Sunday, July 24, 2011

Food in Japan: Hoto noodles

Hoto is a famous local dish in the area around Mount Fuji. It is a large bowl with meat,  noodles and vegetables. Really substantial and exactly the right dish after climbing Mount Fuji.

Found it: In a Hoto Restaurant in Kawaguchiko
Price: 1300 Yen

Food in Japan: Curry Rice on Mount Fuji

After hiking on Mount Fuji, this Curry Rice dinner was probably the best one I ever had

Found it: at 3250 meters in a mountain hut
Price: 1000 Yen

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Around my dormitory

It's almost one year since I'm in Japan now and my stay is going to end soon. I had a great time here, met awesome and wonderful people, did a research program, learned Japanese (at least a bit) and saw a lot of amazing things and marvelous places. One good point about my long stay here was that it gave me the chance, not only to see the most famous places and touristic hot spots, but also to discover the places and details a normal tourist can not focus on, because he hasn't the time.
In the next posts, I want to show you some of the daily sites I can enjoy everyday.Lets start with the area around my dormitory:
I life in Aobadai-Machida, a suburb of Tokyo. It takes about 30 min to Tokyo-Shibuya with the Den-En-Toshi-Line. As it is a commuter line, it is one of the most congested lines in Tokyo. Indeed, in the early morning and in the evening you can see how the people get pushed in the trains by the station-staff. And you can experience it by yourself. It is actually not as bad as it looks in youtube videos. Indeed, if you are not claustrophobic, it can be quite cozy ^^
And normally only the express trains are that crowded. They are quite fast (about 100 km/h) and only stop at main stations. So you need to endure it only for about 20 minutes. But don't even think about getting a seat in the train. Here you see a train of the Den-En-Toshi-Line rushing for Aobadai.

The small river below the bridge is the tsurumigawa (鶴見川), which basically means <crane-view-river>. Its a really nice area, with rice fields and farms around it, and its only 3 km from Aobadai. Cause I'm the proud owner of a bicycle since recently, I now go there quite often for jogging and taking pictures. Here's one of the tsurumigawa with an expressway access on the right side.

Unfortunately the river is straightened, but it is still a quite and relaxed place and one of these rare green oasis in this highly populated area. I'm not the only one thinking so:

And that the animal that gives the river its name: (actually, I shot this picture at another river that close to my dorm)

In fact, the area where I life offers a high variety. Most of the area is densely populated, with houses so close to each other that you could jump from roof to roof. But there are some areas, especially around such small rivers, where the area looks like it was maybe 50 years ago; rice fields scattered around small rivers and forests. The next pictures give a good impression:

I shot these pictures last year in October. The rice is already harvested and bundled and dries on the fields.This year, in May, I saw how the rice is planted:

Compared to the large agriculture machines we use in Germany, rice farming looks like hand-made business. As the fields are flooded with water, they can not be as large as corn fields and need much more maintenance. However, no herbicides are needed, because nothing is growing as fast as rice plants under this conditions. In fact, that's the main reason rice was cultivated that way.

Some farmers are using interesting methods to keep insects and vermins away, like these rotating PET-bottles:

I also saw water filled PET bottles quite often, at corners and street lamps. I couldn't imagine why, until I my tutor explained it to me:

The bottles reflect and scatter the light. This irritates cats and dogs and prevent them from marking their territory. The water is just to fixate the bottle.

As you can see on the pictures, there are also some small forests around my dormitory. They look like German forests from far, but some parts are bamboo:

So, even in a extremely densely populated area like Tokyo and it surroundings, when you look around, you can find nature, plants and even animals, like this butterfly:

or this chocolate-man:

so, lets go out and discover nature, and make pictures of it ^^

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Finally back in Tokyo Part 4 - My Comeback

The step of going back to Germany was not my final decision to skip the program. In fact, I was pretty sure to go back to Tokyo if things would start to get better. I checked the news, also the Japanese ones, every day and observed radioactivity levels in Tokyo neatly. Two weeks after my arrival in Germany, radioactivity in Tokyo was almost on its pre-quake level and the chances for another large explosion in Fukushima-Daiichi with a radioactivity release that could affect Tokyo were reasonably small. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that the crisis was way from being solved and that there was still a release, but there was not such a large blow out like it happened just after the quake. Therefore, the effect was more local and Tokyo was about 300 km away from the plant. So I booked my flight back to Tokyo, and in the second week of April, I landed in Narita, again. Of course, I was prepared to leave Tokyo quickly this time and I also prepared a water and food stock and single-use rain gear, just in case. 
I am now back in Japan for two and a half month and all in all I am glad that I made this decision. I know that the problems in Fukushima aren’t solved yet and that there is still a hypothetic chance for radioactive fallout in Tokyo, but I also know the chances this happens are really small. But power shortage is still a problem in Japan. For example, we are told not use the air conditioner in our laboratories except when really needed, especially for experiments. It will be a hot summer.
In early May, I joined a town hall meeting in the German embassy, where an expert from the German BMU (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit) offered some useful information concerning the situation in the power plant and food restriction from affected areas. Basically, outdoor-grown food from a wide area, not only in Fukushima but also from other Prefectures, is prohibited to sell. In fact, people here are understandably concerned about every food coming from the areas and many people don’t even buy food that is sure to be clean, like indoor-growing vegetables or food from areas where no radioactive material came down. Unfortunately, this makes the dificulties for the people living in the areas hit by the tsunami even bigger.
Another point he explained is that even when the cores melted because of failures in dissipating the decay heat, nuclear chain reactions were stopped due to the construction of the reactor. In fact, to provide nuclear chain reactions and get the reactor in a hypercritical stage (the normal stage for a working nuclear reactor) the fuel rods need to be arranged in a specific way and surrounded by a moderator. In case of the reactor type used in Fukushima-Daiichi, this moderator is water. So, when the water evaporates or is exchanged with boracic water or when the core melts and loses his arrangement, nuclear chain reaction stops. This does not mean that everything is fine; there is still a lot of radioactive material in the reactor. But production of new radioactive elements like Iod-131 stops. Because its half-life period is only about eight days, the amount of radioactive iod in the reactor decreases quickly. Radioactive iod can easily evaporate and be transported over large distances. Therefore, it is the major risk for radioactive contamination in Tokyo. Now, more than three month after the accident, most of the radioactive Iod-131 is already decayed. Therefore, the chances for a serious nuclear fallout in Tokyo decreased a lot and are decreasing with every day. 
We also got some useful internet-links offered, that deal with information concerning the power plant and measured data. I will close this post now with a collection of this links and links I collected to far and hope that some people might use it to inform themselves and not have to rely only on the information the media are presenting.

A page from the German GRS (Gesellschaft für Reaktorsicherheit) offering some brief information and measured data.

Another official German information page, dealing with the health risks.

The English information page of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health with measured data of the radioactivity levels in the air and in tap water in Tokyo.

Measured data for whole Japan.

The English homepage of the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

The homepage of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum. It offers some clear information but is a kind of a lobby.

A nuclear information hub maintained by the students of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). They give detailed and understandable information about the things going on in Fukushima, from the viewpoint of students who are going to work in that field.