Saturday, April 21, 2012

Now is the third turning point for Japan in the past 150 years.

Since the 3/11 earthquake and the subsequent Fukushima incident happened last year, I've often heard that now is the third turning point for Japan in the past 150 years. The second one was when Japan lost the Second World War. The first one was the Meiji Restoration (Meiji-ishin /明治維新 in Japanese) in 1868. Have you ever heard of it? I'll describe it briefly.

In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康)ruled Japan and started the Tokugawa Shogunate (Tokugawa bakufu /徳川幕府) at the Edo Castle (Edo-jo /江戸城) in Tokyo. The successive Tokugawa Shoguns ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration happened in 1868. This period is called the Edo Era (Edo-jidai/江戸時代). In 1639, the Tokugawa Shogunate closed Japan to foreign commerce. This national isolation policy lasted until the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (or the Harris Treaty) between Japan and the US was signed in 1854. Around this time, Japan was turbulent and chaotic because the samurai, Japanese warriors, had differing opinions over the issue of how to deal with the pressures from some Western countries for Japan to open up the nation. Eventually, the Meiji Restoration (Meiji-Ishin) happened in 1868. Although the restoration enabled Japan to shift to the status of a modern nation, ordinary people of the time just saw it as a shift of power from the Tokugawa Shoguns to the samurai from Satsuma (薩摩, which is currently Kagoshima Prefecture) and Choshu (長州, which is currently Yamaguchi Prefecture). After the restoration, the Emperor Meiji moved the aforementioned Edo Castle in Tokyo from Kyoto, which had been the Imperial capital for more than a thousand years. Now, what was once Edo Castle is referred to as the Imperial Palace (Koukyo/皇居), and the Emperor and Empress reside there. On top of that, various ceremonies are held there. Some areas of the Palace are open to the public.

Recently, I've been reading some books related to the times around 1868 since I have had this era on my mind. As I expected, the more I learn about this period, the more deeply I can understand the current situation in Japan.

By the way, the Imperial Palace is well known as a great site to view sakura (cherry blossoms). When I went there on the 8th and 13th of April, I took pictures of sakura.

From the first to the fourth: Somei-Yoshino, a popular kind of sakura, were in full bloom on the 8th of April.
The fifth: Sakura and the Tokyo Tower (the red building).
The sixth: Somei-Yoshino, a popular kind of sakura, were falling and scattering on the 13th of April.
From the seventh to the last: Yaezakura, another popular kind of Sakura, were in full bloom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In Japan, the last nuclear power reactor is scheduled to stop in May.

In Japan, nuclear power reactors are required by law to undergo annual inspection and maintenance. It usually takes about three months to perform this procedure on a single reactor. Fifteen out of 54 reactors, including six ones at the crippled Fukushima-daiichi plant, have been forced to be shut down by the 3/11 earthquake. Another three reactors at the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka prefecture have been shut down since last May because of the request made by the then Prime Minster, Naoto Kan (click here). The other 35 reactors have already been stopped for annual inspection and maintenance. The last one is scheduled to be stopped on the 5th of May for the same reason.

In response to the Fukushima incident, more strict regulations and requirements for the restart of reactors have been set, but they have been very controversial because the ongoing incident has been a huge shock. Last week, our central government officially announced new policies and conditions for restarting the reactors. However, many people, including some experts and myself, have gotten the impression that the government is rushing to restart the reactors, and it has set the conditions to restart the reactors as soon as possible, not to enhance the safety. On top of that, when looking at the government's recent decisions regarding nuclear power plants, I can't help but wonder if not the government but influential people, both in politics and business, have been taking the initiative in setting policies on nuclear power plants.

These electric power companies, which have a virtual monopoly in the Japanese market, have also insisted that this summer, without nuclear power, both companies and households will be forced to cut back on energy consumption even more than than last summer. Given the current unstable situation in the Middle East and Japan's dependence on nuclear power generation (Note1), I can understand the concern. However, there is still doubt as to the reliability of their claims, because some details remain unclear. I really want to know just how much they expect our economy and our lives to suffer. On the other hand, some groups have insisted that there will be no problem without nuclear power even if we don't cut back. Although I don't remember the details, I remember that I questioned some of the points. At any rate, I need rational information without bias, although I'm wondering if it's possible to get this kind of information.

I believe that Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear power generation as much as possible. To make this happen, we all have to make further efforts to cut back on our energy use. Now is the time when we must decide what Japan will be like. In addition, we have to keep in mind that we need to take responsibility for the decision.

Note 1:
It's been reported that nuclear power provided around 23 percent of the total energy generated right before the Fukushima accident happened in March, 2011.