Thoughts on Nuclear Issues in Japan

I read an article in the Japan Times called “Government, Tepco again hit for nuke crisis” last night. As I enjoyed the electricity fueling the laptop that allowed to read said article, feeling refreshed from the hot shower (hot water provided by Tepco’s natural gas), and able to to cook myself a light snack (once again, Tepco fueled), I started thinking about this whole nuclear crisis issue.

The government panel sent in to investigate the nuclear crisis that occurred at Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant concluded the disaster was “man-made,” which is interesting considering that it wasn’t. There was an earthquake the likes of which had not been experienced within three generations’ lifetimes and then a tsunami that absolutely decimated a portion of Japan. Yet, somehow, the disaster was “man-made.”

According to the panel’s findings, “Because the government and the power utilities, including Tepco, were biased by the safety myth, thinking they would never ever face such a serious accident, they were unable to realize that such a crisis could occur in reality. This appears to be the fundamental problem.” In short, the people at government and Tepco failed to predict the future, thus it was “man-made.” What?!

To be fair, the article does talk about other reasons. “The panel also faulted Tepco for not preparing sufficient tsunami defenses and said it lobbied the government to not impose stricter safety guidelines, and said nuclear regulators were also to blame for not requiring the utility to better gird for natural disasters.” Lobbied the government? That’s a nice way to put it.

Japan’s government, unfortunately, is practically owned by Tepco. Notice how both of these entities are doing down together. The awful fact is Tepco essentially makes the money for the government. Everybody on my side of Japan pays Tepco for just about all utilities, whether directly or indirectly. That’s just how it is. Most of Tepco’s money goes to the government. Therefore, Tepco gets to pretty much decide what the safety regulations are. There’s no “checks and balance” system over here. It’s Tepco’s way or the highway.

And now, people are all up in arms, talking about how bad Tepco is and how bad nuclear power is. I hate to break it to Japanese people but they’re not synonymous. The government has the power to seize the day and take control. Japan could live in a world wherein the government has complete control over this stuff, and it should. Putting so much control in the hands of a corporation when hundreds of thousands of citizens lives are involved, needless to say, is not a good idea. Corporations generally don’t have a great track record of looking out for people. They are great about making money, but awful about taking care of people.

When I came to Japan in July of 2011, so many people asked me if I was scared of nuclear radiation and nuclear power plants. The quick answer is “No and no.” However, the more complicated response is something along the lines of, “No, I’m not scared of invisible radioactive particles because radioactivity is not high in my area. No, I’m not scared of nuclear power plants themselves, I’m scared of the government not doing its job.” People in Japan were quick to point at nuclear power and go, “Abunai! Abunaideshou! Dangerous! Dangerous!” Well, I think they could be safe, if the government is willing to get on top of it.

Now, nuclear plants can be dangerous. After all, if the conditions are just right, they can explode. If they explode, people die and people get sick and die. It’s an awful catastrophe. Yet, well regulated, safety checked, often updated, and often safety drilled nuclear plants are not so dangerous. The problem is that stuff costs money. All too often, governments and corporations cut corners. Safety checks decrease, regulation and maintenance gets put off until the next fiscal year, and then we’ve got ourselves a dangerous nuclear plant.

The problem with Japan is that if the nuclear plant had in fact gone supernova, the size of the possible fallout could have basically destroyed the Eastern side of Japan’s mainland, which includes the Kanto region I live in now.  When it comes to the danger, the fact is Japan is too small to handle a nuclear fallout of that magnitude. It is unimaginable how long it would take to recover from something like that in Japan. The death toll would have been higher than high, and not because people didn’t evacuate, it’s because there’s nowhere to evacuate. It’s an island country. There’s only so much space to flee in Japan, and it’s not much.

People are now all for the shutting down of the nuclear plants for the very reasons I just mentioned, but also what if another earthquake happens and it’s worse? What if the tsunami is bigger? Things could get awfully ugly very quickly. However, people have been quick to give opinions, point fingers, argue over facts and stats, but the real issue is finding a solution. If you’re going to demand change to solve a problem, there should be a solution somewhere in there.

What’s the solution?

In my opinion, Japan would be an awesome pioneer as the first country to run completely on renewable energy.

If the government gets smart, it will realize that it should look at all the other alternatives that are readily available. For example, geothermal energy. Remember how Japan has earthquakes? Did you know Japan also has like hundreds of hot springs? Japan could easily run on geothermal energy and become ridiculously self-sufficient in a way that would make other countries look barbaric in comparison. Did you know Iceland basically runs on geothermal? Did you know Japanese scientists helped make that happen? Yeah.

There is absolutely no reason that Japan should have to depend on nuclear energy. Yet, it does, because a greedy corporation wants money. I think that it’s time to shut it down, not because of the “danger” or because of our incapability to predict the future, but because it’s just unnecessary to the extreme.

Unfortunately, the fact is so long as Tepco’s around it will have the government in a choke-hold and refuse to let go (You know, like the mafia and the police way back when in America). It will not deviate from the nuclear power plants because it’s making all the money, and so Tepco pretty much will just wait out the public until it shuts up and then resume business as usual.

I would imagine The Diet and the panel would simply say, “more efforts are needed” and leave it at that. And that’s how I have to leave it, because I’m not in charge.

Some Goods News: A Small Rant (Not so much cursing this time)

Well, I discovered today that brave Savannah Dietrich will not be held in contempt. When I saw The Courier-Journal of Louisville, KY reported “Contempt motion withdrawn for assault victim Savannah Dietrich,” I could’ve sworn I heard the halleluiah choir singing from the heavens. At last, some sense of justice has prevailed!

And yet, as I read through the reasoning behind the withdraw, I felt a little pissed off.  On of the attacker’s attorney,  David Mejia, said in an interview, “What could contempt do now?” adding that the boys’ names have already been circulated far beyond the original tweet. “Seems like a rather useless exercise doesn’t it?” Well, yes, but it was also a dick move on your part, Mr. Mejia, but I suppose a man who protects the “good ol’ boys” wouldn’t really care about some girl’s rights when it comes to having pictures passed around about her fucking rape. God forbid the boys names are slandered!

The names of the boys, by the way, are not released to the general public because they’re minors. However, several videos on YouTube, White Knight/ Black Knight forums on various sites, and a whole bunch of other tweets claim to know who the boys are. I find this a little dangerous to spread around. It’s not because I don’t want to see those two asshats get their names smeared, but I will say that I don’t think people should take justice into their own hands and go vigilante on them. I’ve already heard talk about various people determined to make those boys’ lives living hell in return for what he did to Savannah. While one side of me cheers, the more logical side of me realizes that hurting the boys won’t do anything in terms of getting Savannah justice.

Instead, what I want to see is some new legislation put into effect. I want to see more laws that protect the victim’s rights, laws that would trump a ruling like Judge McDonald’s. After I simmered down from the earlier rant, I felt a cold chill when I realized that this gag order could happen to any victim of rape and assault. There’s nothing to protect victims from a gag order like that, and honestly, I don’t know if it’s happened before because the victims are silenced.

I still want to hear from Judge McDonald on the reasoning behind the asinine decision to silence a victim of rape and call that justice. So far, I hear only silence. What’s wrong, McDonald? You’re not afraid to speak up and pick on 17 year old rape victims when no one knows about it, but now that there’s some attention called to your decision you go all quiet? Asshole.

I am glad the motion was withdrawn, and I am extremely happy that Savannah will never have to serve jail time for standing her ground. At the same time, I feel like this battle is only half-way over. The war is getting to  a day when all victims of assault- be they women or men, children or adults- can break the silence without fear of backlash. A day when they can face their attackers and get justice instead of shame. I want to see a world that blames the attacker first, victim second. Until that day comes, we haven’t won.

But today, Savannah wins, and that is one victory I cherish.

 

Where our legal system still goes wrong: A Rant (Warning! Copious amounts of cursing)

I read an article tonight about an unfortunately fucking awful situation unfolding in my home state, Kentucky. In the article “Savannah Dietrich, 17-Year-Old Sexual Assault Victim, Faces Charge For Naming Attackers” on Huffington Post, I discovered that this brave girl was put under a gag order by the oh-so “honorable” Judge Dee McDonald to not talk about what happened in court or the crime itself.

What was the crime? Savannah was sexually assaulted. Two boys she knew assaulted her, and somehow pictures were taken of her assault and then shared! Savannah was quoted saying, “For months, I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t go out in public places…You just sit there and wonder, who saw (the pictures), who knows?” She dared to defy the gag order (you go girl!) and tweet about what happened and release the names of the two boys.

There are many reason this case pisses me the fuck off. Firstly, how the hell is it alright for those two boys to pass around her assault pictures, showing exactly what happened to her, but the girl is not allowed to tweet their fucking names? The answer is simple: NO, IT’S NOT FUCKING OKAY AND IT’S NOT FUCKING JUSTICE!

These boys violated her body and then violated her privacy by showing those goddamned photos. Not only should she be allowed to tweet their names, but please, by all means, show a mugshot of the assholes! They deserve no less.

Next, what the fuck Judge McDonald? A gag order? As if it’s hard enough for victims of sexual abuse and assault to come forward, now we’re going to silence them after the fact? And for what? To protect two shitheads that will most likely commit another sexual offense in the future? Are you fucking kidding me?

When I saw that my hero Savannah was told to not talk about the crime, I saw red. A vital part of the fucking healing process of rape is motherfucking talking about it! To deny her that right denies her the ability to heal from this experience. Also, silencing her prevents her from helping other woman who’ve been involved in a rape. If she so chose to share her experience with others, she could get jailed for it when all she wants to do is help another victim. What kind of message does that send? Talk and you will be the one in trouble.

And here’s my final word: How the fuck is it that we supposedly live in an “enlightened” modern world with all in equality YET bullshit like this is still fucking happening?

One would think that after the Sandunsky trial we would’ve learned something. Silence does not solve the fucking problem! It creates more victims, it creates shame, and it prevents justice from being done. When the legal system demands that silence, where can victims go for justice?

To Savannah, I admire your bravery. Thank you for breaking the silence. I’m on your side.

Fuck the Silence.

My Lolita Adventure!

It was a fine three day weekend. I started it off by heading up to Katsuta to have some fun with a few friends, one of whom will be leaving shortly to return to America. He’s the one with the ginger beard below.

You shall be missed, King Jason.

I had an excellent time drinking beer and eating a “chicken fajita” at the Katsuta Duck. I received fantastic news that night from Shayla about a new Sailor Moon anime that will be coming out possibly within the next year or two. I did my little otaku squeal of joy and now I’m avidly reading through the anime forums for any talk about it. So stoked!

The following Monday, I had the day off. I made a date with Kriss, a wonderful friend and highly knowledgeable about Lolita, to go into Harajuku and/or Shinjuku to see about a Lolita outfit.

I’m nearly a complete Lolita n00b. I know not the best designers from the chumps. To me, Lolita looks pretty. That’s about it. Kriss happily told me he’d be my guide through this land of fabric dreams made real.

Mother of Fantasy!

Kris and I met at Harajuku Station. From there, we walked down a road looking at people in a variety of lace, ribbon, and poofy skirts. We went into several small shops, and most of which didn’t allow for pictures inside.

Kris Leading Me into PopLand

I highly recommend this store! Pop Land has many, many reasonably priced Goth-Punk and Lolita outfits. Also, killer accessories!

Of course, I ignored this rule for the most part and took pictures anyway. I lost count of how many stores we went into all together, but they all made me feel so happy. Kriss has officially got me hooked, and I need more, more, MORE!

I want the one on the right so bad. I love the black/white maid looking outfits the best!

The store I ended up buying my outfit in was called Putumayo. It’s Kriss’ favorite store, and I can see why.

I found Lolita Wonderland!

I intended to buy something on sale. That day was a holiday and nearly every store had 50% to 70% off most items. I promptly turned to the new section and fell in love with a dress that cost about 13,500 yen. I tried it on and it not only fit but actually looked good on me. Fully sold on the dress, the adorable saleslady was very helpful in destroying the remnants of my money with a small hat with a white rabbit attached and a white blouse to go underneath.

And that’s how I ended up with this number:

I’m ready for my Un-Birthday Party!

I ended up getting the necklaces with clubs and spades at Pop Land for much cheaper, but the majority of the outfit came from Putumayo. I love both stores and I’m going back with Kriss in the near future.

I love you, Harajuku!

What I Love (and What I Loathe) at My Schools

When it comes to my schools, I’ve got certain obligations I love and some that I don’t. All too often I’ll find myself ecstatic about one aspect of my job, but in another feel almost sickened about what I have to do. Here are two of the things I love about my job and two things I utterly despise.

I Love Getting Creative

One of my JTEs came up and requested an English Board for Itako 2nd. I accepted the challenge because I’d heard that English Boards were fun to make. However, I had no earthly clue how to make one at first. I researched a little online and figured out the basic idea.

Places like Englipedia are great for start-up ideas like English Boards and English Clubs. Also, Englipedia has activities and lesson plans that go along with the textbooks, so it really helps to make an ALT’s life much easier for last minute lesson plans. I highly recommend the site for ALTs in Japan.

Next, for my English Board I made up rough drafts of different designs and started getting translations for the various topics I wanted. It ended up looking like this:

English Board

My students liked the comic and pretty much ignored the rest. Jerks.

My JTEs seemed to like it and I’ve been requested to make more. I’m going to try in the next year to make one for both schools (with basically the same stuff) every month. I was glad I was given an opportunity to do something a little more artistic. Hopefully, the opportunities will keep coming. Also, I hope that I will eventually stop using blue as my default background color.

For my next trick, I got asked to do a poster for the top ten students who did well on a cultural assignment. Basically, the 3rd Years had to write a small essay about Japanese culture. I picked out the ones who used the best English and made this one:

Neat Fact: Tabs in Japan are called "Pops"

The Top 10 have won a place in the hall!

Sidenote: I got a small cultural lesson with this poster. My JTE asked me to make “Pops” to go along with the poster. I responded with a confused, “Pops?” and he explained that it’s something that goes along the side, one word, and helps people understand things fast. I realized he was talking about Tabs or Labels. I told him, “Oh! You mean Tabs or Labels.” and now we know. And knowing is half the battle!

Anyway, I was surprised at how well my students did on their small essays. Not to mention their drawings were actually pretty good. And that brings me to the next thing I love.

My Students are Awesome!

My students are so creative, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. When I see drawings of girl’s underwear I’m not so thrilled, but some of my kids can make mangaka look like amateurs. I hope that my kids will be happy with what I’ve made. They seem to be happy with English.

Chairs in the Courtyard

I had nothing to do with this, I swear! They did it all on their own.

They love talking to me, even if we don’t understand anything that anyone is saying. I love that they try. I know there are students out there that will make life a living hell for their ALTs just because the ALTs are foreign. My kids won’t shut up about how “cute” I am, which in turn makes me blush, which in turn makes them giggle.

I often get “jokes” that I don’t understand, but they’re in English so apparently I’m supposed to understand. For example, I was walking along the 2nd Years hall at Hinode JHS and a group of boys asked me, “Jessica-sensei! What time is it?”

I smiled and said, “It’s 1:15.”

They laughed and said, “Ok, ok. I go to Mexico for fried potato. Ok?”

I shrugged, “Ok. Do you know how to get to Mexico?”

“No, no, no! Balls not for sale!”

I had no response for that other than suppressed laughter. Seriously, my kids can make my day bright even in the cold, rainy winter.

But there are some things that make my day turn into abysmal misfortunes.

Not a Fan of The School Lunch

I only actually like one school lunch and that’s curry and rice. The others are only tolerable at best. The problem is two fold: 1) the food is usually lukewarm and 2) it’s usually got tofu in it, and I hate tofu hardcore.

Here’s what a stereotypical Japanese JHS school lunch looks like:

Please, sir, may I have some more?

I never thought I’d look back to middle school and think, “You know what? School lunch was delicious. I should have savored that PB&J!”

Basically, you get a carton of milk, which is fine. Usually, there’s some rice or noodles or bread in the big portion of the tray. Then, there’s some kind of odd soup/stew thing that contains a whole bunch of veggies and meat that might be good for you in a parallel universe but the fact is they’ve been soaked in broth/grease so no, no they’re not. The meat portion contains fish the majority of the time, and usually it’s near flavorless or soaked in some kind of sauce/ jelly that looks…less than appetizing. The cold veggies off to the top left are alright, unless they’re full of pickles. I hate pickles, and for some reason, they’re in a lot of lunches here.

It sucks sometimes when I get a lunch and basically it’s half tofu and half pickles. I have to force myself to eat, and it feels like a battle with my taste buds. On top of that, if I’m supposed to eat with the kids I have to shovel down all of my food so that they will eat, too. If I don’t eat, they tend not to eat either. All the while I’m smiling and pretending to have a good time, while internally I’m grossed out and praying nothing goes horribly awry later.

You see, my stomach gets pissed off every so often from one lunch or another, too. I don’t have the heart to tell my school that I play lunch roulette and that maybe one out of four lunches will make me sick. I’ll never know which ones will cause the problem, so I can’t prevent it unless I don’t eat the school lunch period. However, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I suffer in silence on this one.

However, for the last one, I’m pretty sure everyone over here knows how I feel.

I will Always and Forever Hate the F#@*ing Textbooks

I have the oh-so “wonderful” textbooks called New Horizon.

It's ALL WRONG!

The three reasons I could never be a full time English teacher in Japan.

My JTEs are awesome people. They work hard and Lord knows they’re trying their best with what they’ve got, but the curriculum they’re forced to teach is just atrocious. These textbooks are essentially used all too often as a JTE’s English Bible. They teach in order exactly what the textbook says to teach in this order. If they don’t, then the kids could fail a portion of the test because the tests reflect the textbooks, and it ends up being one vicious cycle.

There’s some bad English in these textbooks. For example, in the 1st Year book we get a skit with Kevin and Sakura talking about the weather. Kevin says, “How’s the weather?” and then Sakura says, “It’s cloudy. But OK.” No, Sakura, that’s bad. Say, “It’s cloudy, but that’s OK.” or “It’s cloudy, but it’s OK.” However, it’s something kind of small and I can just forgive it and move on.

Then, I have to watch as the student’s write down the sentences directly from the book over and over and over again. The book is littered with bad grammar, awkward sentence structures, and etc. I watch in horror sometimes when I see something blatantly wrong get taught and then gets repeatedly written down. Once or twice I’ve tried to tell a teacher how wrong something is, but I usually just get kind of patronizingly told that it’s fine.

On top of that, the students learn little to nothing about any English speaking countries or cultures. Every so often I’ll get something mentioned in class about living in America and what we do, but the textbooks (the Bibles as you will recall) take place in motherf@#!ing Japan. I end up saying idiotic stuff like, “I have natto for breakfast.” and “My favorite was Kinkaku-ji.” (I was told for this one that shrine is too difficulte for JHS students) and read stories about Japanese singers. The stories usually involve a Japanese cultural lesson in English,or make it so the ALT feels like a horrid person for being American.

For example, “A Mother’s Lullaby” is a story about how a tree recalls how the U.S. attacked Hiroshima and a little girl sings a lullaby to a little boy as he dies in her arms. She dies too, of course, and the ruins of Hiroshima are shown in all their glory. Meanwhile, an American ALT is standing at the front, reciting this story and feeling awkward. Some ALTs can get through it just fine, others request that they not be there for the lesson entirely, and then there’s people like me who just survive the experience.

Essentially, the textbooks themselves are designed to make kids learn English but essentially just keep learning about Japan from a limited Japanese perspective. We don’t talk about Pearl Harbor when we have to do “A Mother’s Lullaby” or the Nanking Massacre. We just get the A-bomb drop and nothing else.

When I studied French in middle school, German in high school, and then German again in college, I was learning the language and culture all in one. I learned about French artists, different parts of France, what a German breakfast looks like, how German and French students go to school, and never once did I see anything to do with America. When I was in my foreign language classes, I watched foreign language movies and had to do small reports about the movies in that language.

I do the best when I can, but trying to fight against the system does no good. I’ve just had to learn to force myself to not go crazy about it and just do my job. Still, a lesson from the textbook can make me feel utterly useless, enraged, and sickened all at once.

In the end, the good does outweigh the bad. As I said before, my kids are great and my JTEs and other co-workers are hard workers. I love getting out of bed in the morning and going to work, which I don’t think everybody can say. I want to keep doing this for another two years, and hopefully become a better teacher as time goes on.

A Letter to the Girls

Dear Junior High School Girls,

My heart broke yesterday.

I had to mark off some things in your notebooks. The English was correct, but the words were wrong. When I walked by your desks, I read your homework. It was a simple assignment: Sports are __________. I am __________. You filled in the blanks.

Sports are tired. Sports are cool. Sports are not cool…

I am not cute. I am not pretty. I am not fun. I am not…

I took my red pen and started marking out the mistake.

I am not cute. I am not  pretty. I am not fun.

Yes, you are. You’re smart and adorable and you’re not going to be twelve forever. I told each and every one of you, “You are cute! You are pretty! You are fun!”

Each and every one of you didn’t believe me. You just smiled and turned away. I understand. I’m the teacher. I have to say things like that. My opinion doesn’t matter. You would do the same to your mom or your dad.

I had to move on to other students, to the boys that were writing “I am peaceful! I am cheerful! I am SAMURAI!” Why didn’t you write things like that? Why didn’t you write all the wonderful things you are? Why can’t you see what I see?

I look at you and I see beautiful, smart girls.  One day, you’ll grow up to be gorgeous, genius women. I hope you achieve your dreams, and that they’re everything you wanted and more. No matter what, I want you to look in the mirror and believe in the person you are.

I know it’s hard when you see your own beauty when the models on the billboards, the AKB48 girls, and all the other “role models” out there tell you “Beauty is a size 0 and plastic surgery.” There’s so many industries out there designing advertisements, songs, and movies to make you hate yourself, but don’t listen to the lies.

The fact is, in both America and Japan, women are beautiful no matter what shape or size. You are beautiful just the way you are. I’m sorry I can’t make you see that. I hope one day you’ll see it for yourselves.

Lots of love from your ALT,

Jessica

I Am Poem

I am in love with language and the beauty of words.
I wonder what my friends see in me.
I hear “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
I see something with 漢字 on it.
I want to be a better teacher.

I am addicted to chocolate and books.

I pretend that I’m brave.
I feel inspired, but unable to sing.
I touch my warm coffee cup (half-empty).
I worry that I’ll never get past the barriers all around me.
I cry sometimes when Japan rejects me.
I am in love with language and the beauty of words.

I understand that I’m not alone.
I say がんばります!
I dream to finish the novels I love to write.
I try to make the people I love proud.
I hope my voice gets stronger than yesterday.
I am in love with language and the beauty of words.