Kenzaburo Oe: Resignation to and responsibility for Fukushima disaster

It hasn’t been long since I read a science fiction piece in which humankind decides to bury massive amounts of radioactive waste deep underground. They are stumped by how they should warn the people of the future who will be left to deal with the waste, and by who should sign the warning.

Unfortunately, the situation is no longer a matter of fiction. We are one-sidedly unloading our burdens onto future generations. When did humankind abandon the morals that would stop us from doing such a thing? Have we passed a fundamental turning point in history?

After March 11, I stayed up until late every night watching television (a newly formed habit following the disaster). There was a television reporter who went to check in on a house with the lights on in an area that was otherwise dark due to evacuation orders. As it turned out, a horse was in labor and the owner was unable to leave its side. Several days later, the reporter visited the farm once again, and saw the mare and its foal indoors in the dark. Their owner’s expression was gloomy. The foal had not been allowed outside to run around freely because radioactive material-contaminated rain had fallen on the grass.

The crisis has taken away lives that many people are still trying to get back. What messages can we deliver to those people and how? I need to hear those words, too, and the person I have turned to for guidance is the physician Shuntaro Hida, who has been speaking about the dangers of internal exposure to radiation since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

In an interview in the September issue of the magazine Sekai, Hida says: “If you have already been exposed, you must be prepared. Resign yourself. Tell yourself that you might be unlucky and see horrendous effects several decades down the line. Then, try to build up your immune system as much as you can to fight the hazards of radiation.

“But will making the effort to avoid buying vegetables that may be tainted be sufficient in protecting you? It’s better to take precautions than to not take them. But radioactive materials continue to leak from Fukushima, even now. Tainted food has infiltrated the market, so unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed method of protecting yourself from internal exposure. Abolishing nuclear power and cutting off radioactivity at its source is a much faster way of dealing with it.”

I do not want to deliver these words to the men — the politicians, the bureaucrats, the businessmen — who intend to thrust the difficult task of dealing with radioactive waste, which was generated and continues to be generated by an electric power policy that puts production power and economic strength before everything else, upon future generations. Rather, I want to deliver these words to the women — the young mothers — who have been quick to catch on to the dangers being posed to their children, and are trying to deal with the problem head on.

After Italian voters rejected the resumption of operations at their nuclear power plants, a senior official in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) attributed the referendum result to “mass hysteria,” suggesting that the power of women was behind the results. An Italian woman in the film industry responded to the insult, saying: “Japanese men are likely moved to action by a ‘mass hysteria’ that puts productivity and economic power before all else. I’m only talking about men here, because no matter where you are, women never put anything before life. If Japan were to not only lose its status as an economic superpower but fall into long-term poverty, we all know from Japanese films that women will overcome such hardships!”

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s World War II defeat, and the subsequent occupation of Japan by the Allied Forces took place during my childhood. We were all poor. But when the new Constitution was unveiled, I was struck by the repetition of the word “determination” in its preamble. It filled me with pride to know that the grown-ups were so resolute. Today, through the eyes of an old man, I see Fukushima and the difficult circumstances that this country faces. And still I have hope in a new resolve of the Japanese people. (By Kenzaburo Oe, author)


Kenzaburo Oe, born 1935, was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. After the crisis started at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, musicians and writers, including Oe, released a statement calling for the abolishment of nuclear power. An antinuclear rally will be held in Tokyo’s Meiji Park on Sept. 19.

Source: (Mainichi Japan) September 19, 2011




One Comment

    Join discussion: leave a comment