Nuclear Power….and Earth!

For thousands of years, humanity has been using different resources for food, energy, and all that it needs from Earth. The brain of humans has been developing over long periods of time, trying to find better resources for their increasing, unstoppable needs as their populations kept increasing. In the last two centuries, the consumption of the energy resources was incredible, exceeding the Earth’s ability to renew these resources.

Several advanced countries use the magnificently powerful, recently found nuclear energy generators to produce some of their populations’ needs of energy. Many scientists and researchers consider nuclear power to be a good substitute to the other shrinking energy resources like black gold and charcoal.
Claiming to be working safely and efficiently, the Japanese government had over fifty functioning nuclear reactors at one point, producing less than 20% of the energy use in Japan. Nonetheless, the Fukushima accident in 2011 required more caution and rethinking about nuclear energy production in Japan. As a result of that accident, more than 95% of nuclear generators in Japan have been shut.

On the other hand, some voices have been trying to reach light in this continually developing world, asking governments to stop generating nuclear energy. Dr. Hiroaki Koide, a research associate at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University, is one of some Japanese scientists who work on raising awareness regarding the inevitable hazards of nuclear energy. In 1970, Dr. Koide realized that the severe threats associated with generating nuclear energy cannot be contained. During a special meeting with him, he explained to us that no method to efficiently dispose nuclear waste has been found yet even in the most technologically advanced countries. For example, digging a very deep hall in the South Pole or in land to hide nuclear waste does not prevent it from affecting the Earth and causing damage to the environment. This being the case, the future of humanity, the future of our planet, is endangered.

His talk reminded me a lot of the information presented in the movie “HOME,” which emphasizes the unique equilibrium between our planet and the multitude of organisms that dwell on it, including us, humans. This outstanding movie is made available and free onYoutube to raise awareness and increase knowledge among people to respect and appreciate this home, the Earth.
I strongly recommend watching the movie, which is available in more than one language.

 

An Unspoken Language

I am trilinguist and I can understand few other languages from India. My initial thought before going to Japan was that people would be speaking a little bit English and I would be able to survive there on my own. However, I found myself helpless at many times as most people I met could not speak much or any English. The country has been modernized and is very advanced structurally; however, I felt that the universal language English need to be progressed in Japan. I am not sure if expansion of learning English would hurt language sustainability in any ways!!

DSC01131None the less, I feel that speaking without understanding is better. There were some high school students who we met on the train could not communicate directly with us; because of not having a common language. However, we all were really happy after meeting with them and trying a fail effort to talk to them.

 

 

 

 

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   An adorable lady working at the gift store

 

One of the most memorable experience I had was shopping at the gift shop. All the sellers were really nice and welcoming. I had very unique experience of understanding and communicating with what I call ‘an unspoken language.’ I spent almost two hours talking to them and looking around, we had a very good time and I think they all loved me.

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This gave me confident that I would be able to survive very well in Japan even by myself. As, a the last day three girls in our group including myself had a success navigating and using train by ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Fukushima

When I say the word “Fukushima”, it’s probably safe to assume that most people, myself included, would think of the nuclear meltdown.  That raises a lot of questions about nuclear power.  Some people might ask, why would a country that was devastated by nuclear bombs in World War II attempt to harness nuclear power, especially when they knew how bad the damage could be?  However, it seems like people have started to realize that.  The only difference in opinions is how bad the situation is to begin with.

First, we met with two Fukushima prefectural officials, and they explained their plan to revitalize Fukushima.  They were kind enough to take time from their schedules to speak with us, and to give us postcards and other things that are native to Fukushima.  When asked about the nuclear radiation, they had said that most of the radiation was gone, and that it was safe to move back to Fukushima.

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The other nuclear expert that we spoke to was Koide-sensei.  He was a little more frank about his beliefs concerning the nuclear damage.  He believed that Japan had already done irrevocable damage to itself due to its use of nuclear power.  He wanted them to stop using nuclear power completely, but he wasn’t sure what sustainable resource could be used instead.

Sustainability is definitely a buzzword right now, and with good reason.  We don’t want to waste limited resources more than we already have.  That’s why I think the research being done to find alternatives to nuclear power is commendable.

Sustainable Home

 

On January 9th, we visited Mr. Takayuki Mori at his house in Kyoto.  Mr Mori is a extraordinary ecologist. He had a vision for sustainable living in the modern society, and he demonstrated this vision through his self-designed home. At the first glance, his house appeared to be simple, but every parts of the house were meticulously thought out and designed to serve a different purpose. For example, the entrance to the house is through the basement, which applied geothermal well principle to the design allowing the house to maintain constant temperature all year round.

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A trail in Mr. Mori garden

The most noticeable part of his house was his garden. His garden had more than 200 species of plants. Even the garden was well thought out and implemented. At the front of the garden, there were a variety of vegetables that can be harvested and consume. One the trail around the garden, there were small stepping stones intentionally placed in the stone staircase that would come in handy in the future when taking big steps might be a challenge for Mr. Mori.

I admired Mr. Mori’s effort in pursuing his dream of creating a sustainable home. From visiting Mr. Mori’s house, I gained great appreciation for the environment. I hope to incorporate what I have from Mr. Mori in my future career to promote sustainable living lifestyle.

 

Of Personal Bubbles and Pruned Bushes

A few days before I left, my brother warned me to leave behind my personal bubble, because I wouldn’t need it in Japan.  Little did I know how right he was.

Japan is cramped.  Between people being compacted into trains during rush hour to the capsule hotels to the narrow streets, it is very tight, and you don’t always have elbow room.  When we traveled out towards Kyoto, I realized that there were fields being preserved for farmland, explaining why the people in less urban areas didn’t spread out more.

However, what really surprised me was how efficiently every single space was used.  Some restaurants split their business between two floors, with one floor being the dining room, and the other floor being the kitchen, register, and waiting area.  One of the restaurants that we went to even placed their cooking area in the middle of the room, surrounded by counters where the customers sat.  And, honestly, after sharing a small room with Sasha, we realized we didn’t really need that much space to begin with.

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Because we were in many urban areas, we didn’t get much opportunity to see any parks.  The greenery that we saw was mainly confined to areas like Kinkaku-Ji.  From what we saw when we were out there, people would visit simply to enjoy the nature.  However, at the same time, this was very manufactured nature. People ensured that the trees were perfectly trimmed that no flowers were out of place on the bushes.  The nature that we experienced was very much like a garden.  Beautiful, but planned.

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Fukushima’s Future

On the first day of our trip, we were very fortunate to meet with an official of Fukushima Prefecture and learn about the current situation and the future of the Prefectural. It has almost been 2 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The disaster had caused great damage to many sectors of the Prefecture. Even after 2 years of working to recover from the disaster, Fukushima prefecture had to bear a bad reputation in its name. This might largely due to the misconception that the whole Fukushima prefecture was contaminated with radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Fukushima prefecture has an area of almost 14,000 km2, while the highly contaminated area is only 20km radius around the nuclear power plant.

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A group photo of us and the officials of Fukushima Prefecture

Nevertheless, Fukushima prefecture is working hard to recover the contaminated area and rebuild their reputation. They have many projects planned to restore the area. One worth noticing project is the promoting of renewable energy for the prefecture. They aimed to be completely independent of nuclear power and rely entirely on renewable energy source by 2040. I’m looking forward to hear more updates on this project in the next few years.

I Feel Like a Kindergartener Again…

I guess this comes across as cocky now that I’ve said it, but I was pretty confident in my Japanese abilities before I left on the trip.  I mean, I was a beginner – there was no way to deny that.  But I had my phrases memorized, and I had constantly quizzed myself on hiragana, katakana, and some kanji.  I thought that I’d be able to at least read some signs or menus, and then ask either Armstrong or Takahashi-sensei what the words actually meant.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Most of my language experiences involved me cycling through head nods, bows, “hai”‘s (“yes”‘s), and “wakarimasen”‘s (“I don’t understand”‘s).  This was mainly due to my lack of knowledge concerning kanji.  I found that meals turned into games of Russian Roulette if I didn’t ask one of the senseis what was in a certain dish.  Luckily, I only got one or two bad things (they had mayonnaise in them, yuck!).

However, my difficulty speaking the language led me to come to the realization that many of the Japanese people were in very much the same boat as me.  The hotels tended to have someone who spoke English, and a few of the more popular restaurants for tourists had English menus.  That was about it.  Despite English being a global language, it seemed that many of the Japanese people only knew a bit of it.  I believe that that shows how ingrained their language is in the Japanese people’s lives.

As for me, I’m going to devote myself to my Japanese studies and further build up my vocabulary and my knowledge of kanji.  That way when I return, I’ll actually know what I’m eating!!!

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Temples, Temples, Everywhere

One of the things that I noticed almost immediately when we got to Japan was that even amongst the sprawling cityscape, there were little traces of efforts to preserve Japan’s traditional culture.  Sasha and I were amazed to discover a little temple outside of our hotel room!

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When we were en route to Kyoto, it was really amazing to see things like this in more residential areas.  Traditional Japanese houses were mixed in with tall apartment buildings.  We saw a few more temples and shrines on our trip, including the famous Kinkaku-Ji, “The Temple of the Golden Pavillion”, and the oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-Ji.

It might be because it was around the beginning of the New Year, and it might have also been because of its status as a tourist destination, but Senso-Ji was PACKED.  Regardless of what direction we were walking in, we felt like we were salmon swimming upstream.  We saw a few women wearing their traditional kimono, and many people were rushing to wash their hands in the purification fountain near the shrine itself.

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Japan is moving forward at a rapid pace, there’s no denying that.  Technological developments such as faster shinkansens and robots that can perform different tasks are coming from Japan on a regular schedule.  However, I was impressed to see the efforts that have been taken to preserve temples and promote the preservation of the nation’s culture.

The Fine Art of Slurping

Some tasty noodles with fresh veggies and a fish cake. Yum!

Some tasty noodles with fresh veggies and a fish cake. Yum!

             I was aware before coming to Japan that noodles were a staple food source here, but my previous conception of what noodles are has been completely dispensed of.  Noodles are not served as pasta, nor are they some plain and boring affair simply served beneath the main dish or on the side to provide carbs; noodles here are served in a variety of broths with a mix of veggies and sometimes meats.  It is best likened to chicken noodle soup, but with a much more intriguing mix of flavors and textures provided by all the seasonings, somewhat chewy seaweeds or greens, crunchy stalk vegetables, and of course the soft noodles themselves.  These noodle soups do have one thing in common with all other noodles dishes though; you can’t fit their expansive lengths in your mouth, so you are left with slimy tentacles plastered to your chin. Fortunately, in Japan, the age old dilemma of whether to awkwardly chew off the ends of the pasta or suck them up and sound like a dying vacuum cleaner has been decided for me!  In fact, enthusiastic animal noises while eating your noodles are considered a sign of appreciation and it is rude not to make them!

            Despite manners no longer inconveniencing my noodle consumption, this noisy technique is not without its pitfalls.  Over-aggressive slurping can turn your eating companions into a confectionary splatter painting, while too much caution can result in an wholly underwhelming performance.  I have thus decided to describe a few different strategies for producing appropriate slurping noises without creating the messy catastrophes that likely prompted the Western ban on such.

We all sit down to some noodles at a temple. Not some expert use of chopsticks in preparation for slurpage.

We all sit down to some noodles at a temple. Note some expert use of chopsticks in preparation for slurpage.

            First, simply drinking the simple act of drinking broth straight from the bowl is an easy way to produce pleasing slurping noises with minimal risk.  I think my proficiency with this technique arises from years of not so subtly downing all of the milk in my cereal bowls before anybody could stop me. With just a little more finesse, I can apply this to my broth drinking and effectively show my gracious host or chef that they have the best noodles this side of the Pacific (or anywhere really).  Of course, there are some pitfalls to such slurping that one must be aware of.  Multiple times now I have taken on a bit too much broth and incidentally reversed the roles of my trachea and esophagus. Don’t do this, it hurts.

            If the broth is too hot to risk pouring the whole bowl down my throat, or I am just not feeling very adventurous, it is not out of the question to use a spoon (the spoons here are much deeper and hold more liquid).  While not as dramatic, this safer approach still allows for a short slurp that gets the point across.  You really can’t go wrong with spooning.

A nice bowl of Curry Noodles.

A nice bowl of Curry Noodles.

            Of course, slurping the noodles themselves is the main event.  Mastering the art is actually fairly tricky.  Simply creating a vacuum and sucking up the noodles creates a crazy daisy situation complete with wildly thrashing noodles and showers of hot, salty broth.  On the other hand, attempting to collect the noodles into your mouth using your tongue is both slow and sadly insufficient in the slurping sound category, even with some lip-smacking accentuations.  Rather, I have found that a practiced slurper alternates between these methods to achieve the full effect whilst still maintaining some dignity.  Having figured all of this out, I believe that my noodle consumption has become an enjoyable event for everybody involved, which is good because I have eaten a lot of delicious noodles and plan to eat a lot more.

Homey Feeling in a Foreign Country

As an immigrant in the United States from India, I have had many experiences of culture shock and continue to have them. I was a ‘double foreigner’ in this new country called Japan; I was fortunate enough to have this opportunity due to a grant given from the Japan Foundation and a collaborative effort of professor Armstrong and professor Takahashi. Before going to this trip, I had a very clear image of how the culture in Japan would be. Although the real situation of Japan economy did not resemble the image in my mind, the image in mind of the culture in Japan turned out to be reality in many aspects. While I was in Japan, I felt that the Japanese culture is very close to the Indian culture.

DSCN0869 My first morning in Japan started with very delicious ginger tea, which made my day    and reminded me of chai from India. Eventually, the wending machines were like a gift from heaven to me.  They were very convenient as you are able to get hot drinks and cold drinks from the same machine including beer cans. I believe the invention of these machines must be for efficiency reason and to sustain the cultural test in today’s fast running Japan.

 

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Then we had another great cultural experience in the evening when we went to this very homey restaurant run by a very friendly couple. They both made really decent home-style food and even offered us  free soup. We were very delighted with the food and the hospitality from the couple. That is what I call traditional Japanese hospitality which I have missed at times after leaving India. I also enjoyed drinking soup through the bowl; because I am more used to of not using utensils to eat. Then, the real challenge came when I had to use the chopsticks for every meal. Using chopsticks is a very interesting tradition in Japan but I believe this tradition must be very old and started before the invention off utensils to eat. This truly is cultural sustainability.

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It seemed like that modern westernized clothing took place of the traditional Japanese clothing among the majority of Japanese people. In a huge crowd of Japanese, even in temples, it was hard to find people wearing traditional clothing. It was hard to find a place where you can buy the traditional clothing in reasonable price. This was very different than the situation in India; the traditional Indian cloths are very easy to find anywhere in India. However, the Japanese traditional clothing pattern has not been influence by the modern designs, unlike to Indian designs.