This is what I found recently as memories on Facebook, of all places, written while I was covering Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility operating the nuclear power plant in Fukushima that sank into meltdowns after the March 11, 2011 tsunami. I didn’t even remember having written this. It brings back memories so horrible they are almost absurd, even comical, if they weren’t so real and literally catastrophic. I don’t remember why I didn’t share these 12 posts on my then brand new web site, although I went on to write a whole play about the nuclear disaster: NEWS FROM FUKUSHIMA. What made the TEPCO Correspondence so endearing, while also chilling, to read for me now is that, well, it all really happened. I was there, every day, watching the events unfold, filing the news, all the while praying Japan would be saved. But in retrospect, we were lucky as reporters. At least we were busy. One day, a TEPCO official in charge of media runs into the room, where all the media people practically lived at that time in TEPCO headquarters. He comes in running and shouting that a system at one of the reactors has broken down. There might be yet another meltdown. All we do is busily file alerts. But then he runs back in again, shouting: It’s fixed. It’s fixed. I’m telling you: A big cheer went up in that room. Sometimes there are moments like that. When what is happening is bigger than the next news story, and all we can do is rejoice as people.

TEPCO Correspondence: Notes From a Writer Beyond the Headlines


April 2011


Heard at TEPCO: Company spokesman Junichi Matsumoto’s description of “a meltdown,” when asked by a reporter for “an image” _ “The core is DORO DORO gooey and BOTA BOTA drip-drop melting to the bottom of the reactor.”


On my way to NISA, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, from Kasumigaseki subway station, I pass by the bookstore that sells government reports and booklets. The shop window had a big poster for a book about nuclear power that said: “Peaceful Energy.” It made me want to cry.


Japanese are sensitive to the fears about radiation. Our nation is the only one in the world to have experienced atomic bombings. I have grown up hearing horror stories and seeing photos not only of charred bodies, disfiguring burns and skeletal buildings but also about illnesses that crept up years later, sometimes extending over generations.


That is why the poster is touting the glories of nuclear power as “peaceful.”


We have been told there is a five-layer protection against radioactive leaks at nuclear plants _ the pellets are encased in coatings, and inside rods that are in a vessel, which in turn is inside another chamber, and that is encased in a building. The building bit is what blew up to bits at reactors 1 and 3 shortly after the March 11 tsunami.


So there goes that layer.


The pellets are believed to be doing all that doro doro and bota bota inside the core. So much for those layers. The massive leak of highly radioactive water near reactor 2 means without a doubt that the chamber layer has been compromised, if not something even closer to the pellets.


So where are those five layers of safety that were supposed to protect the people of Japan?

How could they have said there would be a fivefold guarantee of safety if all the layers were so fragile?


There is talk of unifying the now separate news conferences by NISA amd TEPCO on the nuclear crisis. NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said there were complaints about inconsistencies in the message. I hope they take all the questions. With so many parties involved, on such a complex topic, coverage is likely to remain arduous.


For the first few weeks after March 11, TEPCO officials kept telling us: This is not Three Mile Island.

As Fukushima Daiicihi began spewing highly radioactive water into the sea and radiation was detected in spinach, tap water and the air we breathe, they stopped saying that.


But they kept telling us: This is not Chernobyl.

The government declared FD a Level 7, the same as Chernobyl, on April 12.

They no longer tell us what this is not _ they just look sad and helpless.


Some reporters are frustrated by the briefings at TEPCO, the flipflopping, the don’t knows, evasive answers, sometimes the wrong numbers, off by a few decimal points. “Is this Iwo Jima?” one angry reporter said. “Maybe all we can hope for is a kamikaze (divine wind) to blow and save us,” another said sadly.

AS IS MUCH IN LIFE by Dr. Minh and Yuri Kageyama


A poetic collaboration on Twitter by Dr. Minh and Yuri Kageyama April 22, 2022

Dr. Minh wrote the poem in five minutes after I tweeted the title. I just added the last two lines.   

As is much in life

you sit alone on the edge of a river   

I know

you nurture your solitude

but wonder


you will sit alone on the edge of the river

is your solitude still there

only you know


As is much in life

solitude is not emptiness

or vacuum or the void

where the real and the real annihilate

to give birth to something new

just emptiness

but this is where life begins

you and I know

as is much in life

What’s in a Face?

The robot by Hiroshi Kobayashi at Tokyo University of Science is just a face.
It sits on top of a mannequin body and attempts to duplicate emotional expressions as communicated on the human face.
Motors pull back at rubber skin, mostly around the eyes and mouth.
It is strange-looking and makes you stop and wonder what a face is all about.
Of course, we don’t like to admit we are vain and spend a lot of time and effort worrying about what we look like.
Looks aren’t everything, we say, what counts is the person _ inside.
But the truth is: Isn’t it after all looks that people notice first, and why we are attracted to a person?
If we didn’t care about appearances, then there would be no movie stars and fashion models and other people who make a career out of looking beautiful.
Mr. Kobayashi, who is an expert on the meaning of the face, says animals don’t communicate with their face though they may show their teeth or snarl.
Facial communication is one quality that makes human beings different from animals, he says.
That shows the face is important in human existence.
It’s the No. 1 tool in communication.
And it makes us human.
He also says all facial communication except smiling is negative.
The others are sadness, disgust, fear, anger, surprise.
I suggested there may be other unsmiling expressions that aren’t exactly negative like a sense of pathos, despair about the human condition, nostalgia, belief in the eternal, etc.
But he was quite firm that only smiling is positive.
In a column running this month in The Nikkei, actress Kyoko Kagawa recalled director Yasujiro Ozu once told her not to smile so much.
As an up-and-coming actress, she was constantly being told by everyone else to smile _ even when she didn’t even feel much like smiling.
“People don’t smile only when they’re happy. Sometimes they smile because they are sad,” Ozu was quoted as saying.
It is true that when people get their photos taken, they like to smile.
Say cheese!
And if you get your photo taken off-guard, your photo ends up making you look like an idiot.
It’s very difficult to get a portrait that’s nice without smiling, which probably means that people perceive the positive message of the smile, no matter how contrived it may be.
Robot scientists tell me it is important to justify the social benefits of their research.
I suggested to Mr. Kobayashi that his research could be beneficial for people who may have had their faces damaged by burns or war, to restore their faces so they can communicate with people using the robot face.
He said he had never thought about it.
I thought it was a great idea and a way that his research could help people, but he didn’t appear too convinced.