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Readers vent over ‘Bread and becquerels’

Some readers’ responses to the April 17 Zeit Gist column by Gianni Simone, “Bread and becquerels: a year of living dangerously“:

Feeding foreign media falsehoods

In reading the article “Bread and becquerels,” I cannot help but be puzzled by the content and implications.

Contrary to the title, in the article there is no mention of real measurements of environmental or food contamination, only hearsay and very general and unhelpful comments that would probably better find its place in a personal blog rather than a daily newspaper that is widely read by the foreign community in Japan and by foreigners who are interested in Japan.

The risk in reading the columnist’s personal comments and about his lifestyle is that all foreigners could become mindlessly scared about radiation and/or believe that the situation of the radiation in Japan after the Fukushima accident is out of control.

As you might be aware, the foreign press in general, and in particular the Italian media, has been extremely inaccurate and unprofessional in dealing with the accident, its effects and the risks of radiation in Japan and abroad. This kind of “old maid’s tale” article can be misinterpreted or deliberately misused by the foreign press to paint an inaccurate picture of the situation in Japan and the people — foreigners or otherwise — living here.

Some points that are worth remembering, at least to ease the worries of the author:

1. Radiation in Tokyo area is roughly one third that in Rome (0.1 microsievert/hour vs. 0.3 microsievert/h and 0.4 at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” (near volcanic rocks, as measured by myself).

2. Radiation on airplanes is 20 times higher than on the ground. Even though we spend a limited amount of time on airplanes, this is relevant for airline crews.

3. Radiation in space is 1,000 times higher than on ground. No ill effects have been found among astronauts who lived for months on the International Space Station.

4. Bananas have 125 becquerels/kg of radioactive potassium-40 (higher than the cesium safety levels of 100 becquerels/kg). It is possible that the processes of eliminating cesium and potassium are different, though.

5. Amount of food consumed comes into play in calculating radiation exposure. Five grams of “radioactive” tea, even assuming the old limit of 500 becquerels/kg, amount to 0.5 becquerels.

6. A number of independent measurements point to no risk in food. My colleagues in Italy have tested the amount of cesium in rice from Miyagi Prefecture and found 0.1 becquerel/kg, less than 1,000th of what is found in bananas.

7. Chernobyl and Fukushima are two completely different accidents: In the former case the reactor core was exposed and radioactivity was dispersed in the air. This did not happen at the Fukushima plant, where most of the radiation ended up in the water.

8. Cigarettes contain polonium-210 (the same isotope used to kill Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London), due to the use of fertilizers on tobacco. A two-pack-a-day smoker is exposed to 250 millisieverts/year in the bronchial region, compared to about 1-3 millisieverts/year among nonexposed people. In Europe, every year 5,000 people die because of radiation-induced cancers in the lungs (such cases total about 15 percent of all cancers in the lungs).

9. The highest risk of radiation in Europe is due to radon gas seeping through cracks in the ground. This radioactive but chemically inert gas can accumulate in places where air is not changed often.

At this point it should be mentioned that I have been living with two small children and a Japanese wife since before the fateful earthquake and accident at the power plant, and that, even though we took precautions and closely monitor the situation, we do not live in the state of fear that might be mistaken to be typical of foreigners in Japan. The same can be said of my colleagues, Japanese and foreigners at Riken and the many foreigners living in Japan, who are equally puzzled by the tone of the article and the discrepancy with their daily lives and behavior.

This is not to attempt to deny the tragic events of the accident and its devastating implications, but to put them in the correct context and to analyze the situation individually and independently with real measurements. This is the effort that has to be painstakingly pursued by everyone.

My main research field is space physics with satellites and radiation environment studies on astronauts, but I am also struggling for what is possible to inform on the real situation and correct the excesses and apocalyptic visions that have been evoked in my country since the Fukushima accident. I have written a book on radioactivity (“Come sopravvivere alla radioattivit”, www.amazon.it/Come-sopravvivere-radioattivit-Cooper-files/dp/8873941753 and have been asked to keep a blog (at marco-casolino.blogspot.jp) to inform and update nonspecialists on the situation in Japan.

I sincerely hope that in line with your excellent editorial policy and quality of the articles that have kept us informed of the situation in Fukushima, you might not only publish in the future a “review” article with more circumstantiated numbers, values and readings, but also articles on daily life in Japan that can raise awareness among the general public about the current situation.

MARCO CASOLINO

Riken Advanced Science Institute

Wako, Saitama

What about us singles?

As a regular Japan Times reader, I’m pleased that you finally published an article that deals with the issue of radioactive contamination in food, and the day-to-day issues with trying to eat safely when accurate information is hard to come by.

However, I find the privileged position this article takes to be extremely unhelpful. The author of the article spends most of the article talking about the phenomenal amount of time and effort that his Japanese wife (not he) has put into researching food safety and protecting his family from radioactive contamination.

While it’s clear he’s very fortunate that his wife can stay home all day to sound out safe food and then cook it for him and his children, and also perhaps, as he implies, carefully clean the family’s clothes and house, etc., was the point of this article really just to be a personal story of the author’s privilege of being in a good position to protect himself and his family from radiation as he continues to live in Japan? Or was the point of the article to offer some practical advice to Japan Times readers about measures they can take to protect themselves as well? The latter point is what I really want to read about, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Like the author of this article, I too live in Yokohama, but unlike the author, I’m a young single person of modest means who lives alone and works long hours, and thus has a lot less time, energy and resources to devote to the problem of keeping my diet safe. Nevertheless, I want to do everything I can to stay safe as long as I continue to live here. I am sure I am far from the only one in this position.

Next time you publish an article like this, could you possibly focus more on things people can do for themselves even in the absence of a full-time Japanese housewife to look after their needs? Many people would be delighted to read a systematic, practical guide to navigating the gauntlet of postnuclear crisis food safety, or even just a more comprehensive list of places to look for more information, even if all that information is in Japanese. Though of course, English-language information would be even more helpful.

Despite the author’s smug suggestion at the end of the article that those who can’t speak Japanese should “invest in a Japanese partner,” for many people it really isn’t that simple. That’s something The Japan Times should acknowledge.

C. METCALF

Yokohama

More than a bit paranoid

The writer doesn’t sound a little paranoid, he sounds a lot paranoid.

His family will have to give up milk totally, since it naturally contains radioactive potassium. His wife and sons got more radiation exposure on the flight to Italy than they would have staying in Japan. Radioactive pollen?

Give me a break. Japan Times may be antinuclear now, but this rubbish should never have been published.

JIM BURDO

Dayton, Ohio

Does this pass for journalism?

I am amazed you bother to print this kind of ludicrous article. Maybe if the media spent some time informing people of the relative public safety concerns of radiation and used comparative statistics, people would be more concerned about how close they live to a coal-burning thermal plant or the amount of trans fats in their diet and less concerned with trying to generate panic over radiation.

My family was near Hiroshima when the city was bombed. My grandfather was exposed to fallout while he helped move burn victims out of the city and was part of long-term radiation studies after the fact, even after he moved to the U.S. I live in Tokyo, and I have no problem buying goods from nearby prefectures.

Does this really pass for anything close to journalism? Really? Shame on you.

DAROLD HIGA

Tokyo

Telling it like it is

Thank you, Gianni Simone, for telling it like it is.

Ah, if only what you have written were even a tiny bit paranoid. Thank you too to The Japan Times for printing the entire article as well as the “Loud and clear” photograph.

Looking forward to followup articles in the coming months.

FRED ALSDORF

Otsu City, Shiga

Author lives in state of paranoia

This article is absurd! You should be ashamed for publishing such rubbish. The author and his family are clearly living in an unrealistically and unjustifiably elevated state of alarm, bordering on panic. And publishing such stupidity only contributes to the misunderstanding and ignorance that permeates communities everywhere.

I live in Tohoku, in Miyagi — right at ground zero in the mind of this sadly misguided author — and am well informed on the situation, though I am not living in a state of complete preoccupation, as he clearly is.

Of course the situation is serious and I am concerned for my children, wife and myself. But life must go on, and as normal as possible. I do not live in complete paranoia, nor should anyone outside the area of high radioactivity (clearly well outside the Japanese government’s evacuation zone, but many miles away from Yokohama!).

This author will certainly meet an untimely death from all of the added stress he has caused himself. And I am deeply concerned for his children’s future, as he and his wife must be affecting their mental condition and teaching them to live in fear.

As a responsible contributor to society here in Japan, your paper should not publish biased and ill-informed articles that will cause unnecessary alarm in areas far and wide. Shame on you!

CORY KOBY

Sendai

Writer fails to back up fears

I am an Italian and I have been living in Japan for three years, I am in Osaka at the moment.

This morning I had the “pleasure” to read an opinion piece published in your newspaper by Mr. Gianni Simone. Honestly, I was speechless by the time I arrived at the end of this article.

Starting from the beginning, he claims that one year after the accident “very few things seems to have improved or even changed for that matter.” Honestly, since the tsunami and the Fukushima accident occurred I constantly keep updated about the situation, following several information sources, whereas Mr. Simone seems (I use the same verb he used) to have access to a different kind of information, or otherwise he is just drawing conclusions based on nothing but his fear.

They brush their clothes when come back home, wear masks and even try to make their sons wear protective glasses!? I would like to go through all the misleading information that I found in the article, but it will take too much time.

Of course, Mr. Simone and his family can live their life in Japan as they want, I have nothing against that. But what really astonished me is that you give space to such an unrealistic opinion. Mr. Simone doesn’t offer a single grain of proof for what he is claiming — he doesn’t even suggest how people should find out if their way of living is safe or not!

He seems to be driven only by his paranoia. He even candidly says that his “wife spends countless hours calling the companies’ toll-free numbers, requesting all manner of information on food origin and composition — stuff they are required to give by law — and lecturing the poor operators on what and how things should be done,” so basically he is claiming that some (fortunately) unnamed company has incompetent people working for them.

This is absolutely a shame. I really hope that, as you give space on your newspaper to his opinion, you will carefully look for the opinion of many other peoples living in Mr. Simone’s area, who I believe live a totally different lifestyle.

Last but not least, he wrote, “Looking back at the life my family used to lead before that fateful Friday afternoon — when the earthquake ruined the pizza party I was enjoying with friends — it’s frightening how much it has changed.” Well, I am sure that you can understand how offensive those words could sound to the hundreds of people that had something more that a pizza party ruined by the earthquake. This is, in my modest opinion, absolutely unacceptable.

SIMONE DEDOLA

Osaka

The sky is not falling

I hope this mail reaches you before I reach greener pastures. My clock is ticking faster than I thought and it’s all my fault, mine and my reckless lifestyle choices. Indeed, I thought I was taking care of my body every time I tried to eat my greens and beans, and jogged filling my lungs with air, yet according to your columnist Gianni Simone, I was loading a gun with what he seems to describe as something slightly less lethal than a depleted uranium .50 caliber shell.

Mr. Simone walks about and raises high the sign “The End Is Near” in the streets of Yokohama, a nuclear holocaust where all the authorities conspire against him and his family, hiding national secrets such as where the headmaster of his children’s school sources the rice and milk they serve at the canteen (apparently he would rather be decapitated than divulge such information — now that’s devotion to a coverup!).

Reading his diary (an article would imply he remotely attempts to justify his choices with facts rather than personal views), I get the feeling that all of us inhabitants of the areas close or relatively close to Fukushima should wear masks, protective glasses, buy Geiger counters and mistrust whatever information is given to us by the government or any authority. Well, if there is someone I choose not to believe, that’s Mr. Simone himself.

In all his report on his daily struggle to survive “The Day After” (as a film buff, Mr. Simone will surely know this other movie about nuclear annihilation; I recommend it in those lonely nights) not once is it explained why all the protective paraphernalia and absurd supply chain procedures he describes are necessary. Not once does he talk about his trusty Geiger counter clicking out of the readable scale, neither does he mention the time his favorite brand of butter mutated into a green radioactive monster.

On the contrary, he takes for granted that his choices are the one that are now common among us inhabitants of the “contaminated area”.

Right after the accident last year, among other task forces sent to Tokyo was the Italian Civil Protection that proceed right after the explosion to measure Tokyo’s air. Result: 0.1 microsievert/hour in Tokyo compared to Rome’s 0.3 microsievert/hour. More evidence? The Moto Grand Prix was supposed to run at Motegi, pretty close to the hot spot. Riders refused to go there, wanted evidence that all was safe (water, air, food). Again, the Italian Environment Protection Agency was asked to investigate before authorizing a race and now . . . all the Moto GP riders are dead! Nope, they are all well, the race went ahead since all the parameters were well within the safety limit.

In conclusion, Mr. Simone’s lifestyle choice are his and his family’s own responsibility, but he should be more careful in believing that his point of view is either shared or appreciated within the foreign community: If there is something this country desperately needs, it is people who stay here and fight side by side with the authorities to make it better and be more prosperous (and avoid past mistakes). I think the British call it “to show a stiff upper lip” and even though I am Italian, I would rather choose that than a pizza party and life in fear.

ULISSE PITTON

Complete nonsense

There is no doubt that a lot went wrong after 3/11. The damage was, fortunately, limited not because but in spite of the efforts of the government and high-level Tepco officials — if the people at the defective power plant had followed their advice, maybe half of Tokyo would have had to be evacuated. We have been lucky.

However, what is described in this article is absolutely ridiculous.

For example, somebody who lived during the last 18 months in Munich would have been exposed to much more radiation than anybody in Yokohama.

I had a tooth treatment after 3/11 — this added more radiative stress to my account than all the rest (living in Atsugi and working in Tokyo).

How can people waste such a lot of time on complete nonsense?

I came back from abroad a few days after 3/11. Fortunately my airline had not canceled the flight. We came into Narita in a loop right over the defective power plant. There was no danger during this flight — the radiation due to the high altitude was more than all the rest put together.

Still alive and eating spinach,

OTTO ALBRECHT

Atsugi, Kanagawa

Readers’ views on the April 17 Hotline to Nagatacho column by Joel Assogba, “Book is behind bullying of mixed-race children“:

Perception of beauty must change

Mr. Assogba is not entirely wrong blaming a popular children’s tale for racial bullying in Japanese schools, but his observation only scratches the surface. The bigger culprit in this case may simply be an outdated perception of beauty.

It is known that too much sun is not good for the skin and the Japanese — particularly women of a certain age — are careful to protect what they call “white beauty,” or bihaku. What is not understood is that some sun at least can be good for the skin and that in many cultures (even those “whiter” than the Japanese), a tan is a sign of good health.

Yet every summer, one still sees older ladies step out wrapped in hats, sleeves, gloves, scarves and even surgical masks, in order to stop even a single ray of sunlight hitting their pasty corpse-white wrinkles. Such a prejudice is common throughout Asia, where there was caste segregation between the pale, sheltered nobility and those darker peasants who toiled outdoors. It even exists in the language: when you get a little tan people will tell you, “Kuroku natte kita” — “You’ve turned black.”

So it comes as no surprise here that a children’s tale would reinforce the belief that darker is ugly and dirty. What really needs to go are outdated cultural notions of beauty that condemn adherents to a mummified life where the simple pleasures of a fresh breeze and the sun on your face are unspeakable horrors to be avoided at all costs. All colors are beautiful.

CRAIG CURRIE

Sapporo

Schools tough places for foreigners

An inspiring story of someone finding a perfect, positive way to counteract the problem of racial bullying in Japanese schools.

I was saddened to read about how the Japanese author and publishers were not even willing to consider a change in the book that caused such sad reactions in some schools.

It goes to show that it will be quite a while till foreign children can comfortably adjust to the Japanese school system. I have an Australian daughter that just started Japanese elementary school. I have not had to deal with any such bullying yet, but I hope I can be prepared when it comes.

I love the Japanese people and the language and I would love for my daughter to have a chance to speak, read and write Japanese. I hope we can do this without the cost of destroying her spirit.

I plan to get the books that Joel has written.

A. F.

Readers respond to the April 10 Zeit Gist column by David McNeill, “Rape victim marks 10 years on lonely crusade for justice“:

Law and justice are not the same

Being a victim of crime can affect different people in different ways. Victims vary in their ability to cope, although there are commonalities.

One of the key decisions victims of crime have to make is whether to report offenses or not. Many offenses are never reported.

Victims of sexual assault often do not report offenses to the police. Several factors contribute to nondisclosure of sex offenses (or under-reporting by victims). One disincentive is the cultural biases that surround sex offenses, especially rape. These biases foster myths such as that the victim acted in a provocative manner. Yet the victim is not to blame; the offender is responsible for his or her offending behavior.

A second disincentive is the victim’s feeling of shame, coupled with her or his desire to avoid having to repeatedly tell what happened to the police, the prosecutor, the court and so on. In retelling, she or he is required to relive the offense over and over.

A third disincentive are the responses of those people from whom victims seek help. Insensitive, even callous, police officers and prosecutors compound the harm done by offenders.

Catherine’s story is vividly tainted by these disincentives and more. Despite her treatment by the police and other authorities, she has become a survivor. She has mitigated the adverse effects of the offender’s victimization as well as the secondary victimization (or second injury) attributed to those she expected to help her attain justice, amongst other things.

It is often said that the law and justice are not always the same. If they are not then why is the law permitted to stand? There are many lingering issues that invite significant law reform and procedural changes. Those who seek justice deserve justice.

There is much to be learned and much to be done for those who have been victims of sex offenses.

MICHAEL O’CONNELL

Adelaide, Australia

Not victim, but survivor

Thanks for the article! Informative and somewhat even supportive of Catherine.

Just a request, but why not consider reframing the discussion and perception of Catherine and others whom she represents? Instead of calling her a rape “victim,” why not consider rape “survivor”? And instead of a “lonely crusade,” a “determined battle,” or, I don’t know, something that adds power, not attracts depression.

Again, thank you so much for the article — well done. Your written word has real power!

ESSE JOHNSON

Bozeman, Montana

An injustice to the U.S. military

I thought I was having a deja vu moment when I read David McNeill’s article “Rape victim marks 10 years on lonely crusade for justice,” but nope, I was just recalling a very similar article he wrote on March 9, 2009, “Rape victim fights for justice against U.S. military.” Both highlight the story of a young Australian woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by a former U.S. Navy sailor near the Yokosuka Naval Base in 2002.

She further claims that after reporting this incident to the Japanese police and U.S. military law enforcement authorities, both ignored her claims — and the respective governments continue to do so to this day. But read both articles a little further and what is plainly obvious is that her allegations are merely a “hook” to grab the reader’s attention. The actual focus of both articles is an over-the-top anti-U.S. military rant by Mr. McNeill, using every falsehood, fabrication and fantasy he can think of.

Regarding the alleged sexual assault, JT readers may no doubt be curious as to the “other side of the story”. My understanding is that the woman waited to report the assault, and that while she said it was forced, the sailor claimed it was fully consensual. He cooperated with the police investigation and did not invoke his right to remain silent. There was no physical evidence nor witnesses. Lacking any kind of proof to support her allegations, both law enforcement agencies, and the respective military judge advocate and Japanese prosecutors offices, concluded there was insufficient evidence to indict the sailor.

So as with many situations like this, only the two parties themselves know what truly occurred. It perhaps should also be noted that the while woman claims “justice” is her motivation for continually pursuing the incident over the past 10 years, as she readily admits in the article, her incentive at this point is clearly monetary.

But that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is Mr. McNeill’s slanderous attempt to paint every U.S. military member as some beer-swilling, would-be rapist, all sheltered from their crimes by an unfair Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and inept U.S. and Japanese police officials.

Operation Tomodachi, and other U.S. military humanitarian and disaster relief support to Japan after the March 2011 earthquake/tsunami, led to an outpouring of appreciation and gratitude from the Japanese public. Coupled with continual provocations from North Korea and increasing aggressiveness by China, support for the U.S.-Japan Bilateral Security Alliance is at an all time high. Facts like this drive anti-U.S. zealots like Mr. McNeill crazy. In turn, they result to half-truths, distortions and outright fabrications, all clearly evident in his two commentaries.

Mr. McNeill uses the word “justice” in the titles of both his articles but there is only one true “injustice” here, and that’s Mr. McNeill exploiting this poor woman’s misfortune, whatever it may be, merely to further his own disturbing anti-U.S. agenda.

JAMES D. BROPHY II

Tokyo

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