Sunday, 13 May 2012

Rice planting season.

We went to visit oldest uncle who lives about 30 mins away - or a bit more if the roads have lost their familiarity... He's 80 I think  and still a very active rice farmer.  The "wakamono" or young guy  who works for him would be 70, not old, but wakamono conjures up images of 20 year olds with  dyed yellow hair and hip hop jeans... Farming is a rapidly aging profession - a third of Japan's farmers are over seventy, two thirds are over 60.

Akita is about a month behind Tokyo in terms of temperature at this time of year. The cherry blossoms were out in the mountains, the rice seedlings will be planted soon.  There was no need for jackets getting back to Tokyo.
Oldest uncle's rice seedlings

Rice seedlings close up
Daffodil and tulips looking a bit worse for wear with the rain,
and not helped 
Green onions
Back to Tokyo & it always feels much warmer  - it was about 8 degrees warmer
in Tokyo - local azaleas on the way from the train station to home.
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Saturday, 12 May 2012

Odate & food

The second sitting of holidays of Golden Week (Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun) has been and gone. The plan was to go up by bike on Thurs and back on Sun. Thursday morning it was pouring. Optimistic checking of the Meteorological Agency's website showed rain the whole way up - Utsunomiya - rain, Fukushima - rain, Sendai - rain, Morioka - rain, Odate... rain. After some deliberation we canned the idea of the bike and trudged off to Tokyo station to join the rest of Tokyo trying to catch a shinkansen... the fast train to Morioka is all booked seats and we didn't have seats... Tokyo station was packed, as expected, but fortune smiled and we got seats on a train to Sendai and tranfered to an express shinkansen for Morioka. It was a bit over 7 hours door to door.

It rained the whole time we were there, which meant that the cherry blossoms had mostly gone and that my plans to go to Goshogake have been postponed again.

The highlight was food...

Mountain veges, shiitake and eggplant.  The mountain veges and
shiitake were all given to them by mountain vege picking friends.

The veges above turned into tempura. 
We'd started eating it before I remembered
to take a photo.

Shiitake season - partially dried shiitake next to the wood stove
Shiitake to be dried.
Hiro's sister in law and nieces came for dinner.  Hiro wanted to do
a yaki niku taste testing session with them. 
From left to right across the top Australian kalbi (rib meat),
Japanese dairy kalbi, Australian steak. At the front Japanese dairy kalbi,
New Zealand lamb, and Japanese Wagyu - by far the most expensive of the
meats.  The meat came from Aeon (not our choice).  There was no
labelling of which prefectures the meat came from, which I assume
means they came from areas in relatively close proximity to the
nuclear plant (all meat from the area is being tested and I don't have
concerns about radiation levels - I am less confident about fish and veges.)
In Tokyo all meat seems to labelled by prefecture or region these days.
A close up of the posh meat 698Y/100g - some cuts of
wagyu can easily be 10x the price of this in a very upmarket shop.
Mountain veges soaking.

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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Abukuma caves and home

In Tamura city, which isn't really a city, it's just a local governnment area,  is Abukuma caves. I hadn't heard of them before, and neither had Hiro.  They were only discovered in 1969 - though it's quite possible the Emishi knew about them before then ;).  They were impressive limestone caves, well worth a visit if you're into that kind of thing.

I might need to refer to a geologist to make a meaninful
comment about this.
In the caves
There was English signage, and Korean and Chinese. 
I was impressed, though I decided I'd be unlikely to remember it and
didn't read most of them.
Caves that look like an anti smoking campaign.
Or the digestive tract
Some places were very narrow - you wouldn't
want to be 15 stone going into it.
A view from the carpark area down into the Tamura area.
The road home.
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On towards Natsui, Setogaro and 1000 sakura trees

Just pasted in to give a sense of the landscape
I love this - patchwork mountain. Lots of yamazakura.
I'd love to go in the autumn time.
Somethings stay the same - vending machines & blossoms.
I was so excited to find out that this train line - is the Ban'etsu East.
It's a JR line that is now on my seishun 18 plans.
Setogarou - a gorge a couple of km west of Eda station.
Quite lovely and apparently stunning in autumn.
Setogarou Gorge
Natsui river park
Natsui River
The Ban'etsu east line again - Iwaki - Koriyama.
Senbon Zakura - 1000 Sakura trees by the
Natsui River
I didn't count, but there were lots.
And lots
And lots
The Ban'etsu East train. There are only 5 direct services from
Iwaki-Koriyama each day.

The exclusion zone

We stayed the night in Iwaki. It was a basic minshuku, we were the only guests aside from construction workers. It's possible that the clientele before the quake was also business related people rather than sightseers, but I decided not to ask the owners.  They were not around for the most part, and at any rate they probably didn't need us to remind them of the situation,  and we continued north to the exclusion zone the next morning. Just north of Iwaki is Hirono Town. The exclusion zone begins a few kilometres into Hirono.

Driving along the highway, low cloulds, TEPCO thermal plant smoke stacks
looming in the distance (not the nuclear plant) it felt ominous and foreboding.
We were both more tense... entering into Mad Max territory, a blade runner post
apocalypse.  But of courseradiation cannot be seen or smelt.... it was entirely a
construction in my mind. And I began to understand why the WHO warns that
mental health was the biggest health effect of Chernobyl.  (I know there are
issues with accepting the WHO line since the International Atomic Energy Agency
trumps them in the UN heirarchy)  It's an invisible demon.  People have no way
of knowing what is safe, what is not safe, people are told numbers and decide
for yourself if it's safe.

Signs warned of the imminent exclusion zone.

The exclusion zone. No entry.  What makes where we were safe
and the area where the police were not safe?  It looks the same.
Establishing safe limits is one of the most vexing problems
facing decision makers, and the people.
The exclusion zone - the police did not seem to be wearing protective gear.

TEPCO had created a seaside park here - part of the inducements to
local communities to allow the nuclear plants to be built.
J-village, which was a national soccer training camp, is right next to the
thermal plant. The area on the other side of the road was being used as
a waste dumping ground, there was a man there with what was presumably
some kind of geiger counter.

A sports field opposite a school in Hirono.
The best season for sport, and not a soul to be seen.
While we were here, the town loud speaker was reading microseivert
levels taken at various places. 
We saw a few people gardening nearby, but aside from that
there weren't people around.
High voltage powerlines dominate the landscape.
Fukushima produced much of Tokyo's electricity.

The Joban expressway has been cut. I imagine work has stopped
on the construction work that was to link it with Sendai.

Road blocked - there were no police manning it, and I was curious to
enter, Hiro has a more natural inclination to obey the rules than I do...
We didn't enter.
factories in the area must be reeling. Some seemed to be open.
I imagine there is difficulty / prejudice in selling even industrial
goods from the area. Anything produced I assume would have to be
radiation tested.  In a risk averse society, who wants to take the
risk of buying contaminated goods... understandably.
There were very very few people around.
Rice fields a little inland from Hirono that will not be cultivated.
The people are told it's safe to live here, but not safe to produce food
for other parts of Japan.  What does a farmer do who cannot farm,
particualrly if he/ she cannot sell his/her farm. Their options for
having a livelihood are all but destroyed.