Illusive Normalcy in Japan on Fukushima

Tokyo under illusion that things are normal while Fukushima remains a war zone

We are well into autumn. And despite the growing sense in the Tokyo metropolitan area that things are now all right — with train services back to pre-disaster schedules and the regret we once felt over our wasteful consumption of electricity dissipating — Fukushima remains a war zone.

It was reported on Oct. 7 that the Watari district of Fukushima was not designated by the government as a “specific evacuation recommendation spot.”

The following day, at an information session held for local residents at Watari Elementary School, participants demanded to know why their district was excluded from the list when it was a dangerous place for children to be, to which a government official responded: “It’s not a final decision.”

While this battle was taking place, I went to visit Watari residents Chieko Tanji, 64, and her husband, Hiroshi, 63, to hear about their personal battles with radiation and decontamination.

Once a week, the couple, who run a cafe in the district, put on long-sleeved work clothes and 3M-Sumitomo dust masks to scan their property for high levels of radiation, using a U.S.-made Geiger counter and a Chinese-made radiation dosimeter.

The Tanjis often find high radiation levels under the gutters, and scrape off any accumulated dirt and dust. They climb onto the roof, which they sweep with a broom, and remove the trash and leaves that have collected in the gutters. They also diligently trim the greenery in their yard that prior to the nuclear disaster, they’d allowed to grow freely.

“We wish we could count on the government to do something, but we’ve realized that we can’t wait for their instructions. We have to listen to what other people have to say, do our own research, and make our own decisions,” Hiroshi said. “I think it’ll take 100 years before everything is clean again. At the moment, it’s more like we’re pursuing the possibility of decontamination than actually undertaking decontamination, but we’re putting our faith in the possibility, even if it’s just 1 percent.”

I’d worked in Fukushima in the past, which was when I came into contact with the Tanjis. But that was already 17 years ago, and it was only through the newly released book, “Chronicle Fukushima,” that I learned about what happened to them after the triple disasters of March 11.

The book is a record of lectures on the nuclear disaster and seven interviews, including one with the Tanji family. Guitarist and composer Yoshihide Otomo, 52, who has composed music for films and television dramas both in Japan and abroad, served as lecturer and interviewer. Having spent his youth in Watari, Otomo’s emotional attachment to the area comes through crystal clear in the book.

As it turned out, the Tanji family had been torn apart. The book provides a vivid account of the Tanjis sending their son’s wife and child off to Nagoya on March 14, just before the explosions at the nuclear power plant that spread radioactive materials far and wide.

Among the others who appear in the book is Shinzo Kimura, 44, a radiation hygiene expert who resigned from his post at a research institute under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare when it prohibited an initial investigation into the disaster, and immediately went to work in the disaster area. Also appearing in the book is award-winning poet and Fukushima resident Ryoichi Wago, 43, whose Tweet: “It’s raining radiation. It’s a quiet night,” received a massive response.

The interviews are all directed at Tokyo. The core message is summed up by Otomo, who says: “Come here and look at the reality.”

Watari first took the spotlight when 24 times the radiation level permitted in school playgrounds by the central government was found in a daycare playground there in May. Ju

st last week, reports emerged of there being 300,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram of soil in the district. This figure, too, far exceeds the maximum permissible amount set by the government.

The persimmons growing in front of the Tanjis’ cafe, Fu to boku (wind and trees), have turned orange. There’s been an unusual abundance of the fruit this year, but they’ve been found to have 176 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. The light purple flowers that adorn a tabletop inside the cafe were picked by the couple in the Yamagata Prefecture city of Yonezawa.

Of utmost urgency now are the evacuation of children, decontamination, and the installation of becquerel monitors to measure radiation levels in food. But meanwhile, in Tokyo, we’re talking about economic growth and the export of nuclear technology, as if what’s going on in Fukushima is somehow irrelevant to us. That, I believe, is simply wrong.

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)

Article Courtesy: Mainichi Daily


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