My Thoughts on the Nuclear Incident and Energy Policy Reform

*This blog post is a serious one, so please skip it if you are expecting a fun story.

Photo from Energy Tribune

When I started this blog, I promised to talk about my perspective on Japan's changing energy policy, given the nuclear accident back in March. As many of you know, I am an energy policy expert who grew up and have work experience on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, so I was hoping to share my views not only on the accident per se but also on the handling by the media and its long-term implications.

I do however apologize to those of you who were interested in my thoughts, because I now have to refrain from talking about it on a public domain like this. Since I started working for my current employer, I am deeply and professionally involved in the ongoing energy policy reform in Japan, and the situation is becoming more and more complex and politically touchy everyday. I am excited to be a part of such historic reform, but it is also frustrating not to be able to share my thoughts.

The only thing I can say here is that a simple rule of thumb applies to energy policy: this is not a black or white issue. Every energy source has pros and cons, ranging from the cost to safety, reliability, the environment, and national security. What we need to have is the right mix of them. We are obviously not anywhere near that point, given the threats from climate change, and no one really even knows where that point is for sure.

From ancient times, the media tends to focus on very assertive, sometimes extreme views and opinions, and the experts who know the issue best often can't be so assertive that their views are buried by the media. In the time of crisis and uncertainty, such tendency only gets stronger because people want to know a simple answer. So, I would urge you to always critically and comparatively challenge what experts are saying on the media, and to be careful when they start simplifying the issue and giving you a definitive answer.


Recent Updates!

I'm sorry for not making new blog posts in the past several weeks. I wasn't too busy but thought few people reads this blog, so I wasn't really motivated to continue this blog. But I was apparently wrong! Several friends told me that they do read this blog and were disappointed to see the same old post for a month, so I decided to resume blogging!!! Let me talk about my new neighborhood today, and I will talk about my job in a week or two. ww

By now, I am settled at my new apartment in Ginza. It's actually a very good apartment built as a condominum. and I am probably very lucky to find this place at this rent. Its kitchen is however obviously too small for someone who likes to cook, and it gets a bit noisy occasionally. The apartment itself is very quiet, much quitter than my expectation, but the neighborhood gets a bit noisy on Friday nights. Surprisingly to most of my friends in Seattle, my bed time actually shifted to midnight from being "too early for a yound man", so the noise hasn't become a serious concern yet.

Since my job hasn't killed me yet, I do get to enjoy walking around my neighborhood on weekend. I live in the transition area between a VERY busy commercial area of Ginza and a VERY old area called Shintomicho (新富町). I walk through the commercial area to get to work, so unless I have something to do in Ginza, I normally head down to the old neighborhood for adventure.

There are lots of antique buildings in the neighborhood, and some of them were probably built centuries ago. Many of them have been owned and occupied by the same owners, mostly small restaurants and craftman's shops like sword shops and kimino shops. I wouldn't call the area beautiful, but it is something we need to pass onto the next generation.

After passing this neighborhood, there is the largest fish market in the world, called Tsukiji (築地). The fish market itself is for professional sellers and buyers only, but there are lots of tiny restaurants and street vendors selling fresh fish around the market. You can have a rice bowl with raw fish for reasonable price (see the picture), or you can buy a bunch of crabs, fishes, seaweeds etc at surprising price, so this is one of the must-go places in Tokyo. If you have a chance to visit Japan, please make some time to visit there!   


Election Endorsement for Washington State

It's time for election in the US. As usual, there are plenty of referendum and ballot initiatives in Washington State. Please don't read into this blog post if you are not a voter in Washington State.

If you are a Washington resident, I urge you to vote against I-1125. This initiative is aimed at preventing the state to implement variable toll on freeways such as SR-520 and I-90 bridge over Lake Washington. The toll is not only a critical source of funding to replace the 520 bridge but also a very effective tool to reduce congestion and air pollution. Although the court is likely to rule this ballot initiative as unconstitutional, it is critical as a voter to support variable toll to maintain existing infrastructure, to reduce traffic congestion, and to improve air quality. In addition, there is a secret clause in the initiative to prevent light rail from reaching Bellevue and Redmond. The expected population increase in the entire Metro area necessitates mass transit, and light rail is also an effective tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. If you think any of these are important for you, please vote no on I-1125.

In addition, for residents of Seattle, I recommend "yes" vote on Prop 1. This proposition is to enact additional vehicle license fee to fix streets of Seattle and to provide more funding to build sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit improvements. Anyone who believes Seattle needs better transportation infrastructure, ranging from pavements to sidewalks, should vote for this proposition. Critics argue that a fixed vehicle license fee like this is regressive, meaning low income residents must dedicate greater proportion of income. Although I acknowledge that it is not an ideal source of funding, it is the only funding authority given to a local municipality in Washington State. Furthermore, low-income residents typically don't have a car to start with, so they should be protected from this tax increase. This proposition is probably more like a bridge measure to fund transportation projects in Seattle until Washington State drafts a comprehensive transportation package, likely in 2012. Until then, I hope the successful passage of Prop 1 would help Seattle build better streets for every road users.


Moving to Ginza!

I just finished up the second week at my new job. The training program is quite intense, and I am doing fine, but some of my colleagues already started falling behind. They look really stressed out, and I have to wonder how long they will last...

Anyhow, I just got an apartment near my work place! It's in Ginza, which is about 15 min walk from my office. This is a great location, and it is just three blocks away from the main street of Ginza, which is like the 5th Avenue of New York. There will be shopping temptations...

The apartment itself is actually a part of a condominium. It is not large but high quality, and I am really glad that I found it at this price. I am moving to the apartment in November, so I might be able to provide a place to stay if you are visiting Tokyo, get too drunk, or miss the last train of the day!


New Job

There were lots of things in the past week, both personally (relationship problem) and professionally. I wondered which one I should write about, but I think my new job would interest you more.

My new job is at a large consulting firm. I cannot say which company I work for on a public blog, but some of you already know it. My job hasn't started in a meaning way because I am undergoing a six-week training, which I already feel too much and too dense. But, I've already found a bunch of unique stuff about this company, so let me list these.

  • Security: This company deals with lots of secretive information, so the security is somewhat tight. There are also sections of the company I cannot access to. This is really odd to me who have been working for very open NGOs and government.
  • Desk: There is no assigned desk, and there are a bunch of work stations. Yes, this is like a college library, and I think this is pretty unique. This means that I can stay away from my boss all day!
  • Stock: For legal issues, I cannot own stocks of companies that my company has a relationship with. I really did not know this, and this is going to create a lot of problems. Since my company has a LOT of clients, many of my stocks would have to be dealt with in coming months. Given the stock market plunge, this is the last thing I need right now... Hopefully, my company will compensate for the loss or allow me to keep them.
  • Marriage: This company pays a lot to the employees but also expects them to work a lot. It's pretty routine for many employees to work till very late at night. A rumor I heard this week is that if you don't have a girlfriend when you join the company, you cannot get married unless you leave the company. This is the last thing I need, and I really want to get married in a couple of years... Hopefully this is a bad joke.


Visiting Miyako

I visited the city of Miyako, which was heavily damaged by the March tsunami. My mother is from Morioka, an inland city near Miyako, but I also have a few relatives who lost their lives from the tsunami. The purpose of the trip was to see the recovery efforts with my eyes and spend some cash for the tourist industry there.

I got to Morioka first, and I was actually surprised by the fact that everything seemed pretty normal. Most buildings damaged by the earthquake were already repaired, except the one across my grandparents' home. My grandparents are 88 and 86, and they also looked perfectly healthy, still riding bicycle and taking care of themselves.

On the next day, I made a day trip to Miyako. I was trying to take a train to get there from Morioka but took a 2-hour bus for schedule reason. I think it was the longest bus ride on a fixed-route local bus. Anyhow, when I got to the city, I was glad to see the city center looking perfectly normal. I almost thought it was one of those media's exaggerations to draw more viewers and readers.

But I was of course wrong. I took another bus, short one this time, to see the coastal area and visit a sightseeing spot by the area. The scene was quite horrifying, even after seeing pictures and videos of these areas. The residential area was completely wiped, and there weren't any construction workers in the area to rebuilt this area. And then, I recalled that the government is restricting the redevelopment of this area because some argue that they should rather relocate the whole community to higher ground. What do you think? I would actually disagree; it was one-in-one-thousand-year disaster. These residents are mostly fisher men (some women too) and they can't live that far away from their livelihood. The better solution in my view is to have mandatory evacuation drill frequently and make people used to such situation.

After going through such thought, I took a tiny boat to see the area from the sea. The picture shown above is the ticket for it; it is not just a ticket but the one who survived the tsunami. The whole administration building was swallowed by the tsunami, but the tickets somehow remained usable. All the boats at the dock were taken by the tsunami, but the owner/navigator said these tickets gave him determination to rebuild his business. I talked to the owner/navigator a lot, and it was actually scary to see him talking as if the town is really fine now. Maybe, that's the only way to keep going every day.

Through this trip, I realized that TVs and the Internet can tell so little things. It was great to talk to the owner/navigator of the little boating business and see his determination to rebuild everything from his town to little business. I would urge you to visit the town if you have a chance.



New Blog!

I've been reading Angie's blog for a while, and I feel like starting my own blog! It is also my birthday today, so is a good time to launch this blog!

This blog will feature my own thoughts on a variety of issues, ranging from my personal matters to social/economic/political/ issues on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. I will update this blog, say, once a week, but the frequency might become less when I get busy! Excuse me for little grammatical errors, please don't write crazy stuff on the comment thread!!!!!

The first topic is what I think about being back in Tokyo after spending six years in Seattle, and some more personal updates.

1. Weather: Seattle's climate is one of the best in the world. Seattleites need to stop complaining about the rain! Tokyo has been VERY humid, and now typhoon! My cat has been lying up side down on the floor, but now he is scared and hiding somewhere in the house...

2. Earthquake: I don't really see much of damage in Tokyo. Actually, I should say none, at least my parents' house. But, there are still lots of small aftershocks, even after six months have passed. It seems most people are used to them, but after spending six years in earthquake-less Seattle, I get a little scared.

3. Energy Crisis: As most of you know, even those of you in Seattle, there are still calls for massive energy conservation campaign in response to the nuclear incident. I am actually in favor of nuclear energy, or I should say, after studying energy policy at grad school and working for the Washington State Energy Office, I realize that we just can't live without it. I will talk about this in detail in coming weeks.

4. Reunion: I am meeting with my classmates from middle school. I haven't seen most of them since high school, so I am excited (!) but a little scared too.

5. Angie: I visited Angie, who is going through chemotherapy in Tsukuba, with Yukari last weekend. She looked fine, much better than I had expected, and looked less like a cat. I hope she will be free from it soon!

6. Trip: I am traveling to Morioka, where my grandparents live, and Miyako, a city near (not really) Morioka who was devastated by tsunami. I've been to Miyako once a few years, so I am hoping to see a sign of recovery from it. My next post will be on this visit.