TGIF to our readers, once again, here we are with our roundup of the news on the educational scene in Japan (and elsewhere in the world), as well followup news on the Fukushima crisis.
Here’s what’s happening in Japan and news excerpts to follow:
Breaking news: Jobs for high schoolers dry up / Students from disaster-hit areas may have to relocate to find work (Yomiuri, Sep.17) | School sports festivals derailed / Meets moved, shortened or canceled because of nuclear crisis (Yomiuri, Sep.17)
Japanese teachers put in longer hours than their counterparts in other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
But they actually spend more time on office work than teaching, the OECD said in a report released Sept. 13.
Despite the heavy workload, it said Japanese teachers’ salaries are falling.
The OECD said action is required to maintain the quality of teaching at Japanese schools.
Teachers at elementary schools worked an average of 1,899 hours throughout 2009, second only to the United States among 21 countries with comparable data available.
The actual time spent teaching in class came to only 707 hours a year, or 72 hours below the average for all OECD member countries. This indicates that the additional tasks imposed on Japanese teachers contributed significantly to their total work hours.
Calculating teachers’ salary levels using 2005 as a benchmark, the average paycheck for all OECD members rose by 7 percentage points in 2009, while Japan recorded a drop of 5 percentage points.
An OECD official who oversaw the research said: “Japanese teachers have heavy workloads, but their salaries are low. Steps need to be taken to attract competent people to improve the quality of teaching staff.”
Read about the expansion plans of TOMAS (a.k.a. Riso Kyoiku) cram school and more details about this cram school that pitches itself to wealthy parents desiring an individualized and exclusive cram school for their children: About TOMAS cram school | Riso Kyoiku in the news
Displaced students want a school to call their own (Yomiuri, Sep.8)
Nearly six months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, many students in Miyagi Prefecture who attended schools that were severely damaged in the disaster still have to take lessons in school facilities that are not their own.
“We are grateful for being able to use another school building. But having our own facilities is essential to providing adequate education,” said the principal of a middle school that has been holding classes at another school in the prefecture. “I hope a makeshift school building for us will be built as soon as possible.”
Many educational experts say that learning and teaching at other schools entail many inconveniences.
For instance, displaced students and teachers have fewer opportunities to use school facilities than regular students and teachers.
According to sources, students at a middle school they are temporarily attending are given limited use of the science room, the music room and the gym. This is because the curriculum of the host school is given priority over that of the displaced school.
The displaced students have been told not to enter areas other than those the school allows them to use to prevent trouble.
“I feel sorry for my students, because they must be feeling uncomfortable,” the principal of the displaced school said.
Students of some schools have to use facilities of several different schools, forcing teachers and students to travel between them to attend events, such as club activities, student council meetings and teachers’ meetings.
Miyagi Prefectural Agriculture High School, which was badly damaged by the tsunami, had used facilities of three high schools in the prefecture before its classes began at its own makeshift school building last Thursday.
Prior to this, about 240 students of the farm machinery course gathered at a meeting spot every morning and took buses to school. Because it took 90 minutes to reach their destination, the first class of the day was given en route. As the bus rides were bumpy, students had to hold their sheets and notebooks against the windows to write.
Eiya Kosai, 16, a second-year student at the school, said: “I had a hard time writing. Every time the bus went over a bump, my handwriting became crooked.”
Some students on the buses also experienced motion sickness.
Attending classes at school buildings that are not their own has also negatively affected the students’ academic performance.
A third-year student at the school said, “I lacked sleep and couldn’t concentrate on classes well.”
Before the disaster, teachers at the school had spare time to make handout materials for students and prepare for classes to make them efficient and understandable.
However, after they were displaced by the disaster, the teachers had much less prep time, as they had to travel between the school’s three temporary locations.
“I wonder whether our students understood the classes enough,” one of the teachers said.
Meanwhile, Watanoha Middle School in Ishinomaki in the prefecture is getting back to some semblance of normalcy after it started the second trimester at its newly built temporary school building last Thursday. Students at the school had been learning at three separate locations, one for each school year. They were finally reunited at the new building built in the playground of a primary school in the city.
Sana Takagi, 12, a first-year student whose house was destroyed in the tsunami and who has since been living at her grandfather’s place, said: “I was driven to the temporary school by my grandfather every day. Now, I can go to school by bicycle.”
Although the new building has thin walls and less space than the original, the school’s principal, Hiroshi Abe, 57, was happy the students once again had a school to call their own.
“We were forced to learn in what was like a training camp before. Now we can finally get back to a real school life,” he said.
Evacuation manual for school in works (Yomiuri, Sep. 10, 2011)
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has announced it will prepare a 20- to 30-page earthquake and tsunami emergency manual for schools and distribute it nationwide by the end of this year.
The ministry decided a new manual on how to cope with a major disaster was necessary in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Many students were at school when the the March 11 earthquake occurred. In some cases, the school’s evacuation procedures meant the difference between life and death.
Specialists in disaster prevention will be dispatched to check on each school’s emergency manual. They will also train teachers in disaster prevention and evacuation procedures beginning next fiscal year.
The ministry will also consider cases in which parents are unable to pick their children up from school due to disruptions in the transport system.
The manuals will include information on how to secure evacuation routes to flee from tsunami and how to conduct such evacuations when tsunami occur.
They will also offer guidelines on how to decide with parents under which circumstances students should stay at school.
Follow the debate on the falling bar exam rates and the need for law school reform with the Yomiuri article Law school reform needs to boost bar exam pass rate (Yomiuri, Sep. 15)
Tohoku University to establish intl disaster research center (Yomiuri, Sep.15) Excerpts follow:
“In an announcement Tuesday, university President Akihisa Inoue said researchers in fields of humanities and natural sciences will gather and do interdisciplinary research at what he called an “international calamity science institute,” based on knowledge and lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The institute, to begin operations next fiscal year, consists of six sections, including risk study, urban redevelopment and disaster medicine, and is to be staffed with a total of 80 researchers in Japan and abroad.
It will also work together with other research institutes, both at home and abroad, and local municipalities affected by such disasters. The institute is planning to deal mainly with complex disasters, such as a quake combined with tsunami or with a volcanic eruption, assistance for disaster-hit areas and medical support in the wake of disasters.
In 2007, Tohoku University stepped up its disaster management research in preparation for an earthquake that might happen in waters off Miyagi Prefecture.”
Japan “computer grannies” grip Internet lifeline (Reuters, Aug 24)
Advocating the use of IT technology among the elderly, the Computer Grandmas, who now number over 250 women — and men — across Japan, hold twice-monthly classes to teach seniors how to use the internet. They also maintain a listserve which has become a thriving online community.
VENICE — Two Japanese teenagers, Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido, won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor and actress at the 68th Venice International Film Festival on Saturday for their performance in the film “Himizu” directed by Sion Sono. Sometani, 19, and Nikaido, 16, became the first Japanese actor and actress to take home the prize, which was created in 1998.
47 schools unable to rebuild after disaster (Yomiuri, Sep.8)
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 8, 2011)
Forty-seven schools that have been using other schools’ facilities since the March 11 disaster still are undecided on where and how to rebuild their own facilities, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
The survey was conducted on 82 public primary, middle and high schools in 24 cities and towns in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures that are using buildings of nearby schools after theirs were severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
According to the survey results, 47 schools in 16 municipalities, or about 60 percent of the schools surveyed, had no plans to build temporary facilities or take other steps as of Tuesday. About 4,800 school children attend the 47 schools.
Municipalities that were struck by the March 11 tsunami are, in principle, required to relocate schools to higher ground. But they are not eligible to receive state subsidies for the cost of purchasing and preparing land for schools under the current law. Because of this, they are facing difficulty in securing relocation sites.
Education ministry officials say it is difficult to provide these schools with state subsidies for disaster restoration projects under existing law.
Calls for the prompt establishment of new legislation to address the issue may grow, observers said.
The survey found that only five of the 82 schools have committed to repair their original school facilities or relocate to new facilities as planned since before the disaster.
Another 30 schools said they had started or were planning to build temporary prefabricated facilities on other schools’ grounds or athletic parks.
Under the law on government financial contribution to public schools on facility restoration from disaster damage, the government bears two-thirds of restoration costs when school facilities have been destroyed or severely damaged. But the law stipulates this applies to cases in which school facilities would be rebuilt at their original locations. The law provides no stipulation for cases in which school facilities need to be relocated.
Students using other schools’ facilities have been facing various inconveniences, but municipal governments are in a quandary as there is very little public land that was not affected by the tsunami in the disaster-hit areas.
“We’re giving priority to the construction of temporary housing units,” said an Ishinomaki city government official in Miyagi Prefecture.
Some municipalities may consider obtaining privately owned land. But some lots not damaged by the disaster have inflated prices.
“Unless we receive state subsidies, we face enormous financial burdens,” a town official of Yamadamachi, Iwate Prefecture, said, adding that the municipality has no chance to obtain private land.
An official of Minami-Sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture, stressed the town’s dire financial situation, saying, “We absolutely lack the budget [resources] as we must restore facilities other than schools as well.”
There is also a government subsidy to assist the relocation of local residents in groups from areas affected by natural disasters. However, this covers the rebuilding of housing facilities and does not cover the expenses of purchasing land or preparing it for the construction for school relocations.
An official of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which has received requests for state aid from municipal governments, said the ministry has asked the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry to include school relocations in the subsidy program for group relocations under its jurisdiction.
Salarymen families assess pros and cons of international schooling (JapanToday, Sep. 11, 2011)
TOKYO — With more companies expecting new applicants to take the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) examination, and others making a high TOEIC score a prerequisite for promotion, Nikkan Gendai (Sept 6) reports that growing numbers of Japanese families are taking a proactive approach to their children’s education by enrolling them in international schools.
“With the background the globalization of corporations, more children in the families of rank-and-file salarymen are being enrolled in international schools,” says Miwa Nakamura, a journalist who covers education. “Quite a few parents want their children to master both English and Chinese, and Chinese schools are also becoming popular.”
That said, international schools in Japan are essentially aimed at educating foreign children, and Japanese children who graduate from them may not be recognized as having completed compulsory educational requirements.
“There have been cases where Japanese high schools wouldn’t admit them,” says Nakamura. “And those who go to international schools all the way through high school may not be qualified to enter a Japanese university. Certainly attending an international school will give a child foreign language skills, but there are numerous other demerits.”
Since the foreign schools are attended by the children of Japanese executives employed by foreign companies, as well as the offspring of celebrities in the entertainment world, they have a certain aura of glamour about them. But culturally and academically, they are worlds apart from Japanese education and the Ministry of Education has been unable to grasp their actual status.
As a result, although some international schools have obtained certification at the prefectural level, they are classified as specialty institutions, in the same category as cram schools, language conversation schools, driver’s education schools and so on.
Some 80 international schools in Japan have obtained Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation that would enable graduates smoother entry into Japanese universities, but the others must pass a high school graduation equivalency test to gain entry.
An unnamed Japanese educator also points out that the international schools’ curriculums, if anything, tend to be even more lenient than the laid-back “yutori kyoiku” policies adopted in the 1990s that have been largely discredited in recent years.
“What is particularly bad is that some of these schools appear to have brought in instructors who were working part-time at some of the big English conversation schools—free-timers who couldn’t land regular full-time jobs. I wonder how qualified they are to teach.”
Another issue facing families thinking of sending their child to such schools is their considerably higher tuition fees.
“There are some differences in costs, but parents should expect to pay between 1.5 million to 5 million yen in tuition per year,” says the aforementioned Nakamura.
At the American School in Japan where singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada was educated, for example, these costs were around 2.2 million yen per year. The Seishin International School, attended by Mari Sekine, charges around 2.02 million yen. But since these schools are accredited, the costs are deemed reasonable.
Still, in comparison, 12 years of public school education from primary through high school ought to cost a family about 5 million yen, even with supplimentary costs such as cram school tuition and extracurricular activities added.
Still, an education that helps nurture diversity can’t be all bad. Or can it?
“Just as there are children who speak Japanese fluently but who have trouble with grammar and composition, a child’s ability at a foreign language doesn’t necessarily substantiate academic achievement,” the aformentioned educator remarks. “Some kids who go to the international schools never manage to pick up kanji, and quite a few of them can’t read a Japanese newspaper. With an incomplete education, it’s common that some fail to gain university admission and they wind up as deadbeats.”
Parents who decide to go the way of international schooling need to be on their guard, warns Nikkan Gendai, or they might wind up with a lout who just happens to be adept at speaking English.
Library gift a tribute to U.S. teacher lost in tsunami (Yomiuri, Sep.9)
In a research study that was published in the online edition of British scientific journal Nature Chemistry, Tokyo U. scientists approach secret of life with self-replicating protocell (Technews, Sep. 8)
“A group of scientists at the University of Tokyo has created a protocell capable of self-replicating, a feat that may provide clues to understanding how life was created and multiplied, according to the group.” Read more here…
Next up, the global news on education:
Gender gap causes worry: It’s not that girls are catching up but that boys are dropping out.
Remembering the childhood years (Aug 14, Straits Times) provides an interesting look at the childhood reminiscences of Lee Wei Ling, director of the National Neuroscience Institute and daughter to Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. It tells us that a down-to-earth upbringing and personality can still the product inspite of a privileged background.
Rural Students Falling Behind (BJReview Sep 13)
Yin Pumin reports on “a broader trend with rural students being massively underrepresented in China’s universities. While they have always struggled to secure places at top universities, in recent years the situation for rural students has actually deteriorated. The proportion of rural students at Tsinghua University, which ranked 35th on The Times Higher Education magazine’s list of world’s top 100 universities in 2011, has dropped to a historical low point. According to a study conducted by Yang Dongping, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, only 17 percent of freshmen at Tsinghua University in 2010 came from rural areas, even though they comprised 62 percent of those registered to take the national college entrance examination that year.
This year, less than 15 percent of the university’s 3,349 newly enrolled students had their education in rural schools, according to the Admissions Office of Tsinghua University.”
Harder for China’s poor to enter university (Straits Times, 28 Aug) | Earlier: The Rise of a New Science Superpower? (Jun 1, SciAm) Since the turn of the 21st century, the number scientific papers published predominantly by Chinese researchers in any of the Nature journals has risen from six to nearly 150 according to a new index published byNature on May 12. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) Campuses such as Tsinghua University and Peking University have become world-class institutions and the overall volume of scientific publications from China has risen from roughly 20,000 in 2000 to 130,000 in 2010, according to Thomson-Reuters.
Teaching Civility (NYTimes, August 29, 2011)
Children should be taught from the earliest age about responsible government and how to achieve it.
A glimpse of what poverty looks like in the UK today Himaya Quasem on her experiences of interviewing the poor and young people in UK gangs while previously working for a British charity
“All this worry is based on the assumption that there is a single established body of mathematical skills that everyone needs to know to be prepared for 21st-century careers. This assumption is wrong. The truth is that different sets of math skills are useful for different careers, and our math education should be changed to reflect this fact.”
They believe that American high schools’ highly abstract curriculum is simply not the best way to prepare a vast majority of high school students for life. A math curriculum that focused on real-life problems would still expose students to the abstract tools of mathematics, they claim.
XIAN – Fifty children illegally locked up in a seventh- floor classroom in a north-west Chinese city to spend their summer vacation learning the abstruse principles of a Mathematical Olympiad were discovered after passers-by picked up paper planes with messages pleading for help.
The children, all from grade five, were sent to the unlicensed private class by their parents in the hope that they would beat their peers in school mathematics examinations, Chinese media reported, or at least not lag behind in a country where taking private tuition outside school is common among students.
But Mathematical Olympiad classes in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, have proliferated at such an alarming rate that the local authorities now worry too many children are being put through a grind not really necessary for their academic advancement.
The class discovered on Monday was conducted in the name of a day-time summer camp in a secluded room six floors above a computer store in the Xian Jiao Tong University campus, said the Business Times
The UK is the worst nation in Europe for the teaching of foreign languages following a dramatic collapse in the subject under Labour
An international study shows that schoolchildren are less likely to learn multiple languages than in almost any other EU member state.
In the last decade, the UK plunged from mid-table to joint-bottom of major rankings listing the number of languages learned in each country.
The disclosure comes just days after the publication of GCSE results showed that the study of languages had plummeted to a record low
Children from nations such as Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Latvia and Lithuania are more likely to be taught a number of foreign languages than peers in home nations, figures show….
Visualizing the uneven geographies of knowledge production and circulation (September 14, 2011) This map provides an indication of the importance of English in the academic filed and in academic publishing.
Half the nation’s parents would like to see a return to corporal punishment in schools, according to a survey out today.
A poll of more than 2,000 parents revealed that 49 per cent of them wanted to see a return to the days when smacking and caning were allowed in schools. A separate poll of 530 children currently at secondary school revealed nearly one in five of them (19 per cent) would like to see its return to bring more discipline to the classroom.
The polls, commissioned by the Times Educational Supplement, come at a time when the Education Secretary Michael Gove is launching a crusade to improve discipline in schools on the theme that children have to know “who’s boss”.
The parents agree with him on the need for more discipline in schools – 93 per cent believed teachers should be given powers to demonstrate more authority in schools as did 68 per cent of the pupils.
Under Mr Gove’s reforms, teachers will be told they have a carte blanche to use physical restraint in schools and to confiscate items such as knives, mobile phones and drugs. Read on here…
Rocking It Out: Exploring Music Teaching Methods (NY Times, September 15, 2011)
In France, a Bastion of Privilege No More (NY Times, September 5, 2011) One of France’s most traditional and prestigious universities, which long prepared privileged children for privileged careers, has expanded its student body to include the underprivileged.
The Shame of College Sports (The Atlantic, September 7, 2011) This story exposes the ongoing wheeling-and-dealing where “corporations offer money so they can profit from the glory of college athletes, and the universities grab it. In 2010, despite the faltering economy, a single college athletic league, the football-crazed Southeastern Conference (SEC), became the first to crack the billion-dollar barrier in athletic receipts. The Big Ten pursued closely at $905 million. That money comes from a combination of ticket sales, concession sales, merchandise, licensing fees, and other sources—but the great bulk of it comes from television contracts.
[See earlier news: Surge in Number of Indian Students Heading to Canadian Colleges (July 18, 2011): Lower tuition fees, a more liberal visa policy and decent job prospects are making Canada an increasingly popular higher-education destination.]
Oxbridge tours: Within the walls of Oxford and Cambridge (Telegraph, 15 Sep) Article about student guides sharing insider secrets with tourists.
Stricter Visa Rules in U.K. Put Some Colleges in Bind (NY Times) Amid concern that Britain could lose significant revenue from foreign students, one university has blamed the crackdown on immigration for closing its London campus.
The news related to parenting and child health and safety issues:
Breaking news: Radiation fears, shipment bans, weigh heavily on mushroom pickers, growers (Mainichi, Sep 17)
The ban on wild mushroom shipments from 43 Fukushima Prefecture municipalities announced on Sept. 15, paired with widespread radiation fears, is discouraging pickers from their usual mushroom-hunting trips into the woods.
The ban came after wild mushrooms containing cesium beyond the legal limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram were found in the prefecture. Tawny milkcap mushrooms containing cesium over the legal limit, meanwhile, have also been found in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, endangering mushroom-picking in that region as well.
In the town of Tanagura in Fukushima, tawny milkcap mushrooms picked this month were found to contain 28,000 becquerels of cesium, or 56 times the legal limit. The town is famous for matsutake mushroom hunting between the end of September and late October each year.
Health ministry steps up snap inspections of food for radiation (Asahi, Sep. 15)
The health ministry has stepped up its snap inspections of food products sold at supermarkets and elsewhere for possible contamination by radioactive substances that may have slipped through checkups by local governments.
Rieko Matsuda, director of the Division of Foods of the National Institute of Health Sciences, and another female employee of the NIHS, are part of this process.
On Sept. 6, they changed from their white lab uniforms into plain clothes to focus on fish at a supermarket in Tokyo. They were checking out places of origin, not the prices, of the products that included young yellowtail from Iwate Prefecture, cut and dried Alfonsino from Miyagi Prefecture, and blue mackerel from Shizuoka Prefecture.
“Have we screened fish from this region?” they kept asking each other, relying on their memory.
At the beef section, they had planned to buy products from the Tohoku and Kanto regions, but they gave up on that idea because the labels were not specific, saying only “produce of Japan.”
At the fruit and vegetable sections, they added a melon from Aomori Prefecture and “shiitake” mushrooms from Akita Prefecture to their shopping baskets. They bought 22 items.
Supermarkets are not their only hunting ground. They go to antenna shops to buy local specialties and sometimes purchase produce online.
Local governments are in charge of screening food products for radioactive contamination. However, the frequency and the selection of target items may differ depending on the inspecting bodies.
Generally, such inspections are infrequent and conducted only on samples extracted before they are circulated. There is a high chance of contaminated food products slipping through if the selection of target items is patchy.
The health ministry has requested the NIHS to check out food items produced within the jurisdiction of local governments that have modest inspection records. The ministry has appropriated about 15 million yen ($190,000) for that purpose. For the time being, 200 items will be screened every month.
The inspections have already produced results. On Sept. 2 and 5, radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s safety standard was detected in refined tea leaves from Chiba and Saitama prefectures.
When excess radioactivity is found in a food product, all goods produced or manufactured in the same locality and during the same period are subject to a recall. A shipment ban may be imposed if contamination is discovered in more than one locality.
“The central government involvement in the screening of food products in circulation will prompt local governments to step up their own inspection efforts,” said a health ministry official. “I think it also helps to enhance consumer confidence.”
‘Shy’ children at risk of being diagnosed with mental disorder (Telegraph, 14 Sep.)
They fear that pupils who are quiet at school could be diagnosed with “social anxiety disorder” while those who become withdrawn after suffering a bereavement are classified as having a “depressive disorder”.
Children who just talk back to adults or lose their temper regularly could be diagnosed with “oppositional defiant disorder”.
As a result, those found to have these increasingly broad mental disorders could be prescribed powerful medication such as Prozac or Ritalin to control or alter their behaviour.
Now the pressure is increasing for a national review of the use of such drugs on schoolchildren as well as more research into their long-term effects, following a vote at the TUC Congress on Wednesday.
Kate Fallon, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, told delegates: “Behaviours develop over a long period of time, often with a range of complex causes; we can’t ‘cure’ the behaviours we don’t like with a quick fix of medicine. They usually require careful management by all the adults around the child. Read on here…
78% of people worry about future big quake (Yomiuri, Sep. 11, 2011)
The Yomiuri ShimbunNearly 80 percent of Japanese worry that a major earthquake could occur in the area they live–the highest figure since 2002–and only 3 percent believe the Diet has done a good job handling the March 11 disaster, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they are concerned radioactive substances that leaked from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant could harm the health of themselves and their families, according to the survey, which was conducted Sept. 3 and 4.
The proportion of people worried about radioactive materials harming their health was highest in the Tohoku and Kanto regions at 76 percent. The figure was 51 percent in the Chugoku region and Shikoku, and 59 percent in Kyushu.
Although 82 percent of respondents said the Self-Defense Forces had performed well in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, just 6 percent felt the government had done a good job–and only 3 percent said the Diet had done so.
This suggests the public was unhappy with the confrontation between ruling and opposition parties that hindered government efforts to provide assistance and start rebuilding after the disaster.
Seventy-three percent were impressed with the efforts of volunteers, 52 percent with firefighters, 42 percent with local governments in devastated areas, and 40 percent with the police. Multiple answers were allowed to this question.
When asked what worried them most about the earthquake and the nuclear accident, 68 percent of respondents said “the spread of radioactive material,” followed by “a downturn in the economy” at 51 percent, “the deteriorating employment situation” at 34 percent and “electricity shortages” at 33 percent.
The survey also revealed that many people have reaffirmed the importance of ties with close relatives and friends since the disaster. This tendency was especially evident among women.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they increasingly valued their relationships with their families. The figure was 61 percent for women and 50 percent for men.
The survey was conducted on 3,000 eligible voters randomly chosen nationwide, with 1,673, or 56 percent, giving valid responses.
Emergency meal supply not enough for big Tokyo quake (Yomiuri, Sep.9)
Shizuoka beaches unprepared for Tokai quake (Yomiuri, Sep. 10, 2011)
In Shizuoka Prefecture, where disaster prevention measures are being considered for a possible Tokai Earthquake, protecting beachgoers has become a priority.
In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Shizuoka prefectural government has undertaken measures to prevent tsunami damage.
A large number of beachgoers may be killed if the prefecture’s beaches are crowded when a tsunami hits, but steps to protect beachgoers have not been sufficiently addressed.
Action on this front must be taken as it is predicted a tsunami following the potential quake would reach the shore in only five to 10 minutes.
The Shizuoka prefectural government released its third assessment of possible damage by a Tokai quake in 2001, following its first assessment in 1978 and the second in 1993.
In the most recent assessment, the prefectural government considered three scenarios regarding the timing of the quake–at noon in either spring or autumn, at 5 a.m. in winter and at 6 p.m. in winter.
The three cases were considered with two variables–whether the quake had been predicted or not–making a total of six possible scenarios.
The worst casualties are expected if the quake occurs without warning at 5 a.m. in winter.
The scenario is based on a situation similar to that of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, when many victims were sleeping. In the scenario, the death toll is estimated to be 5,851, with 227 expected to be killed by tsunami.
Beachgoer casualties are mentioned in a side category titled “other key possibilities,” and range from “several thousand to more than 10,000 people swept away at peak beach times.”
But this prediction was made aside from the six predicted scenarios, and only estimates the number of victims swept away.
No calculations were made about the possible numbers of dead and injured beachgoers.
Though the document is extensive, only a few sections mention beachgoers. And measures to protect beachgoers are effectively absent.
In July and August last year, about 2.48 million people visited the prefecture’s 56 swimming beaches.
After seeing the devastation caused by the March 11 disaster, the prefectural government began to seriously examine the issue of protecting beachgoers.
An official of the prefectural government’s crisis information division said: “If the quake occurs at a time when beaches are crowded, those people may account for a large number of victims. Because of this, we need to prepare for a quake occurring at those times.”
Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the prefectural government has asked municipal governments in coastal areas to locate buildings that can be designated as tsunami shelters, or build more towers onto which people can evacuate when tsunami strike.
There were 508 buildings in the prefecture designated as tsunami shelters before the March 11 disaster. That number is expected to reach 1,000 by the end of this fiscal year.
There are currently seven evacuation towers in the prefecture, but the Yaizu and other municipal governments in Shizuoka Prefecture have announced plans to increase their number.
However, shelters and towers are generally intended for local residents, as there are no such towers on prefectural swimming beaches and only a few buildings that could provide shelter are near beaches.
Therefore, the prefectural government will consider building evacuation towers on beaches.
It also plans to alert beachgoers of tsunami with sirens and lifeguards waving red flags.
The Tokai quake is believed to be the only predictable major quake in the nation.
The Meteorological Agency has been monitoring movements that should forewarn them of the quake.
Takayoshi Iwata, a prefectural crisis management spokesman, said: “If there is enough warning, beachgoers will have time to escape. The prediction is highly important and I hope the system is successful.”
According to an assessment released in 2003 by the central government’s Central Disaster Management Council, the maximum death toll from the Tokai quake could be between about 7,900 and 9,200 in Tokyo and nine other affected prefectures, mainly Shizuoka Prefecture.
But the council also noted that if sufficient warning is given, the death toll could be as low as between about 2,000 and 2,300 people.
The Tokai quake is predicted to have a magnitude of 8 with a focal point in southern Shizuoka Prefecture, Suruga Bay or the Enshu-nada sea area.
The Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry believes the probability of the Tokai quake occurring is 87 percent within the next 30 years.
Mobile devices such as smartphones can have an adverse impact on children just like a heavy diet of TV.
Some useful tips are to be found in Kids can tune out of real world (NUH article) on how to minimize the adverse impact of mobile and other electronic devices on young children. Some useful guidelines are offered by Dr Jennifer Kiing which she uses for her own children.
“Giant tsunami may have repeatedly flooded the Sanriku coast of the Tohoku region about once a millennium, a possibility indicated by sand and stone deposits discovered by a Hokkaido University researcher.
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Central Disaster Management Council and other authorities have begun reviewing their emergency policies to prepare for the largest, scientifically possible earthquakes and tsunami.
The evidence of repeated giant tsunami striking the coast may help to determine how large their potential.
Kazuomi Hirakawa, a research professor of physical geography at Hokkaido University, discovered six layers of sand and stones, deposited by tsunami, on the face of a steep cliff, between 1 and 5 meters high, facing the seashore in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. He also discovered more than one similar geological formation in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, near the point where the March 11 tsunami rose to a height of 32 meters.
This is the first time that more than one such geological formation was discovered on the faces of cliffs along the Sanriku coast. Only tsunami of enormous sizes could have left traces on the tops of such high cliffs. On the basis of volcanic ash and earthenware contained in those geological formations, Hirakawa determined that tsunami flooded the coast six times during the past 6,000 years.”
Early risers get ahead of the game (Telegraph, 14 Sep 2011)
People who get up early in the morning are slimmer, happier and healthier than those who lie in, researchers have found.
“The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has concluded that such facilities are necessary to enlist more psychiatrists and provide thorough care to more than 1,500 children now without one or both parents.
The program will be financed by ¥2.7 billion earmarked for that purpose in the first extra budget following the disaster.
Among children aged 17 and younger, there were 234 orphans as of Aug. 31 — 93 in Iwate, 120 in Miyagi and 21 in Fukushima.
Another 1,295 children lost one parent — 445 in Iwate, 711 in Miyagi and 139 in Fukushima.” Read on here…
Last but not least, here are news links and excerpts related to the continuing Fukushima crisis:
An acidic solution to remove radiation from Fukushima’s tainted soil (Todayonline, Sep 2, 2011)
TOKYO – An improved method to remove radioactive caesium from soil may mean Japanese authorities will no longer have to strip vast amounts of dirt to clean up areas contaminated by the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, a Japanese research institute said.The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology said it has improved on a method that uses an acidic solution to remove radioactive material from soil. Without it, removing topsoil in the 12 municipalities surrounding the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant could result in millions of tonnes of soil that needs to be disposed of or stored.”The cost to dispose of or store soil removed from Fukushima would be astronomical. Our method could cut the amount of soil that needs to be removed to one hundredth of what it would otherwise be, which also means disposal and storage costs would be slashed by the same extent,” said Mr Tohru Kawamoto, who led the research. Read the rest here.
Institute probing radioactive contamination of Fukushima forests (Mainichi, Sep 16)
The government, which has concentrated so far on how to decontaminate residential areas, has yet to start to remove radioactive substances from the forests, which cover 70 percent of the prefecture.
Shinji Kaneko, director of the institute’s Forestry Site Environment, said, “It is crucial for us to make clear the state of contamination (of forests) in considering how to decontaminate (the woodland) effectively.”
In October, the institute plans to release the results of its analysis of samples of cedar trees, taken from the villages of Kawauchi and Otama and the town of Tadami.
The findings are likely to help the government devise decontamination methods for the forests, now that it is set to rescind restrictions on movements of residents in areas within 20-30 kilometers from the crippled plant.
In August, the government acknowledged difficulties involved in removing soil and ground cover from the forests, saying, “Huge volumes of soil and other (contaminated) items would be involved as the forests occupy a huge area.”
The government effectively shelved any approach to decontaminating the forests when it said a removal of both contaminated soil and compost materials would strip the forests of their functions such as water retention.
Six months after the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima Prefecture, the public’s awareness of the threat posed by radiation is entering a new phase: the realization that the biggest danger now and in the future is from contaminated soil.
The iodine-131 ejected into the sky by the Fukushima No. 1 power station disaster was quickly detected in vegetables and tap water — even as far away as Tokyo, 220 km south of the plant.
But contamination levels are now so low they are virtually undetectable, thanks to the short half-life of iodine-131 — eight days — and stepped up filtering by water companies.
But cesium is proving to be a tougher foe. The element’s various isotopes have half-lives ranging from two to 30 years, generating concern about the food chain in Fukushima Prefecture, a predominantly agricultural region, as the elements wash fallout into the ground.
The root of the problem is, well — roots.
Cesium-134 and cesium-137 are viewed as potential health threats because vegetables can absorb the isotopes from the soil they’re planted in.
“Until early spring, produce was contaminated (on the surface with radioactive materials) that the No. 1 plant discharged into the atmosphere. But now, the major route of contamination is through plant roots,” said Kunikazu Noguchi, a radiation protection expert at Nihon University.
Whether absorption by plant roots can affect human health remains to be seen. Experts are warning that the region’s soil and agricultural products will require close monitoring for many years.
At the moment, sampling data collected by the various prefectural governments indicate that no vegetables, except for those grown in Fukushima Prefecture, have been found to contain more than the government’s provisional limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram since June.
Likewise, as of Sept. 7, samples of pork, chicken, milk and fruit had also tested within the provisional radiation limit, apart from Fukushima products and tea from Chiba, Kanagawa, Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama and Ibaraki prefectures.
In fact, the amount of radioactive materials in most of the food sampled has been steadily declining over the past few months, except for produce from Fukushima.
“The results of Fukushima’s sampling tests show the amountof radioactive material contained in vegetables has dropped sharply in recent months, including those grown in areas with high radiation levels,” Noguchi said.
“People shouldn’t worry about it much (for the time being),” he said. “But mushrooms and other vegetables grown in contaminated forests are likely tocontain high levels of radioactive materials.”
Now that soil in a wide area of eastern Japan has been contaminated with cesium, experts are calling for close monitoring of soil and produce.
The education ministry conducted soil surveys in June and July at 2,200 locations within 100 km of the crippled plant. At 34 locations in six municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, including Minamisoma, Namie and Iitate, the data said cesium levels had exceeded 1.48 million becquerels per sq. meter — the same level that was used to define the exclusion zone around Chernobyl in 1986.
Yasuyuki Muramatsu, a radiochemistry professor at Gakushuin University, said that agricultural contamination will likely peak this year because cesium binds more strongly with minerals in soil as time passes, making it more difficult to be absorbed by plant roots.
“Data from the Chernobyl disaster show that radioactive cesium in soil tends to become fixed more strongly to clay minerals as time passes. So agricultural contamination will lessen next year,” he said.
Muramatsu urged that special caution should be taken over products grown in soil rich in organic matter, such as in forested areas.
“If the soil is rich in organic matter, it makes (cesium) more easily transferable to plants. . . . Forest soil is rich in organic matter, so people should be careful,” he said.
“This year, it’s very important to conduct thorough surveys. The contamination will continue for a long time, so data collection is essential,” Muramatsu said.
“We need to be prepared for the following years by recording data this year and studying the rate at which cesium in the soil is absorbed by each kind of produce,” Muramatsu said.
In the meantime, the radioactivity itself will continue to weaken over the years. Cesium-134 has a half-life of 2 years and cesium-137 a half-life of 30 years, meaning the radiation they emit will drop by half in 2 years and 30 years.
The ratio of cesium-134 to cesium-137 in the Fukushima accident is estimated as 1-to-1, while the ratio during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was 1-to-2. This indicates the radiation in Fukushima will weaken at a faster rate than at Chernobyl.
Between April and early August, the farm ministry tested soil at some 580 locations in six prefectures, including Fukushima, Tochigi and Gunma, to get a better picture of the full extent of contamination.
According to the results, 40 locations in Fukushima Prefecture had an intensity exceeding 5,000 becquerels per kilogram — the government’s maximum limit for growing rice. Many municipalities within 30 km of the Fukushima No. 1 plant were banned from planting rice based on similar tests conducted in April.
In addition, the ministry has asked 17 prefectures in eastern Japan to conduct two-phase radiation tests on harvested rice.
So far, none of the tests performed on unmilled rice — including from Fukushima — exceeded the government’s limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram.
Masanori Nonaka, an agriculture professor at Niigata University who specializes in soil science, said rice grown in contaminated areas is likely to be tainted, but to what extent is anyone’s guess. White rice, however, may prove to be safe, Nonaka said. Because most of the radioactive material will adhere to the bran — the part of the husk left behind after hulling — about 60 percent of the cesium can be removed just by polishing it, he explained.
Other foods, such as marine produce, won’t be as easy to handle, experts say. After the Chernobyl accident, for example, the radioactive contamination of fish peaked between 6 to 12 months after the disaster.
The Fisheries Agency, meanwhile, has asked nine prefectures on the Pacific coast to increase their sampling rates to prevent contaminated fish from landing in supermarkets.
Most cesium in forests found ‘on fallen leaves’ (Yomiuri, Sep. 15, 2011)
As much as 50 percent to 90 percent of radioactive cesium on the ground in forested areas as a result of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident is concentrated on fallen leaves and branches, according to a measurement by experts.
The discovery indicates it is possible to reduce large amounts of ground radiation by removing fallen forest materials, and likely will become basic data for decontamination measures.
A research team led by Tsukuba University Prof. Yuichi Onda reported the results of the measurement, which was carried out between June and August, at a review meeting of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry on Tuesday.
The research team compared densities of radioactive cesium and its cumulative quantities at a coniferous cedar forest and a forest with ample broad-leaved beech trees, both in Kawamatamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, and within the government-designated evacuation zone.
The cumulative amount of radioactive cesium in living leaves at the cedar forest was found to be higher than in the broad leaf forest. However, in fallen leaves at the broad leaf forest, the cumulative amount of radioactive cesium was three times to six times higher than in fallen material at the cedar forest.
Of the cumulative quantity of radioactive cesium in the cedar forest, about 50 percent to 90 percent was found to be concentrated on fallen branches. In the broad leaf forest, more than 90 percent of radioactive cesium was found to be accumulated on fallen leaves, according to the research.
The result likely indicates that larger amounts of radioactive cesium contaminated ground covered with fallen leaves in the broad leaf forest because there were fewer living leaves in the forest in March, when the crippled nuclear plant began spewing large quantities of radioactive material.
Decontamination of forests has become a problem in evacuation zones in the prefecture. Onda said removing fallen leaves would be an effective way of decontaminating forests. “In addition to this, we want the government to consider trimming branches and cutting down trees as decontamination measures,” he said.
Even temporary disposal of radioactive garbage, debris hits a “not-in-my-backyard” snag:
Fukushima residents fear being stuck with radioactive soil (Asahi, Sep 15)
Excessive cesium found in burned industrial waste in 3 prefs. (Mainichi, Sep 16) | Cesium found in industrial waste NHK) | Excessive cesium found in burned industrial waste in 3 prefs. (Mainichi, September 16, 2011)
As for those with more than 100,000 becquerels, the ministry made it possible to bury them after the level of cesium falls below the mark by solidifying them with cement. It earlier decided to allow those containing up to 8,000 becquerels to be buried in waste disposal sites only if residential houses are not built there in the future.
Sea radiation ’3 times higher than thought’ (Yomiuri, Sep.10) | Cesium in Pacific likely to flow back to Japan in 20-30 years (Mainichi) | Cesium in sea may return in 20 to 30 years (Japan Times, Sep. 15, 2011)
Kyodo– Radioactive cesium that was released into the ocean from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is likely to flow back to Japan’s coast in 20 to 30 years after circulating in the northern Pacific Ocean in a clockwise pattern, researchers said Wednesday.
Researchers at the Meteorological Research Institute and the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry estimated that the amount of radioactive cesium-137 that was directly released into the sea came to 3,500 terabecquerels from March to the end of May, while estimating that roughly 10,000 terabecquerels fell into the ocean after it was released into the air.
Cesium-137 has a relatively long half life of about 30 years and can accumulate in the muscles once it is in the body and can cause cancer.
According to the analysis, the cesium is expected to first disperse eastward into the northern Pacific. It will then be carried southwestward before some of it returns to the Japanese coast carried northward by the Japan Current from around the Philippines.
Japan finds radiation spread over a wide area (WSJ, Aug 1) Nearly six months after the accident, the education ministry released Tuesday the first comprehensive survey of soil contamination within a 62-mile radius, showing that more than 30 locations spread over a wide area have been contaminated with long-lasting radioactive cesium.
Government officials said the report did not materially alter their prior understanding of the spread and extent of contamination, previously estimated through aerial surveys and above-ground radiation monitoring. They said that the highest-contaminated communities had already been evacuated, and the new data did not justify any change in the evacuation policy.
The survey of 2,200 locations—conduced by 400 researchers in June and July—found that 33 of those locations had cesium-137 in excess of 1.48 million becquerels per square meter, the level set by the Soviet Union for forced resettlement after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Japanese authorities said.
But the extent of reported contamination does raise new questions about how quickly the communities can be cleaned up, and the dangers of radioactive materials spreading to a wider area through wind or rain.
Another 132 locations had a combined amount of cesium-137/134 of more than 555,000 becquerels per square meter, the level at which the Soviet authorities called for voluntary evacuation and imposed a ban on farming. Read more here…
In what constitutes a blow to decontamination efforts is the new conclusion of agriculture ministry officials that Sunflowers no help for decontamination efforts (Yomiuri, Sep 16)
Authorities trying to decontaminate radioactive soil in the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have found that sunflowers, despite their reputation for absorbing radioactive cesium, have little effect, an experiment has shown.
The experiment was conducted by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. Following the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, a large amount of radioactive substances were released, contaminating the areas around the plant.
Although the experiment found that scraping away the surface of the contaminated soil is effective to reduce the density of radioactive cesium, this method leaves the problem of how to dispose of a large quantity of contaminated soil.
The experiment on removing radioactive cesium started in May in farmland totaling 7,000 square meters in Iitatemura and other locations in Fukushima Prefecture.
In the experiment, the effects of the following four methods were examined: scraping away surface soil; washing contaminated soil with water and removing the water; burying topsoil and replacing it with subsoil; and using sunflowers and other plants to absorb radioactive cesium in soil.
The results showed the least effective of the four methods was the use of plants.
Sunflowers, which were planted in May and bloomed in August, absorbed only 520 becquerels, or about 0.05 percent, of about 1.07 million becquerels of radioactive cesium per square meter of contaminated soil.
When four centimeters of topsoil was scraped away, the density of radioactive cesium was reduced by up to 75 percent. When three centimeters was scraped away from pastures with green grass, the density was reduced by up to 97 percent.
While switching topsoil and subsoil reduced the density of cesium on the surface, the amount of radioactive cesium remained unchanged.
Radiation expert says outcome of nuke crisis hard to predict, warns of further dangers (Mainichi Japan) September 9, 2011
“…Meanwhile, it is necessary to keep cooling the No. 2 and 3 reactors, which are believed to still contain some fuel, but the cooling system itself is unstable. If the fuel were to become overheated again and melt, coming into contact with water and trigger a steam explosion, more radioactive materials will be released.”
TEPCO spraying water directly into No.2 reactor (NHK, Thursday, September 15, 2011)
The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has begun injecting water directly onto the spot in the No. 2 reactor where the fuel is believed to be located after melting down in the pressure vessel.
Tokyo Electric Power Company has been spraying water continuously into the reactors since the March accident to cool them down.
As of 11AM on Wednesday, the bottom of the No.2 reactor was 114.4 degrees Celsius, compared to 84.9 degrees at the No.1 reactor and 101.3 at the No. 3 reactor.
TEPCO thinks the temperature at the No.2 reactor remains higher because the injected water is not cooling the place where the melted-down fuel is located.
On Wednesday, the utility began using pipes located above where the fuel is believed to be, along with an existing pipe, to diversify the coolant passages as the exact spot where the fuel is, remains unknown.
TEPCO says the temperature at the No. 3 reactor has dropped since the same method was introduced early this month.
The firm hopes to achieve a cold shutdown with the temperatures of all the reactors being kept stable and below 100 degrees by January.
It will adjust the amount of water being sprayed and monitor the change of reactor temperatures to find out the most effective way to cool them down.
TEPCO began using a “spray-shower” technique to disseminate water into the No. 3 reactor at its troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Sept. 1.
The method consists of spraying coolant water like a shower above the fuel rods so that water will fall evenly on all fuel rods and cool them efficiently.
Until Sept. 1, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been using a method in which coolant water trickles down the inner walls of the pressure vessels at the No. 1 through No. 3 reactors. The No. 3 reactor, however, did not cool down as efficiently as did the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. TEPCO officials have hinted at the possibility that part of the melted fuel in the No. 3 reactor did not fall through to the bottom, but remains on the grid-like core support plate beyond the reach of the trickling water.
In the new injection method, water is sprayed inside the shroud, a major component covering the core.
TEPCO has also begun considering a review of its plan to remove all highly radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant by the end of this year. Once the quantity of radioactive water has been reduced to such levels that heavy rains would not cause an overflow, the rate of water treatment will be adjusted to minimize the amount of waste generated.
Tepco plans to raise electricity charges 10 to 15 percent for three years starting next April in an attempt to turn around its business following the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Earlier news: Hydrogen dissolved from water exploded at Fukushima nuclear reactor: experts (Mainichi)