A round up of the local news on the educational scene as follows below:

School for Germans in Japan faces financial pinch after Fukushima (Mainichi, Feb 20)

The German School of Tokyo Yokohama, established more than a century ago, is facing financial difficulty and seeking aid from the German government, following a sharp drop in enrollments in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The institution, offering kindergarten, primary and secondary schooling, requested financial aid from Germany in June and has been undertaking other steps to increase enrollments, according to the school. Michael Szewczyk, the head of the institution, said recently that he believes the request will be granted, given it is owing to the impact from the unprecedented nuclear accident.

66% of middle schools to start judo classes (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2012)

About 66 percent of public middle schools nationwide are likely to choose judo as a mandatory martial arts class from the start of the new school year in accordance with a new government initiative, a Yomiuri Shimbun survey has revealed.

The survey also shows that preparedness for the new program, which involves first- and second-year students of both genders, differs depending on local boards of education.

One recent study found that 114 middle and high school students were fatally injured during judo classes over the last 28 years. As a result, some parents have voiced concern over whether schools are properly prepared to teach judo in the new program.

According to the Yomiuri survey, schools in Tokyo and 23 other prefectures, as well as 11 ordinance-designated cities, have already prepared a judo instruction program amid these concerns. Meanwhile, the survey also found that boards of education in 12 prefectures and one ordinance-designated city have yet to determine which teachers are inexperienced in teaching judo, or have not made it mandatory for teachers to attend judo instruction training.

When the Fundamental Law of Education was revised in 2006 to promote curriculums “valuing tradition and culture,” schools were obliged to offer both martial arts and dance classes. Currently, schools can choose to offer either martial arts or dance.

Under the program set to begin in April, public middle schools will teach traditional martial arts, such as judo, kendo and sumo, during health and physical education classes. Which martial art is taught will be decided by schools or local boards of education.

The survey polled boards of education in Tokyo and 46 prefectures, as well as 19 ordinance-designated cities.

In response to a question regarding the number of schools preparing to offer judo classes, 47 prefectures and cities provided the number of schools planning to teach judo. Meanwhile, Tokyo and 18 other prefectures and cities gave the latest number of schools that have already begun judo classes.

In total, about 6,500 of about 9,800 public middle schools nationwide will likely begin offering judo classes at the start of the new school year.

By prefecture, more than 80 percent of local middle schools will give judo classes in 12 prefectures. Judo classes will be given in more than 90 percent of schools in Yamagata, Akita and Chiba prefectures.

Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of schools will give judo classes in Okinawa, Gifu, Kochi, Tokushima and Saga prefectures.

Many schools in Okinawa Prefecture will likely give karate classes, while many in the other four prefectures will likely teach kendo and other martial arts.

In regard to voluntary judo instruction plans, boards in Tokyo, 10 prefectures and six cities said they have already developed their own programs, while 13 prefectures and five cities said they are in the process of making one.

The board of education in Nagano Prefecture has compiled a guidebook of about 70 pages on judo instruction and distributed it to all public middle schools in the prefecture.

However, education boards in 21 prefectures and seven cities have not done so, stating it is up to each school to develop its own instruction plans.

The boards of 22 prefectures and 11 cities stated they did not know whether the schools have teachers with appropriate experience in judo instruction. Four have stated they are currently looking into the matter. However, some respondents said it was understood that almost all teachers have experience teaching judo, and therefore further research into the matter was unnecessary. As a result, boards in 12 prefectures and one city have no information about teachers who are inexperienced judo instructors, and have yet to require teachers tasked with teaching judo to attend mandatory judo instruction training.

Learning a foreign language: blood, sweat and beers (Japan Times, Feb 18)

A recent education ministry survey evaluated Japanese “third-year middle school students” on their attitudes toward learning English. One editorial indicated that the results of the survey showed that students nationwide had an “ambivalent and contradictory attitude toward English.” Wow, imagine 14-year-olds being ambivalent and contradictory! The problem seems to be that while 85 percent of the students thought English was important, and 70 percent said knowing English would help them get a job, only 11 percent wanted a job requiring English. The editorial found this contrast between what students said was important and what they wanted for themselves “disappointing.”

Filipinos teach English to Japanese via website (Japan Times, Feb 16)

An online English conversation school based in the Philippines is attracting Japanese learners by offering inexpensive lessons from college graduates who can’t find work amid the country’s economic slump. “This is ‘intellectual fair trade,’ ” said Md Moin, founder of Pikt Corp.’s website. “Filipinos are able to earn their living as English tutors, while Japanese can learn high-quality English with cheap tuition.” Moin, a 32-year-old Bangladeshi who has lived in Japan for 10 years, came up with the idea with a Filipino friend, Aireen Zaballa, 34. The two were classmates at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Oita Prefecture.

Student numbers set to fall / Enrollment drops at primary schools affected by Fukushima N-crisis (Yomiuri, Feb. 21, 2012)

Yuka Omori and Hiromi Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

FUKUSHIMA–The number of new students enrolling in primary schools this spring in six municipalities affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is expected to be half that of the children currently in the first grade, it has been learned.

A total of 76 new students will enter classes at the primary schools, which have moved to other municipalities because they were located in or near no-entry zones created by the government.

The six municipalities, all located in Fukushima Prefecture, are Namie, Okuma, Tomioka, Hirono, Kawauchi and Iitate. A primary school and middle school for each of them has been opened either in the municipalities where their municipal government offices have been temporarily relocated, or in neighboring towns.

About 20 percent of the 160 sixth-grade students currently enrolled in the six primary schools may enroll in middle schools operated by different municipalities.

School administrators and community representatives are trying to stem the falling student numbers at the schools run by the six municipalities, with one person saying, “If we cannot keep schools active, it will become difficult to maintain local communities.”

Fujio Shono, head of the Tomioka board of education, is worried about the situation. “No new students will enter our primary school this year. We don’t know what to do if we cannot get students in the future,” he said.

Tomioka, which is in the no-entry zone, has moved its town office to Koriyama in the same prefecture. About 3,200 residents, or roughly 20 percent of the town’s population, also moved to the city of Koriyama.

Tomioka reopened its primary school at the site of a former factory in the neighboring town of Miharu in September last year. A total of 45 students attend the school and travel to and from their temporary housing by bus. The journey takes more than an hour each way for those who live far from the school. A 35-year-old company employee, who moved to Koriyama from Tomioka, will send his son, who will enter primary school in spring, to a school run by the Koriyama government. The man said he will do this because, “If something happens, I can’t quickly go to my son if it takes more than 30 minutes to travel to the school by car.”

Namie’s town office and primary school have been moved to nearby Nihonmatsu. Only one new first-year student will enter the school. Namie town is in the government’s no-entry and expanded evacuation zones. The town’s board of education says many students who would normally enter Namie’s primary school are instead enrolling at schools in the municipalities that they have relocated to. This is because the children want to attend the same schools as their friends in kindergarten.

Kawauchi’s village office has been relocated to Koriyama, but it plans to return to its village in April. The principal of a private kindergarten in Koriyama said, “Many parents say, ‘We cannot bring our children back [to the village] where radiation levels are high.'”

Regarding the impact of reduced student numbers, a 51-year-old vice principal of a primary school in one of the affected municipalities said, “We can give lessons that would be more suitable for smaller groups of children, but children will lose opportunities to develop through interaction with their peers, such as discussions during Japanese language classes.”

If student numbers further decrease, it will become difficult to keep the schools open. A Fukushima prefectural board of education official said: “This is a matter for each municipal board of education. But if a school has no students, it may be closed.”


Maintaining communities

Schools are indispensable for maintaining communities at each of the affected municipalities. Kaname Hirose, the head of Iitate’s board of education, is concerned about the situation. “Schools and residents support each other by forming communities,” Hirose said. “If the village has no school, children have no place to return to, and the area will deteriorate.”

Hirose said that before the nuclear crisis, local residents cleared snow from the school route in winter and children performed plays and dances at a nursing home in the village.

A survey, conducted by Fukushima University in September last year on households in eight municipalities around the crippled nuclear power plant, revealed that the younger residents are, the less hope they have of returning to their hometown. The survey found more than half of the respondents aged 34 or younger said they had no intention of returning.

To combat this, a group including parents of students attending Tomioka primary has begun offering information about local schools, and is using its website to call on residents to participate in meetings. Takashi Ichimura, 42, a representative of the group, said, “We have to keep townspeople connected to ensure they return someday.”

In Namie, teachers have been sending letters to former students who transferred to other schools. The town government says directors of junior sport clubs have opened a training camp for children who have scattered due to the crisis.

Associate Prof. Tsuneya Sakurai from Takasaki City University of Economics is a member of Namie town’s restoration study committee. He pointed out why making efforts to maintain local communities is necessary. “It is children who bear the role of restoring communities in the future. Even if they are attending schools in areas where they have been relocated, they need something that makes them feel like they still belong to Namie,” he said.


The Yomiuri Shimbun

The following is the fifth installment in an interview series on leadership. For this article, Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai), spoke with Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Masami Yamamoto.

The fundamental leadership qualities in politics and corporate management have much in common. What is needed is the ability to accurately understand the global situation, the conceptional power to formulate a vision of a nation or company based on an understanding of history, and the ability to gather able human resources and use them appropriately. Leaders with such qualities should not only be respected, they must be feared by others in a sense.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., where I serve as president, made no big purchases of other companies for 230 years of its history. Last year, however, we purchased a Swiss pharmaceutical company for about 1.1 trillion yen.

It was a major decision for us. The purchase price was huge, and Takeda had operated until then without any debt, so all executives except me opposed buying the Swiss firm, saying it was not worth borrowing money to buy it. They probably thought it was like gambling.

However, we badly needed to purchase a company that was strong in emerging countries. We also had surplus funds of about 500 billion yen.

Judging that the possibility of making a successful purchase was 80 percent, I persuaded executives and others in the company, saying, “Sometimes the risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of doing something.”

Today the executives really feel glad about the purchase. An organization does not move forward unless the top leader leads others.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has decided on a policy of participating in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade framework and compiled a draft on integrated reform of the societal security and tax systems. Although he has been criticized over his Cabinet appointments, he has never changed his stance on the basic points of what he says. I believe the general public’s attitude toward him will change if he maintains his stance and finally makes a breakthrough.

To develop national leaders from a long-term perspective, full-fledged elite education should be introduced in this country.

At middle schools in the prewar education system, students worked hard and competed in a friendly way through a boarding school system in both academic and nonacademic areas. Debate skills, which are regularly taught in the United States, were also polished there.

At present, however, Japan does not have such places.

Japan now excessively seeks “equal results for all.” I’ve heard about children crossing the finish line together hand in hand in races at an athletic meet. This is a bad example of the principle of equality. Equality of opportunity must be guaranteed, but there must be mostly unequal results in actuality.

It is the task of the government to provide a safety net so that results once obtained do not lead to inequality of opportunity next time.

People achieve results according to their abilities, and elites selected in this way must be given a place to thoroughly compete with others. The Japanese seniority system does not suit the global age of great competition.

Nurturing human resources is also an important national strategy. It is not a problem of educational institutions alone, but also a problem of households, communities and companies.

We should have an awareness of competing with other countries in the world, but Japanese lacks this recognition.

Excellent politicians who are expected to become heads of state should have much experience.

However, if a politician fails to win an election, he or she becomes a layman. Therefore, politicians cannot help but put priority on winning elections.

This makes it very hard for them to coordinate between policy and voters, because sometimes policies needed for the nation, such as a consumption tax hike, clash with what voters want.

Long ago, factions within political parties took care of people who failed to be elected, but political parties seem not to be doing that now.

Like some other countries, Japan should also establish neutral policy research institutes and create a system in which excellent politicians who fail to win elections can receive stipends that allow them to continue studying politics.

The political system itself should be reformed. Corporate managers like myself can stay at the helm of companies for a decade or more.

We can formulate and carry out projects for the mid- and long-terms, and even revise them if necessary.

However, it does not go like that in the world of politics. When there are problems like the divided Diet, it is quite difficult to carry out policies however able a prime minister may be.

In Britain, where the prime minister is given strong authority, incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that no election will be held until 2015 so as to tackle a drastic growth strategy and tax system reform.

Japan should have a system like that of Britain to enable stable management of administrations.

Looking at the world economy, advanced countries are not the driving force for growth now. Emerging economies have completely taken over that position. The total gross domestic product of countries other than Japan, the United States and European countries is still about 40 percent of the world total. However, emerging economies account for about 70 percent of economic growth.

In Japan the labor population and domestic investment have been declining. It is difficult to continue growth only through technical development capacities.

For instance, Japanese help other Asian countries in terms of economic growth and improvement of people’s lives and bring back profits earned in those countries.

Within the country, industries must be nurtured in fields with growth potential such as services, health and nursing care, and the environment.

A Japanese national leader should draw such a big picture of a national strategy.

South Korea in the early 2000s compiled a national strategy of a human resources development-oriented nation and even established a law for elite education. Japan too should swiftly formulate such a strategy.

I would also work on it as a member of the National Strategy Council [launched in October last year to decide basic guidelines of major policies].


Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Hasegawa, 65, entered Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. after graduating from Waseda University’s School of Political Science and Economics in 1970. He has abundant overseas business experience in such countries as Germany and the United States. He became head of Keizai Doyukai in April 2011.



Elsewhere in the world …the stories on education:

British journalist Toby Young who has advocated tirelessly for Free Schools and acting as a driving force behind opening one in London, has penned a must-read essay in The Telegraph about how dumbing down curriculum in the UK is leading to widening inequalities and harm to the populations who need the most help.

New research has uncovered that students in UK universities today are struggling with the difficulty of degree-level math.

Hiya pupils, please avoid slang, ta (Guardian)

Top universities for producing millionaires (The Telegraph) The highest proportion of millionaires (10.9 per cent) attended the University of London, but then it does consist of 19 self governing colleges, ten specialist research institutes and a community of 120,000 students. Millionaire author Ken Follett (pictured) attended one of the University of London’s founding colleges UCL…

Let for-profit firms transform weak state schools, urges former headteacher (Guardian)

UK’s Education Secretary plans curbs on ‘authorised absence’ and tougher fines for truancy in drive to improve attendance rates, see Gove to crack down on term-time holidays

Princeton Review Publishes Best Value Colleges for 2012 (Educationnews.org)

The Princeton Review, in collaboration with USA Today, has published the best value private and… Read more

Language immersion especially early on, helps kids

A mountain of evidence suggests that surrounding a young child with a foreign language increases natural curiosity the ease of learning a new language.

An article by The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages called “Cognitive Benefits of Learning Language” purports that the learning of a second language at an early age triggers the child’s natural curiosity during the learning process.  This heightened engagement helps the student learn the language proficiently and with near native pronunciation and intonation.

Theresa Caccavale, president of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL), (www.nnell.org)  states, “Children who learn a foreign language beginning in early childhood demonstrate certain cognitive advantages over children who do not.”  Some of those advantages are understanding object permanence, problem solving, greater critical thinking skills and increased creativity.  “There is also a relationship between foreign language study and increased mathematical skill development.”

In the same article, Martha G. Abbott, the Director of Education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), (www.actfl.org) says that immersion programs work because the learning of the second language is a tool, a vehicle, for content for general education curriculum.  Consequently, two things are accomplished: the student learns content (for example – math) and the second language.

Abbott also insists that all students can learn a second language in this way.  Some students will have a natural talent for learning language and learn it quickly.  But all students will benefit from the program.

Study: Architecture Graduates Struggle Hardest to Find Work

Cornell Given $350 Million to Build NYC Science School (Educationnews.org)

ArtistWorks’ Online Music Lessons Resonate With Students (Educationnews.org)

The ArtistWorks’ online academy offers thousands of hours of video lessons – covering everything from basic techniques to master classes – for budding musicians and students, amassing more than 32,000 videos and more than a dozen genres, from classical piano and bluegrass fiddle to traditional mandolin and turntable scratching.

The California-based academy offers an opportunity for students to maintain a regular dialogue with well-known instructors – including Billy Cobham and Steve Martin – through Web video exchanges.

Alex Pham at the Los Angeles Times writes that the company has tens of thousands of subscribers. And by keeping the content fresh, exciting, and by adding more and more instructors, the company expects to triple its revenue this year from 2011.

Many believe that online instructional videos are set apart from the usual set of music DVDs, CDs and VHS tapes because they enable teachers and students to communicate – from all over the world. … Read more

Parents Camp Overnight for Places at Coveted Kindergarten (Educationnews.org)

Is The Cost of Private Tutoring Worth the Money? It Depends (Educationnews.org)

What College Students Need to Know (NY Times Editorial)

The new initiative by the US federal government to make it mandatory for colleges to disclose information in a clear and consistent way, will enable families to be better able to make informed college choices, to learn quickly and easily how a college stacks up against its competitors nationally on important metrics like graduation rates, what a degree actually costs and how much debt a student can expect to incur by graduation day. This is expected to also help put pressure on colleges that fare poorly to improve.

The new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has developed a preliminary version of a one-page “shopping sheet” with data from the colleges that will allow students to learn how much they will need to pay, what they will owe, how the school ranks nationally in net cost, and whether students who have graduated are earning enough money to repay their loans.

The Department of Education has also created a preliminary version of a “college scorecard” with data to help students compare colleges on affordability and value. A scorecard for all colleges should be available later this year.

Out of Australia, comes this report …Western pupils lag Asians by three years: study 

“Western schoolchildren are up to three years behind those in China’s Shanghai and success in Asian education is not just the product of pushy “tiger” parents, an Australian report released Friday said.

The study by independent think-tank The Grattan Institute said East Asia was the centre of high performance in schools with four of the world’s top systems in the region — Hong Kong, South Korea, Shanghai and Singapore.

“In Shanghai, the average 15-year-old mathematics student is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia, the USA and Europe,” Grattan’s school education programme director Ben Jensen said.

“That has profound consequences. As economic power is shifting from West to East, high performance in education is too.”

Students in South Korea were a year ahead of those in the US and European Union in reading and seven months ahead of Australian pupils, said the report, using data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment.”  …

A useful website for the college-bound by Katie Brunson an education website that will hopefully help inform students about Associates degree programs across the country. URL: http://associatesdegrees.com.


On IT and education:

Online Education – Is it Suitable for Everyone?

Elementary students go global with technology  (Educationnews.org, Feb 14)

With the help of modern technology, students at the Charlotte Jewish Day School are talking to and learning from kids all over the world. …but parents and the PTA have asked to raise the funds for the educational technology required to be used in the classroom, see Charlotte asks parents to purchase classroom technology

Distance learning breaches prison walls (Guardian) Despite lack of the internet, prisoners can study via distance learning, but there are many hurdles to leap …

Idea Works: Engaging Your Students Outside the Classroom

Colin Monaghan of Idea Works discusses the efficient, affordable ways teachers can better connect with students outside the classroom. He says   putting content and delivering it online makes it easy to extend learning beyond class time, helping students engage course content outside the lecture hall frees up class time for more engaging activities, for “discussions, small group work, analyses of complex ideas, and engaging demonstrations”.

He also writes that “technology-delivered content often results in a more beneficial experience for students. For example, a student watching a video of a lecture can rewind to review a challenging concept, or pause to look up an unknown term.

Giving students their first exposure to content by viewing PowerPoint slides is a good start, but additional tools can ensure that students interact with course material in a meaningful way before class even begins. Short writing assignments, interactive web activities, or group discussions can get students more engaged in the learning process, while also assessing prior knowledge.

For example, Blackboard makes it easy to set up simple, multiple choice online quizzes, and SAGrader gives your students a chance to respond to short answer questions and get feedback automatically. As a result, students come to class prepared for more advanced instruction …

The key is to make the best use of online and face-to-face time, letting each do what they do best.”


On parenting, crime, health and safety topics:

The Most Educational Toys are Completely Free … or Mostly (Educationnews.org)

The best, most educational toys don’t always need to plug in, have a micro-processor or cost a fortune, writes Julia Steiny… (and Japanese teachers would agree!)

Boy arrested for stabbing mother after video game confiscated (Mainichi, Feb 20, 2012)

ICHINOMIYA, Aichi — A 14-year-old boy who stabbed his mother after she confiscated a new video game from him was arrested Feb. 19 on suspicion of attempted murder, law enforcers said.

Police received an emergency call from a 50-year-old woman in Ichinomiya at about 5:40 p.m. on Feb. 19, saying, “I’ve been stabbed by my son.”

When police arrived at the woman’s home, her 14-year-old son, a second-year junior high school student, admitted having stabbed her, prompting them to arrest him on suspicion of attempted murder.

“When I bought a video game without permission, my mother took it off me, so I got angry (and stabbed her),” he was quoted as telling investigators.

Police accuse the 14-year-old, whose name has been withheld because he is a minor, of stabbing his mother in the back once, leaving her with a serious wound that reached her left lung.

Teaching self-control the American way (NY Times)

But rather than trying to emulate the strict discipline supposedly instilled by child-rearing techniques in other countries, it may be more useful to consider the science of successful parenting in general. Like their Chinese and French counterparts, American parents can make a child’s mind strong — by enlisting the child as an ally.

In any culture, the development of self-control is crucial. This ability, which depends on the prefrontal cortex, provides the basis for mental flexibility, social skills and discipline. It predicts success in education, career and marriage. Indeed, childhood self-control is twice as important as intelligence in predicting academic achievement. Conversely, poor self-control in elementary school increases the risk of adult financial difficulties, criminal behavior, single parenthood and drug dependence.

Traditionally, Asian students succeed in part because they show good self-control from an early age. In one study, Chinese preschoolers were six months ahead of American children in developing mental control, like the ability to look to the left when shown a face pointing to the right. Another study found that Korean 3-year-olds did as well on such tasks as British children who were 17 months older.

Like many brain capacities, self-control can be built through practice. Chinese parenting emphasizes child training, which combines close supervision of performance with substantial support and motivation for the child’s efforts. This approach comes at a great cost to parents and children …” Read more here

384 child abuse cases reported by NPA in ’11 (Yomiuri, Feb.17)

Education is key to preventing cancer (Yomiuri, Feb.12) | Spreading cancer awareness in the classroom (Yomiuri, Feb.12)

Web company to help police fight child porn (Yomiuri, Feb.11)

NHK’s Asaichi TV program on Feb 20 (Monday) was focused on mama-chari cyclist dangers “<“事故”らない! 華麗なるママチャリLIFE>” – according to various experiments and simulations done with riders carrying heavy loads/children, the best place to carry children or shopping is in front of the rider (as opposed to a back-carrying load; a front-bearing load is also surprisingly more stable than splitting the load up into front and back loads)

Ministry sets stricter cesium limits for food (Feb. 18, 2012)

Tsuyoshi Nakamura and Eiji Noyori / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry held firm to its original proposal for new, tougher limits on radioactive cesium in food. However, the science ministry’s Radiation Council has said the new regulatory limits for milk and baby food items are too strict.

Despite the criticism, the council approved new limits that are far tougher than the current provisional limits. The health ministry plans to apply the new limits in accordance with its original proposal for food, drinking water, milk, and baby foods starting in April, but some observers voiced concerns they could cause trouble for food producers and inspection arrangements.

According to the health ministry’s proposal approved Thursday by the Radiation Council of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the new limits are set at 100 becquerels per kilogram for regular food items, 50 becquerels for milk and baby food items, and 10 becquerels for drinking water.

The council is an advisory panel of the science ministry.

“We didn’t mean to drag out the talks to annoy [the health ministry], but we just wanted [the ministry] to think deeply about why we took such a long period of time,” said Otsura Niwa, chairman of the Radiation Council and professor emeritus of Kyoto University.

During a council meeting held Thursday morning at the science ministry building, Niwa requested the health ministry give thoughtful consideration to the application of the new limits.

The new limits are extremely strict and are set between one-twentieth and a quarter of the present provisional limits.

In six council meetings held since December, many council members stated the health ministry’s proposed limits were too strict.

“Children’s safety can be secured even if the limits are set at 100 becquerels, which is the same level for general food items. It’s not necessary to set stricter limits for only baby food items and milk at half of this figure,” a council member said during one of the meetings. Another member said, “The basic premises for calculating the limits are too strict.”

Another issue council members found problematic during their discussions with the health ministry was that they believed calculation methods were not realistic.

According to the health ministry’s original proposal, the limits were calculated based on an assumption that 50 percent of distributed food items are contaminated. However, council members have said this assumption is too extreme.

As the ministry assessed the ratio of contaminated food with radiation doses 1.5 times to five times higher than ratios found in Europe or the United States, the new cesium limits for general food have become far stricter.

“I wonder [the limits were calculated] based on a fictitious scenario,” a council member said.


Ministry’s strong intent

A senior health ministry official said, “We aimed to set standards that protect a large majority of people, even in a case when multiple worst case [scenarios] are combined.”

Behind the ministry’s decision is the strong will of health minister Yoko Komiyama, who has enthusiastically tackled child-rearing issues since before the Democratic Party of Japan became the ruling party.

Komiyama backed the ministry’s bureaucrats from the beginning, saying, “In order to feel safer, we’d like to set stricter limits for baby food items.”

Consequently, the category for baby foods was newly established as there was no such category when the government initially determined the provisional limits.

However, Radiation Council experts, who seriously regard scientific grounds and impact on society, thought that establishing the new category was an unnecessary effort.

One opinion expressed during the council meetings stated that since the limit for general food items was sufficient, the safety standards for baby food items should not be a separate category.

However, the health ministry did not yield, and an agreement between the ministry officials and council members seemed a distant possibility.

“How food is eaten varies greatly among individuals, and it’s impossible to measure and look after the actual exposure of each person. So, we think we must protect the public’s health by setting a rational standard under the strictest assumptions. We have a different view from the report presented by the Radiation Council,” a senior health ministry official said.

Farmers in Fukushima Prefecture have had differing reactions to the new limits introduced by the health ministry on radioactive cesium in food.

“I wonder whether the radioactive cesium level will be lower than the new limits even if I grow rice after decontamination,” Takayoshi Sakurai said with a sigh. “I feel the government has introduced the new limits to keep Fukushima from distributing food.”

Sakurai, 65, has five hectares of paddy fields in Minami-Soma, which has been forced to give up rice planting this year.

He said he would rather abandon farming if he has to grow rice without a guarantee that it will be sold.

On the other hand, Zenichiro Endo, 65, a dairy farmer with 43 milk cows in Koriyama, was more positive.

“Tighter restrictions are good because children drink a lot of milk,” he said. “Consumers won’t drink milk if it’s not safe and tasty. It is important to address their concerns [about radioactive cesium] first.”

The Radiation Council said opinions from people other than consumers should be taken into consideration.

It called on the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to listen to what farmers and other food producers have to say about suspensions of food shipments to avoid being swayed by damaging comments from other sources.

The health ministry holds frequent talks with the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry before it revises radiation limits.

As a result, the new limits were adopted for food items that are eaten after being soaked in water, such as dried shiitake mushrooms. The new limits for rice and beef will be delayed.


The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Environment Ministry will begin Friday checking the levels of radioactive substances in the water and bottom sediment near the mouths of the Sumidagawa and Arakawa rivers that run into Tokyo Bay, sources have said.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry also plans to study water, bottom mud and Tokyo Bay organisms from April, according to the sources.

The ministries are hoping to clarify the situation as inquiries from residents have been increasing.

For example, residents are asking, “Is it safe to eat fish from Tokyo Bay?” or “I’m worried about the safety of children playing near the water.”

The Environment Ministry will check radiation levels near Ryogokubashi bridge on the Sumidagawa and the Arakawa’s Kasaibashi bridge. It will release initial findings by the end of March.

The education ministry will take samples of surface water and bottom mud near the mouths of major rivers running into Tokyo Bay, points near the shore and at the bay’s center. The ministry will also check radiation levels in marine animals in the bay in cooperation with surrounding municipalities.

According to the Environment Ministry and other sources, airborne radioactive material from the crippled Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant fall on the Kanto Plain with rain and enter rivers. Some experts have pointed out the possibility of radioactive materials accumulating on the sea bottom after entering the bay via rivers.

Many edible fish live in the rivers and the bay and there are concerns radioactive material may enter the food chain. Therefore, the Tokyo metropolitan government asked the Environment Ministry to measure radiation levels in the rivers on Feb. 1.

Similar investigations by the central government have been done in Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Chiba and other prefectures, but these will be the first surveys of the Arakawa and Sumidagawa rivers in Tokyo.

Many people have voiced their worries to the Environment Ministry and Tokyo metropolitan government about radiation levels since the beginning of the year.

An Environment Ministry official said that because water blocks a large portion of radiation, there is little danger to people spending time near the water even if radiation levels on the river bottom are high.

“However, we will continuously monitor [the situation] since we don’t know about how much radioactive material is transferred [from water to fish],” the official added.

Study: 2 exposed to radiation levels above limit (Feb 21)

See also

“Ukrainian nuclear experts say Japanese evacuated from around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant should be able to return to their homes — unlike near the Chernobyl plant, which is still off-limits a quarter-century after the meltdown accident.
The public may eventually be able to visit the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, where three reactor cores melted after the tsunami March 11 last year knocked out their cooling systems, said Oleg Nasvit, a nuclear physicist and radiation expert at Kiev’s National Institute for Strategic Studies. …”


Last but not least, here’s what might be an interesting read to pass on to the kids:

Scientists resurrect Ice Age plant (Telegraph) | New Life, From an Arctic Flower That Died 32,000 Years Ago (NYTimes)

And that’s a wrap!

Posted by Aileen Kawagoe