I hope everyone survived Typhoon Talas alright. If your mind needs some diverting, well … it’s time for our EDU WATCH update again. Please find below our usual summations on what’s going on in the education scene here in Japan, elsewhere in the world, as well as our updates on the Fukushima nuclear crisis…

First up are the news briefs on local educational happenings:

In INDIRECTLY SPEAKING / What are the real advantages of learning English? (Yomiuri, Sep.5)

Mike Guest says to forget about the catchphrase “internationalization” and to “ditch all these tired and often uninspiring reasons for having our students learn English. So, how can we best convey the value of learning English to our students? Ask some of mine.

Medical student Moe’s efforts in mastering English have allowed her to visit 12 developing countries (so far) on aid missions, to see refugee camps, learn how medicine is practiced on the front lines, and participate in giving aid where her knowledge and skills are needed.

Miku’s hard work in absorbing English has allowed her to be involved in nursing education and practice in Thailand, where she has made friendships both personal and professional.

Masanao’s intensive English study led him to be able to participate in a challenging clinical program at a leading California hospital, increasing his clinical, as well as English, skills.

Yuichi has attended enough international student conferences to feel comfortable talking to anyone, and has made enough worldwide connections to last for a lifetime.

Hajime’s hard work in English paid off by his being accepted at one of Japan’s top international research hospitals (they are few and include Kameda in Chiba, Teine in Hokkaido, and Chubu in Okinawa), where he regularly consorts in English with visiting lecturers, clinicians and researchers from numerous countries–helping to further the horizons of not only his own medical skills, but of medicine in general. And although someone has to do the job, it beats the assembly-line drudgery of a public hospital in Backwoods Prefecture.

English speakers in most professions are the ones who will have more opportunity to be sent abroad for negotiation, research or discussion. They will often be promoted more quickly because they are more useful. They may help in earning more money for both their businesses and themselves. They will feel more comfortable than those who don’t speak English almost anywhere outside Japan. The world is their oyster.

In short, English is a door-opener. English increases your choices in life, your possibilities. ”

Excerpted from the article “…Japan’s smartest high school students ..”(Japan Times, Sep 4):

“Japanese students used to be the envy of the world, especially in the fields of math and science. Not anymore. But things may be improving, and the purpose of “31-kai Kokosei Kuizu” (“The 31st High School Student Quiz”; Nippon TV, Fri., 9 p.m.) is to find out if they are. The quiz aims to locate the smartest high school kids in Japan based on prefecture and school. The preliminary rounds, which cover all the basic high school subjects, including history and politics, are being held in 28 separate locations: a new record. There is also a special online competition to narrow the field to 52 schools, which will then compete for the Grand Prize.

The hosts for the quiz are 23-year-old actress-model Nana Eikura and world-renowned brain scientist Kenichiro Mogi.”

High-school hula dance competition held in Tokyo (NHK, September 05, 2011) A hula dance competition for high-school students was held in Tokyo’s Akihabara district on Sunday. The venue was moved from Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, due to the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.
The idea for the competition came from the movie, “Hula Girls”, in which professional hula dancers help to revive their hometown by dancing at a Hawaiian tourist attraction in Iwaki City.

The organizer decided to hold the event, which was originally scheduled for March 23rd, after receiving calls from high-school students and fans who said it would help to cheer up people in the disaster-hit areas.

Thirteen high-school teams took part in the competition.

Some students met their classmates for the first time since they evacuated from their homes.

A student of Yumoto Senior High School, Iwaki City, said she really enjoyed herself and she hopes their dancing can promote tourism and contribute to the city’s recovery.

The organizer plans to hold a second competition in Iwaki City next summer.

Children — and their children — must be saved from Nature Deficit Disorder (Japan Times) C.W. NICOL makes an impassioned plea for parents to take their children outdoors to commune with nature more … for their own good…

In the next piece of news, we learn that Japanese internet users are the greatest blog readers in the world and according to comScore’s survey, the average Japanese user spent 62.6 minutes reading blogs during June of this year… World’s biggest blog obsession (Japan Times, Sep 5)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the working holiday system in Japan, a program that has enabled 20,000 young Japanese a year to live and work abroad, gaining valuable experience and broadening their point of view. Based on agreements made with 11 countries, those aged 18 to 30 are allowed to work and live in other countries for one year… read more about it here in Working holiday anniversary (Japan Times, Sep. 5, 2011)

Univy of Louisiana to conduct exchange study with 4 Asian universities (NATIONAL Sep. 05, 2011)

The University of Louisiana System Board has approved cooperative agreements between the University of Louisiana at Monroe and four Asian universities — two in South Korea and one each in China and Japan. The agreements… The agreements provide short-term study abroad and longer-term exchange study for undergraduate and graduate students at ULM and Ehime University in Japan, Ludong University in China and Kongju and Hanbat national universities in South Korea. Read on…

National child allowance threatened by rebuilding cost (Japan Times, 5 Sep)

It will the last chance for our kids to catch the Cirque du Soleil shows at Disneyland as it closes at the end of this year …Visitors returning to Disneyland in big way |  Doraemon museum opens its doors (Japan Times, 4 Sep)

A museum dedicated to the creator of the popular “Doraemon” cartoon series opened Saturday in Kawasaki, marking the fictional birthday of the catlike robot. The three-story Fujiko F. Fujio Museum has around 50,000 of the cartoonist’s original drawings in storage, and about 130 of them on display, along with a desk and other items Fujiko used up until his death in 1996, the museum’s operator said.

Earlier news: Harvard talks pump up overseas study, work (Japan Times, 25 Aug) | More public schools resuming classes on Saturdays (Aug 25)

12 year old girl dies in apparent suicide on first day of term (JapanToday.com, 3 Sep)  | Boy jumps to death after telling teacher, police he was bullied (JapanToday.com, Sep. 1, 2011)

SAPPORO — A 13-year-old boy died after apparently jumping from the roof of an apartment block in Sapporo on Tuesday morning. Police said Thursday it appeared that the boy had been regularly bullied at school and that he had told his teacher about it in July.

According to an NTV report, the boy went missing on Monday and was found by police, at which point he told them that he wanted to die because of the bullying. Police returned the boy to his family. On Tuesday morning, he left his home in Teine Ward but didn’t show up at school. His mother and a teacher searched for him and found him on the roof of a nearby 9-story building at 9 a.m. The boy jumped despite their efforts to talk him out of it, NTV reported.

The school principal confirmed Wednesday that the boy had told his homeroom teacher that he was the victim of bullying and malicious gossip. After meeting with the Board of Education, the principal released a statement saying, “This is a truly tragic event. We are planning to carry out an investigation into the possibility that this incident was brought about by bullying.

More information is to be had at this blog here and here, and see also Factsanddetails.com‘s bullying pages.


Next up, summaries and excerpts of the news on education elsewhere in the world:

Emotional literacy classes are substituting for geography and history classes, tell us what you think! …  Lessons in Spice Girls replace history and geography classes (Telegraph, 3 Sep 2011)

School pupils have been missing out on geography and history lessons for classes on the Spice Girls, Big Brother and Cheryl Cole.

Pupils at Nuneaton Academy, in Warwickshire, missed one class of geography or history a week to attend a 10 week course in “self-awareness” aimed at developing their emotional literacy.

The course, which focuses on celebrity culture in almost every lesson, included a session where pupils studied Big Brother and made mock audition tapes for the programme.

In one lesson, pupils were shown the video for the Spice Girl’s debut single Wannabe and then put in small groups to complete a “spicy starter” worksheet.

Students discussed the band’s personality types and were asked to create their own band with “unique personas”.

Hundreds of schools across the country now run “emotional literacy” courses, which attempt to teach children how to manage anger and jealousy and develop empathy and self-motivation.

Dubbed “happiness classes”, schools use a range of activities, from “worry boxes” where pupils write down their anxieties and post them in a box, to “emotional barometers” which pupils can use to show classmates the strength of their feelings about a subject.

Academics have criticised the various programmes as a waste of time and money and potentially harmful.

Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at Kent University and author ofWasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating, said the “self-awareness” lessons had nothing to do with education.

He said: “These psychological-led interventions are not only a waste of time which take up precious timetable slots, they distract young people from having to deal with the real issues of learning which is about developing intellectual and academic skills.

“Pupils think education is about watching videos and talking about celebrities. Attempts to teach self awareness produce a phoney, narcissistic self-consciousness which has nothing to do with education.

All these programmes do is produce illiterate, uneducated children who are really good at watching videos and thinking about themselves.”

Linking Student Data to Teachers a Complex Task, Experts Say  (Edweek.org, Sep 2, 2011)

Education officials from New York and Louisiana present two different systems for linking teachers to student data, highlighting the value — and the challenges…. in a world of student mobility, teacher re-assignments, co-teaching, and multiple service providers, determining the roster of students to attribute to a teacher is more complicated than it may sound.

On the need for fair, accurate assessments for English-language learners, see ELL Assessment: One Size Does Not Fit All (Edweek.org, August 30, 2011)

E-Learning: The Student Experience

Tessa Falcetta, who has dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and her mother, Esther Falcetta, talk about why online learning is the best fit for Tessa, its challenges, and how the lessons are tailored to her needs.

iPADS replace books at many schools in U.S. (News Observer, Sep 3)

Apple officials say they know of more than 600 districts that have launched what are called “one-to-one” programs, in which at least one classroom of students is getting iPads for each student to use throughout the school day.

Educators say the sleek, flat tablet computers offer a variety of benefits.
They include interactive programs to demonstrate problem-solving in math, scratchpad features for note-taking and bookmarking, the ability to immediately send quizzes and homework to teachers, and the chance to view videos or tutorials on everything from important historical events to learning foreign languages.

They’re especially popular in special education services, for children with autism spectrum disorders and learning disabilities, and for those who learn best when something is explained with visual images, not just through talking. Read more here

Grading the Digital School: In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores (NY Times, Sep 3, 2011) Excerpts follow:

“In this technology-centric classroom, students are bent over laptops, some blogging or building Facebook pages from the perspective of Shakespeare’s characters. One student compiles a song list from the Internet, picking a tune by the rapper Kanye West to express the emotions of Shakespeare’s lovelorn Silvius.

The class, and the Kyrene School District as a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future. Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices….Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements. Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.

Some backers of this idea say standardized tests, the most widely used measure of student performance, don’t capture the breadth of skills that computers can help develop. But they also concede that for now there is no better way to gauge the educational value of expensive technology investments.

“The data is pretty weak. It’s very difficult when we’re pressed to come up with convincing data,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. When it comes to showing results, he said, “We better put up or shut up.”

And yet, in virtually the same breath, he said change of a historic magnitude is inevitably coming to classrooms this decade: “It’s one of the three or four biggest things happening in the world today.”

Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals. They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later.

The spending push comes as schools face tough financial choices. In Kyrene, for example, even as technology spending has grown, the rest of the district’s budget has shrunk, leading to bigger classes and fewer periods of music, art and physical education.

At the same time, the district’s use of technology has earned it widespread praise. It is upheld as a model of success by the National School Boards Association, which in 2008 organized a visit by 100 educators from 17 states who came to see how the district was innovating.” — End of excerpts.

Private school pupils are around six times more likely to score elite A* grades in GCSEs than peers in state comprehensives, figures show…see Third of GCSEs taken at private schools graded A* (Telegraph, 3 Sep 2011) | Want an A* grade: Do Art not French (Telegraph)  |  In A Teacher Finds Good in Testing (EdWeek.org August 29, 2011) Ama Nyamekye writes that, when hype is stripped away, standardized tests can serve as a useful, if flawed, aid for teachers and students.

How Do You Teach Students to Listen?(Edweek.org, August 30, 2011)

With input from our readers, an expert, and some research, social studies teacher Larry Ferlazzo shares his strategies for teaching students to listen and helping them practice the skill.

Universities must tell students which subjects to study | David Willetts defends university ranking plans (Telegraph)

Universities minister David Willetts defends the Government’s proposed reforms of the higher education system after criticism from Shadow Business Secretary John Denham and NUS President Aaron Porter.

(5 Sep) Mr Willetts has defended plans to “name and shame” degrees with poor job prospects under a new ranking system.

The measure is part of the most radical shake-up of the higher education system in decades, under which universities will be ranked by graduate employment rates and salaries.

Mr Willetts said the Government was looking for a “transformation” in the amount of information students receive in proposals outlined in the long-awaited White Paper on higher education

The White Paper being published on Tuesday will outline plans to force all institutions in England to publish data on 16 different areas to give students greater choice between courses.

Soldiers ‘should run schools in crackdown on indiscipline’ (2 Sep 2011)

A new chain of schools staffed entirely by ex-servicemen should be created to improve standards of discipline in the inner-cities, according to the former Chief of the Defence Staff.

No male teachers at 4,500 primary schools (Telegraph, 2 Sep 2011)

More than a quarter of primary schools have no male teachers, figures show, raising fresh concerns over the education of boys.

In the 2011-2012 QS World University Rankings, University of Tokyo takes 25th place …Cambridge ‘best uni in the world’ / Cambridge named as best university in the world (Independent, 5 Sep 2011)

Cambridge is the best university in the world, according to a new league table which sees its rival Oxford awarded fifth place.

The institution topped the eighth annual QS World University Rankings, seeing off competition from leading US institutions.

It is the second year running that Cambridge University has taken the top spot. It wrestled first place from Harvard last year, pushing the American university into second for the first time since the tables began.

The QS World University Rankings questions academics and employers and rates universities worldwide on areas including research, teaching standards, graduate employability and international work.

Oxford University came fifth in the tables, up one place from last year, while Imperial College London came sixth this year, and University College London took seventh place.

The rest of the top 10 was made up of US institutions with Massachusetts Institute of Technology in third place, Yale University fourth, University of Chicago eighth, University of Pennsylvania ninth and Columbia University in 10th place.

In total, 17 UK universities were in the top 100. Besides those in the top 10, they were Edinburgh University (20th place), King’s College London (27), Manchester University (29), Bristol University (30), Warwick University (50), Glasgow University (59), London School of Economics (64), Birmingham University (67), Sheffield University (72), Nottingham University (74), Southampton University (75), Leeds University (93) and Durham University (95)

Children’s grasp of WW2 ‘sanitised’ by books and films (Telegraph) Excerpts follow:

Pupils’ understanding of the Second World War is being undermined by sensationalist films, television programmes and books, according to a leading headmaster.

Children are increasingly distracted by the “prurient and commercial elements” of the conflict employed by the entertainment industry to make profits, it was claimed.

Graham Lacey, headmaster of the Berlin British School, a private international school in the German capital, said schools had a moral duty to “rescue” the subject by focusing on more challenging topics such as the Nazi’s exploitation of democracy and the state’s treatment of minorities.

Mr Lacey, former deputy head of Sevenoaks School in Kent, said schools “must be careful not to downplay the significance of a period when the world almost fell off its moral axis”.

But writing in an article today on Telegraph.co.uk, he suggested that the biggest threat to the subject was the entertainment industry, which prioritises a “populist narrative over objective analysis”.

It follows the success of films such as Saving Private Ryan and video games including Call of Duty: World at War. The Second World War is also one of the mainstays of satellite channels such as UKTV History and the History Channel, where recent programmes have included Hitler’s Bodyguard, Hitler’s Women, Nazi America and Nazi Guerrillas.

But Mr Lacey said: “The argument that this period should retain its elevated position in UK school history syllabuses has, ironically, been hindered rather than helped by the popularisation of the subject.

“Students have been too easily distracted by its more prurient and commercial elements, whether it be the sex lives of its leaders or the pop memorabilia of the SS, for example.

“Even the horrors of the Second World War have been sanitised through books and films that have inevitably given higher priority to commercial success over factual accuracy, and populist narrative over objective analysis.

“All this has undermined the pedagogical and moral justification for teaching the subject.”

The study of the two world wars is compulsory in English secondary schools. Pupils are also expected to study the Holocaust as a distinct topic.

But Mr Lacey said schools had a responsibility to focus on the “less familiar but more intellectually fulfilling topics of the period, to rescue the academic respectability of the subject as well as to ensure their students appreciate the relevance it holds for all who wish to protect the civilised values which the Third Reich displaced.”

The Nazi’s rise to power should be used as an example of how a small minority can exploit democracy or exert “undue political influence at a time of instability”, he said.

Mr Lacey added that a study of the Nazi’s murder campaign can also shed light on the “sanctity of human life and the state’s approach to the treatment of minorities”.

“Unless you fall for the myth that ‘it could never happen to us’, a study of the Third Reich still provides lessons for us all, and should retain its prominent place in the history syllabuses of the UK’s schools and universities,” he said.

Larry_Ferlazzo suggests “Several ways_to_help_students_become_better_listeners” (Edweek.org)

Action to tackle the riots underclass (2 Sep 2011)

“Educational underclass” causing explosion in gang culture which helped provoke riots and looting, the Education Secretary says.

In the commentary This summer, Britain learned the truth about its children by Katherine Birbalsingh, that has an interesting lead-in, but the conclusion is somewhat hazy and in need of more elaboration or definition, what elements of this culture responsible for the loss of the rioting youths’ right and wrong, was she talking about specifically? TV morality? Generation X, Y or Z values???

Soldiers ‘should run schools in crackdown on indiscipline | New free school to be run by ex-soldiers (Telegraph, 2 Sep 2011)

A free school staffed entirely by former soldiers is being proposed by a thinktank and backed by a former chief of the defence staff.

In Every pupil has plenty to learn from a soldier (Telegraph, 1 Sep 2011), Clive Dytor argues former members of the Armed Forces have all the virtues and experience needed to run a school effectively, but elsewhere it is argued by the Editor-At-Large: There’s more to school than learning how to obey orders (4 Sep, Independent) that it would be a mistake to hand over education to military personnel as the “vast majority of servicemen simply obey orders. They are not required to think for themselves. Square bashing skills and a devotion to discipline won’t suit every unruly boy. And it will damage the creative free-thinkers. ”

Research shows growing numbers of middle-class children are being sent to private tutors to boost exam grades and win places at top schools… More children being sent to private tutors, says Sutton Trust (Telegraph, 05 Sep 2011)

About a quarter of parents admit to paying for extra lessons to maximise their sons’ and daughters’ grades, it has emerged. Children from the most affluent backgrounds are two thirds more likely to be tutored than those from poor homes, figures show. Research by the Sutton Trust charity also suggests a sharp rise in the overall number of children being given extra lessons in recent years. Despite a squeeze on family finances during the economic downturn, the proportion of pupils receiving private tuition has increased from 18 per cent in 2005 to 23 per cent this year.

Students ‘preparing to flock to cheaper foreign universities’ (Telegraph) British universities face losing thousands of students to cheaper English language courses at top Europe institutions, researchers warned today.

One-in-five teachers ‘physically attacked’ at school (Telegraph, Sep 2011)

A fifth of teachers have been physically assaulted in the last 12 months amid growing concerns over a collapse in classroom discipline, it emerged today.

In France, a Bastion of Privilege No More (NY Times, September 4, 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.

South Korean Capital Keeps Free School Lunch Policy (NY Times, August 25, 2011)

South Korea is casting votes for the first time in a referendum on social policies: whether to provide all children with free lunches regardless of income.

A 27-year-old college student who had collapsed in a PC room in Busan after playing online games for seven consecutive hours, was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.  The police said that Kim had played online games for straight seven hours from 10:40 a.m. Sitting for that long could have formed a blood clot in his lungs and led to his death, they said. He had been taking medicine for hypothyroidism for 10 years.

Third of GCSEs taken at private schools graded A* (Telegraph, 3 Sep 2011)

Private school pupils are around six times more likely to score elite A* grades in GCSEs than peers in state comprehensives, figures show.

The next few links are fit for passing along to your kids:

Sicily’s Mount Etna  erupts (Telegraph, Sep. 4, 2011) | 600th eruption rocks Sakurajima (Japan Times) with terrific facts and trivia to be found at Sakurajima Volcano page or the Wikipedia page.

KAGOSHIMA — Mount Sakurajima’s 600th explosive eruption of the year was observed Saturday in Kagoshima Prefecture and the activity is expected to continue, a local meteorological observatory said, warning of falling rocks and avalanches.

With winds from the east tending to blow into Kagoshima from August to September, 607 grams of ash per sq. meter had fallen on the city as of Friday, compared with 753 grams for the whole of 2010, when the volcano had a record-high 896 explosive eruptions, it said.

Next, we’d like to highlight our bookwatch titles:

Learning in the Cloud: How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Mediaauthored by one of our EIJ forum members, Mark Warschauer. Read the book description here.

Also, Richard Louv’s latest book, THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. He is also the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” comes highly recommended by CW Nichols, see his Japan Times article. His books and advocacy of nature-based educational program are mentioned in his blog “Want your kids to go to Harvard? Tell ’em to go outside!

In this next section, we focus on health and safety issues:

More schools 1st refuge for kids in disaster (Yomiuri Shimbun, Sep. 3, 2011)

Drawing lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake, an increasing number of schools are considering keeping students at school instead of letting them go home to keep them safe in the event of a similar disaster.

All train services were halted for several hours in the Tokyo metropolitan area after the March 11 earthquake, preventing many parents from returning home and leaving them unable to confirm the safety or whereabouts of their children.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to have an expert panel, which was launched in July, make new guidelines covering when students should be returned to parents in such situations.

On Aug. 26, municipal Takashima Daiichi Primary School in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, conducted a disaster prevention drill on the premise that an earthquake measuring lower 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 had hit the area. Part of the drill involved parents coming to the school to pick up their children.

Mizuho Wakabayashi, 40, who came to pick up her 10-year-old daughter, Satsuki, said, “It’s important to learn through drills like this so I won’t panic when a real disaster strikes.”

After the March 11 earthquake, the school’s principal, Yoshiaki Yazaki, decided to let students go home in groups because no buildings had collapsed and there was no serious damage nearby.

However, many parents later complained about Yazaki’s decision.

“Why didn’t the school keep students there?” asked one. Another said, “When I got home, my child was crying.”

More parents had great difficulty getting home from work than Yazaki had predicted.

“We failed to make preparations from the perspective of our students and their parents,” he said.

In July, the school notified parents it will take care of students until parents come to pick them up if an earthquake of lower 5 or stronger on the Japanese scale occurs.

Even after an earthquake measuring 4 or less disrupts public transport systems in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the school will look after students whose parents have registered in advance.

Parents of about 160 students at the school have registered.

According to a survey by the Tokyo metropolitan board of education, 52.7 percent of primary schools and 12.3 percent of middle schools of Tokyo’s 1,900 primary and middle schools kept an eye on students after the March 11 quake.

In July, the metropolitan board of education instructed the schools to, in principle, care for students after a disaster until parents come to pick them up.

The Yokohama municipal board of education also revised the city’s disaster-management plan for schools.

The new plan stipulates that if public transportation systems shut down, schools should keep students until parents pick them up.

But some parents may be unable to come to school and some children could have to stay at school overnight. This raises the question of what food and other supplies schools should keep on hand.

Tokyo metropolitan high schools stock enough water, food, blankets and other emergency goods to last three days. However, what supplies primary and middle schools should stockpile is left to individual ward, city, town and village governments. Some principals have suggested their schools do not have enough emergency supplies.

According to a survey by Tokyo Shiritsu Shoto-gakko Kyokai, an association of 54 private primary schools in Tokyo, a total of 1,123 students at 28 member schools spent the night at school after the March 11 quake because they could not get home.

At Keio Yochisha Primary School in Shibuya Ward, 23 of the 852 students took shelter at the school overnight after the March quake.

“We realized anew that it’s safer to keep the kids at school rather than force them to go home,” an official of the school said.

The school is reviewing what emergency supplies it will store.

Fukushima shows how it tests rice for radiation (Japan Times, Sep 6) [See earlier news: Early harvested rice in Fukushima declared safe. AWJ, Aug 26]

The Fukushima Prefectural Government laid open Monday how it tests local rice for radioactive substances, showing to the media the harvest of sample plants for preliminary tests on brown rice at a paddy in the town of Tanagura.

The tests of preharvest rice in 48 of the prefecture’s 59 municipalities are designed to identify areas that require intensive examinations in postharvest tests, it said. The remaining 11 municipalities are without crops due to their locations inside the no-go zone around the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and other radioactive areas.

The initial tests cover unprocessed rice from about five plants each from five spots per paddy. Municipalities with rice contaminated with more than 200 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram will have more samples tested than others after harvesting, it said.

The prefecture has so far found no brown rice with cesium readings above the provisional limit of 500 becquerels per kg in tests of early rice at about 200 locations.

Rice from Chiba Prefecture declared safe (Japan Times)

The Chiba prefectural government has lifted its voluntary curb on rice shipments from the prefecture after Chiba rice was found to be virtually free of radioactive substances.

The relaxation of the measures came as the prefectural government announced Wednesday that radiation checks on rice produced in the prefecture were complete.

The results showed rice harvested in 52 cities, towns and villages in the prefecture did not contain dangerous levels of radioactive matter.

Among the eight prefectures that are conducting radiation checks on harvested rice, Chiba Prefecture is the first to complete the tests.

The prefectural government conducted the checks on harvested rice at 271 locations in the 52 municipalities. Radioactive cesium was detected in only one location in Ichikawa.

The detected quantity was 46 becquerels per kilogram, much lower than the government’s interim limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram.

In preliminary checks before harvesting at 48 locations in 16 cities and towns, radioactive cesium was detected only in one location in Shiroi, and the figure was low–47 becquerels per kilogram.

In Katori, the largest rice producer in the prefecture, the voluntary shipment restriction was lifted earlier than in other cities.

According to JA Katori, the city’s local agricultural co-op, a 60-kilogram package of rice produced in the prefecture was priced 1,500 yen higher than last year. “There has been no negative impact from radiation,” an official of the co-op said.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, it requested Tokyo and 16 prefectures in eastern Japan to conduct radiation contamination checks on food.

As of Tuesday, checks on rice had been conducted in Fukushima, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Chiba, Saitama, Shizuoka, Nagano and Niigata prefectures.

The highest level detected was 52 becquerels per kilogram in Hokota, Ibaraki Prefecture. This figure is about 90 percent lower than the government-set limit.

Hideaki Karaki, vice president of the Science Council of Japan and an expert in agricultural science, said: “The detected radiation levels are almost the same as those found in the natural environment, and thus there will be no problem for [human] health.”

He continued, “I assume that the [radiation] levels in rice are lower than those in other foodstuffs because radiation checks of soil were conducted before planting, and planting rice was banned in places where high levels of radiation were detected.”

Cesium over limit found in tea using Saitama, Chiba leaves (Japan Times, Sep 4)

Radioactive cesium exceeding the legal limit has been detected in four tea products that reached the market and were made with tea leaves from Saitama and Chiba prefectures, a recent health ministry inspection showed

One of the products, using tea leaves from Chiba Prefecture, contained 2,720 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, far above the government-set limit of 500 becquerels, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Friday.

The three other products, made with tea leaves from Saitama Prefecture, were found to contain between 800 and 1,530 becquerels of cesium. It is the first time cesium exceeding the maximum limit has been detected in Saitama tea leaves.

Hospital topped radiation limit for kids’ exams (Japan Times, Sep 2) A hospital in Yamanashi Prefecture said Thursday it administered higher than recommended doses of a radioactive substance to 84 children undergoing examinations since 1999, but no health hazard from radiation exposure has been reported so far. Kofu Municipal Hospital said a test agent containing radioactive technetium was given intravenously to 145 children 15 or under to examine their internal organs and that 84 of them received doses in excess of the amount recommended by the Japanese Society of Nuclear Medicine.

Study of coral may lead to sunburn pill (JapanToday.com, Sep 4, 2011) | New cancer gives hope, strategy  (JapanToday.com) Xalkori, a pill with relatively minor side effects compared to traditional infused chemotherapy, was approved for the roughly 4 percent of patients with non-small cell lung cancer who have what’s called the ALK fusion gene. This change occurs when ALK, short for anaplastic lymphoma kinase, and another gene on the same chromosome rearrange their positions and fuse together. That turns the ALK gene on constantly, fueling cancer cell growth. Xalkori works by blocking the kinase enzyme, key to that process.


A three-year study, which covered 30 countries and more than 500 million people published in the journal European Psychopharmacology finds that Treating children for anxiety ‘would cut risk of mental illness’ (The Independent) Excerpts follow:

Children should be screened for anxiety disorders to prevent them developing severe mental problems in later life. Treating anxiety early would be the single most effective way of reducing the burden of mental disorders – one of the most common causes of disability in the developed world, according to Professor Hans Ulrich Witten, lead author of study of the state of Europe’s mental health.

It is estimated that 38.2 per cent – 165 million people – of people in Europe suffers from a mental disorder and that anxiety is the commonest. All age groups are affected but some conditions, such as eating disorders, are more prevalent among the young and others, such as dementia, commoner in the elderly.

The incidence of depression has doubled since the 1970s and the average age at onset has fallen from the mid-twenties to the late teens as adolescents lost their sense of security in a changing world, Professor Witten said.

Anxiety disorders affect 14 per cent of the population and effective treatment at an early stage can reduce the later development of depression by 60 per cent. Professor Witten said: “We screen for dental caries [decay] – why not for anxiety, … because the potential treatments are so effective?”…

Anxiety disorders could also be a warning sign of neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Parkinson’s disease. Professor Witten said: “Treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy are so effective. You can treat an individual for anxiety with 10 or 20 sessions and get a sustained long-term response, reducing the risk of later depression. Depression leads to brain atrophy.”

Professor David Nutt, head of the department of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, said: “If you can get in early you may be able to change the course of the illness so people don’t progress on to disability.”

However, Professor Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute for Mental Health cast doubt on screening for anxiety. He said: “To get a risk calculator for anxiety we need biomarkers – and we don’t have them yet.”

Quake resistance work needed at 23,000 public school buildings (Yomiuri, Sep.1)

Nearly 23,000 buildings at public primary and middle schools around the country, except for the three quake-hit prefectures in Tohoku, are not sufficiently earthquake resistant or have not been checked for earthquake resistance, the education ministry has said.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry announced recently the status of earthquake-resistance repairs and construction on public schools in Tokyo, Hokkaido and 42 other prefectures as of April 1.

The ministry was unable to examine buildings in the three prefectures due to the aftermath of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The ministry earlier announced that all public primary and middle school buildings in the country will be earthquake resistant by the end of fiscal 2015.

Out of 116,397 buildings, including main school buildings and gymnasiums, 22,911 buildings, or about 20 percent, are insufficient in terms of being earthquake resistant, or have had no earthquake-resistance examinations.

Of those, 4,614 buildings were categorized as highly likely to collapse in an earthquake with an intensity of upper 6 or more, according to the ministry.

Out of the 44 prefectures examined, 80.3 percent of buildings are equipped with sufficient earthquake resistance, up seven percentage points from one year ago, marking the largest ever year-on-year increase.

While prefectures such as Shizuoka (98.2 percent), Kanagawa (97.7 percent) and Aichi (95.5 percent) have quite high earthquake-resistance retrofit rates, the figures were much lower in Hokkaido (69 percent) and six other prefectures such as Hiroshima (59.1 percent), Yamaguchi (61.7 percent) and Ibaraki (64.1 percent).

There are 35 cities, including some ordinance-designated special cities, that have 100 or more buildings with insufficient earthquake resistance or had undergone no earthquake-resistance examinations. Kitakyushu had 460 such buildings, while Sapporo had 267. The 35 cities have 6,089 such buildings, or 27 percent of the 22,911 buildings.

Disaster drills held nationwide / Country prepares for possible large quake, tsunami (Sep.2) | Most tsunami shelters pass test / Thousands saved on March 11 in facilities’ 1st emergency use (Yomiuri, YSep.2) | Fukushima students back to school, with dosimeters (Yomiuri, Sep.2) | 14 risky fault lines found near N-plants (Yomiuri, Sep.1)

Contamination outside Fukushima (JapanFocus.org, Sep 4) Despite extreme measures and due care, Tokyo mother finds daughter has 0.4 Bq level of cesium137/kg of urine | Radioactive Fukushima children given cancer all-clear,New Scientist by Rowan Hooper, August 16, 2011) Gerry Thomas who runs the Chernobyl Tissue Bank at Imperial College London, sees no cause for concern as a result of Hiroshima U.’s  Satoshi Tashiro’s data that the levels they found do not pose a risk for future increases in thyroid cancer in that population.

Parents pack up Fukushima children, ABC News (Australia), August 15, 2011 – Video of contamination plight of Sakurai Nursery School 60 km from Fukushima plant

More comments by Gerry Thomas in the next article… Scaremongering about Fukushima radiation is damaging (New Scientist, 2 Sep)

ALARMIST predictions that the long-term health effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident will be worse than those following Chernobyl in 1986 are likely to aggravate harmful psychological effects of the incident. That was the warning heard at a conference on radiation research in Warsaw, Poland, this week.

“We’ve got to stop these sorts of reports coming out, because they are really upsetting the Japanese population,” says Gerry Thomas at Imperial College London, who is attending the meeting. “The media has a hell of a lot of responsibility here, because the worst post-Chernobyl effects were the psychological consequences and this shouldn’t happen again.”

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency report that the release of radioactivity from Fukushima is about 10 per cent that of Chernobyl. “The Japanese did the right thing, providing stable iodine to ensure that radioactive doses to children were minimal,” Thomas says.

Japanese researchers attending the meeting are upset, she adds. “They’re saying: ‘Please tell the truth, because no one believes us’.”

TEPCO Press Release Sep 3, 2011:  Detection of radioactive materials in the soil in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (31st release) 

As a result of plutonium and strontium analysis in the soil from the samples at the 3 periodic sampling spots collected on August 15, plutonium 238, 239, and 240 and strontium 89 and 90 were detected as shown in the attachment 1 and 2. […]


Last but not least, bringing you updates on the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation:

AP Exclusive: Japan nuke holdout resolved to stay (Yahoo News, Aug 31, 2011) Excerpts follow:

This [Tomioka] once-thriving community of 16,000 people now has a population of one.

In this nuclear no-man’s land poisoned by radiation from a disaster-battered power plant, rice farmer Naoto Matsumura refuses to leave despite government orders. He says he has thought about the possibility of getting cancer but prefers to stay — with a skinny dog named Aki his constant companion.

Nearly six months after Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, the 53-year-old believes he is the only inhabitant left in this town sandwiched between the doomed Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station to the north and another sprawling nuclear plant to the south.

“If I give up and leave, it’s all over,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s my responsibility to stay. And it is my right to be here.”

Matsumura is an anomaly in a country where defiance of the government is rare and social consensus counts above everything else. Yet, Matsumura’s quiet civil disobedience speaks loudly of the dilemma facing the more than 100,000 silent “nuclear refugees” who were displaced by the March 11 disaster.

Tokyo was quick to establish evacuation zones around the plant but has been slow to settle the refugees. A government order forbids them from going back to their homes in a half dozen towns around Fukushima Dai-ichi that were declared off-limits after the tsunami-stricken nuclear plant started spewing radioactivity.

“We are already being forgotten,” said Matsumura, a leathery but clean-cut man with the sturdy build of a farmer. “The rest of the country has moved on. They don’t want to think about us.”

Tomioka’s city hall has been moved to a safer city in Fukushima prefecture, where thousands of its residents live in makeshift shelters. Thousands more have scattered across the country.

The town itself is sealed behind police barriers, which hide the heart of the nuclear no-go zone, an area that is officially too dangerous for human habitation.

Officers are sent into Tomioka each day to search for burglars or violators of the keep-out order. By law, anyone caught inside the zone can be detained and fined.

But authorities mostly turn a blind eye to Matsumura, though he says he has been confronted by the police a few times. If there are other holdouts, they have escaped detection.

“Some people stayed behind, some stayed with me in my house,” he said. “But the last one left a few weeks ago. He asked me to take care of his cats.”

Tomioka official Tomio Midorikawa, who is in charge of the town’s living and environment division, said the last resident was persuaded to leave in early August — the same time Matsumura claims his neighbor left. He was not aware of Matsumura.

Without electricity or running water, Matsumura fires up a pair of old generators each night and draws his water from a local well. He eats mostly canned foods, or fish that he catches himself in a nearby river. He said that once or twice a month, he makes his way to a city outside the zone in his mini pickup truck to stock up on supplies and gas.

He has taken it upon himself to tend to the town’s abandoned cats and dogs, including the wolflike Aki.

“I’ve gone to Tokyo a couple of times to tell the politicians why I’m here,” he said. “I tell them that it was an outrage how the cows were left to die, and how important it is for someone to tend to the family graves. They don’t seem to hear me. They just tell me I shouldn’t be here to begin with.” …

Matsumura said he did leave once, but the ensuing experience only strengthened his desire to return.

“I drove to a relative’s house thinking I would stay there,” he said. “But she wouldn’t let me in the door, she was too afraid I was contaminated. Then I went to an evacuation center, but it was full. That was enough to convince me to come home.”…

Matsumura now likens himself to the Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender until decades after the end of World War II….” Read more here

Life after Japan’s nuclear crisis CNN (video) About the continuing plight of hotspot and Fukushima’s residents.

70% of prefectures baffled on nuclear drill An NHK survey shows about 70 percent of Japanese prefectures with nuclear power plants cannot hold nuclear accident disaster drills this fiscal year or are undecided about doing so …

Breaking News Update: No. 3 reactor cooling down: TEPCO (Japan Times, Sep 6)

No. 3 reactor cooling down: Tepco
The temperature of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant’s No. 3 reactor is below 100 degrees, indicating a cold shutdown may be within reach, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday.

It is the first time the temperature at the bottom of unit 3’s pressure vessel has fallen below 100 since the nuclear crisis was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Reactor 1 is even lower — below 90 — but Tepco said it is too early to determine whether it achieved cold shutdown because it needs to re-evaluate the amount of fuel left inside.

Tepco said a new cooling method that involves showering the reactor core with water probably helped lower the temperature of reactor 3 and that it is considering applying the method to reactor 2 as well.

The cores of reactors 1 through 3 are assumed to have melted, and the fuel is believed to have sunken and solidified at the bottom of their pressure vessels.

The vessels must be below 100 degrees to achieve cold shutdown, which is defined by the government and Tepco as a state in which the release of radioactive materials is under control and exposure doses have been significantly reduced.

TEPCO tries ‘shower’ method to cool No. 3 reactor(09/03) |  Tepco plans to flood reactors, extract fuel (NHK, Sep. 1, 2011)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that it plans to remove the melted nuclear fuel from inside the crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant after repairing the reactor containers and filling them with water. But the utility did not give further details, only saying the plan, unveiled during a meeting of a government panel on nuclear energy policy, is just “at a concept stage at the moment.” The process is expected to start with the removal of radioactive substances inside the buildings housing the reactors, which would be followed by repair work on the primary containment vessels.

Atomic Power Needed to Save Japan Economy: Noda (Bloomberg Sep 5) Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in his first days in office started to deliver a difficult message to a public still in shock from the Fukushima nuclear disaster: Atomic power is needed to save the economy.

Nuclear power provided about 30 percent of the electricity in the world’s third biggest economy before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Now, about 80 percent of Japan’s 54 reactors are offline with more shutting for scheduled maintenance in the months ahead.

With the majority of opinion polls showing the public oppose the use of atomic power, Noda needs to convince his electorate so-called stress tests on reactors will make them safer to restart. Industry leaders have said they may shift production overseas if power supplies aren’t stable, threatening an economic recovery.

“There will be very little reserve electricity for peak hours in the winter and summer if the operating rate of reactors keeps falling,” said Yugo Nakamura, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Noda is “trying to avoid economic disruptions by restarting reactors after safety checks.” Read more here