Jikan Ga Kakaru

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Jikan ga Kakaru (時間がかかる) is a Japanese phrase that I learned on my first trip way back in May of ’89. Basically it means ‘It takes time’. I fell in love with this phrase right away and probably assigned more philosophical meaning to it than it should have.

At that time I was a young, impulsive engineer who wanted to conquer the world. (Society has since beaten almost all of that out of me.) We were designing computer controls to automate oil refineries and I would often ask for things and then wait eagerly for immediate gratification of my requests. My handler told me countless times, “Jikan ga kakarimasu.” – a more polite form of the same sentence.

Since I moved to Japan in May of 2004, there have been many news stories about ferrosilt. As a (former) chemical engineer I quickly get drawn to these types of stories, but they often prove difficult to understand because technical language is harder to learn and translate. My first hurdle in grasping this was to translate the Japanese phonetics of the katakana name to something in English. Starting from something like ‘fueroshiruto’ and doing a little internet research I succeeded; however, the news stories were always very bad and nothing I could find on ferrosilt in English was unpleasant. Finally, last week I figured it out; partly because my Japanese has improved and partly (er, … mostly) because I caught an English translation of the news.

Ferrosilt was listed by my little, relatively unimportant prefecture on a preferred list of recycled products to use. Unfortunately the company producing it was cleaning chromium-containing waste and decided that putting a bypass in their waste treatment process would save them money. Bypass from the waste treatment was fed into the ferrosilt production. Apparently a very slick system was set up so they could quickly remove the bypass during inspections. Current scandal centers around the suggestion that inspectors would warn the company before they came for inspections.

Complications arise in an otherwise, relatively simple scandal: ferrosilt was recommended as a landfill material. It is quite common for Japanese neighborhoods to be built on filled-in land. This means some housing complexes and buildings are constructed on top of the toxic waste. How do you clean that up?

The prefectural government has clearly apologized for having the product on its recommended list, but I’m sure this will be on the news for a long time to come as they figure out who was involved and figure out how to remediate.

Anyhow, there are so many things that ‘take time’ for me to figure out or get resolved.

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