Chapter 2: The Second Time Around: Where Oh Where did the Green Grass Go?

Chapter 2: The Second Time Around: Where Oh Where did the Green Grass Go?

After spending two years in California recovering from what would turn out to be a chronic illness, my husband was impatient to return to Japan. We packed our belongings for a second attempt in 1972.

At the end of the war Japan’s primary industry was agriculture. In the late 1950s when Japan began its period of rapid economic growth, thousands of young high-school graduates living in farming and fishing villages left for the Tokyo–Osaka–Kobe regions to seek better-paying jobs in retail shops, factories and small businesses. The mass migration resulted in the loss of population in communities outside of the industrialized areas and the overpopulation of big metropolises. The majority of farmers who remained in the rural areas were middle-aged or older.

By 1970 it was difficult to believe that Japan’s industrial complex and infrastructure had been devastated by the war. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics had witnessed a spurt of infrastructure construction and industrial development in the metropolitan areas and rural areas. Towns were connected by a haphazard array of new small dwellings which were constructed without any consideration for design and which blighted the once lusciously green countryside and farmland that had been snatched up by land developers.

During the second period from 1971-76 we first returned to Kamakura before moving six months later to Shizuoka Prefecture about 100 km south of Tokyo and the small farming village of Sawaji which was fifteen minutes by bus to Mishima city. We stayed with the Hibis for three weeks before we managed to find a rental located near the famous giant sculpture of Buddha (Hase Daibutsu). As was the case in Inamuragasaki, the hot water for the kitchen was supplied by a small gas-fitted hot water heater attached above the sink facet and ignited manually by a flick of a switch.

One afternoon in April we heard the humming of helicopters overhead and went outside to investigate. Our neighbors told us that the Nobel Prize recipient for literature Yasunari Kawabata who was also a Kamakura resident had committed suicide. Traffic jammed the roads leading to the town and helicopters transporting the media hovered overhead.  Kawabata had been suffering from depression after his close friend Yukio Mishima had committed suicide the previous year.

I had experienced strong earthquakes in San Francisco but our first one in Japan occurred a few months before we moved to Mishima. We had been cautioned to turn off the gas before leaving the house to avoid fire which often occurred following an earthquake. The quake was long and rolling and strong enough to shake the front fence violently. However, there were no reports of damage.

It was a crucial period in Japan’s post war industrial history. Japan had achieved the third highest GDP in the world (behind the US and the Soviet Union respectively) but the bureaucratic government system was still firmly entrenched due, in part, to the United States’ post-war policies at the time. The policies were profoundly influenced by the beginning of the Cold War in 1945.

Eisaku Sato, Japan’s longest serving post-war prime minister (1967-1972) and the brother of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (1957-60) owned a home in Kamakura. Kishi’s political ideology significantly influenced his grandson, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and played an important role in the United States’ objectives to install an ultra-conservative ally in the Pacific in order to protect the region from communist expansion. Kishi’s post-war political career is also indicative of how the “reverse reforms” during the Allied Occupation effectively perpetuated Japan’s war-time government administration of the economy and an ultra-conservative political environment, which enhanced the power of the bureaucracy, thus forging the Japan Inc. model.

Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (1957–60) is credited with being the father of the Liberal Democrats ( LDP) and one of the king-pins of  what is known as the “1955 political system” that was based on the collaboration between politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats and banked with huge sums from the private sector. The LDP controlled the National Diet for thirty-eight years until 1993 and from 1996–2009. Abe’s LDP roots and his right-wing political philosophy are inherited from his grandfather. Now that the LDP once again holds the majority of seats in the National Diet, it is likely that a version of the 1955 political system will continue.

Nobusuke Kishi the Powerbroker of the LDP

Kishi was a talented elite official in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MCI), the forerunner of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). Since the Meiji Period the Japanese military had protected Japanese interests in Taiwan and Korea. After Japan’s expansion into Manchuria during the First World War, General Hideki Tojo ran military operations in Manchuria until the Second World War. He supported Kishi who was sent by the MCI to Mukden in Manchuko, a puppet state in Manchuria which was formed by the Japanese army in collaboration with the Chinese imperial government after the Manchurian Incident. While in Mukden Kishi skilfully manoeuvred the distribution of capital to cultivate right-wing nationalists and allies in small and medium-sized businesses. Kishi was an expert at money laundering no matter how large the amount. It was rumoured that, through his connections with the opium trade, Kishi engaged in both legal and illegal transactions for both public and personal purposes with simply a telephone call.

In November 1943, MCI merged with the Cabinet Planning Board to form the Ministry of Munitions (MM) to improve the production of military supplies. When General Tojo became Prime Minister in 1941 he appointed Kishi as cabinet Minister of Commerce and Industry and in 1944, Kishi was also appointed the director of MM.

Before the outbreak of the war, Kishi had formed the Association for the Defence of the Fatherland. When he returned to Tokyo in 1939, he extended his network and won a seat in the National Diet in 1942. In 1944 he established the “Kishi New Party.” Its members were Kishi’s political and business right-wing associates from Manchuria and elite control bureaucrats and right-wing military personnel. His money power base were the directors of the public companies in Manchuria and the non- zaibatsu independent businesses that had reaped profits through Kishi’s agendas.

Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers on 2 September 1945. The period 1945–52 is commonly referred to as the Allied Occupation. The occupying counties were the United States, Great Britain and Australia but Great Britain and Australia sent far fewer troops than the United States, which was commanded by Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). The United States was determined to create a Western-style capitalistic and democratic society. War-time government officials were purged as Class A criminals and executed, Tojo among them. Kishi was purged as a Class A war criminal and imprisoned in Sugano prison in Tokyo for three years.

SCAP intended to reform Japan’s war-time economic system by systematically disbanding the military and the ministries. MM along with the Home Ministry and the Military Police were abolished in 1945. Policies also included dismantling the zaibatsu (family-owned conglomerates) established before and after the Meiji Restoration such as Sumitomo and Mitsubishi because of their full participation in the war effort. The US initiated a new constitution to introduce democratic principles such as freedom of speech, free elections and female suffrage. Labour unions were allowed to reorganize and the Socialist and Communist Parties that had been banned during the war were also given the right to reorganize. The new constitution which removed the Showa emperor as the formal head of state, replaced the Meiji Constitution. The Ministry of Defence was abolished and the famous Article 9 renounced Japan’s right to wage war. However, the beginning of the Cold War in 1945 with the Soviet Union, the communist-backed General Strike by the Government Workers’ Union in 1947, the Korean War (1950–3) and the perceived threat of communist expansion in East Asia persuaded SCAP to reconsider a number of the intended reforms in order to cultivate an economically strong and politically conservative ally in the Pacific where the United States could base its military operations in the Pacific and its military hardware. In 1947 the Diet banned strikes by government workers and in 1948 the Wage Control Program replaced free collective bargaining.

SCAP recognized that fundamental to a swift recovery for Japan’s devastated industrial complex was the expertise of the ministry officials who had managed Japan’s war-time economy. It reinstated former ministry officials, thereby preserving Japan’s pre-war institutions and the economic system. SCAP’s staff ignorance of the Japanese language and the social system compelled them to rely on existing institutions, namely the bureaucracy, to implement policies.

The nature of bureaucratic rule and the persona of the ministries remained intact because the officials who planned Japan’s post-war industrial policies were former MCI and MOF officials. Kishi’s ministry, the Ministry of Commerce, was the forerunner of MITI, which was established in 1947. The first officials previously had worked for the MCI and the Ministry of Munitions (MM) alongside Kishi during the war. MITI’s remit focused on the planning and implementation of industrial policy. The two economic ministries, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) were credited with being at the helm of Japan’s industrial resuscitation.

Survival of the Fittest

When Kishi realized that he would not be executed, he planned tactics that would lead a right-wing conservative party to power, an organization which would also include right-wing socialists and conservatives. When he was released from prison in 1948, he was forbidden by SCAP to enter public office again. However, the order was soon rescinded by SCAP as a part of its “reverse reforms.”

Kishi first re-established his Kishi New Party and integrated it with his ‘Association for the Defence of the Fatherland’ to form the ‘Japan Reconstruction Federation’, which included some of the former members of a pre-war conservative party and elite bureaucrats. He consolidated the federation with the well-established ultra-conservative parties whose objective was to revise the new constitution and the security treaty to allow Japan to rearm in order to defend itself. His younger brother Eisaku Sato, who was Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida’s protégé and chief cabinet secretary, urged Kishi to enter the Liberal Party, which was established by Ichiro Hatoyama, who was slated to become Prime Minister in 1946 but was purged by SCAP and prohibited to enter politics for five years. Kishi understood that in order to realize his ambitions he had to enter mainstream conservative politics and requested an introduction to Shigeru Yoshida who served as prime minister from 1946 to 1947 and from 1948 to 1954.

Yoshida invited him to become a member and Kishi won a seat in the National Diet in 1953. Kishi made a power-play within the party by accusing Yoshida of being in the lap of the Americans and the British. He succeeded in undermining Yoshida’s leadership by courting senior members of the party as well as business leaders to form a new government. Calling for a new conservative party, together with 200 politicians he created the “New Party Formation Promotion Council.” Yoshida reacted by expelling him from the Liberal Party.

In 1954, Kishi and his party joined Hatoyama and other Liberal Party members and, combining a strategic alliance with the Socialists formed a separate faction, the Democratic Party. Together they won 185 of the 467 seats while the Liberal Democrats lost almost half of their seats in the Diet. Hatoyama succeeded Yoshida as Prime Minister in 1954. However, Hatoyama was reluctant to merge the parties with the Democratic Party faction because he sensed that he could lose control, but Kishi’s political acumen and determination paid off and the Liberal Democratic Party was established in 1955 with Kishi at the centre.

Kishi had finally achieved his goal. He had succeeded in incorporating the existing conservative parties, right-wing and more moderate factions into a single conservative political party which would dominate Japanese politics for thirty-eight years. Hatoyama suffered a stroke in 1954 but continued to serve in office until 1956 before resigning. He was replaced by Tanzan Ishibashi, who, also due to illness, resigned after just sixty-three days. On 25 February 1957 Kishi became Japan’s 56th and 57th Prime Minister.

Manipulation of Fear   

Kishi shrewdly manipulated America’s intense fear of communism in the United States (1947 Truman Doctrine) and communist expansion in Asia to push his ultra-conservative party to power. America was instrumental in guaranteeing that LDP politicians would dominate the National Diet in the first election. Communist-backed labour union protests were suppressed and the CIA funnelled money to the LDP in the 1950s and 1960s in order to ensure a strong, conservative government. The CIA had created a fund, known as the “M Fund” which was organized from the sale of confiscated Japanese military supplies, industrial diamonds, platinum, gold and silver which had been stolen in occupied countries and the sale of shares of the dissolved zaibatsu. Kishi, who was strongly supported by the United States as Prime Minister, was a recipient of CIA funds which were funnelled through LDP coffers. The US State Department announced in July 2006 that by 1964 President Lyndon Johnson had officially stopped payments for “covert programs of propaganda and social action to encourage the Japanese to reject the influence from the left.” However, the fund effectively continued during Japan’s post-war period to support the LDP.

MITI’s administrative jurisdiction encompassed the retail and manufacturing sectors, the energy sector, small businesses development and promoting international trade. MITI’s mercantile policies protected domestic industries within its jurisdiction from foreign competition in order to catch-up and overtake the United States as a global economic force to be reckoned with.

My husband and I experienced the government’s protectionist policies, farmers selling their land to real estate developers and the acceleration of nuclear power-plants on earthquake prone zones.

Country Life

Sawaji’s primary crops were mikan, rice, horse radish, ginger root, persimmon and white radish. Our cottage was located on agricultural land owned for centuries by Ryutakuji, a famous Zen Buddhist monastery which gave us permission to live in the cottage on the condition that we upgrade the interior at our own expense. Farmers living in the area volunteered to tend Ryutakuji’s rice fields.

Mt. Fuji towered regally behind the cottage, a truly magnificent view. Clouds covered the top and each day Fuji-san wore a different cloud-hat. The dirt road led to Hakone National Park through cedar forests and past hog and honey farms. My husband had photographs of his father sitting on the veranda of the Fujiya Hotel with two American colleagues who were sent to Tokyo by Price Waterhouse to teach Japanese banks western accounting methods in the 1920s. The hotel was a popular venue in Hakone for its hot spring baths and we had spent a few days there during our first period in Japan. The only other guest was a pilot in the United States Airforce who was due to go to Vietnam on his first mission. He confided that he was extremely concerned about duty.

The rustic environment of our new home was a sharp contrast to Kamakura. The monastery sent craftsmen to repair the shoji screens which divided the rooms and to replace the battered tatami floors with new tatami mats. We installed a Japanese bath and a tile floor and cleaned up the kitchen which had two old propane gas hobs for cooking. Similar to the Kamakura house, we used canisters of propane gas for cooking. With the exception of the bath water which was heated by stoking a coal stove, personal hygiene was a cold water affair. There was an electrical outlet in the kitchen where we put a small refrigerator and an outlet in the adjacent room where we put a Pioneer radio and phonograph console. Again we used several kerosene stoves for heating. Sadly the Aladdin brand from Great Britain was no longer available and we relied on Matsushita (Panasonic) which seemed to dominate the market. I stood next to the stoves to keep warm, resulting in red patches on my legs and swollen red toes which my husband unceremoniously called “pigs.” We used the non-flush, hole-in-the-floor sand toilet which was cleaned monthly by the “honey bucket truck” and sanitized with antiseptic fluid. It was environmentally friendly and better than a flush toilet if cleaned regularly.

Country life was tough going. We lived half-a-mile from the bus to Mishima. The bus stop was next to a tiny shop which sold newspapers, milk, bread and other essentials. The public telephone box stood in front of the shop and since we did not have a phone we relied on the public phone. Real estate developers had recently constructed a small estate nearby with    monotonous stucco box-like houses. The residents purchased groceries, meat, fish, sandal, electronic and kimono from newly established shops.

 For those of us who lived outside of the village we could rely on vendors passing by on motorbikes daily selling fresh tofu and piping hot yams stored in steam ovens. The vendors announced their approach with sad whistle-like tunes that had probably been used for many years, a reminder of what Japan was like before the war. There were also vendors selling brooms and bamboo poles for hanging the wash or drying white radish or persimmon, and, occasionally, a man selling his knife sharpening services made the rounds. They announced their approach with taped recordings of themselves singing out their wares.

On our walks along the road leading to Hakone we stopped at the hog pens to look at the animals whose eyes mournfully expressed their acceptance of their future as sausage and bacon. We passed a strange wooden shack on stilts with a bicycle parked beneath.  The sign read “Yakult.” A Japanese yogurt producer founded by a Doctor Shirota in 1935 had set up tiny outlets in villages. A Japanese company Calpis also produced a yogurt-based beverage that, when diluted in hot water, was a delicious beverage in winter and, with ice, a cold summer drink.

But what I enjoyed most while in Sawaji was the daily announcements from Mishima city hall at noon over loud speakers to farmers in the field. There was a weather report, reminders of meetings and the latest farming news. But it was the song which preceded the announcement that I eagerly awaited because it was an old folk song played languidly on a harp. If the days were warm I would sit on the wooden veranda (rokka) to bask in the sun while listening to the mournful melody.

Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989), the founder of Panasonic and a devout Zen Buddhist, was regarded as the guru of modern Japanese industrialists. He was an important patron of Ryutakuji, offering substantial contributions to the monastery’s purse and sending his staff to practice meditation. He had no particular interest in religious practice until the age of thirty-seven. At the urging of a friend, he attended a service at a Buddhist temple. The atmosphere and the sincere devotion of the congregation brought him great consolation and inspired him to develop a personal ideology which supported his propensity to work overtime. Spiritual benefits could be reaped not only from prayer but also from the daily, diligent execution of one’s duties.

He regularly attended religious retreats at Buddhist monasteries, prodding his employees to participate in order to restore inner peace and to improve concentration. What was good for the soul was also good for sales. The enthusiastic found solace but the less willing realized only pain, sitting in cross-legged silence for eight hours a day for seven days.

Nixon’s Shock Doesn’t Shock

Our budget was not affected by the “Nixon Shock” in August 1971. The “Nixon Shock” refers to the end of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates and the Gold Standard on which currency standards were based. The Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944 established the US dollar as the only national currency backed by gold. The other currencies were valued against the dollar and countries could trade their dollars for a fixed amount of gold held in the US.

In the early 1970s, the Vietnam War caused a rapid rise in inflation in the United States, which was also experiencing pronounced trade and budget deficits. The dollar that had been valued at $35 per ounce of gold was weakened by America’s inability to cut government spending and reduce its trade deficit and budget deficit, which President Richard Nixon claimed was causing the inflation. As the government continued to print more money to fund operations in Vietnam and inflation continued to rise, countries began exchanging dollar assets for gold and America’s gold coverage dropped to 11 percent. In August 1971, without warning, President Richard Nixon imposed ninety-day wage and price controls as well as a 10 percent import surcharge. This action effectively made the dollar non-convertible on the open market. Even though the import surcharge was dropped five months later, there was a general revaluation of currencies. By 1976, there was no longer a fixed exchange rate.

The MOF suppressed the yen, which had been ¥360 per dollar for twenty-two years, to ¥308 per dollar. The government’s fiscal stimulus together with the Bank of Japan’s lower interest rates acted to prevent the yen’s rapid appreciation. The currency finally stabilized at ¥300 per dollar. Although the yen appreciated almost fifty cents to the dollar the prices of exports to the American market were relatively unaffected. MOF and MITI officials felt that as long as Japan ran a trade surplus with the United States, they were in control of the economy and their administrative territory. Japan continued to hoard its dollar assets in the United States, considered a safe haven, while controlling the yen in Japan. The yen’s appreciation did not seem to affect the Japanese people who, encouraged by the government, were saving much of their income. By the 1970s, the savings rate had peaked at almost 30 percent, the highest in the world.

Foreigners in their Midst

Farmers, who had profited from the sale of their property, replaced their centuries-old farm houses with new-builds complete with modern conveniences, including flush toilets. The toilets were manufactured by Toto, a company founded in Kitakyushu in 1917 to become the world’s largest toilet manufacturer by the 1990s.

A neighbour who was a farmer and who had sold some of his land to real estate developers replaced his traditional thatched-roof farmhouse with a new stucco dwelling. He proudly gave us a tour to show us the amenities he had installed. Several rooms had central heating and the flush toilet was a Toto toilet sporting a heated cover to warm the toilet seat. All very high-tech but a bit sad from a presumptuous foreigner’s perspective because of the loss of the traditional Japanese way of life.

We never encountered any discrimination during our time in Sawaji or Mishima. In Mishima we were treated as if we were Japanese. Although there were few foreigners living in Mishima, once the staff in supermarkets and our bank found that we spoke Japanese they were very welcoming. On the other hand, the residence in Sawaji were reticent to engage verbally even while waiting for the bus. We assumed that their exposure to foreigners had been limited.

The cottage was surrounded by mikan orchards tended by an aging couple whose backs were bent from carrying heavy loads of oranges for years. I took the liberty of bringing them tea and rice crackers on a lacquered wooden tray to introduce myself in the typical Japanese fashion. Although they accepted my offering they seemed somewhat flustered, probably because they had never been approached by a gaijin. I left behind the tea pot and cups on the tray and returned to the cottage. A few days later I discovered the lacquer tray inside the entrance with a pile of mikan.  Intermittently there were gifts of preserved fish, a delicacy, or rice crackers. But our communication continued with silent gestures.

The ice wall finally melted when I happened to be following school boys returning from school. Our house sat on a hill overlooking the rice paddies and dirt road to the estate. As the boys neared the hill, one of them pointed to the cottage and shouted to his friend, “Do you know if foreigners are living up there?” Laughing, I shouted in Japanese, “This foreigner lives up there!” The boys turned around in amazement to see the “foreigner.” From that day conversations at the bus stop commenced.

Nevertheless, I would have preferred that one incident had not occurred. The freezing winters took its toll on our health and I developed kidney problems again. My husband visited the monastery to ask the head monk about a doctor in the area. The monk offered to introduce us to his acupuncturist whose practice was located in the sea-side fishing town of Numazu about a one hour train ride from Mishima. The monk credited the acupuncturist with healing all of his aches and pains. My husband gratefully accepted. Since I had never experienced acupuncture I was willing to try it to alleviate the pain.

When we arrived at the office, there were several patients waiting for treatment. While my husband stayed in the waiting room I was taken to a treatment area where I was instructed to remove my trousers and shirt and to lay down on a long mat on the tatami floor. Five minutes later an older gentleman entered with a portfolio of needles. I immediately recognized that he was blind, causing me great concern. I was unaware that at the time many acupuncturists in Japan were blind. The man first felt my thin arms and legs, pronouncing that I was underweight. If he had examined my stomach he would have reversed his diagnosis. Without regard for my kidney infection, he proceeded to inject needles into my arms, legs, stomach, neck and head. As he turned the needles I experienced shooting pains. Despite a high-pain threshold I could not help but cry out. He tried to calm me during the treatment and I tried to remain as stoic as possible.

After returning home I took off my clothes to reveal large bruises covering my arms and legs. Naturally, I did not want continue the treatments but, although my husband understood that bruising should not be the consequence of an acupuncture treatment, he worried that if I did not have a second treatment the head monk would lose face. On the second visit the pain from the needles was worse and I kept yelling to the extent that when I exited the treatment room the patients in the waiting room looked at me as though I was a hysterical foreigner. My husband could see that the bruises were worse and decided that it would be best to terminate the treatments.

Oil Shock!

Although we were not directly affected by the “oil shock” which began in October 1973, the newspapers reported the unfolding drama from the Japanese perspective. The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), consisting of OPEC, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia had announced an oil embargo to protest the United States’ military support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The embargo lasted until March 1974 but it was considered by many countries, including Japan, to have been caused by the United States’ control of oil prices and the “Nixon Shock.” The end of Bretton Woods and the dollar’s devaluation impacted negatively on oil exporting countries, namely the Arab States.

In January when Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka (1972–74) met with Henry Kissinger he was unable to receive a guarantee from the United States for a steady supply of crude oil in return for Japan’s support of American policies. The Japanese government felt compelled to take a pro-Arab stance and Japan was thereby recognized by the Arab nations as pro-Arab. Although the embargo ended in March, the price of crude oil rose from $3 to $12 per barrel and the yen appreciated to ¥260 per dollar.

The papers carried photographs of housewives stampeding to supermarkets to empty the shelves of sugar and toilet paper. The gas man from the estate who delivered the propane monthly told us that he and other business owners in town were relieved that the oil shock had occurred because they assumed that the sudden decrease in oil imports would force the government to slow down the pace of rapid industrial development and that the Japanese would have a brief respite from continuously pushing their economy forward. Contrary to expectations that the sudden rise in prices would cause inflation, Japan’s economy slumped into a period of stagflation.

Government at the Controls

Kamakura had become an emotional and intellectual comfort zone but it also served to conceal a more realistic perception of the daily struggle of the Japanese to peddle along their rapidly expanding economy. The government had no intention of slowing down. Steel, automobiles, heavy and home appliances, petrochemicals, auto-tires, synthetic fibers, aluminum, non-ferrous metals, plate glass, pulp and paper, the industries in MITI’s administrative jurisdiction, were among those directly affected by the oil embargo and the subsequent increase of petroleum prices.

The crisis forced the government to recognize the county’s vulnerability and take immediate measures to rationalize oil in order to decrease the demand for both gasoline and electricity. The newspapers reported the reaction to the crisis and the effects on the Japanese economy which had until then depended on the manufacturing and export of energy-intensive industries. Since Japan imported around ninety percent of fossil fuel the government controlled the distribution of oil to industries deemed important such as the automobile industry while simultaneously subsidizing the energy-intensive ones, which would become known as “sunset industries.” The Ministry of International Trade and Industry MITI) also introduced a new source of energy.

In 1973, the government announced that nuclear energy was a national priority. In order to continue economic expansion and overtake the US economy the government had to reduce industries’ reliance on fossil fuels. In 1974, the “Three Power Source Development Law” was enacted to subsidize local authorities that were willing to host nuclear power plants.

Nuclear in Our Neighborhood

The town of Hamaoka (merged in 2004 with Omaezaki) is located in the Tokai region at the southern tip of Shizuoka Prefecture and 125 miles northeast of Tokyo. Tokai is Japan’s major industrial and manufacturing region with densely populated cities which are supported mainly by the manufacturing sector. Car manufacturers with extensive operations are Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Corp., Mitsubishi Motors and Suzuki.

Hamaoka was impoverished when the residents accepted to host a nuclear power plant in 1969. Seismologists had warned the government in 1970 before the license for the construction of Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant No.1 reactor was granted to the Chubu Electric Power Company (CHUDEN) that the proposed site was near two seismic fault lines and that a major earthquake in the Tokai region was overdue. While we were in Sawaji we experienced our second earthquake in the late afternoon. The tremor was so severe that the huge temple bell in the monastery confines which monks normally rang three times daily, chimed independently for three minutes.

Regardless, CHUDEN received the permit and commenced construction and the plant was commissioned in 1976. Three more reactors were commissioned and, despite seismologists’ claim that Hamaoka was the most dangerous plant in Japan, a fifth reactor was commissioned in 2005. Although two reactors have been decommissioned since 2009, a sixth reactor has been under construction since December 2008 despite the warning from seismologists that an earthquake of the magnitude of 9 (such as the one that occurred in 2011) would trigger the evacuation of more than 28 million residents in Tokyo. Operations were suspended after the Fukushima nuclear crisis but as I predicted in Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Hamaoka will go online despite anti-nuclear protests.

I continued Japanese lessons with Professor Niimi, making the two-hour train journey fortnightly, passing the towering Soka Gakkai pagoda in Gotemba. I had become fairly fluent in Japanese and wanted to work in a Japanese company but, unfortunately, my husband had been hospitalized twice while in Mishima and after four years of dealing with health issues we made the difficult decision to return to the US.