Etwas Einfach

“Something simple”, i recall saying. Well, i’d say we managed that. If we can keep it all uncluttered it’ll be a victory for style over practicality. All snideness aside, it’s not a bad compromise given the space, and it’s certainly a vast improvement over not being able to cook and preparing meals on the floor.


Round Two?

Interesting piece in the FT on a second wave of foreigners preparing to leave:

As schools prepare for the summer vacation and property contracts approach renewal deadlines, some foreign professionals are deciding to leave Japan, according to recruitment firms, relocation companies and estate agents.

About 80 per cent of expat professionals left Tokyo immediately after the disaster, says Sakie Fukushima, chief executive of G&S Global Advisers, a Tokyo recruitment advisory firm. Of those, about four-fifths came back while the rest asked to be reassigned.

Don’t know how much i trust those numbers. Certainly a lot of people did get out for a few weeks right after the quake, but 80% seems like a huge number. It was certainly nothing like that high in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I’d have thought that this would mean that there will be increased opportunities for those that choose to stay, but maybe not that simple:

For those unfazed by safety concerns, there are rewards. Some companies are likely to pay more for such talent, says Hideaki Tsukuda, managing partner of Egon Zehnder in Japan. However, there is a growing trend to replace expats with locals, he adds.

On a related note, it’s getting increasingly difficult to discern the truth of the situation at Fukushima. The truth may well indeed be out there, but it’s caught up between the non-sensical yabberings of the anti and pro nuclear camps. Just about every piece that you can find professing to provide new insight into how fucked things are / how things are going to fine, is rebutted, squabbled, and fought over. I’m reduced to scouring the Japanese press (desperate times!) and trying to piece things together.

[There was an interesting piece i read today about the high radiation levels in reactor 4 (where all of the fuel is in the spent fuel pool. It was initially through that the pool had boiled dry and was no longer in a safe configuration (melted), and that this was causing the problems. However, recent video and sampling of the water in the pool suggests that this was not in fact the case. Also, in the same hall, is a large (7m) “metal shroud” that is hot. It’s only in 2.5m of water, and could therefore be responsible for a lot of radiation level.

Just goes to show how hard it is to say anything meaningful about these reactors when there are so many variables (that only the operator can really be aware of) to account for.]

My opinion, for what it’s worth given that i’m now thousands of kilometres away, is that the initial situation was worse than anyone (up to, and including, the hapless Tepco) realised, and that the cleanup / recovery will be harder than people expect. At least the monitoring and measuring is finally starting to give people the information that they’ve long needed to make sensible decisions. That is if anyone can agree on what is safe…

It’s definitely not over, but probably the immediate danger of an escalating situation is past. The important thing now is to keep people aware of risks, to pay the farmers to keep any potentially risky produce off the markets, and stay vigilant for areas of contamination. Anything that can be done to keep radio-isotopes out of the food chain, either on a government, or personal, level has to be done. There are no absolutely safe levels, just probabilities.


No, not a state of confusion caused by exposure to too much Tokyo, but a new charity book to aide those effected by the Tohoku earthquake. There is great work, and even some of mine. More than the photographic effort, there is the effort made by close friends that really deserves to be rewarded by this being a success.

You want to buy a copy, so that you can say that you did your part. It’s published on Blurb, and you can read more at the Tokyo-Ga website.

More as an aside, it’s always difficult to know what kind of material to submit for a project like this one. It’s tempting to go with your most successful / well known shots and hope that they continue to have broad appeal. Or, to try to say some thing relevant to how you feel about the cause, topic, plight, etc. My two shots attempt to show different sides of Tokyo, the grind of living in one of the largest cities in the world, and the calm serenity found in buddhist art. Taken together they hopefully highlight some of the tensions / contradictionsof Tokyo life…

No Value

This is really pissing me off:

In the Krümmel nuclear power plant near Hamburg, located on the bank of the Elbe river, Germany’s nuclear exit is already a reality. The plant hasn’t produced a single kilowatt-hour of electricity for almost two years, after being shut down following various incidents, such as a fire that broke out at the site and a problem with a transformer. Even the owners, E.on and Vattenfall, were doubtful that the plant would ever go back into operation.

But the reactor, which has essentially been shut down, is of considerable value, at least at the moment, and the companies have decided to defend their property

If there is one lesson that you’d think a company like Vattenfall could learn from the fiasco in Fukushima, you’d imagine that it would be that the value of Nuclear reactors is illusory. The reality is that the potential liability far outweighs the potential revenue / profit.

That is, of course, if you are operating in a world where corporations are held responsible for their liabilities. One of the supreme farces of the nuclear industry is that despite all their protestations of safety and reliability, they are completely un-insurable. No insurance company in their right mind would touch them. And, when you look at Tepco (stock price in the gutter, still looking down), it’s not hard to see why.

Without national governments willing to intermediate between the corporations and the people, the courts would periodically take every cent (i can say that now that i’m euro-land) of profit, and redistribute it as compensation.

If the energy companies do sue for damages the governments should hit them up for insurance premiums for all the years they covered (up) for an industry. Needless to say they won’t; the effluent only ever flows down to the people. The commanding heights sure are a great place to be…

Kitchen Please

Coming up on the half way mark of our time in the flat with no kitchen (and perhaps less critically, no belongings…)

All we can cook with is a toaster oven… washing up is done in the bathroom (good job we have a separate toilet!) At least we have a fridge. My arms no longer need covering to escape being taken for a (incompetent) junkie. The E.Coli scare hasn’t helped; it removed a large part of our usual summer diet from the market. Fortunately that’s been called off, and with a little luck we should have a kitchen in another couple of weeks. Deep breaths.

Oh, and did i mention the washing machine? We have a washing machine. Gravity was on my side getting that thing into the cellar. And then we turned it on… Thinking i’d do the right thing, i read the instructions, or at least as much of them as seemed relevant. Do a wash with nothing in the machine it said. Use this program it said. Off it went. We dutifully sat and watched it wash water for something like a couple of hours. The thing didn’t look very level. Adjusted the feet. Checked with a coin. All good. Put some washing in the machine, watch it for a little while, get bored and come upstairs. A few minutes later the landlord is at the door saying that the washing machine has gone crazy and walked across the room. Water everywhere, but not to worry it’s a wet room. The levelling bolts are wound down. Level it again, this time with a spirit level, and lock the feet. Try to get it to finish the wash, but it’s shaking like ‘bam baalam’. Eventually get the washing out, and go to bed wondering about how to return a washing machine in German…

Get up the next day and read some more of the instructions. Turns out there are some shipping screws that need to be removed before use. They stop the drum from moving during shipping. During use they transfer all the movement to the body of the machine. Works great without them… Oh, and yes, i’ve since discovered that i’m the only person in Europe that didn’t know about these shipping screws, so save me the incredulity and just have a good laugh.

A Vision in Apathy

No doubt this is going to come across as something of a ‘white whine‘, but here goes…

Apparently i just don’t seem to care. And, i’m not really trying.

It seems odd to me that people get this impression, as others would say that i’m far to wound up and serious. Most recently it has come up several times with respect to my attitude towards learning german. In the past it was a common feature of my school reports.

Mein Deutsch ist, in ein Wort, schrecklich. I studied for a few years, maybe three, around the time that i was fifteen, used it a little in Germany during that time, and pretty much didn’t after that. Twenty years of neglect has not helped.

Now i’m living in Germany, and trying to do as much as i can in German – which isn’t much, but i’m giving it a go. For sure i’d love to spend some time every week (or even day!) re-learning and learning, but with all the other things that need sorting out, it isn’t going to happen for a while.

Anyway, not the point. Apparently i need to find a way of appearing to care more, or sounding distraught at my current inability to take lessons / study… or maybe it’s enough to know that i really do care, and would love to have the time / energy to do something about it.

My contrition is internal and eternal.


The list of accomplishments is growing! We have a bank account, flat, bed, washing machine, fridge (with beer in it!), internet gets connected on monday. Oh, we might even have health insurance… not sure about that one. By the end of the month our stuff from Japan should be here, and we’ll have a kitchen. It’s getting increasingly survivable.

Getting a 70kg fridge up a rickety, narrow, spiral staircase is not a great deal of fun. The German idea of delivery service is to take the goods to the first appreciable barrier, and give up. You’ve basically paid ~€50 to have a man unload a lorry. At this point you’re down to negotiating a price for the service for which you thought you’d already paid… When you’re used to Japanese levels of service, where two men will carry a fridge into your house, removing their shoes along the way, this can come as a bit of a shock. That said, once payment has been agreed, these chaps are nothing but enthusiastic in the efforts.

It doesn’t seem possible but there are still a bunch of stuff that needs doing. I’m guessing Germany is never going to run out of bureaucracy…