Friday, March 25, 2011

We're about to complete on the purchase of the house!

Being in Shodoshima with my wife's family and away from the supermarket rushes, fuel shortages and uncertainty was worthwhile. Although we watched anxiously for news on Tsunami victims and the rising death toll + developments at Fukushima, we were thankful to be in a safe place that wasn't at all affected and took some time out to enjoy peaceful moonlit walks in the hills, Shodoshima village life and of course time with family & friends who had come to get away from Tokyo whilst watching the news anxiously & silently praying for all the people that were suffering terribly in the heart of the aftermath. I couldn't help comparing anguish and looking at the past to the alternative of looking positively at the future whilst watching the Japanese dust themselves off and lend a hand to one another to get back up as quickly as possible. This is of course still going on despite not being on the news in other countries as much now.

Looking forward has got to be the way ahead...

My inlaws have an old house they're planning to demolish this summer, so we've asked if we can have all the roof tiles which can be used on buildings we plan to make. I'll probably also ask for all the windows and perhaps some doors which will save more money too (Thanks for these recommendations Arnie!). So perhaps we'll be there again for Golden week. It's beautiful there that time of year.

Having read and watched various sources of news and looked at radioactivity readings from the MEXT website (Sorry, updates are Japanese only - but you can use Google translate) we learnt that Japanese sources although economic with the truth to begin with, had become more accurate than most foreign sources. Foreign news of Fukushima & Tsunami damage became over sensationalised, presumably because it sells. It served as a demonstration of how little faith we can really put into the mainstream media today, I thought...

Having looked at all the developments we decided on Monday 21st it had become safe enough to return as readings in Chiba, Tokyo & Shizuoka weren't dangerous to health, even at maximum recorded levels.
We've since also had other independent confirmations from people we know personally that have their own Geiger counters in the outskirts of the 30km exclusion zone of Fukushima.
I don't believe the authorities would falsify readings - but for our own safety have invested in a Geiger counter which I'm told is on it's way to us from the Ukrane.
We'll continue to learn whatever we can and take precautions, but my gut feeling is we over-reacted. I don't regret doing so, as we wouldn't want to risk our health - but if we were to buy this house, we needed to get back and our business also needed us to be in Shizuoka

We arrived back to Shizuoka from an overnight drive from Shodoshima in the early hours of Tuesday morning of 22nd March.
Today, being a beautiful bright day with crisp air I rode my motorcycle to Sanmu-Shi, to check on the house and make sure there had been no damage from the earthquake. I was pleased to find everything as it should be. A couple of loose things had shifted in the house and one lamp had partially fallen off it's fixing but everything else remained as before. This served as confirmation the house is strong. Even the rickety old out-buildings survived. It felt great to be there and see the garden beginning to blosom. A cherry blossom is nearly in full bloom by the Kabuki gate and there are many bulbs about to flower. The many trees were all whispering loudly in the wind. I called my wife and shared my warm feelings of being there before jumping back on the bike to continue my onward journey.

My wife got a surprise FAX this morning from our Fudo San with an invoice for 3% of the house purchase price. As this hadn't been mentioned at all before or during the provision of the contract we were both a bit alarmed, but after checking with other people who have bought used houses realised this wasn't funny business but actually normal procedure. Shogunai - Bugger!

I had an interesting conversation with Phil at lunchtime, who is an active permaculturalist in Southern Chiba and a close friend of Paul Murray who runs the Rongo backpackers and the peace project in NZ, another permaculturalist.
Phil has a young family and we shared our thoughts, learning and concerns about the still incomplete situation at Fukushima Dai Ichi. As Phil said, uncertainty sucks - but as we concluded we both agreed that a decision from the heart (To complete the purchase) was more powerful than a decision of fear (To cancel). I was already completely set on buying this property anyway, but it was good to get some of Phil's wisdom and encouragement. Later on I spoke with Arnie, our carpenter - and he's ready to get to work...

So the plan is Monday 28th March we'll finish preparing finances and Tuesday 29th we'll complete all payment for the purchase. It's a big move for us, but it feels very right now. What's life for if not fulfilling our greatest dreams. I'm looking forward to the transformation that will slowly take place piece by piece.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We haven't completed on the house purchase yet - and now I'm wondering if it would be the right thing to do. We have until the end of this month to complete - so there's still some time and we shall see.

With the earthquake shaking our world in Japan on Friday afternoon, followed by the developing difficulties at the Fukushima powerplant I can't help wondering how dire consequences for the Japanese economy can now be avoided.

In the 12 years I've been in Japan, altthough I've felt some fairly large earthquakes, none of them have been as long in duration (Close to 3 minutes in Oyama-Cho, Shizuoka), nor had anywhere near as many aftershocks (Now well over 300, when usually there's perhaps 1-4 at most).

Watching events unfold here, is very saddening. As if the earthquakes haven't caused enough grief, loss and damage... If this nuclear disaster causes a permanent & very significant health danger it might change Japan forever.

The fuel shortages continue and things are changing fast. Today we have been helping friends leave Tokyo with the loan of our remaining unused cars, organising syphoning of fuel, Yuko's been organising accomodation (Here in Shodoshima) and we're doing our best to offer assistance to those that need it. I fear things may get worse, but we're here to help - I don't see us leaving Shodoshima the time being. God bless the Japanese people.

I love this country and it's people as if it were my own. It makes me so sad to see these events unfold. We're off shortly to stock up on essentials, in case shortages stretch this far away.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fukushima Dai-Ichi Power Station.

Following the 9.0 earthquake yesterday 60km off the north eastern coast of Japan near Sendai and the resulting nuclear plant failure at Fukushima I spoke with our friend Dino, whose father is a Nuclear Physicist (PhD) & worked in the research field in Japan for many years. He’s advised Dino & friends to get as far away as possible.

Nuclear stations work like this.
Each reactor at Fukushima had a diesel generator which would have been used to control the cooling water pump – but some of the fuel tanks & engines have been damaged beyond use by the Tsunami so TEPCO staff have no way of pumping water to cool the reactor cores that went into Auto-Shutdown but still have a lot of residual heat & a fire has broken out.
Without cooling some reactor cores have been overheating and eventually superheated steam needed to be released or begin to leak. When superheated steam is released it breaks down into Hydrogen & oxygen, which is highly flamable & radioactive, albeit with a half life of around 30 seconds.
One of the reactor's roofs has already been blown off today, so now we have a fire that’s releasing at least radioactive hydrogen into the atmosphere. If there is Caesium & Iodine, these are by products of nuclear fishion which would occur in the event of partial meltdown. Click here for further explanation.
Iodine 131 has a half life of 8 days, but Caesium 137 has a half life of about 30 years and it's salts are all very soluble in water and both of these are produced in the event of a partial meltdown. The dangers of leakage as serious.

Another danger with meltdown is that the temperatures are so high, that such a fire is extremely difficult to put out. As there are 5 other reactors there’s a very good chance some of these reactors may overheat and possibly experience at least partial meltdown.

Chernobyl’s disaster caused fallout to spread very large distances because it exploded with no containment, but this is a boiling light water reactor, which is apparently never likely to explode, so the chances of particles of uranium or plutonium being released into the atmosphere are very slim...

Dino’s father has advised being a distance of at least 500km from the power station & further if possible. Mark, his family, Mike, his family and ourselves are heading to Shodoshima, leaving tonight. We'll be approx 900km away there, which is much safer. No point in taking chances.

We want to get a good head start in case they really cannot put the fire out – because once the word gets out (Media & government are being very quiet about this whole disaster – the prime minister’s speech a few mins ago basically said nothing) tommorow or so, the roads could become chaotic and this may be more dangerous than being at home. Without knowing what's in the air we don't want to be caught in rain.

At the moment the winds at the power station are offshore (Towards Hawaii) but come sunrise there's a good chance they'll turn in another direction.

Our prayers are with all in Japan.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The purchase is due to complete at the end of March and interesting pathways to knowledge have continued to present themselves.

2 weeks ago I met Aaron, who is an experienced carpenter friend of Mark's.
We spent an entire morning in his workshop looking at woodwork machine tools where I learnt what a router is, why wood warps, how soft Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria) is and why it's not good for flooring but is useful for building structures and cladding (Insects don't like eating it!), how stained wood can be matched and much more. Exciting stuff to learn how stuff is done - especially being taught by the very person who will be working on our new house!

At lunch time, we drove to the house so Aaron could take a look at the property and I could bounce my ideas off him...

Just after we arrived, a red Honda Fit pulled up on the drive and an inquisitive Japanese man wanted to know what we were doing there. After politely explaining I'd bought the house, he revealed that he was a retired policeman and wanted to check we weren't Yakuza...

Yakuza? - What was he saying? Slightly alarmed, I enquired why he'd think that - and he explained that the abandoned house next door had a debt to the Yakuza from a long time before (9 years) and he wanted to be sure they weren't up to no good with this property. He did assure us there was no problem with the property legally and that the Mafia has no claim on it, but I wasn't sure we could trust him. Eventually, satisfied we were who we said we were, he left.

Aaron & I then looked at the house. We found some woodworm on one of the beams which would need repair and looked at other work we planned, so we could begin to work out material costs. The plan began to hatch - where we'd have the floors re-done with wood boards on all rooms currently covered by tatami, replace ceilings on two rooms (To make the lounge), have the electricity meter moved to the North wall and increase power to 75 Amps, build two wardrobes, repair walls where there are cracks and re-wire before moving in. The wiring could go under the house, so that fitment of wall / floor plug sockets would be as unobtrusive as possible. Aaron wasn't as enthusiastic as me about the trees on the property, because Sugi can take a long time to dry but then again he's quite a calm person. I did feel a sense we'd found the right man for the job, so a good day spent.

After returning to Oyumino where I'd be staying the night at Mark's house, I couldn't help be concerned about the chance meeting with the retired policeman. What it he was involved with the Yakuza? I tossed an turned in the bed that night wondering...and made up my mind Yuko & I would go to the land registry office the following week and check who owned the properties around us and what the histories were, in addition to checking our land's registry details were all correct.

So last Tuesday that's exactly what we did on our way to Mark's place where we'd spend the next 3 days as I had work to get through in Chiba for business that week.

We were joined by Hiromi, a neighbour we've befriended who has about 30 cats, 5 dogs, is half Italian American and half Japanese but has forgotten how to speak English. She was curious to know if the Yakuza has any stake on the farm land surrounding her house. After spending 90 minutes there learning who owns what and the histories of debt on properties, etc. we learnt that the land of the house next door had a small debt secured against it 9 years ago and the house on the property is still owned by some distant relatives of the couple who used to own our house.
Hiromi and other neighbours knew the debt was from the owners having borrowed money to run for local elections, but had then lost. As they hadn't paid and the interest rates were high - the land is now owned by the Yakuza. But it's clear they pay no attention to it. It's one of those properties that cannot be developed that's falling apart now. Interesting to learn.

The following day, having some hours spare, we went there with our daughter, garden tools and step ladder and had fun trimming about 8 trees and realising there are far too many of them! We'll eventually remove some to make way for orchards of fruit & nuts - but for now we'll just take care of them.