Life in Japan after 311: Things I saw, from a single-mom’s view

Yuko Tani

A mother and a vegan/ vegetarian chef in Osaka who had been loving to cook in her life for 35years.

Translator/ Interpreter, an advocate/crisis counselor for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Readers can also see her previous post on A Diary of the Week after the Fukushima Accident.

Greetings, world.

Today is the March 10th, 2012 in Osaka, Japan.

This is the night before one year anniversary of March 11th, 2011; the biggest nuclear disaster in the human history.

I cannot recall the night before 311 of 2011 at all, but I do remember there were so many private events occurred around me of losing something special especially since the late 2010 to the end of February of 2011, mostly the deaths of people whom truly gave influences to my life either directly/indirectly. I was in despair during those past months due to those losses but also receiving countless awareness of peace within myself, so I want to send great appreciation to those spirits that guided me to this path.

I am going to write today about my life here in Japan as an individual citizen who lives about 500 miles away from Fukushima nuclear power plant.

I work at a large company as a translator. This company manufactures the very important parts of every single electronic product. I am a contract worker, which means I am not a full time employee who can receive benefits such as insurances and bonus. Every 3 months, the company makes decision to continue each contract with workers like me, which means if the economy gets worse, these contract workers are the ones to lose job in the first hand by the decision of the employer.

Since the 311 of 2011, wide variety of industry of Japan fell into the very difficult situation of exporting their products due to the damage from 311 and nuclear disaster.

The electronic product industries are one of them.

On March 15th, I went back to work for the first time after the disaster.

In my office there were some employees from other section visited to talk with my boss.

Right after 311, electronic products shipped out from Narita was refused in Taiwan because of the high level of radiation was detected at the custom; I overheard this fact by employees talking in my office. I thought, “It is just a beginning”.

There is a silence agreement in the workplace that we, the contract workers do not listen nor join the employees’ confidential topics.

So, as usual, I was quietly continuing my work, pretended that I do not even exist in the room. My boss was very busy talking on the phone all day, every day since 311, he was in charge of gathering the information of the damaged company plants in northern Japan, safety confirmation of employees in other branches of eastern Japan, and to give instructions to continue exports and domestic shipping of products. His voice was really loud in our small room, so it was impossible for other people to ignore what he is speaking, it was really clear that the corruption of the business is already there, and no solution had been found.

As I continue my own work at the office, I was thinking about the economy of near future in Japan. There will be a lot of unemployment in many companies, and many people will be in fear of living in the shaky economic status. I was also in fear of losing this job soon. “Maybe summer or fall, I will be unemployed”, I was talking to myself in silence and imagining the depressed self suffering to figure out how to raise my son by myself, how to pay my rent and other bills.

A few months later, my concern became true. This company fired thousands of contract workers and some full time employees. But even though they fired many workers, their business did not recover at all and just became worse.
Translators are very few in the company, so I survived to stay the entire 2011, but in November, I was transferred to another department because my former department could not afford to keep contract workers.

My new office was so large; there were almost 100 workers in the same room including the sales department. At sales department, people talk loud about the radioactive contamination of the products and the damage of sales due to that fact. They complained the slow progress of the Fukushima disaster. Mostly in these conversations, they make jokes of nuclear accident and of the fired workers, it seemed like that the disaster had nothing to do with them in Osaka.
I do translation work at the company since 2003, after deciding to take a break from my profession; vegan cooking. I quit restaurant work after 15years to work only daytime and spend more time with my child.

People at work were all talking about the Earthquake and Tsunami for a few days since 311, but I did not find anyone talks about radiation. I was already in despair of the Fukushima explosion and was expecting to share the feeling of shock.

hands making balls

I spoke to my co-workers about the entire food contamination to be happening in near future, and explained to them, “If this accident would not be taken care of by good hands, there will be so many radioactive substances to be spread all over Japan and the world. There will be so many cover-ups of food contamination. Many restaurants will ignorantly use the contaminated food and serve, just as nothing happened. We shall all need to learn about radiation impact and try not to depend on eating out. That is one way to protect ourselves and loved ones”
No one showed interest to my concern. All of them were female and they laughed.

“Well, you worry too much because you are professional cook. It is good that you have passion in your cooking. But if you worry too much about contaminated food, you will eventually have nothing you can eat. Well, I think we are OK, Osaka is far from Fukushima. I do not want to change my life style or desire to enjoy gourmet dining, that is my joy”.

I thought that this is a true example of the deep state of denial.

Even after the media disclosed the contamination in milk, tea, and fish, etc in various area of Japan, people at my work brought Omiyage food (souvenir) locally made in those affected area when they had business or private trips and gave these food to each workers. It was dried fish crackers, sweets filled with dairy products or green tea leaves in ingredients. It was obvious that these ingredients are contaminated since it says something like “Proudly made with LOCAL milk, please enjoy our locally grown food!!”

It gave me nausea every time I receive those souvenirs. This is the act of ignorance, of course they do not mean to give contaminated food to other people at work, and they are just expressing their kindness by sharing food from places they had visited. If these people search and study what is going on in the food chain now in this country, they would not have chosen to purchase those products that may cause “naibu-hibaku” (internal exposure of radiation).
Day by day, I became confused by just working in this environment where so many people are still only talk about the popular drama or gossips of celebrities, or a new gourmet food, shown on TV without facing the true situation in this country.

I spoke to manager of cafeteria in the company to see if they study about food contamination. No one cared about the topic thus the menu in the cafeteria had any change since 311, there is no information of source explained of the ingredients they use at cafeteria. Every day at work, I encounter every little thing to be aware of the mindlessness of society to the real situation in this country. Often time I felt “Maybe, I am overreacting like these people told me. Life seems easier if I numb my feelings.”

I pretended that I do not feel anything during work, telling myself “I am doing this work to bring food to my son.”, but my body was very honest. My stomach became ill functioned and I was unable to eat after 2months in this new workplace.

food on the table with kids

The company continues to fire more workers and the atmosphere at work became more depressive and fearful.

In late February of 2012, finally the notification came to me. I will leave my work at the end of March.

I feel better now, even though I do not know what to do from April.

I have many friends who are taking actions on anti-nuke and for better future, but at work there are none. So, I lost my emotional balance by being in the two completely different worlds every day. These 2 different worlds do exist.
It was a gift that I became ill, because I was able to examine how my thought pattern affects my body. It was a good opportunity for me to take really good care and love myself in order to continue to be alert, connect with others who are in the same page and take necessary actions. Throughout my own daily experiences as I described here, my intention became clear within me. I am very thankful to the company that gave me an opportunity to work in large company. I learnt a lot from the past 7years of working in this environment. And now I have decided to teach cooking to individuals who are interested in learning the vegetarian/vegan diet to protect self and their loved ones from internal exposure of radiation. There is much wisdom in traditional Japanese food that can help our body from radiation impact. Our ancestors left this wisdom for their future generation; us and more new generations.
I realized one thing during treating my body to be recovered.

This corruption is not only the workplace matter. The corruption of the dysfunctional society is unveiling and many people are awakening, but this will continue and get worse. There will be more and more hidden fact of decision makers or people with money and power to be revealed, people will encounter shocking events, and this is happening not only in Japan but in the world. Each of us must look deeply into the problem and examine what is going on as the crisis. We need to bring the facts lied on the table and share our knowledge to take actions for what we want to create for the future. From that point, each of us must stand up to make change for true peace within ourselves and to our home; the one big mother ship of the Earth.

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