China's pollution problem
Air pollution has become a serious issue in China and the government there is facing rising public criticism. Concern in Japan is also increasing as winds carry the pollution here. The Chinese government must take drastic measures to rectify the situation. Having experienced and overcome similar problems that cropped up during its period of high economic growth, Japan should provide whatever technical assistance it can.
Especially problematic are fine particles called PM2.5, whose diameter is 2.5 micrometers or less (1 micrometer is one-millionth of a meter). These particles can penetrate deep into lungs, causing asthma and bronchitis and increasing the risk of lung cancer. It is also feared that inhalation of PM2.5 can lead to hardening of the arteries, which in turn can result in myocardial or cerebral infarction.
Automobiles, factories, coal-burning power plants and heaters at home using coal are the sources of PM2.5 in China. Japan's standard is a daily average of 35 micrograms in one cubic meter of air. The corresponding Chinese standard is 75 micrograms.
According to the Chinese Environment Protection Ministry, during the Chinese New Year holiday from Feb. 9 to 15, a maximum 306 micrograms of PM2.5 was detected per cubic meter of air in Beijing, 577 micrograms in Tianjin (Tientsin) and 527 micograms in Shijiajuang in Hebei Province.
To better protect the health of citizens, the Japanese government should try to get relevant information on pollution from China in a timely manner. It should also provide financial assistance to local governments so they can set up more monitoring posts. The Environment Ministry has a goal of setting up some 1,300 monitoring posts, but fewer than 600 posts are expected to be established by the end of March.
When fine articles from China are forecast to blow to Japan, the government should quickly issue warnings so citizens can protect themselves by wearing face masks or limiting their time outside.
The escape of China's choking air pollution, most particularly (pun not intended) the PM 2.5 soot from vehicles and power stations, from out of China's immediate confines, has become a major subject of concern in Japan this winter. (Link)
Last week, the Tokyo Shimbun's political cartoonist Sato Masaaki, in his usual dense sardonic way, depicted the PM 2.5 problem as just one of a sudden spate of airborne assaults.
The title of the cartoon is Ue o muite aruko ("Let's Walk, Looking Up") - the title and opening line of Sakamoto Kyu's 1961 megahit -- the "Gangnam Style" of its day in terms of being a song in an Asian language that went mainstream in the English language world.
The first half of the joke is the theme of Sakamoto's song is inverted. Whereas the song has the singer looking up with hope, forgetting his troubles on the earth, the cartoon suggests that the source of troubles is above, with Russia's meteor, the DPRK's rocket, Japanese silviculture's annual spring gift of sugi and hi no ki pollen and China's clouds of both yellow dust from the desertification of the country's northern plateaus and 2.5 m soot particles are all raining down.
The kicker is the woman in the front, who remarks in an aside, "And let's look below too." Beneath the surface of the ground lurk an unexploded bomb like the one that brought the city of Hamamatsu and the Tokaido Shinkansen to a halt last week and an active geological fault (katsudanso) -- the latter of which are somehow, in Japan of all places, being found running right through most every nuclear power station site. (Link)
A week ago (February 16), the Tokyo Shimbun published a senryu by a reader on the foreign threat coming in via the air:
スモッグのKogi is very much in the air about Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki these days, seeing as how "vigorously protesting" is the only action the constitutionally-restrained government of Japan will undertake in response to aerial incursions by Chinese and Russian aircraft and targeting radar flashes. The author is noting, bitterly, that the vigorous protestation that the Abe government has been whipping out again and again this winter over temporary, only indirectly threatening phenomena is nowhere in evidence over a much longer lasting and clearly damaging intrusion.
To the smog
Criminally breaching our airspace
There is no protest
The reader is given hints, however, that the anger in the poem is theatrical, a bit of fun with the over-the-top rhetorical flourishes of nationalist outrage. The author's pseudo-Chinese pen name of 和 平 -- i.e., "Peace," in the reverse of the usual order of the word, with the character wa, the ancient name of Japan and the word for harmony, first -- indicates that the tone of outrage is affected, with tongue firmly in cheek.
As for the Japan Times's grim clucking or the Tokyo Shimbun's drollery, I cannot participate in either. I look around at the room and see all the items with Japanese brand names on them. Turn those same items over and they will, each and every one of them, have "Made in China" label. I think of the blue skies and open spaces that have made Kawasaki and other former industrial towns -- their smokestacks gone, their factories demolished and cleared away -- the hot places to live -- and realize that my material comfort and environmental good fortune come at the cost of the strangulation of China.
I am complicit in a crime, the offshoring of the consequences of my lifestyle.
Can I complain or laugh about the wind's bringing a bit of invisible dust back to haunt me?
Later - To clarify, the geological faults criss-crossing nuclear power plant sites were known. What has happened since 3/11 is that faults judged during the surveying stage to have been conveniently inactive are now being classified as being inconveniently active. No doubt the expert panels now making the determinations are erring on the side of caution. However, one only has to look at a geography of a site like that of Tsuruga Power Station (Link) to know that some seriously delusional thinking was going on.