Rarely used words and neologisms abound in recent Japanese news…

More than the news-fabricated fly-jin “trend”, my favourite Japanese phrase these days is 疑心暗鬼:

An idiom whose components literally translate to “fear – darkness – demons”, beautifully rendered by the Green Goddess into: “Fear peoples the darkness with monsters”…

In everyday conversation, it can be used as a synonym for “paranoia”.

I apologise for the avalanche of posts these days. I am sure you can understand why that is. I hope some are helping.

I just wrote this text to post elsewhere on the web, in response to someone due to visit Japan for some vacations in a few weeks and understandably worried about practical and ethical considerations… ‘thought it might help others too…

If you were planning to visit Japan in the near future (or if you even already arrived and were in the middle of your trip when the earthquake happened), you may naturally be inclined to cancel everything, either out of concern for your safety or out of respect for the victims of this tragedy. Should you stick to your plans and come nonetheless?

This is a difficult question…

The short answer is: yes, you should still come to Japan. Change as little as you can to your plans and have as much of a normal vacation as possible.

As for the longer answer:

While Fox News is busy repurposing Shibuya nightclubs into nuclear plants and Europeans are hoarding potassium iodide capsules, Muammar Gaddafi is leisurely clawing back Eastern Libya and killing hundreds, to the deafening sound of silence in foreign media. Unleashing unrestrained military force over his own people, he has successfully crushed his way to the gates of Benghazi and has made no secret1 of what awaits those that were foolish enough to think the West would help their fight for freedom and democracy.

Little did they know: the perspective of thousands killed at the hand of a lunatic dictator in a faraway middle-eastern country, however preventable, just doesn’t make for the same quality of frontpage fear-mongering as some good ol’ worldwide nuclear scare.

Next-day update: Turns out you can’t even count on fickle news outlets to stick to their sensationalistic headlines for more than a week… it only took a last-minute UN vote (after much waffling) and a few bomb raids on Tripoli, for Japan to be relegated to some tiny one-liner in a corner of the front-page. So apparently nuclear apocalypse just wasn’t so imminent after all.

  1. Although I cannot find back that news quote, I believe his own words were along the line of “going door-to-door, purging the region” and “enacting retribution”. []

Yesterday afternoon (JST), Professor John Beddington, Chief Scientific Officer for the UK government, officially stated that Tokyo was entirely safe from the threat of radiation, even in a worst-case scenario.

The UK embassy in Tokyo confirmed that there was no threat outside of the immediate vicinity of Fukushima.

A statement released this morning by the US embassy in tokyo agrees with the above and confirms it sees no threat beyond the 20km exclusion zone.

The French embassy in Tokyo will get back to you as soon as they stop running for their lives.

A tangential update to my previous, and much more relevant, post on the current shape of things in Japan

As any sane person would point out, now certainly isn’t the time to have a wide-scale debate about civil nuclear policies. Decade-long policies should not be decided in the middle of a day-to-day disaster…

Unfortunately, that is not how some people see it: the debate is already happening. I have no particular animosity against the die-hard anti-nuclear types1 who have seized on the occasion for their own political purpose: I know they sincerely mean well2. But I do certainly find it distasteful when any side uses the emotion generated by such a tragedy to advance points of questionable relevance. It’s also a bit insulting when reports of anti-nuclear demonstrations trump reports on actual earthquake/tsunami-related fatalities on the front page of German newspapers (yes, I am looking in your direction, Spiegel).

Now, since we are having that debate. Allow me to raise one single point, based on very easily verifiable facts:

  1. see: Germany and other countries with similarly contentious domestic policies on nuclear energy and strong anti-nuclear groups. []
  2. Keeping in mind that meaning well and being sincere has never meant you can’t be an irrational loon, far from it. []

After the short and factual update of last weekend, time for some more random notes and observations about the current post-seismic events unfolding in Japan.

Beware: it is slightly rantish. But one can only take so much uninformed stupidity by foreign media and unproductive, if well-meaning at times, panicky news and concern spread through social networks… Brace yourself for some pissed-off soothing anger. All brought to you from the safe comfort of my Kyoto abode: hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers away from the nearest active fault line, sea front or failing nuclear reactor.

So… First and foremost: if you are a Japan-residing foreigner who does not live in the directly-hit Tohoku area or within walking distance of Fukushima nuclear reactors (both unlikely if you are reading this): chill. the. fuck. out.

This was one of the biggest earthquake in history, but it did not occur in Tokyo (thank the gods). Shindo 5 quakes as the one that was felt in Tokyo are not a once-in-a-century event, they happen all over Japan at least once a decade. And this is why destruction was minimal in Tokyo. If you live in Kanto and are unsure of what real destruction means: take a look out your window, now have a look at NHK feeds from the Sendai area. Notice a difference? Perhaps the lack of 50m-long fishing boat couched in the middle of the street, or the fact that every single building around you is still standing. My point is not to say it wasn’t a bad one in Tokyo, just that it wasn’t the one. And people living where it happened had it much, much worse. So please can we avoid the tearful airport arrivals of foreigners freshly repatriated from their minato-ku apartment, bawling on international news as if they had just survived World War 3.

To anybody with friends or family in Kyoto and worried about them:

The quake was very minor in Kyoto (some 800km away from the epicentre). It was felt as a 2-3 (out of 7) on the Shindo scale: things got shaken a little bit, but no real damage. Tsunami warning was low for the region (and of course non-existent for land-locked Kyoto).
Everybody you know in the Kansai area is most likely fine.

Tokyo was still rather far from the epicenter (nearly 400km) and was shaken more seriously (upper 5 on the Shindo scale), but there wasn’t any major damage. If you have friends over there and haven’t heard back from them, it is most likely due to cellphones, electricity and transport being down for many hours (nuclear reactors are automatically stopped when major earthquakes occur). but they should be fine too.

Of course, the region north of Japan (Tohoku, particularly Miyagi-ken and the city of Sendai) have been hit most violently: the earthquake occurred about 200km off the coast of Miyagi-ken and registered a 7 in that area (the highest on the Shindo scale: about the same as Kobe during the Great Hanshin earthquake of 95). The ensuing tsunami (over 10m) and many large-scale fires have led to massive destruction in that region. But I am sure you have seen all this on the news already.

If you cannot reach people in that area or haven’t heard from them in a while: do not panic. Infrastructures are badly damaged, large parts of the phone and electricity grid are still down or saturated… And a lot of people may have had to leave their house in a rush without grabbing their cellphones. This doesn’t mean they aren’t OK.

Thanks for worrying and let’s hope the final toll isn’t too heavy.

Speaking at a London conference on Tuesday, Donal Byrne, chief executive of Corvil, a high-speed trading technology company, caused a ripple of audible incredulity throughout the room when he suggested that trading speeds could be reduced to picoseconds in the not too distant future.

Before you dismiss this as yet another unneeded example of what’s wrong with modern finance and how little actual value high-speed arbitrage brings to the market… consider for a moment: light travels by less than a millimeter in a picosecond! Hell, it does not even break a meter in a nanosecond

Leaving aside petty issues of actual CPU speed and everything but the most basic signal transmission aspect, I think this grandiose prediction from some random finance schmuck, no doubt busy at work on the next global crisis, can only mean one thing:

Finance has finally toppled the laws of conventional physics and invented supraluminal speed travel!

Take that, Albert.