Home > 2011 Japan Quake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Crisis > Fukushima: On Whose Minds?

Fukushima: On Whose Minds?

October 29th, 2013

I saw this in Bloomberg today, highlighted on Sullivan’s blog:

As Tokyo shook early Saturday morning and loud shrieks from mobile-phone earthquake-warning alarms filled bedrooms around the city, one word immediately sprung to mind: Fukushima.

Those who don’t reside 135 miles away from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl won’t understand this reaction. But the first thing most of Tokyo’s 13 million residents do once things stop wobbling is check if all’s well at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant still leaking radiation into the atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean.

My first reaction to reading this was, “What?” That’s not what I do. That’s not what anyone I know does.

This guy is full of shit. Cell phones did not go off last weekend. The alarm system only activates if an earthquake measuring 5 or greater on the Japanese damage scale hits, and last weekend was a 4. And people here do not nervously scramble to see if Fukushima was set off. Quakes have been so common here for the past few years, people just go, “Well, that wasn’t so big” and go back to their business. If one thing springs to everyone’s minds when the alarms do go off, it’s more likely, “Will this one hit Tokyo?”

This brings me back to the days after the big earthquake, when western news sources were reporting on the “panic gripping Tokyo” and the streets being deserted as everyone was “fleeing” the city.

Which was, of course, complete and utter crap. The streets downtown were empty because businesses were closed, the trains were not running, and people were not coming to work or going shopping in the center of the city.

Few people fled the city, and of those who did, many were non-Japanese who were panicked more from western news sources than anything else. That was such a notable exception that a new word was even coined to describe them: flyjin, a play on the Japanese word for foreigner, gaijin. Japanese people mostly sat tight.

And panic did not grip the city. People were tense, concerned—but there was no panic.

And now? Does everyone immediately think of Fukushima after every quake and check on Fukushima’s status?

Don’t make me laugh. Fukushima is in the news still, but people mostly ignore it nowadays. I rarely hear anyone talk about it. And after a quake, most people don’t check anything, except maybe for a few worriers.

The reporter who wrote that dreck actually seems to live in Tokyo. He should know better. My best guess is that he was trying to stir up interest in his writing by adding drama. People in the U.S. seem to be more rattled over Fukushima than do people in Japan—which is ironic, since the levels of radiation in Tokyo have been barely above normal background radiation. In fact, even at the height of the crisis, Tokyo was exposed to no more radiation than is consistently experienced in Denver (due to high altitude), save for very brief peaks.

Fukushima, naturally, is much worse. But Tokyo? We’re not sweating much here.

  1. Troy
    October 30th, 2013 at 04:06 | #1

    Had the wind not been blowing out to sea during the major conflagrations and explosions (!), the story would be different for Tokyo.

    From what I could figure out, there were two threats — the short-term radioactive iodine 131 with the 8-day half-life (Tokyo people /were/ a bit “on edge” about that) and then the longer-life cesium etc. fission byproducts TEPCO was flushing out to sea with their emergency cooling measures.

    Another threat I saw was if TEPCO lost their technical ability to cool the remnants of their reactors and/or thousands of still-hot spent fuel rods and all that just continued to do its overheating thing and emit a continuous plume of radioactive steam for weeks if not months.

    But TEPCO got a handle on that at least.

    Going on three years on, Fukushima’s main issue is still the cesium-tainted water containment. That’s more a long-term poisoning of NE Japan’s agricultural base and fishing grounds, not much an issue to Tokyo or even Chiba, other than long-term food safety concerns.

    In other news, I see iPhone has a 30%+ marketshare in Japan. Stunning!


    For pro iOS development, there are only 2 languages app developers really need to worry about to get sales, E and J. There are tons of Chinese users of course, but they don’t buy anything.

    2012 revenue chart

    Looks like me picking Japanese over Mandarin back in the 1980s is going to pay off again this decade, LOL. Worked pretty good in the 1990s!

  2. Luis
    October 30th, 2013 at 10:10 | #2

    Had the wind not been blowing out to sea during the major conflagrations and explosions (!), the story would be different for Tokyo.
    Perhaps, but I’m not so sure. The explosions did not reach very high altitudes, so the distance the major radiation levels would have reached is debatable. Winds shifted towards Tokyo in the last few days of major radiation release, but levels of radioactivity in Tokyo barely rose above background levels. Nevertheless, I’m glad the winds blew out to sea most of that time.

    Going on three years on, Fukushima’s main issue is still the cesium-tainted water containment. That’s more a long-term poisoning of NE Japan’s agricultural base and fishing grounds, not much an issue to Tokyo or even Chiba, other than long-term food safety concerns.
    Indeed. I keep hearing the alarmists saying that Tokyo’s groundwater will eventually be contaminated, but what little I can find out seems to indicate that Tokyo’s groundwater supply is pretty much not connected to anything near Fukushima. The same alarmists talk about all the radiation being dumped into the sea, but it’s a big-ass sea.

    Bill Maher was one of those alarmists, just a month or so ago voicing his concern about dumping so much radiation into the sea. First he quoted the large-sounding amounts of radioactive water bring dumped into the sea, but was obviously ignorant of the level of radiation in that amount of water, not to mention the eventual dilution in the massive volume of the Pacific Ocean. Then he went on about how “any level” of radiation was unacceptable, which frustrates me when people fail to realize that we get certain levels of radioactivity all the time, and that flying on planes or living in high-altitude cities like Denver cause more radioactivity exposure than Tokyo received during the crisis.

  3. Luis
    October 30th, 2013 at 10:35 | #3

    In other news, I see iPhone has a 30%+ marketshare in Japan. Stunning!
    Well, for September at least. But yes, as you recall I reported on that rankings site, and for four weeks the iPhone had 8-9 of the top 10 spots on the list, and maintained 16 of the top 20 for much of that time as well.

    Only in the latest report released in the last few days has the iPhone finally dropped from 1st place–but only because it is so ridiculously fragmented by the rankings site. According to the latest week’s rankings, the iPhone now occupies spots nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 21, 23, 25, 28, 29, 33, 39, and 49—7 of the top 10 spots, and 12 of the top 20. More than a month after the release of the new phones.

    I have a feeling that the October numbers will be similar to September, as the release covered only the last week and a half of September, but remained very strong through the first three weeks of October.

    As I have mentioned before, I have a habit of doing a cell phone survey when I am on the train; I look around to see what phones all the people within sight are using (usually as far as a full bench in either direction, covering 28 seated and anywhere from a dozen to several dozen standing people). I must have done this hundreds of times by now, and with only a few exceptions, I find at least 50% of people with their phones out are using iPhones. This does not mean that 50% of people in Japan have iPhones, only that about half of people who use the Fukutoshin and Seibu Ikebukuro lines and who use their phones while commuting have an iPhone. Still, that’s pretty damned impressive.

    It always amuses me to go back to the news and opinion pieces before the initial Japan release where so many people predicted the iPhone would flop big-time in Japan. I loudly disagreed, and gee whiz, whaddaya know. The popular blindness was startling, really–the idea that the profusion of high-tech Japanese phones would dampen enthusiasm for the iPhone, without realizing how crappy those phones were (sometimes because of all the features!

  4. Troy
    October 31st, 2013 at 04:29 | #4

    I was thinking about that 33% iOS market share and the colossal usability — perfection really — of the touchphone form factor on trains, and the market opportunity therein.

    IIRC back on the 46th floor you took over Roy’s job when he & I started our own eikaiwa in ’93.

    One of the gating factors we found with that was we only had 1 classroom with 4 seats, so the maximum throughput we could get was just ~12 students a day, since daytime slots are hard to fill.

    With the rent at ¥7000/day that didn’t leave a lot of margin for our own salaries.

    Teaching face-to-face is thus really resource-constrained and is tough to scale. (Our former employer may have been doing a lot wrong on the core curriculum side, but I certainly respect their business chops in building what they had going by the early 1990s.)

    But making lessons for interactive use on touchphones — now there’s a scaleable market!

    Everybody’s got 20-30 minutes to kill on a train. Tablets are too big perhaps for use standing up, but the phone formfactor is perfect either way.

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