Friday, March 18, 2011

How Dangerous is the Radiation from Fukushima Daiichi?

So many different numbers and scales and claims are being bandied about regarding the radiation from the damaged Fukushima power plant, and the dangers it does or does not pose. It is all very confusing. I’ve tried to make sense of some of it below.

I don’t know whether my calculations are valid (there’s many different kinds of radiation; some are more dangerous than others; also people absorb radiation at different rates; and there are no doubt many other complicating factors), but they are what I’ve been able to come up with. If anyone knows better (or I made some calculation or logical error) please let me know.

According to Idaho State University’s Radiation Information Network, average yearly exposure to radiation in the United States is around 3600 microsieverts. This includes radiation from natural sources like radon in the air, or cosmic radiation from the sun, as well as radiation from medical tests. This is equivalent to 360 millirems (e-1)/ 3.6 millisieverts (e-3)/ 0.36 rems ( e-4)/ 0.0036 Sieverts (e-6).

US regulations cap nuclear power plant workers’ yearly exposure at 50 millisieverts (that’s 50,000 microsieverts). (See Table 4 on the link).

Reuters reports that radiation exposure does not pose an elevated cancer risk until it reaches 100 millisieverts (that’s 100,000 microsieverts) a year. Even that level is disputed; the evidence that this amount does, in fact, increase cancer risk is far from conclusive, according to the Health Physics Society. (See the Power Point download on Radiation Effects).

Acute radiation sickness occurs in exposures of over .25 sieverts (that’s 250,000 microsieverts) in the course of a few hours or a day (See Table 2). In the US, rescue workers may be asked (on a volunteer basis) to expose themselves to up to twice this much radiation in "once in a lifetime" life-threatening rescue situations.

So, where do the levels stand from radiation emitted by the Fukushima Daiichi power plant? In 66 measurements from 34 locations in Fukushima prefecture on Thursday Friday, March 17, the median level of radiation measured was 3.7 microsieverts/hour. Even if these levels continued for a full year, this radiation dose does not come close to the threshold for elevated cancer risk (3.7 * 24 *365 = 32,412).

In Tokyo, March 17 readings show levels of radiation at .053 microsieverts/hour. That’s only about 1/70 of the median measurement in Fukushima, so really, Tokyo is fine, too.

However, there are some stations in Fukushima that posted measurements far above the median, and these are quite worrisome. Stations 31, 32, and 33 (all located just outside the 30km perimeter to the northwest of the plant) recorded an average reading of 104.34 microsieverts/hour. The nine measurements from these three stations are by far the highest recorded by any station. At this level, 40 days of exposure increases the risk of cancer (104.34*24*40=100166.4).

Radiation readings come from the Japanese government, and are available here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Moral Education and the DPJ

In Japan, feelings tend to run high on the subject of moral education. During World War II and before, it was a vehicle for nationalist propaganda [1], and to postwar critics, it came to represent the powerful state’s intrusion into the private sphere. Many postwar educators rejected the idea of teaching moral education at school entirely, or demanded that control remain with teachers, schools, or municipalities, not with the national government [2]. In the opposing camp, traditionalists claimed that increased individualism made families and communities increasingly unable to provide moral guidance to children. Under these circumstances, advocates argued, the national government’s involvement was not only natural, but necessary [3].

For the past decade, the trend has been towards greater involvement by the national government in moral education. In 2002, the government funded the printing of a new national moral education textbook (the first since World War II), and distributed copies for every elementary and junior high school student [4]. Until that time, the Ministry of Education had issued loose teaching guidelines, but left teaching materials entirely to the teacher’s discretion. In practice, even after the release of the new textbook, teachers and schools had considerable freedom as to whether or not to use them [5], but the government heavily promoted them, and surveyed schools to monitor implementation [6].

Other laws and regulations further deepened national government involvement. In 2006, the Diet passed the new Fundamental Law of Education, which elevated moral education’s position in the curriculum as a whole. And new national curricular guidelines that come into effect in 2011 attempt to move the changes from the law books into the classroom [7].

As the LDP government’s 2007 Basic Policy for Economic and Fiscal Reform makes clear, many law and policy makers connected national moral education with Japan’s economic revitalization [8]. The underlying assumption was that individual choices and moral behavior were partially to blame for economic stagnation, and moral education could correct the imbalance.

However, the DPJ’s electoral victory in August 2009 may mark the decline this view. During the DPJ-appointed Government Revitalization Unit’s hearings on budget issues, national expenditure on moral education came under fire. The committee recommended cutting these costs (which fund the national textbook series) by one-third to a half [9]. Some reviewers took issue with the textbooks from an ideological perspective, while others merely felt that in times of budget crunch, the textbooks should not be a priority, and that municipalities and schools could build moral education curricula and design teaching materials on their own [10]. As a result of the hearings, the textbooks will no longer be distributed. The most recent edition will be posted online, and teachers can print out the pages they want to use [11].

In the greater scheme of things, the DPJ’s changes to moral education are modest. But these modest changes demonstrate the DPJ’s stance that the issues Japan faces are structural and societal, not individual. Redirecting resources from moral education towards social programs is part and parcel of this broader agenda.

1. Doutoku Kyouiku no Kenkyuu 1, Bukkyou Daigaku Tsuushin Kyoiku Repooto, July 24, 2006 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

2. Muroi, Osami, Kokoro no Nooto no Kyouikuhou Kyouiku Gyouseijou no Mondaiten, , Osaka Kyohouken Nyuusu, October, 2003 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

3. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Mirai wo Hiraku Kokoro wo Sodateru Shien Katsudou no Juujitsu, November 1, 2007 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

4. Kokoro no Nooto ha Fuhitsuyou ka, Fukuoka Education Network, January 14, 2010 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

5. Uebu demo Shishou nashi, Kanaloco, March 16, 2010 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

6. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Kokoro no Nooto no Katsuyou Joukyou ni tsuite, May 19, 2003 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

7. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Shougakkou Gakushuu Shidou Youryou Kaisetsu Doutokuhen, September 19, 2008 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

8. Keizai Zaisei Kaikaku no Kihon Houshin 2007 ni tsuite, pp. 38-40. June 19, 2007, [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

9. Kyouiku Shiwake ni Najimanai, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 30, 2009 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

10. Kitei Rosen Doori, Doutoku Kyouiku ha Shukugen, Sankei Shimbun, November 17, 2009 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

11. Uebu demo Shishou nashi, Kanaloco, March 16, 2010 [cited 2010 June 16]; Available from:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Inequality and High School Tuition Breaks

In the hope of improving equity in education, the DPJ has made good on its campaign promise to eliminate tuition at public high schools. Until this year, public high schools (unlike elementary and middle schools) charged monthly tuition of about $100 [1]. The DPJ’s bill, which came into effect on April 1, 2010 not only eliminates this tuition but also subsidizes yearly tuition at private high schools by at least $1200 per student and up to $2400 for students from low-income families [2]. *

Funding for tuition remissions will come primarily from a progressive tax increase on families with high school-aged children [3]. After the tax increase is factored in, a middleclass family with one child in high school and an income of $50,000-$60,000 can expect to be better off by $500-$600 a year, while families with annual incomes over $200,000 will only see a benefit of about $70 [4].

But will this actually increase equity in education? According to Ministry of Education statistics, 97% of children who complete middle school proceed to high school [5], and in 2008 only 2208 students left high school for financial reasons [6]. So financial barriers to attending high school are not actually a widespread source of inequity in Japanese education, and a smaller program, targeted only at students financially unable to attend high school at all, would have been a more efficient use of these funds.

A more serious issue is the link between students’ wealth and the quality of the high school education they receive. Students in the public school system attend neighborhood schools during elementary and middle school, but for high school, students compete for slots in high-quality public high schools. Although middle school tuition is fully funded by the government, parents of children in the public school system spend an average of $3000 per year per child on supplemental tutoring and classes during the middle school years to bolster their children’s chances of earning a place in a top high school [7]. Students with the resources to get outside education are more likely to get good grades [8] and have an obvious advantage when it comes to placement in a top-notch public high school, which in turn affects their competitiveness in college admissions and the job market. To seriously address inequity in education, the government should pay out more to families earlier in their children’s educational careers, even at the expense of reducing the subsidies for high school education.

*Even though tuition has been eliminated at public high schools, attendance is not completely free of charge. The average cost to parents of sending a student to high school is still around $2400 per year; this figure includes non-tuition school fees, books and supplies, after-school activities, fieldtrips, and commuting expenses [9].

1. Koukou Mushouka, Yahoo News Japan, Available from:

Democratic Party of Japan, Manifesto, August, 2009 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from:

2. Koukou Mushoukahou Seiritsu 4gatsu 1tachi Jikkou Chousen Gakkou ha Toumen Taishougai , Asahi Shimbun, March 31, 2010 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from:

3. Koukou Mushouka ha Futanzou Furiisukuuru ya Teijisei no Oyara Uttae Asahi Shimbun, March 29, 2010 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from:

4. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Tokutei Fuyou Koujo (16sai Ijou 19sai minan) no Minaoshi (Shisan), December, 2009 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from: .

5. Koutou Gakkou Kyouiku Kaikaku no Suishin, [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from:

6. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Heisei 20nendo Jidou Seito no Mondai Koudou nado Seito Shidoujou no Shomondai ni Kansuru Chousa, July, 2009 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from: p.21.

7. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Kekka Gaiyou – Heisei 20nendo Kodomo no Gakushuuhi Chousa, March, 2010 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from: p. 1.

8. Benesse Kyoiku Kenkyuu Sentaa, Katei Gakushuu Shidou ga Gakuryoku no Nikyokuka wo Fusegu, View 21 Chuugakuban, April, 2006 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from: p.3.

9. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Kekka Gaiyou – Heisei 20nendo Kodomo no Gakushuuhi Chousa, March, 2010 [cited 2010 May 4]; Available from: p. 10.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Non-Citizen Voting Rights

In 1993, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that the constitution guarantees voting rights only to Japanese citizens, but that a hypothetical national law granting local suffrage to foreigners would be constitutionally acceptable [1]. Nevertheless, because of influential rightist elements in the LDP, no such laws have passed in the 17 years since the Supreme Court decision, despite repeated attempts by the Komeito and the DPJ, and signs that a large majority of the Japanese population supports such rights [2].

Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ’s Secretary General, has strongly pushed a proposal that would grant local suffrage to the over 900,000 foreigners with permanent residency status [3]. After the DPJ took power in August 2009, it seemed briefly that, with his support, Japan might join the growing number of countries with some form of non-citizen voting rights* as early as this year.

Mindan (在日本大韓民国民団, the nationwide association of South Koreans in Japan) was instrumental in bringing this issue to the fore; in the lead up to the August 2009 elections, Mindan threw its support behind DPJ proponents of the policy [4]. Ozawa values this support highly, and his hurry to deliver on the campaign promise may be in part a bid to maintain Mindan’s support during the election in the summer of 2010. However, the DPJ has yet to submit a bill, and in face of opposition from within the party and the ruling coalition, appears to have shelved the proposal for the time being [5].

Ironically, it may have been Mindan’s crucial support for voting rights that has helped solidify the opposition to Ozawa’s proposal. Opponents’ most urgent criticism is that foreigner suffrage would provide an avenue for foreign governments to influence internal affairs [6]; as Mindan receives operating funds from the South Korean government [7], its success in pushing the issue this far seems to prove the opponents’ point.

In actuality, this argument completely mischaracterizes Mindan’s accomplishment, and the implications of foreign suffrage. In the long term, Mindan’s movement would not primarily benefit South Korea, or even Koreans in Japan. Since Koreans are Japan’s oldest foreign minority, they are also the most integrated. The number of Koreans with permanent residence actually decreases every year, as more long-term residents naturalize [8]. And as many who have not naturalized have lived in Japan for up to four generations, it is highly unlikely that obeying hypothetical marching orders from the South Korean government would benefit them in any way.

Furthermore, the permanent foreign resident community is increasingly diverse: Chinese, Brazilians and Filipinos all make up a growing share [9]. Although Koreans historically have held a supermajority, in the future, no single nationality will dominate Japan’s foreign population. This growing diversity makes it even more unlikely that large numbers of non-citizens would be able to organize along national lines to successfully promote their home country’s national interests to the detriment of Japan’s, even if they wanted to, which the evidence suggests that they do not.

There are plenty of legitimate arguments for and against foreigner voting rights, but there is no evidence to support that interference by foreign governments is one of them. Hopefully proponents will debunk this baseless criticism, and voters and lawmakers will consider the proposal on its actual merits and demerits, not on ill-reasoned paranoia.

* Around 40 countries allow some form of non-citizen suffrage. EU member nations permit foreign residents who hold citizenship in another EU country to vote in local elections; a smaller number of countries, including Korea, Venezuela, and Belgium grant local voting rights to foreigners who have met a multi-year residency requirement and (in some cases) hold specific visas [10] .

1. Supreme Court of Japan, Senkyo Jinmeibou Futouroku Shobun ni taisuru Igi no Moshide Kyakka Kettei Torikeshi, February 28, 1993 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from:

2. Gaikokujin Sanseiken ni Sansei 60%, Hantai 29% Asahi Shimbun Chousa, Asahi Shimbun, January 19, 2010 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from:

3. Hoshuuha Hanpatsu Kamaeru Minshu, Asahi Shimbun, December 2, 2009 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from:

4. Zainichi Mindan "Gaikokujin Sanseiken ni Sansei no Kohou wo Shien", Toua Nippou, August 20, 2009 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from: .

5. Gaikokujin no Chihou Senkyoken, Shushou ga Shinchou Shisei, February 9, 2006 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from: .

6. Nagao, Kazuhiro, Gaikokujin Senkyoken Dounyuu ha Kenpou Ihan, Chuo Online: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 25, 2010 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from: .

Gaikokujin Senkyoken ni Hantai suru Kai, homepage [cited 2010 March 29];

7. Nagao, Kazuhiro, Gaikokujin Senkyoken Dounyuu ha Kenpou Ihan, Chuo Online: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 25, 2010 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from: .

8. Ministry of Justice, Touroku Gaikokujin Toukei Toukeihyo, 2006-2008, [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from: .

9. Ibid.

10. Immigrant Voting Project, Non-Citizen Voting Around the World., Updated September 2, 2006 [cited 2010 March 29]; Available from:

Japan, Korea, Migration News, July 2006, Vol. 13, No. 3.

Monday, January 25, 2010

International Marriage

In 2007, more than 1 in 20 marriages (5.6%) in Japan took place between foreign and Japanese citizens [1]. Particularly striking are the figures for marriages between Japanese men and foreign women. In 80% of international marriages, the male partner is Japanese; and assuming all foreign women lived in Japan before marriage and are counted in the population statistics, 9.7% of unmarried women of foreign citizenship in Japan marry a Japanese man every year, while only 2.8% of unmarried Japanese women do [2]*. Clearly, Japanese men and foreign women are actively seeking each other out, but why?

Japanese men may be marrying foreign women because they have difficulties finding suitable Japanese partners. The average age of a Japanese man embarking on an international marriage is 43, compared to 31 for a Japanese man marrying a Japanese woman [3]. This suggests that marrying a foreign woman is not men’s first choice, but as men age, they become more willing to search further afield for a bride.

As for foreign wives, economic incentives undoubtedly lure many to Japan to live and work, but why do so many end up marrying Japanese men? Unlike their husbands, the average age of foreign women is 31, not so different from the average marriage age of 29 for Japanese women [4] —presumably these women have other options for marriage.

The nationalities of women marrying Japanese men shed some light on this issue. Chinese woman account for 37% of foreign brides, Filipina 29%, Korean 18%, Thai 5%, and Brazilian 1%. [5] Given their percentages in the population, and thus the chance that they would meet and marry Japanese men under ordinary circumstances (i.e. not through a matchmaking service or marriage broker), these percentages are surprising.


% of foreign brides

% of foreign unmarried women
















[6 – Figures are from 2007]

The table shows that compared to their representation in Japan’s population of unmarried, foreign women, marriage rates to Japanese men are disproportionally low for Korean and Brazilian women, and high for Chinese, Filipina, and Thai women.

Japanese immigration policy is very different for the high and low groups. Most Koreans in Japan are special permanent residents whose employment is not restricted under immigration law, and most Brazilians enter under the Nikkei visa program, which likewise gives them long-term residency and access to employment [7]. Chinese, Filipina and Thai women, on the other hand, face high immigration barriers, and technically are not allowed to come to Japan for unskilled work at all. For these women, marrying a Japanese man is a fast track to a permanent residency visa, and legal access to any employment. In this way, Japan’s immigration policy likely pushes certain nationalities of women towards marriage with Japanese men.

Since women seem to marry for immigration status, ironically Japan’s restrictive immigration policy may make it easier for older and perhaps desperate men to find wives from abroad. If the immigration policy were loosened, an unexpected side effect might actually be fewer international marriages, as foreign women are no longer forced to rely on marriage as their passport to Japan.

*Figures for are for women 15 years old and up.

1. Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Konin Kensuu, Nenji × Fusai no Kokusekibetsu, Dai 1 pen Dai 2 Shou Dai 1-37 Hyou, 2007 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:

2. Ibid.

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Dai 3 Hyou Kokuseki (11 kubun), Haiguusha Kankei (4 kubun), Nenrei (5 sai Kaikyuu), Danjobetsu 15sai Ijou Gakokujinsuu, 2008 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:       

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Dai 5 Hyou Haiguusha Kankei (4 Kubun), Nenrei (Kakusai), Danjobetsu 15sai Ijou Jinkou oyobi Heikin Nenrei (Sousuu oyobi Nihonjin)- Zenkoku, 2006 [cited 2010 January 25]

3. Minstry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Fusai no Kokusekibetsu ni mita Konin, 2007 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.
Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Dai 3 Hyou Kokuseki (11 kubun), Haiguusha Kankei (4 kubun), Nenrei (5 sai Kaikyuu), Danjobetsu 15sai Ijou Gakokujinsuu, 2008 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:

7. Ministry of Justice, Dai 1 Hyou Kokuseki (Shusshinchi) betsu Zairyuushikaku (Zairyuu Mokuteki) betsu Gaikokujin Tourokusuu, 2009 [cited 2010 January 25]; Available from:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cheap Foreign Labor, Through the Back Door

Japan’s Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program brings 80,000 to 100,000 foreigners to Japan each year [1] to work for up to three years in industries such as agriculture, textiles, and food prep [2]. Japanese immigration policy makes no general provision for unskilled foreign workers; technically, no visa category exists for unskilled labor. But by calling the participants “trainees” and “interns,” the program has created an ad hoc mechanism to bring these types of workers to Japan. JITCO, the organization that facilitates the program, explains that it was introduced in 1993 in response to Japan’s labor shortage, but also touts “international development” and “skills and technology transfer” as its goals [3]. However, since most interns and trainees work low-paid, unskilled jobs, we can surmise that the program’s primary function is to provide cheap labor to struggling Japanese industries.

It is easy to see the program as a cynical creation of lawmakers eager to woo manufacturing and agricultural constituencies. Indeed, the record on this score is not good. Around 67% of participants come from mainland China, while Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam account for 22% combined [4]. Employers can easily exploit these often impoverished trainees and interns. The Asahi Shimbun describes how employers require the (often willing) interns to work illegal overtime [5], and sometimes pay interns and trainees far below the minimum wage for their work [6]. Many program participants tolerate these abuses, because they expect to earn $500 - $700 per month, far more than they could earn in their home countries [7], although still far less than Japanese employees in similar jobs. These and other problems became so widespread that the US Department of State singled out the program in its Trafficking in Persons Report [8].

However, lawmakers and bureaucrats did not sit idle while these criticisms came to light. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry both investigated and recommended reforms. In response to this, in July 2009 the Diet overwhelmingly voted to strengthen legal protection for trainees and interns and increase government oversight of employers [9]. For example, employers must now provide trainees with written contracts in their native languages, which are inspected by immigration officials. Trainees will be informed of their legal rights and obligations, and JITCO employees will inspect each place of employment once a month. The new regulations come into effect in one year [10].

These actions will certainly require a deeper investment of both government and employer resources. Even if the program is really a handout to crucial political constituencies, this heartening commitment demonstrates that the government is not willing to hand over cheap labor regardless of the human costs.

1. Ministry of Justice, Kenshuu, Ginou Jisshuu Seido no Genjou Oyobi Seido Kaisei no Gaiyou ni Tsuite, March 34, 2009 [cited 2009 December 15]; Available from: p.3.

2. Ibid, p. 2.

3. Japan Internation Training Cooperation Organization, Seido no Enkaku, Haikei, Chuugokujin Kenshuusei no Seikouritsu ha 3 Wari “Ihou Zangyou” mo Kakugo Available from:

4. Ministry of Justice, Kenshuu, Ginou Jisshuu Seido no Genjou Oyobi Seido Kaisei no Gaiyou ni Tsuite, March 34, 2009 [cited 2009 December 15]; Available from: p.3.

5. Okubo, Maki, Chuugokujin Kenshuusei no Seikouritsu ha 3 Wari “Ihou Zangyou” mo Kakugo, Asahi Shimbun, 18 July, 2009, [cited 2009 December 15]; Available from:

6. Okubo, Maki, ed, “Osame no Nougyou” Jisshuusei ni Izon, Asahi Shimbun, May 5, 2009 [cited 2009 December 15]; Available from:

7. Ibid.

8. US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009, June, 2009 [cited 2009 December 15]; Available from: .

9. Online Diet Record, [001/066] 171 - House of Councilors, Full Meeting #36 July 8, 2009 [cited 2009 December 15]; Available from:

10. Ministry of Justice, Kenshuu, Ginou Jisshuu Seido no Mondaiten to Kongo no Sochi, October 2, 2009 [cited 2009 December 10]; Google search "研修技能実習制度の問題点と今後の措置" to retrieve this document.