Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Do you have a radiation - free certificate?

Because if you don't you may not be allowed into an evacuation centre in Fukushima.

Radiation screenings have been conducted at the entrance of various evacuation shelters since March 13th, two days after the quake.  A doctor wearing a white hat, mask and gloves measure passes a radiation monitor over your chest, head, back and shoes.  If you haven't been exposed to radiation you will be issued a 'radiation certificate'.

These certificates have become increasingly coveted as residents in these shelters become more and more anxious about radiation levels.  Signs outside some centres proclaim that admittance will not be granted to those who don't have a certificate.  Some 88,000 people have been checked, without anybody coming up as 'positive', yet certificates are becoming more formalised with efforts made to standardise them between doctors, and they are becoming a de facto 'license to exist'.  Officials in Tokyo are concerned about this trend, repeatedly asking that the practice be discontinued, but doctors in affected areas have ignored their advice.  Tokyo officials have said, quite rationally, "It's impossible for people from the affected area to have an adverse impact on people around them as none of them has been exposed to enough radiation to affect their health.  There is no need for such certificates at all."  But as some shelters are refusing admission to people without the certificates doctors have continued to issue them.

In a country as paranoid as Japan one can hardly be surprised at this.  Middle-aged ladies wear white gloves so they don't have to touch door handles.  My students, strapping nineteen-year-old youths, often wear face masks all day to protect themselves from the common cold.  In my former workplace I was often called upon to 'be careful' if I expressed an intention to walk down the hall to the vending machine in the corner.  At landmark tower in Yokohama, people on the undercover walkway are advised to 'watch their footing', not just at the beginning of the walkway, or at the end,  but every 5 seconds along its length.

In the Japanese pysche the world is a very dangerous place.  It can hardly be imagined what would happen if some poor sod actually tested positive to measurable levels of radiation in one of these checks. 

In another 'only in Japan story', today a 38-year-old woman was caught breaking into a convenience store in the tsunami-affected area.  This is one of the few reported incidents of looting.  The Justice Minister responded by calling a press conference to brief the media about this terrible event, which has doubtless led to much soul-searching among politicians and law-enforcement officials. Oh, the horror, the horror.

People refused entrance to evacuation shelters may become upset.

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