“What`s a famous food from England?”, a cheeky young waiter asked me.
“Fish and chips”, I fired back.
He fell back on the tatami floor laughing, wiped away a few tears, then asked for details.
Akinori Watanabe, I found out later, wasn`t a cheeky waiter but a cheeky owner. Just 30 years old, he owns Misaki, the small smart sushi restaurant outside Fukushima City station where I had stopped for lunch.
After serving me a tray of sushi at the counter, he sat on the tatami floor behind my stool. He told me he grew up in the Hamadori part of Fukushima, by the sea. Hamadori people are arappoi (wild) I had been told. Akinori was certainly confident, even cocky, but he was a great character.
With his Fukushima friends, he goes on regular shopping trips to Ginza and Daikanyama; he loves to see the “parikore” (The Paris Collection). Despite his taste for Tokyo trips, he`s happy in Fukushima City “Fukushima de ganbarimasu“, he said. He plans to endure whatever is necessary to stay here.
For twenty minutes we talked, mostly about beer, food and Wayne Rooney. Not once did we talk about radiation levels in the city. I got the impression it was the last thing he wanted to talk about.
In contrast, radiation was the first thing Hideki wanted to talk about. Along with 6 other volunteers, Hideki, a telecoms engineers, was handing out leaflets advertising Ikari no Fukushima, an anti-nuclear demonstration to be held next month.
“Look around, there are no children about”, gesturing at the quiet streets, he spoke with emotion.
As well as blaming the government and TEPCO, he also attacked the deterame (wild words) of Tokyo and Kyoto University professors who had convinced locals a nuclear plant could be safely built on the earthquake-prone coastline.
Saying goodbye to Hideki, stood in the pouring rain, I could not decide what to do with my afternoon. So I went to Mister Donuts. Twice.
My reasoning was sound. I wanted to see how many young people were out and about. Mister Donuts on a Sunday is an excellent indicator of this.
The preliminary findings suggest few. On both my visits, more donuts were on my plate than teenagers in the shop. A sad fact in more ways than one perhaps.
The following morning, I left Fukushima City with many unanswered questions. I`m not the only one confused. Stood in front of me in the morning bus queue, a university student was avidly reading Genpatsu no Uso (The Lies of Nuclear Power, an influential book by nuclear engineer Hiroaki Koide).
Like millions of others in Japan, he`s now wrestling with a problem meant to be left for experts. It`s not surprising many prefer the reassuring poops and farts explanation.