufficient consideration”


The Radiation Council of the Ministry of Education and Science was held on February 16 to discuss the new safety standards for radioactive cesium which had been submitted by the Ministry of Health and Labor for deliberation in the Council. The opinion was expressed that “there is already sufficient consideration for children even without the special safety standard”, which is to be 50 becquerels/kg for “food for infants” and “milk”.


This [formal] opinion states that there is no need for a special standard for children for whom the radiation exposure is feared from ingesting radioactive materials. It is possible that consumers and parents may criticize the Council [over the opinion].


In the new safety standard from the Ministry of Health and Labor, the annual internal radiation exposure limit will be set at 1 millisievert, which is stricter than the existing limit [5 millisievert]. For “food for general consumption” like grains, meat, and vegetables, the safety limit for radioactive cesium will be 100 becquerels/kg. For “food for infants” and “milk”, the safety limit will be 50 becquerels/kg. The new standards are to be introduced in April. However, in the opinion of the Radiation Council, the 100 becquerels/kg standard is already sufficient to keep the annual radiation exposure for children including infants less than 1 year old to less than 1 millisievert.

The first sentence of the last paragraph is not exactly true. 1 millisievert annual limit from internal radiation exposure from food is only about radioactive cesium.

The current provisional safety limit for radioactive cesium, 500 Bq/kg, would result in maximum 5 millisieverts annual internal radiation exposure from food, which the media started to report only toward the end of last year to the surprise of many in Japan. (My Japanese blog had written about it in April last year, but not many people were reading my blog back then.)




Didn’t someone once say, “Not in my backyard”?

Gov’t to mull bill for disposal of radioactive waste outside Fukushima

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Environment Minister Goshi Hosono vowed on Thursday to consider legislation for establishing a final disposal site outside Fukushima Prefecture for radioactive waste from the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

“Legislation is an idea,” he told the House of Representatives Budget Committee, in response to a question from an opposition lawmaker who called for including creation of the site in a Fukushima reconstruction bill that the government introduced last Friday.

“We will pursue final disposal outside the prefecture,” Hosono said while urging Futaba, located near the nuclear plant, to accept a facility for storing such waste for up to 30 years. “We would like to consider how to bind future administrations with this policy,” Hosono added.

The Futaba municipal government has been hesitant to accept the intermediate storage facility, fearing it could eventually become permanent.

“In 30 years, some technology may be developed to downsize waste,” Hosono said. “We hope to make waste more compact for final disposal.”

(Mainichi Japan) February 17, 2012




Goshi Hosono to Municipalities: “Stand Up Against Opposition to Disaster Debris”

A veritable declaration of war against citizens.

From Jiji Tsushin (2/17/2012):


Municipalities should “stand up” in disaster-debris wide area disposal, says Minister of the Environment


During the press conference after the cabinet meeting on February 17, Minister of the Environment Goshi Hosono referred to the start of experimental incineration of disaster debris from Yamada-machi, Iwate Prefecture by Shimada City in Shizuoka and said, “A small municipality like Shimada City has stood up, and so should the heads of the municipalities with the ability to process (disaster debris)”, calling for cooperation from the municipalities all over Japan to process the disaster debris from the March 11, 2011 earthquake/tsunami.


The Ministry of the Environment has been asking the municipalities to accept the disaster debris from Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, but hasn’t made much progress. Only Tokyo and Yamagata Prefecture have started accepting the debris. Hosono emphasized, “As the one-year anniversary of the quake/tsunami approaches, I want to move the wide-area processing forward, at all cost.”

The state-of-the-art melting furnace of Shimada City in Shizuoka Prefecture is located right in the middle of tea plantations. The mayor’s family is in the business of waste disposal management. The pricey melting furnace needs to have at least 60% of the furnace stuffed with garbage and waste to operate, so the disaster debris is God-sent.

So Shimada City stood up against thousands of residents who did not want disaster debris that was exposed to radioactive fallout from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant to be burned in their city. It may not even be the city that stood up; it was its mayor. Mayor Sakurai went so far as to say “I’m using Shimada City as a guinea pig.




From the WSJ:

Reading Austen in Tokyo

Tepco and the government were made for each other, if only they would admit it

by Joseph Sternberg

An Internet wit offers a facetious summary of Jane Austen’s collected works: “Female Lead: ‘I secretly love Male Lead. He must never know.’ Male Lead: ‘I secretly love Female Lead. She must never know.’ They find out.” While perhaps not entirely accurate with regard to Austen’s novels, it does describe the comedy of manners now unfolding between the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco.

Nearly a year after an earthquake and tsunami devastated eastern Japan, Tepco is still shaking. Saddled by astronomical costs for clean-up and compensation related to the tsunami-induced disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the company is fighting the government over the terms of a bailout. The government insists on a majority voting share for taxpayers—an effective nationalization—and some officials have even hinted darkly at the prospect of breaking up the vertically integrated utility. Tepco is resisting any dilution of existing owners while trying to hike commercial power rates.

That both sides are making this look like a genuine feud is enough to raise suspicions in a land where subtlety and indirect speech are the norm. Sure enough, there are good reasons to think that despite the conflict, this Jane and Mr. Bingley will end up living happily ever after together by the time the last chapter is written.

Tepco’s calculation is simple: It needs the cash. The government is offering 1 trillion yen ($13 billion) in ready money with which the utility can meet demands for nuclear-related compensation, fully shut down the stricken Fukushima plant, and pay for the more expensive fossil fuels it’s burning now that its former generation mainstay, nuclear, has fallen into ill repute. Tepco recently announced it lost 623 billion yen from April to December 2011.

The utility also can make a cogent argument that government money need not come with managerial strings attached. The taxpayer cash injection would amount to an insurance pay-out. There has been a lot of talk over the past 11 months about pre-tsunami management failures and safety lapses at Tepco. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that whatever its inability to plan for or respond to a once-in-a-hundred-lifetimes natural disaster, the company under normal circumstances would have functioned quite happily indefinitely had Mother Nature not intervened.

That makes Tepco different from the case of Resona Bank, a financial institution Tokyo bailed out in 2003 in exchange for management control. Yukio Edano, the trade minister and government point man on Tepco, now says Tokyo views Resona as a model for how to do intervention. In that case, a long string of management failures on matters such as lending standards prompted government to step in. But there is a less obvious argument that Tepco needs better, government-imposed management to . . . do what, exactly? Stop the next earthquake?

Note that the government’s interests align neatly with Tepco’s, despite Mr. Edano’s strong statements to the contrary. Since honest socialism—paying compensation directly from the government purse—seems to be off the table, Tokyo’s chief goal is to preserve Tepco as a going concern capable of “paying back” over time taxpayer money used for accident payouts today. Yet while it may be impossible to save the utility without taxpayer cash, it likely would be equally impossible to rescue it with the kind of government control Mr. Edano purports to want.

Consider rates. The rate of increase in electricity consumption has been fairly low over the past decade (and sometimes negative), and is likely to remain so for as long as the overall Japanese economy stagnates. That leaves tariff increases as the only way Tepco could realistically expect to raise the additional revenue needed to pay back government bail-out money.

Such increases are proving hard enough now, while Tepco still is nominally a private-sector company. Last month the utility proposed raising rates for commercial customers by some 17% (it also wants to raise household rates, which are capped by regulation). Political uproar ensued, but the company appears to be standing its ground—to the benefit of politicians who will have to cope with less of a Tepco loss thanks to the increase. It would be hard for politicians to inveigh against rate increases approved by their own proxies on the board.

Similarly, the government doesn’t stand to gain much if Tepco were broken up and sold for parts. In theory this would generate sufficient cash to fund compensation claims. But if it didn’t? Good luck finding a buyer for whatever piece of a broken-up Tepco got stuck with the nuclear liabilities, and good luck funding those liabilities without revenue from all the other parts of what as a whole is a viable, cash-generating utility. The government would have to step in to pay compensation directly, in a form of socialism a bit too honest for Tokyo’s liking.

Thus are our protagonists not-quite-so-secretly pining for each other, and eventually will admit their love. They’re likely to do so in a deal where Tepco gets all the cash it needs in exchange for token government board representation, if any. If it all lacks a certain romance, well, it’s business we’re talking about. And anyway, marriage also had a certain mercenary quality in Jane Austen’s day.

Mr. Sternberg edits the Business Asia column.




Factbox: Japan’s hidden nightmare scenario for Fukushima

By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO | Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:13am EST

(Reuters) – Nearly a year after a huge quake and tsunami sparked Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis, then-premier Naoto Kan is haunted by the specter of an even bigger disaster forcing tens of millions of people to flee Tokyo and threatening the nation’s existence.

Two weeks after the crisis in March, the head of Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission drew up a worst-case scenario. It was presented to Kan, but never officially released to the public.

Below are key points from the scenario document, obtained by Reuters, that was compiled by commission chairman Shunsuke Kondo and entitled “Sketches of Scenarios of Contingencies at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant.”


Multiple vapor and hydrogen explosions and a loss of cooling functions at the six reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant lead to radiation leaks and reactor failures.

Thousands of spent fuel rods, crammed into cooling pools at the plant, melt and mix with concrete, then fall to the lower level of the buildings.


In a possible domino effect, a hydrogen explosion at one reactor forces workers to evacuate due to high levels of radiation, halting cooling operations at all reactors and spent fuel pools. Reactors and cooling pools suffer serious damage and radiation leaks.


Massive radioactive contamination forces residents in a 170-km radius or further to evacuate while those in a 250-km radius or further may voluntarily evacuate.

Tokyo, Japan’s capital, is located about 240 km (150 miles) southwest of the plant and the greater metropolitan area is home to some 35 million people.

Radiation levels take several decades to fall.


The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami exceeding 15 meters knocked out cooling systems at the six-reactor plant and meltdowns are believed to have occurred at Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

Hydrogen explosions occurred at the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor buildings a few days after the quake. Radiation leaks forced some 80,000 residents to evacuate from near the plant and more fled voluntarily, while radioactive materials have been found in food including fish and vegetable and water .

Reactor No. 4 was under maintenance and 550 fuel rods had been transferred to its spent fuel pool, which already had about 1,000 fuel rods. The pool caught fire and caused an explosion.

Reactors No. 5 and 6 reached cold shutdown — meaning water used to cool fuel rods is below boiling point — nearly 10 days after the tsunami but it took more than nine months to achieve that state at Nos. 1-3.

Decommissioning the reactors will take 30 to 40 years and some nearby areas will be uninhabitable for decades.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Linda Sieg and Jonathan Thatcher)




Monju fast breeder reactor’s sodium detector hits trouble

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A sodium detector at Japan’s prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju went out of order, the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Thursday.

But neither sodium leakage nor damage to the environment has been reported, said the agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The state-run Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the Monju reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is currently working to repair the detector, it said.

An alarm sounded at the central control room shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday notifying of trouble at the detector. A fan that sends air around the sodium coolant piping to the detector apparently came to a halt, it said.

(Mainichi Japan) February 17, 2012



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