Monday, 3 December 2012

Do something! -- 2012 Japan Election Diary: Day 17

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.

The children cheered and the mothers cooed as I walked steadily past the soccer practice with a five-meter long bamboo trunk balanced on my shoulder.

It was 10am on a Sunday morning and I was already exhausted from marching up and down a hill just outside my daughters' elementary school where a lumberjack was felling bamboo. This grove of bamboo was one of my favourite aspects of the neighbourhood, sitting atop a winding single-track road that led down into a valley where the cherry blossoms would cover the schoolyard in a carpet of pink and white every April. Now, in early December, the road was covered in the golden brown and red leaves of neighbouring maples shedding their colours for winter.

Today the brightest red was of the masking tape tied around the trunks of the bamboo to mark which ones would be cut down by chainsaw. And here I was complicit in their destruction, an accomplice in this crime against nature.

The trunks of the bamboo, even fully grown, aren't that heavy, being basically hollow inside, but they are very hard and strong and truth be known, I was enjoying this rare moment to be thought of as having some skill other than being able to read English newspapers and understand Beatles lyrics. Yes, hard and strong, not bookish and odd. A manly man. I'm a lumberjack and I'm all ri...
 "How do you say chikan in English?"
"Chikan, er, bad sexy man?"
"Oh. I guess we'd say groper, or flasher."
"Gu-ro-pa? Fu-ra-sha?"
"The general term is pervert."
The chikan was the reason we were all there. A month ago a man had exposed himself to three elementary school girls walking home along the ridge. They were unharmed but ran back and told the teachers. A second sighting of a man hiding in the bamboo was reported the following day. Parent-teacher patrols were sent out and for a week all children walked home in groups led by teachers until the threat was thought to have passed. The headmistress, the PTA and the land owner all agreed something had to be done. Florescent signs were put at the top of the road: "Danger! Chikan!"
The fate of the bamboo was sealed.

This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.
I had joined two dozen parents and off-duty teachers for three hours of hard labour. We transformed the teacher's parking lot into a makeshift lumber yard. The men did the heavy lifting, carrying the bamboo carcasses down the steep slope into the parking lot, while the women set to work on the trunks with machetes and saws, stripping them of their chutes and leaves.

Where once the bamboo had towered over the ridge, in three hours we had turned it into a lifeless clearing, like an angry mother nature had stubbed her cigarettes out in the ground. There'd be no hiding place for chikan here. Or anything.
"I feel sorry for the bamboo," I said to a neighbour as we manhandled one of the larger trunks together.
"Ha ha, you are always so funny."
As we threw the trunk onto the ground for the womenfolk to get to work on, one of the older teachers announced something indecipherable (to me) and all work stopped as we gathered around him and a makeshift table with rice crackers and hot water urns. I thought idly that this would be a ceremony saying sorry to the gods for our transgressions, maybe a formal shinto apology for crimes against nature, and my inner Pocahontas was piqued...
But it turned out to be a coffee break. I had two instant coffees with two sugars and a chocolate covered macadamia.


When the earthquake happened on March 11th, 2011, Abiko was spared the worst. One hundred or so houses subsided by a meter or two, sinking into the soft ground, but no-one here lost their lives. In my neighbourhood, the damage amounted to some fallen garden wall masonry in the road and cracked roof tiles. There was no tsunami here, no big buildings collapsed and Fukushima is safely a couple of hundred kilometers north of here.
But Abiko was a hotspot for radiation. Though hotspot is a relative term. Relatively hot. The radiation in my garden a few months after Fukushima was about three times the imagined background level, though we don't really know the background level, nobody bothered to measure it before Fukushima. Nobody knows the effects of this increase in radiation, but I like to think of it as smoking cigarettes. If we normally smoke one cigarette a day, now we are smoking three. Or perhaps it's more akin to sugar in your coffee. One sugar or three probably isn't good for you, but neither amounts would have any measurable affect on your health. Yet.
The school has already dug up the top soil in the schoolyard that the kids play soccer on every weekend and dumped it in the corners of the yard. Whether this has any beneficial affect or indeed was necessary in the first place, who can say? But it was doing something instead of nothing.


The lady of the lake's Japan Party of the Future is looking more and more like an ego trip for Ozawa. Their supposed green policies mean a reliance on fossil fuels in the short term as the long term goal of sustainable energy doesn't add up yet.
As  China grows, Africa grows, India grows, we talk about putting up little windmills but still move to the suburbs, commute to work, buy our consumer toys from China, outsource our undesirable jobs to India and insist that we shouldn't pay more for power, pay more in taxes or think of flights to the other side of the world as anything less than what we deserve and not as a perversion.
So we watch and complain as the world burns, at once only able to make ineffectual personal gestures or blame our politicians or the system for another year of hot air. Ho hum.
We will either make the necessary changes to our lives or not, global warming will do what it will Whatever. Nobody has been able to solve the basic problem: alternative sources of energy still require more energy to put in than we get out. That's a long-term problem whether we throw reams of freshly printed money at it or not. 
Not that Our Man has the answers. But he's pretty sure our politicians don't either.
"Do something!"
But what?

Go to DAY 18

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