Life in Japan after Fukushima: From the Diary of Mother in Osaka

Yuko Tani

Yuko TaniYuko TaniFood artist. Vegetarian/Vegan chef, Food art therapy facilitator, Mindful drumming practitioner, Interpreter/Translator, and California State certified crisis counselor.

She runs a great blog on food ~ Ita daki masu ~


March 11th

March 11th, 2011, I felt an unusual dizziness in afternoon at my workplace. Instantly, I thought “OK. This is just an anemia as usual. I’ve got to eat some Iron-rich food tonight.” While I was thinking about iron-rich dinner for myself, a female employee who sits in a kitty corner from my office desk asked 4 of us in a room, “Did you all feel that? Or was I just got dizzy myself?” This was how I realized the occurrence of an Earthquake that triggered massive Tsunamis.

Although there was no alert of the Earthquake in my area (Osaka) at all, I was having flashbacks from Hanshin quake (Jan.17, 1995). When the great Hanshin quake occurred, I was young and single. Now in 2011, the situation for me is totally different from 1995. I am a single mom with a 14 years old son, and this time we have nuclear power plant in great danger. There were enough reasons for me to be in an enormous confusion of what to do from now on to protect my child and myself to raise him.


March 12th

When I heard the news of Fukushima explosion on March 12th, I collapsed onto the floor in despair. I soon realized that life in Japan is changed completely from now and there will be no exemption. Tears fell like pouring rain and I kept saying “I am so sorry” with mountain of regrets.

I was calm enough to speak to my son about what had just happened, what will and may happen from now. As we made our emergency bags, I told my son that major media will make touching dramas from now on, government will only say about good things and there will be so many lies. He said “I hope they don’t do such thing this time though, it is national crisis for heaven’s sake.” with a skeptical look towards what I just said. I surely hoped so, too.

His father, my ex husband and I both had involved in activism in different fields about justice and peace. I used to believe that what they say on TV and newspapers is truth until I met my ex husband who was already an activist. Time past, once I was interviewed by national TV program in 2006, they interviewed me as a child sexual abuse survivor who now work as rape crisis counselor and advocate. The interview went for almost 5 hours, I cooked for the crews that came to my house and we, including my son age 10, all ate together and had interview. We had a great and harmonized interview. On air was 20 minutes of me introduced as a poor single mother still in pain and despair, with my face and name broadcasted all over Japan. They cut off the part entirely about what I talked about hopes and healing, empowerment for those who had same experience as me. I learned so much what the TV wanted to show. I even appreciate to this one because my son also watched it. He understood at age 10, why his mother always says about TV lies, now he is the best witness who can testify “My mom ain’t that person they showed”.

My son and I, my co-workers, and friends shared to witness how the most of major media sugar coat the facts, make up stories to keep us happy or unhappy as it expect to happen, and/or to leave us distracted from making close look at what is going on in this country and world, and that is just like many other countries seem like doing.

I must mention that the TV crews and female director, interviewer tried very hard to air the part of what I really said but the head director cut them and female director soon was sent to another section in the company. She and I are friends now.

I also told my son that I have almost no knowledge about the impact of nuclear accident and we need to try gathering reliable information and act smart in order to survive this disaster, and maybe we need to make decision to evacuate from the country in the near future.


Too shocked to cook

After I found out about explosion, first thing I imagined was invisible radiation covering all over land in Japan, contaminating all the food. Cooking is my life since I was 3 years old. I felt like my best friends were killed in front of my eyes. If I choose to continue my work with domestic contaminated food, I will be poisoning others from now on and I do not wish to do that. I tried to cook dinner for me and my son that night. As I touched vegetables, I started crying and could not stop it until I finish cooking. I was surprised why I am acting like this but analyzed this is just an acute reaction to shock. It continued every time I cook, even when I go grocery shopping I cried watching all the food there. I was in despair and did not wish to think about it anymore for now. I decided to wait until I feel OK to cook for others again, in fact, this continued for more than 1month.


Back in social life

After the weekend of locking myself and son in a house, I went back to work and saw no one was talking about radiation leak on Tuesday, March 15th. I talked to mothers in my workplace, desperate to share feeling of concern to protect children as parents. I asked them how they feel about radiation leak and its long-term impact on themselves, family and their children. Immediately, they all started talking about Hanshin quake and they showed sympathy and were worried about people in disaster area and wishing for their recovery, but did not seem to care about radiation exposure at all. They tend to talk about their own experiences of Hanshin quake memories. That was not what I wanted to discuss. I kept trying to talk to friends and teachers but I heard nothing about radiation concern. Some people laughed and said that I am overreacting and need to relax because the government and TV are saying “no worry”. I started to feel scared about the detachment of people in Kansai area.

On the other hand, my friends and family-in-law in the foreign countries were warning me to leave Japan as soon as possible. That is very normal reaction, because they know Japan is very small country and they had no idea that I live in Osaka where about maybe 400miles or more away from plant. Their warnings and offers were so helpful for me to keep myself alert.

I became really confused day by day, while most people I know have “no interest and back to their normal life” here in Osaka by April, but having overseas friends kept telling me to “Get the hell out of there soon”. I seriously started thinking about leaving the country. I thought I would rather go where people understand what I am concerned about. But I was afraid to talk about it, I felt so alone here, worrying about radiation infused sickness and my son’s future all day and all night without having anyone I can share this feeling.

I also felt so guilty about trying to save only about my son and myself. I was too stressed and irritated and started to take my anger out on my son. I was furious when rains outside and my son is out without umbrella. I was preaching to my son at dinner every day about the food to protect our body from radiation. My son was so stressed in between his mother’s sensitive attitude and “nothing changed” environment of his school and friends. He said “nobody and nothing changed but you, mom. You have to get over it”.


Joining the walk

Hearing my son’s opinion, I realized I need to meet people whom I can share my feeling to prevent my controlling act over my precious child. On April 3rd there was anti nukes walk in Kyoto. The organizer of this walk announced participants to make your own signs, banners, etc. So, I baked cookies instead, using ingredients to protect body from radiation intake because we will be walking outside for about 2hours while some radioactive substances flown from Fukushima and we will all inhale them, I decided to give those cookies to children if there were any.

While I was making cookie dough, of course I was crying nonstop, but also had a feeling that there may be something I can contribute now by spreading information about protection through food against radiation impact. My tears of despair turned into tears of hope. So, with appreciation to this transformation, I made them all in heart shape and named “one love cookies”.

I arrived to Kyoto and joined walking. I was walking with boxful of cookies but too scared to give out to strangers. A little girl was walking in front of me and she kept looking at my box. A man who was walking behind me suddenly said “This girl wants your cookies, stop showing off and give some to her”. That man gave me courage. Starting with this girl, I walked around giving cookies to marching children and their parents, talked to parents about food that can help to detox the radiation free radicals out of our system. All of the parents I spoke with did not know about the food that can help us survive. They also expressed the feeling of ease to eat nutritional and safe food while walking because there were many police officers and the atmosphere was tense. I finally met hundreds of people who are concerning the issue seriously and was so empowered and healed by connecting together.


At around the same time, my cousin in law in Mississippi sent me the article written by Anthony John Franklin, “Radiation poisoning detox and prevention”. She suggested that I translate it in Japanese to educate people. It was perfect information to announce.




Seeing the differences

One day in April after Kyoto walk, my friends invited me to outdoor BBQ. I went there with my son. As we arrive, people were having good looking food and beverages. There were several elder people and they started to talk about radiation leak. I was so thrilled to hear their opinion…and I did not want to believe what I heard. They said, “Radiation? It will be no problem; it’s like getting extra X-rays! Kids will get stronger and used to it soon. A tiny amount of radiation exposure makes people stronger.”

I must confess here, I felt like violently turning their tables upside down and yell at them.

Instead, due to the fear of becoming a party destroyer, I smiled and kept my mouth shut. At the same time, a friend of mine served freshly caught Fukushima shellfish sashimi to me. They surely looked tasty and beautiful. I almost asked him, “is this so called ‘Russian roulette’ or what??” of course I did not ask but instead, I just realized that even though we are good friends, I must draw line here to protect my son and this BBQ is definitely a place to try it. For this BBQ party, my friend ordered lots and lots of Fukushima shellfishes by saying “We must buy Fukushima fishes and eat a lot! This is going to help them recover!!”

I told her that I am considering taking my son out of this country for a while or for good. I explained that media and government are all lying and I do not feel safe to be here now. But how can I prove lies? She was worried that I am being terrible mother who will destroy the future of my son by making him leave school and leaving Japan by my “too quick” decision.

I judged myself so bad for not standing tall to say “This is dangerous situation and you should be serious about protecting your child”, because she is a good friend of mine and I also did not want to use my energy to talk about the issue anymore, I was already too exhausted for all this.


Guiltiness and Hope

When I heard the news of Fukushima explosion, the faces of three people, the Hopi people I have met in the United States came to my mind; a prostitute woman with drug and alcohol addiction and a man who used to be in and out of facilities and also addicted to drug and alcohol, and another man 3years later. These memories dragged me into guilt trip of continuing “I am sorry” state of mine I wrote earlier. I have met them at different location when I traveled alone in the USA. At the first encounter with each of them, I received the same message in different expressions. A message that she and he said was, “Thank you for coming, I waited to meet you to apologize for the bombs dropped in Japan. Our people and all Japanese, and all nations will come together to our land to heal the mother Earth.”

I did not understand what they were saying or why they apologize to me, and why/how we “heal the Mother Earth”, that was something I had never thought of. After I went back to Japan, I found a book about Hopi stories written in Japanese. The book explained why the 3 Hopi people apologized to me. Hopi was forced to mine Uranium and it was used for the bombs dropped in Japan. I also learned how they lost their culture, language, ceremonies and rituals and many of them became depressed and addicted to abusing behavior and life styles. This encounter had been a big impact on my work as vegan chef and advocate.

After these experiences, I started paying a little bit attention about Japanese nuclear plants and danger of having them but I did not take it seriously nor any action until Fukushima exploded. It was too late and I felt so guilty. Now this time is my turn to say “I am so sorry” to all of our future generations.

We must accept the reality; change our mind settings to create changes for what we can do from now on, for our future generations. This is our responsibilities to change ourselves and connect with others. I know this is not a punishment of some sort, this is real and we are here to forgive ourselves and others, find peace within, and walk the life with hope to take actions. Having hope is free choice that all of us can attain from within ourselves.

Thank you very much for taking your time and reading my rambling thoughts shared in this article. I hope to meet you all someday and cook/eat together.



Yuko Tani




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