TIME Japan

The Most Dangerous Room in the World

Dominic Nahr for TIME

Three-and-a-half years after a catastrophic meltdown, Fukushima is far from fixed

Our gas masks are on, as are three pairs of gloves secured with tape, two pairs of socks, rubber boots, a hard hat and a hazmat suit that encases our bodies in polyethylene. Ice packs cool our torsos, but photographer Dominic Nahr, reporter Chie Kobayashi and I start sweating. Maybe it’s nerves, or maybe it’s just the sticky humidity of summertime Japan.

Soon we approach the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—ground zero of the worst atomic meltdown since Chernobyl. Dosimeters around our necks record the rising levels of radiation. After the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011, the aging plant on Japan’s northeastern coast suffered a total power failure, causing the cooling system to shut down…

Read the full story here.

TIME Japan

Hiroshima Landslide Kills at Least 36

At least 36 people were killed in Japan on Wednesday when landslides triggered by heavy rain hit the outskirts of Hiroshima. Several people were missing after a month's worth of rain fell overnight, loosening slopes saturated by previous heavy rain that fell over the past few weeks

TIME

10 Dead, 22 Missing in Hiroshima Landslide

Japan Landslide
Rescue workers search for survivors after a massive landslide swept through residential areas in Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 20, 2014 AP Photo/Kyodo News

Authorities issued warnings that further rains could trigger more landslides and flooding

(TOKYO) — Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris early Wednesday in the outskirts of Hiroshima, killing at least 10 people and leaving 22 missing, the government said.

Video footage from the national broadcaster NHK showed rescue workers suspended by ropes from police helicopters pulling victims from the rubble. Others gingerly climbed into windows as they searched for survivors in crushed homes.

Hillsides caved in or were swept down into residential areas in least five valleys in the suburbs of the western Japanese city after heavy rains left slopes unstable.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency, citing the local government, said 10 people were confirmeddead and another 22 were missing as of mid-afternoon. It said 19 people were injured, two seriously.

“A few people were washed away and it is hard to know exactly how many are unaccounted for,” said local government official Nakatoshi Okamoto, noting that the conditions in the disaster area were hindering efforts to account for all those affected.

Authorities issued warnings that further rains could trigger more landslides and flooding.

Landslides are a constant risk in mountainous, crowded Japan, where many homes are built on or near steep slopes. Torrential rains in the early morning apparently caused slopes to collapse in an area where many of the buildings were newly constructed.

Damage from land and mudslides has increased over the past few decades due to more frequent heavy rains, despite extensive work on stabilizing slopes. In the past decade there have been nearly 1,200landslides a year, according to the land ministry, up from an average of about 770 a year in the previous decade.

In October last year, multiple mudslides on Izu-Oshima, an island south of Tokyo, killed 35 people, four of whose bodies were never recovered. Those slides followed a typhoon that dumped a record 824 millimeters (more than 32 inches) of rain in a single day.

TIME europe

Europe’s Economic Woes Require a Japanese Solution

Rome As Italy Returns To Recession In Second-Quarter
A pedestrian carries a plastic shopping bag as she passes a closed-down temporary outlet store in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Italy's economy shrank 0.2 percent in the second quarter after contracting 0.1 percent in the previous three months. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The region’s economy is starting to resemble Japan’s, and that threatens to condemn Europe to its own lost decades

No policymaker, anywhere in the world, wants his or her national economy to be compared to Japan’s. That’s because the Japanese economy, though still the world’s third-largest, has become a sad case-study in the long-term damage that can be inflicted by a financial crisis. It’s more than two decades since Japan’s financial sector melted down in a gargantuan property and stock market crash, but the economy has never fully recovered. Growth remains sluggish, the corporate sector struggles to compete, and the welfare of the average Japanese household has stagnated.

The stark reality facing Europe right now is that its post-crisis economy is looking more and more like Japan’s. And if I was Mario Draghi, Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande, that would have me very, very nervous that Europe is facing a Japanese future — a painful, multi-decade decline.

The anemic growth figures in post-crisis Europe suggest that the region is in the middle of a long-term slump much like post-crisis Japan. Euro zone GDP has contracted in three of the five years from 2009 and 2013, and the International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth of about 1.5% a year through 2019. Compare that to Japan. Between 1992 and 2002, Japan’s GDP grew more than 2% only twice, and contracted in two years. What Europe has to avoid is what happened next in Japan: There, the “lost decade” of slow growth turned into “lost decades.” A self-reinforcing cycle of low growth and meager demand became entrenched, leaving Japan almost entirely dependent on exports — in other words, on external demand — for even its modest rates of expansion.

It is easy to see Europe falling into the same trap. Low growth gives European consumers little incentive to spend, banks to lend, or companies to invest at home. Europe, in fact, has it worse than Japan in certain respects. High unemployment, never much of an issue in Japan, could suppress the spending power of the European middle class for years to come. Europe also can’t afford to rely on fiscal spending to pump up growth, as Japan has done. Pressure from bond markets and the euro zone’s leaders have forced European governments to scale back fiscal spending even as growth has stumbled. It is hard to see where Europe’s growth will come from – except for increasing exports, which, in a still-wobbly global economy, is far from a sure thing.

This slow-growth trap is showing up in Europe today as low inflation – something else that has plagued Japan for years on end. Deflation in Japan acted as a further brake on growth by constraining both consumption and investment. Now there are widespread worries that the euro zone is heading in a similar pattern. Inflation in the euro zone sunk to a mere 0.4% in July, the lowest since the depths of the Great Recession in October 2009.

Sadly, Europe and Japan also have something else in common. Their leaders have been far too complacent in tackling these problems. What really killed Japan was a diehard resistance to implementing the reforms that might spur new sources of growth. The economy has remained too tied up in the red tape and protection that stifles innovation and entrepreneurship. And aside from a burst of liberalization under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the early 2000s, Japan’s policymakers and politicians generally avoided the politically sensitive reforms that might have fixed the economy.

Europe, arguably, has been only slightly more active. Though some individual governments have made honorable efforts – such as Spain’s with its labor-law liberalization – for the most part reform has come slowly (as in Italy), or has barely begun (France). Nor have European leaders continued to pursue the euro zone-wide integration, such as removing remaining barriers to a common market, that could also help spur growth.

What all this adds up to is simple: If Europe wants to avoid becoming Japan, Europe’s leaders will have to avoid the mistakes Japan has made over the past 20 years. That requires a dramatic shift in the current direction of European economy policy.

First of all, the European Central Bank (ECB) has to take a page out of the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) recent playbook and become much more aggressive in combating deflation. We can debate whether the BOJ’s massive and unorthodox stimulus policies are good or bad, but what is beyond argument at this point is that ECB president Draghi is not taking the threat of deflation seriously enough. Inflation is nowhere near the ECB’s preferred 2% and Draghi has run monetary policy much too tight. He should consider bringing down interest rates further, if necessary employing the “quantitative easing” used by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

But Japan’s case also shows that monetary policy alone can’t raise growth. The BOJ is currently injecting a torrent of cash into the Japanese economy, but still the economic recovery is weak. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally seems to have digested that fact and in recent months has announced some measures aimed at overhauling the structure of the Japanese economy, by, for instance, loosening labor markets, slicing through excessive regulation, and encouraging more women to join the workforce. Abe’s efforts may prove too little, too late, but European leaders must still follow in his footsteps by taking on unions, opening protected sectors and dropping barriers to trade and investment in order to enhance competitiveness and create jobs.

If Europe fails to act, it is not hard to foresee the region slipping hopelessly into a Japan-like downward spiral. This would prove disastrous for Europe’s young people — already suffering from incomprehensible levels of youth unemployment — and it would deny the world economy yet another pillar of growth.

TIME Environment

Japanese Farmers Just Got a New Pesticide: The Flightless Ladybug

Ancient Silk Town Paves Way For Japans Abandoned Rice Fields
A rice farmer works in a paddy field in Yabu City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ladybugs can do the work that nasty chemicals used to

Researchers in Japan have discovered a way to selectively breed flightless ladybugs to be used as a “biopesticide” — a natural alternative to chemical pesticides.

Ladybugs have long been considered natural pest-control for gardens and crops, but their ability to fly away encouraged many agriculturalists to instead rely on chemical pesticides that are harmful to the environment. After several generations of being exposed to chemicals, many pests have also been known to develop pesticide resistance.

In an effort to create a practical biopesticide, Tomokazu Seko, a researcher from the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Fukuyama, Japan, conducted research on 400 ladybugs from the Harmonia axyridis species. After selective breeding over 30 generations, he was finally able to develop a non-flying ladybug.

A company in Ibaraki Prefecture has started selling the flightless ladybug as a biopesticide for indoor use. According to a statement from the Biopesticide Industry Alliance, the ladybug has already reduced over 90% of the pest-damage to Japanese mustard spinach.

“The best part is that you can see the ladybugs working with your own eyes,” Seko told the Japan News.

[Japan News]

TIME

Google Is Investing in a Superfast Fiber-Optic Cable Across the Pacific

File photo of Google Inc's logo
Google's logo at an office in Seoul on May 3, 2011 Truth Leem—Reuters

It will deliver speeds of 60 terabytes per second. That's crazy huge

Google will be joining forces with five East Asian companies to build a 9,000-km (6,000 mile) fiber-optic underwater cable that will span the Pacific Ocean, connecting the West Coast of the U.S. to two cities in Japan. The $300 million project aims to address the needs of rising Internet usage along the trans-Pacific route.

China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Japanese mobile carrier KDDI, Singapore’s SingTel and Malaysia’s Global Transit — some of the largest telecom firms in Asia — will also be investing in the project that is scheduled to begin service by 2016. The cable system, called FASTER, will be supplied by the Japanese vendor NEC and designed to deliver speeds of 60 terabytes per second — “about ten million times faster than your cable modem,” Urs Hölze, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, wrote on his Google+ page.

“The FASTER cable system has the largest design capacity ever built on the Trans-Pacific route, which is one of the longest routes in the world,” Woohyong Choi, the chairman of the consortium, said in a statement.

The system will connect to the cities of Shima and Chikura in Japan and will also extend to major cities and their environs on the U.S. West Coast, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle, according to a statement released by NEC.

The project is not Google’s first investment in underwater cable systems; it also backed UNITY in 2008 and SJC (South-East Asia Japan Cable) in 2011. Google’s investments in network infrastructure in Asia reflects global trends that indicate the region now has the greatest number of Internet users in the world.

TIME Japan

Science Scandal Triggers Suicide, Soul-Searching in Japan

Sasai, deputy director of the Riken's Center for Developmental Biology, poses for a photo with Haruko Obokata in front of a screen showing STAP cells, in Kobe
Yoshiki Sasai, right, deputy director of the Riken's Center for Developmental Biology, poses for a photo with Haruko Obokata on Jan. 28, 2014. Kyodo/Reuters

Yoshiki Sasai’s death has generated mixed emotions among Japan's scientific community

It was a success story that Japan sorely needed: a young, talented and beautiful researcher developed a cheap and simple way to grow versatile stem cells.

The discovery promised to usher in a new age of regenerative medicine, validated Japan as a leader in scientific research and demonstrated that even in a male-dominated society, women could excel when given a chance.

Alas, it may have been too good to be true.

Intrigued by researcher Haruko Obokata’s breakthrough, other scientists tried but failed to replicate her results. Peer-review websites accused her of falsifying data and doctoring images, and supervisors were accused of lax management. Obokata, 30, was forced to retract her scientific papers, and the government-sponsored research center where she worked launched a formal investigation.

The matter took a darker turn this week when Obokata’s supervisor and mentor, Yoshiki Sasai, a noted scientist in his own right, was found hanging from a stairway railing at his office.

In farewell letters found at his desk, Sasai reportedly apologized for the turmoil, but urged Obokata to continue her work and to prove her detractors wrong.

Sasai’s death cast a pall over the controversy. But in a nation where suicide does not carry the same stigma as in some Western countries, there has been a certain degree of sympathy — if not outright approval.

“This is seen in some respects as an honorable way out of a shameful and devastating turn of events: ‘A highflyer brought low by an underling’s mistakes, seeking to atone for and expunge the shame,’” says Jeffrey Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Tokyo’s Temple University-Japan. “This touches a chord of sympathy and understanding in Japan.”

Sasai was a noted stem-cell scientist and deputy director of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, in Kobe — part of a national research system that receives roughly $1 billion a year in government support and is part of an ambitious effort to boost scientific research throughout Japan.

The 52-year-old was not directly involved in Obokata’s research, but had helped recruit her and supervised the research papers that were published in the British journal Nature in January.

But whether Sasai’s death generates sympathy for Obokata or the rest of Japan’s scientific community remains to be seen.

Obokata burst onto the scene in late January with the publication of the Nature papers, of which she was the lead author. Those studies claimed to have found a new way of creating stem cells, dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP. Such cells could be used to create new tissue, with potential for treating illnesses like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stroke.

Poised and photogenic, Obokata was an instant hit with Japan’s frenetic media —mainstream and social, alike. Here, after all, was a different kind of scientist. Even in the lab, Obokata flashed stylish clothes, false eyelashes and fashionable hairstyles. She eschewed the usual white lab coat in favor of a traditional housewife’s kappogi (a gift from her grandmother, she explained) and had the walls of her lab painted pink and yellow and decorated with cartoon characters.

Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made “womenomics” a key plinth of his economic revival package, noticed. He commended Obokata’s apparent achievement from the floor of Japan’s Parliament and vowed to build “a country where the women are the brightest in the world.”

But it didn’t take long for doubts to surface. Peer-review websites noticed oddities and discrepancies in Obokata’s research. Attempts to replicate her findings failed.

By mid-February, RIKEN had launched an internal investigation. In April, officials charged Obokata with fabricating data, doctoring images and borrowing descriptions from other research papers.

Meanwhile, discrepancies were found in the research of other leading scientists, though none with the public profile of Obokata.

In an excruciating, four-hour press conference televised live by many of Japan’s major networks, a tearful Obokata struggled to maintain her composure. She admitted errors in her research papers, but maintained they were innocent mistakes that did not affect the final results. STAP cells were real, she insisted.

She has remained on the staff at RIKEN but has maintained a low profile, refusing interviews. In July, RIKEN officials announced that she would be allowed to take part in a five-month experiment designed to discover once and for all whether her initial findings were real. Other researchers and video cameras would monitor her work, officials said.

The RIKEN affair has been watched closely by Japan’s scientific community, which has produced its share of Nobel Prizes but is often viewed as insular and underperforming.

“One thing that should not be lost in all this is that Japan produces outstanding science,” says Jonathan Dorfan, a former director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, at Stanford University, and now president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

“People in the scientific community here are paying attention to this, and hopefully that will lead to the kind of training that will avoid an outcome like this happening again.”

TIME Travel

Tokyo: What to See and What to Skip

There's nowhere else quite like Tokyo, so here's what you need to know to plan your visit

Aerial view of Tokyo and its Tower from the World Trade Center Building. April 2014 Frederic Soltan—Corbis

What is it about Tokyo that can make visitors feel as if the city belongs not in another country, but on another planet? Perhaps it’s the schizophrenia at the heart of what was once Edo—stately, tree-lined Omotesando giving way to the pinball frenzy of Shibuya, Tomorrowland Shinjunku meeting the timeless Meiji Jingu shrine. Tokyo contains multitudes, which we mean literally—the metro are is home to more than 35 million people, and on a muggy day in August you can feel nearly every one of them. Forget about navigating above ground—even the taxi drivers are dependent on GPS. But there is truly no other place on Earth—or elsewhere—like it, and those who can endure the over-stimulus will find themselves drawn back again and again.

  • What to see:

    -Meiji Jingu (1-1 Yoyogi-Kamizono-cho, Shibuya-ku. Meijijingu.or.jp): Tokyo doesn’t have many green spaces, which is a serious problem for a recreational runner. So you can imagine my pleasure on one of my first days there when I found a shady green park not far from where I was staying in Shibuya. Just one problem: the park housed Meiji Jingu, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, and the white-gloved Japanese policeman who began whistling furiously at me was not happy to see a sweaty gaijin lumbering into a sacred space. Provided you’re not working out, however, Meiji Jingu is a rare oasis of tranquility amid the constant buzz of Tokyo.

    Edo-Tokyo Museum
    Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo, Japan. Angelo Hornak—Corbis

    -Edo-Tokyo Museum (1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku; edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp): Today Tokyo is the center of Japan, home to about a quarter of the country’s population, but that reign is relatively recent. The city was founded in the 1600s as Edo, the seat of the shoguns (as opposed to the emperor, who reigned in Kyoto to the southwest). This museum details ordinary life in the city from the time of the shoguns through the firebombing during WWII to today, giving a sense of history to a city that sometimes seems to live in a perpetual present. As a bonus, the museum is located in the Ryogoku neighborhood, home to the main sumo-wrestling arena.

    -Tokyo Skytree (1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku; www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en): Visitors who believe Tokyo is a vertically-aligned, Blade Runner-esque city of skyscrapers are surprised to find that most of the capital is made up of squat buildings rarely more than a few stories high. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t towers, and at 2,080 ft., the new Tokyo Skytree is the tallest freestanding tower in the world. While the top-viewing level is only 1,480 ft. above the ground, that’s more than enough height to get a view of Tokyo’s endless sprawl.

  • What not to see:

    J
    Pedestrians walk past a show window of a clothing store at Harajuku shopping district in Tokyo February 28, 2014. Yuya Shino—Reuters/Corbis

    -Harajuku: The origin point of Japan’s youthquake, the Harajuku neighborhood was played out back when Gwen Stefani appropriated Japanese girl street style for her 2004 song “Harajuku Girls.” You can still check out the pedestrian-only Takeshita Dori if you want to find an overpriced designer T-shirt, but you’d be better off strolling nearby Omotesando, one of the few tree-lined boulevards in Tokyo.

     

  • Where to eat and drink:

    148648316
    Detail of sushi at Sushi Dai, Tsukiji Fish Market. Greg Elms—Getty Images

    -Sushi Dai (5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo): It may be clichéd, but you can’t go to Tokyo without stopping by the Tsukiji fish market, where the daily catch that will find its way to sushi plates around the city is auctioned off early in the morning. Get the freshest of the fresh at nearby Sushi Dai, where you’ll discover that raw fish makes for a surprisingly good breakfast.

    -Gonpachi (1-13-11 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku): If the cavernous Gonpachi looks familiar, that’s because it is said to have inspired the Tokyo restaurant where Uma Thurman slices through the Crazy-88s at the end of the first Kill Bill. But Gonpachi isn’t just about the scenery—it serves dressed up izakaya food, popular in Japanese pubs, and was good enough for former President George W. Bush when he visited Japan in 2002.

    -New York Bar (Park Hyatt Hotel, 3-7-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku): Tokyo is a barfly’s delight, with drinking establishments that range from back-alley beer joints to cocktail lounges where your whiskey comes with perfectly spherical balls of ice. The New York Bar is more the latter—you’ll recognize it from the 2003 film Lost in Translation—and it’s not cheap. But you can’t put a price on the view from the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel.

  • Where not to eat or drink:

    148631016
    A bar in the Roppongi district, Tokyo. Greg Elms—Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    -Roppongi: This seedy district has been the foreigner’s first stop in Tokyo since American occupiers set up shop there after World War II. Roppongi has its own kind of charm, if your thing is loud bars, expensive drinks and nights that end after sunrise. It’s not as dangerous as it’s often made out to be—though there are occasional reports of spiked drinks and inflated bar tabs—and the sheer frenzy of the neighborhood makes it worth visiting once. But only once.

  • Where to stay:

    The Park Hyatt Hotel, location of the film Lost in Translation, and busy traffic at night, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, Asia
    The Park Hyatt Hotel, location of the film Lost in Translation, in Tokyo, Japan. Christian Kober—Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

    -Park Hyatt Hotel (Park Hyatt Hotel, 3-7-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku): If you’re coming for the New York Bar, why not cut down the commute and stay a night? Possibly the price—even the least expensive rooms cost nearly $500 a day. But the Park Hyatt is the rare landmark in Tokyo—a city that has been lacking in great international hotels—that has stood the test of time, even before it was immortalized in film. And if you can swim, don’t miss a dip in the sky pool, on the 47th floor of the hotel, which has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city.

TIME World War II

This Is How TIME Explained the Atomic Bomb in 1945

Graphic from TIME Aug. 20, 1945

Looking back at TIME's coverage of the atomic bombings

This week marks the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombings that ended World War II: the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and the one of Nagasaki three days later. The two attacks may have claimed over 250,000 lives — around 100,000 victims were immediately incinerated, and many others died later from radiation poisoning and other injuries. Entire neighborhoods vanished into thin air.

World War II had already ended in Europe by August 1945, after Nazi Germany signed its instrument of surrender on May 7. But the war unfolding in East Asia and the Pacific raged on. When Japan showed no signs of surrendering, U.S. President Harry Truman decided to drop the bomb—an act whose necessity and ethical ramifications are being debated to this day.

“I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb,” President Truman said in a radio address on Aug. 9 that year. “Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken by this Government. But we knew that our enemies were on the search for it. We know now how close they were to finding it. And we knew the disaster which would come to this nation, and to all peaceful nations, to all civilizations, if they had found it first.”

TIME covered the end of the war in Japan in its Aug.20, 1945 issue, five days after Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced the country’s surrender. Among the generally celebratory coverage of the end of WWII, the magazine’s editors published the infographic above breaking down the chain reaction behind an atomic bomb explosion.

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