22 Août 2013
Apparently because Japan is blessed with abundant water, the Japanese language is rich in metaphorical expressions that use water, writes tanka poet Akiko Baba, who is also an editor for The Asahi Shimbun’s tanka column. Indeed, anyone can cite many examples, such as “mizu mo shitataru” (dripping with water), which means good-looking, or “mizu o mukeru” (to direct water), an expression that means to try to draw information from someone.
But now, the phrase “mizu mo morasanu” (watertight) sounds hollow. It became clear that highly radioactive water has leaked from a tank at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Much of the 300 tons of contaminated water, equivalent to what can be held in 1,500 drums, is believed to have seeped into the ground. High levels of radiation have been detected near the tank.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority determined that the leak represents “a serious incident,” equivalent to a Level 3 on the eight-level International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. The March 2011 nuclear disaster was so serious that it’s hard to grasp the implications of the leak. But if it had happened in ordinary times, such an incident would have set off an uproar. The cause of the leak remains unknown.
Be that as it may, serious situations that have to do with water have developed one after another. It was just the other day that the government released an estimate that said about 300 tons of contaminated water is leaking into the ocean daily. It’s always one thing or another. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, is like a boxer who is having trouble staying on his feet and about to be knocked down.
There is no way we can leave a single company, which can barely stand itself, to deal with the aftermath of the accident on its own. In order to expedite restarts of idle nuclear reactors and exports of nuclear technology, it seems the government wants to leave TEPCO to the enormous task of dismantling the stricken nuclear reactors and bring the situation under control while shrugging off its own responsibilities.
“Mizu ni nagasu,” or to let water carry something away, means to pretend the whole thing never happened. Maybe the government is letting water carry it away, to use a water-related idiom. It is said that behind this is also the idea of performing ablutions or purifying oneself with water. Performing ablutions is a specialty of politicians, but still, it is impossible to wipe away the fact that the government has promoted nuclear power generation as a national policy. Am I being too suspicious about the government's intentions? The Fukushima nuclear disaster is still going on.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 22
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.