Blast In Central Tokyo Kills Three As Building Explodes
A building exploded in central Tokyo on the afternoon of Tuesday 19 June, leaving three dead and three seriously injured. Nobody phoned in a warning before the building blew up, and, in the aftermath of the disaster, nobody stepped forward to claim responsibility.
The explosion was captured by a security camera, and we have seen the footage repetitively on TV. We see a cyclist coming down the street toward the camera. The cyclist disappears out of frame and, abruptly, a huge boiling explosion fills the street, a smoky cloud of debris looking like something out of 9/11.
This caused me to reflect on the carnage that we routinely see delivered to us by the TV news in segments of perhaps twenty seconds each. In Iraq, people are routinely killed. Every day. Five people, ten, twenty, thirty, maybe fifty dead in a bomb blast.
I see these segments all the time and, by the next day, I've already done a data dump, and no longer remember what it was that I saw. The monotonous slaughter in the carnage ground is a big ho-hum, irrelevant, and possessed of as little interest as the scores being racked up in someone else's video game.
Iraq, we may reasonably surmise, is a land where the blood never dries. By the time the gory remnants of one person's bomb-blasted carcase have gone hard and crusty, someone else is bleeding to death. But, while I see the news of the killings on TV, it leaves me indifferent.
What has held my attention over the last week is the weather, which is more a matter of concern now that the rainy season is here, and the ongoing saga of Paris Hilton, the rich bitch who is currently in jail in Los Angeles, which, if you ask me, is precisely where she deserves to be.
It's the three local killings, with names and faces attached, that bring home to me, at least for the moment, the cost of what is happening in Iraq. (And Afghanistan, Gaza, Darfur ... it's a washing list, no time in my schedule to fit in a daily round of mourning for all that laundry.)
The building which blew up in Tokyo's Shibuya district exploded because it was full of natural gas, presumably something chemically similar to the friendly domestic cooking gas which we have piped into our homes. And the building which exploded was a place with hot spa baths, a place of the kind which is known in Japan as an onsen.
The geothermal water used for this spa in the heart of Tokyo is natural, and this came as a surprise to some of the Japanese students of English with whom I discussed this catastrophe. In Japan, the word "onsen" is freighted with images of the great outdoors, remote from the hubbub of the city.
But there are, it seems, a number of onsens in metropolitan Tokyo which rely on geothermal water, stuff you can get out of the ground, already hot, no need to pay electricity to heat up the bath.
Apparently, if you set a drilling rig to work in the Tokyo area and drill down five hundred meters, you can access a stratum from which you can extract two things. One is geothermal water, clean green water with no carbon dioxide emissions attached. The other thing you can get is natural gas, which is less desirable, because, as we all know, it has the potential to cause explosions.
When you drill down to get the water, the gas comes to the surface mixed in with the water, so you can't have one without the other. For this reason, the Shibuya onsen was equipped with a gas extractor, which should have ensured that the volcanic water coming into the building was gas free. But apparently something went horribly wrong and the equipment failed.
While nobody has claimed responsibility for this disaster, it is entirely possible that someone was criminally culpable, and presumably that is a question which the police will be at work on right now.
So that's our big excitement here in Japan. The other exciting news (at least, I find it exciting) is that the sakuranbo season is getting underway.
Early in the year, as spring arrives, we have the season of sakura. The flowering cherry trees bloom, and that's the signal for everyone to crack open the sake and head off to the local park to do karaoke and get amiably smashed.
But now, in June, the sakuranbo are coming into season, "sakuranbo" being actual cherries that you can put in your mouth and eat.