The View From Here - Japan - The water tastes like it oughta, claim officials
When a Japanese official was seen on TV recently drinking water from a stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor, the spectacle could not help but reignite memories of John Gummer. You might remember his ineffectual efforts to placate the British public's misgivings over BSE by getting his four-year-old to eat a beef burger in front of the cameras.
Yasuhiro Sonoda's gallant attempt to call a journalist's bluff by drinking from a glass of decontaminated water from the atomic plant appeared to have the same less-than-riveting effect on the Japanese public.
Millions still mistrust official assurances that radiation around the plant now poses little threat, including to food grown in and around the area. Thousands more with children here, including some British expats, refuse to buy or eat any Japanese-grown food.
So when they heard the government was to introduce rice and other foods grown in Fukushima to school dinners, many became apoplectic. Some have taken their children out of school altogether, despite credible guarantees, even from outside the Japanese government, that 99.9 per cent of food eaten in Japan is now safe. Well, as safe as it was pre-Dai-ichi.
"This is a catastrophe and those farmers are victims. To choose to share their fate as victims is tantamount to seppuku and to force it on children in public schools is MURDER," writes one hysterical poster on their Facebook page dedicated to "Tokyo Kids amp; Radiation".
These types of views are something that the Tokyo government is keen to minimise, especially as it attempts to promote food safety. It would help Fukushima farmers, officials say, if the public could get its facts straight.
So far, rice from 1,174 locations in Fukushima has been tested and no radioactive materials were detected in 82 per cent of samples, according to results of the latest Food Ministry tests. The problem is, with distrust of the government still running high, more than half of Japanese people are against eating food from "contaminated" Fukushima.
With farmers facing ruin, the government thought it would step in and require state schools in Tokyo and Yokohama to use as much rice and other ingredients in its school lunches as possible.
However, some schools have been criticised for overzealously ramming Fukushima food down kids' throats. One Japanese MP recently accused a school on the Fukushima border of treating kids who refused to drink milk, as instructed by their parents, "like traitors".
Apparently, during lunchbreak, when free milk is distributed to pupils throughout Japan, those who refused to drink were told to put the milk in a bucket and explain why they had spurned it.
"Those who refuse to drink milk step forward," said the teacher, according to the opposition MP. On hearing such testimony in parliament, the man who was in charge of the Dai-ichi crisis earlier this year, Yukio Edano, could barely suppress a chuckle. Nervous laughter, perhaps?
If one politician has drunk deeply from the waters of Dai-ichi, it might not be long before Japanese lawmakers' favourites sake and puffer-fish are replaced with the equally enticing eau de decontaminer.