Five Things

For the first time in almost a month the family and I spent time with people who live in a different house; Reiko’s parents. We all enjoyed a couple of hours in a park with several dozen other families, though at a distance. Since the boy was pulled out of kindergarten for the last week of February we’ve been pretty much isolated from the world. Sure, neighbours will say hello, but we don’t stand around and chat anymore. When we’re out for a walk or a bike ride, we keep to ourselves. When I’m out in the park by myself, I’m allowed slightly more space from people who might otherwise walk past in closer proximity. While I’m plenty accustomed to feeling isolated and alone in a country of 127-million, this additional layer of segregation is not at all pleasant.

Societal partitioning aside, the family is physically healthy and enjoying some of the warmer temperatures. So, without further delay, it’s time for another Five Things post.

Parents of Young Kids Have Given Up

We’ve been to a number of large parks this past week looking for a place where the boy can burn off some of his energy while also spending time outside and, at every location, it seemed the boy was the only person under the age of 25 that was wearing a mask. Even a large percentage of the parents out with their kids were without masks, which struck me as interesting. That said, a number of conversations that I’ve overheard recently boil down to this lamentation:

Kids are less susceptible to the virus and ill be damned if my children spend every day inside the house and playing video games.

Advice from medical experts be darned, parents will let their kids out of the house just so they can be out of the house. Reiko has tried for weeks to help the boy stay entertained and engaged since leaving school a month ago, but it hasn’t been easy.

Malls Are Still Crowded

This one strikes me as odd given the tone, pitch, and intensity of the news this past year. I had figured that the malls would all be ghost towns by now but, driving past, the endless sea of vehicles shows that many people will continue to shop inside enclosed buildings with recirculated air. Pachinko parlours are seeing similar situations, likely as the result of an incredibly bored population.

Franchise Restaurants are Busy, Independents Are Not

While it’s true that people need to eat, I was expecting that restaurants would shut down or switch to “drive-thru-only” service methods as a result of the government’s recommendation to have no more than one seat at a table. Instead, it seems that chains are as busy as ever while the independent shops are shuttering their windows. A couple of mom & pop shops around here have decided to simply shut down permanently, likely due to the week-by-week revenue nature of restaurants.

Schools Are Expected to Open in April

Spring marks the start of a new school year with millions of young people getting back to their studies in the first or second week of April. There was talk that the education ministry might push back the start of the next semester to June or July then cancel the summer break, but this seems to have been kiboshed for reasons unknown. As of this evening, kids are expected to get back to school in two to three weeks. Reiko and I are not yet certain about what we’ll do about the boy’s classes, given that he’s in kindergarten and not one of the higher grades where attendance is a legal requirement1?

”Everybody” Wants the Olympics Postponed … Except the Government and IOC

Every news program has yet another sporting team, domestic or foreign, demanding this years Olympic summer games be postponed until the autumn or some time in 2021. The Japanese government is loathe to do this for financial reasons and the IOC is loathe to do this because money, money, money, money. Regardless of what happens, the people of Japan will be paying for these damned games until 2050.

Hopefully the summer heat and humidity will slow the Chinese virus.

  1. Home schooling is certainly an option for some parents. The amount of paperwork the government demands for this is incredible excessive, though.

No Joy for 2020

After several failed attempts, Tokyo has finally secured the opportunity to host an Olympiad. In seven years time, the massive city will welcome several thousand athletes, hundreds of thousands of visiting guests, and a whole lot of foreign money for the month-long games. The amount of effort that went into this campaign was beyond expectation and unparalleled in its coordination. Congratulations to the thousands of people who worked so hard to make this bid a successful one. That aside, I am not looking forward to the games one bit.

When I moved to Vancouver in 2002, the city was in the midst of its bid for the 2010 games. They succeeded, beating out several other cities that would have been excellent hosts. In the four years that followed it seemed the whole city underwent a serious makeover to prepare itself. The advertising was everywhere. There was no escape from seeing the five rings and hearing of money-grabs as businesses did everything they could to cash in on the event. I remember distinctly the surprise of seeing my weekly grocery bill jump from $38 to $43 in the space of a week … just because the Olympics were coming to town. Everything became more expensive overnight, and the Vancouver 2010 marketing machine went into overdrive to build excitement and anticipation of the four weeks in February when the city would be inundated with travellers.

The city today is still as beautiful as it was when I moved there a decade ago, but it's much more expensive for everyone who calls it "home". There likely will not be any price corrections in the over-inflated real estate market anytime soon, either. The city is not like it was in the mid-80s. It's a big player, now.

Tokyo is different. Having hosted the games once already, and being the capital of this industrious nation, the citizens of Tokyo will likely not see many noticeable price increases. What they will see, however, is a city that will undergo the same sorts of changes that many Olympic cities receive. Old buildings will be demolished to make way for cleaner, newer ones. Homeless people and other social deviants will be moved away from places where they might be spotted. Train stations will be scrubbed down and fitted with guard rails to prevent people from accidentally falling in front of a steel horse. All in all, the facelift will be positive for people who live, work, and go sightseeing in Tokyo. What could possibly be so bad about Tokyo having the Olympic games?

The Lies

Yes, the lies. The media blackouts regarding radioactive contamination of food products are still in effect. While a good portion of what is grown this year will not kill us, we have no ways of knowing what food in the grocery stores comes from the areas closest to Fukushima prefecture. Anything grown in the areas affected by caesium, strontium, and other dangerous elements is just marked "Grown in Japan" or "National" and left at that. Vegetables from Ibaraki, just south of the disaster area, have been sold without cease for the last two years. The government insists everything is safe, but they said the same thing about the nuclear power plant the day before admitting that it has been leaking a ridiculous amount of contaminated water into the ocean since March 12th, 2011.

The fish that swim in those waters are still sold in the local supermarkets … at discount prices!

The government is correct in saying that eating this food will not immediately kill us. The government is incorrect in saying that this food is safe for us to eat. Humans can eat pencils, but that doesn't mean we should.

With all eyes on Japan for 2020, people will be looking for guarantees that the food and water they consume are safe. For the most part, people will be perfectly fine eating anything in this country that is grown shortly before the games. Most of the dangerous stuff in the soil will have already been absorbed into the food and distributed around the country by that time. The most dangerous areas will likely lay fallow for a year or two beforehand just to be sure there are no "unfortunate" reports about food with higher-than-normal levels of harmful particles. Until then, the food inspections that were once routine will continue to trickle down to nil, and data showing any rising levels will continue to be accidentally deleted1. Just looking at how often the Japanese government rewrites recent history and rejects the counter-arguments that are documented in excruciating detail around the world is proof enough that we'll see more of the same going forward.

I love Japan and want the best for the people who call this land home. Investing ridiculous sums of money into Tokyo to host the Olympics is not in the nation's best interests. Properly dealing with the aftermath of the earthquakes and tsunami in the Tohoku region should take precedence. Properly dealing with the mess at the Fukushima nuclear power plants should take precedence. Opening a dialogue with our neighbours to resolve the ever-important matters of fishing rights and oceanic jurisdiction should take precedence.

Unfortunately the matters that should be handled by the people we elected to lead the nation are just too big and scary, so it's easier to ignore them while waving hands and making a diversion somewhere else. The Olympics are just that; a diversion. And try as I might, nothing I could ever do or say will get our politicians to sit down and responsibly set this bankrupt nation on course to be a beacon of hope in an otherwise hostile global environment.