One Japanese Citizen’s View of Fukushima Anarchy

The exhausted face of Dr. Toshio Nishi, research fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University

By Toshio Nishi, PhD

Does our Japanese government lie to us?


Is “lying” too strong a word to depict the government’s spectacular public show of bungling? Will then “mendacious” be more accurate and kinder?

Semantics is not even an issue here. Good manners should no longer be expected from the ordinary men and women who have been inhaling highly radioactive dust and vapor since March 11, 2011. But we continue to behave. I assume it is a matter of pride that each of us refuses to become selfish in crisis.

Don’t Drink Green Tea

Cesium, the word we have learned recently, has shown up dangerously condensed in our national beverage, green tea. Green tea is supposed to be good for our health. Must be, because the Japanese people live the longest in the world.

Japan’s largest tea farm is in Shizuoka, about 320km (200 miles) south from Fukushima. Tea farmers cannot harvest the rich green tea leaves any more, for they cannot sell them. Now, cesium and other radioactive elements have invaded the milk, chickens, pigs, beef cows, vegetables and fruits.

It is so disheartening to realize that the sea off Fukushima is one of the world three richest fishing zones. Some desperate fishermen, perhaps being defiant against their fate, go out to the sea, but who would dare eat their catches? We ordinary citizens fail to comprehend the apparent and hidden magnitude of radioactive contamination that threatens to never end.

From the beginning of the disaster at Fukushima and for the first two months, one nuclear scientist after another from famous universities and government agencies appeared on nightly TV news programs, and intoned with a special atmosphere of possessing superior knowledge that radioactive dust and vapor or fish caught off the shores did not pose “an immediate health risk.” We, unschooled in the field of radioactivity or medicine, wondered if not immediately, then two years later would we have cancer?

Don’t Panic

We watched night after night the same group of nuclear experts lecture that our intense anxiety and aversion about the things radioactive were absolutely groundless. They even implied, not subtlety, that our deepening fear nationwide resembled “a herd panic syndrome.” Okay, give us another insult before we go to bed.

Who, by the way, is paying them to say that the lethal leak was actually a small amount when it is the largest in the world and that the accident could be soon controlled with available safety procedure when nobody can yet repair anything or stop massive leaking of highly radioactive water?

We watched, as did the whole world, the fiery explosions that destroyed the reactor buildings and exposed through the deadly white smoke their black skeletal bones. Those scholars and experts do not appear on national TV any more. We do not wonder why.

When the experts disappeared, Tokyo Electric Power Company appeared on the TV screen, and announced that the meltdown had indeed occurred within the first hour of the quake and tsunami. What, come again?

This admission popped up after two months of the accident, during which Tokyo Electric had been masterfully evasive and obstinately refused to admit the meltdown did happen. The Company’s confession came too late for those people who stayed a little distance away from the meltdown and were unknowingly rained upon by the radioactive dust and vapor. Didn’t the Company feel gilt-ridden to know fully there were tens of thousand babies and children nearby?

And, behold, the Company got away with it. The prime minister’s top aide said on TV nightly news that the cabinet was not informed by the Company and was shocked, very shocked. Who is running a public show of incompetence and arrogance? Have we entered into the Twilight Zone?

Let me put our national sentiment as accurately and politely possible.

We are outraged. Disgusted. We feel constantly looked down upon. We realize now that the government and Tokyo Electric think we are not intelligent enough to understand the highly technical jargon about nuclear power. Of course, we never heard the esoteric jargon before. But we do understand we are facing a nuclear winter on this beautiful archipelago on the Ring of Fire and may not live long enough to see such winter.

Historically, and to this day, we have respected authority (the government) and faithfully observed our laws and regulations to the point of overdoing. We are taught in schools and family that the central government in Tokyo, composed of our best and brightest, would strive hard everyday to guide our nation to safety, prosperity, and fulfillment in our daily lives.

Are the best and brightest betraying us now? Is Japan’s postwar democracy failing us at the moment when we most need its collective wisdom? Our government does not seem willing or able to reciprocate our unwavering loyalty. Worse, we fear our government wants from us a leap of faith in its incompetence.

Bickering Among The Elite

We witness that our political parties have begun positioning themselves for power and money grab by exploiting the worst postwar disaster. The Chair of prime minister must ooze an intoxicating scent that no politicians can resist. Many powerful men and women in our barely functioning parliament bicker and squabble among themselves and openly insult their competitors with an admirable concentration of combative energy. Have they forgotten our catastrophe continues degenerating beyond our abilities to rectify?

Nearly 30,000 people in Japan’s northern region have died. Many lucky enough to survive lost their loved ones who remain missing. They saw their livelihood disappear and have been living with a radioactive nightmare, but still manage to be hopeful for the day when they could return to their home and work harder to rebuild their lives. Most of them do not know and are not been informed by the government or the Company that they could never return to their hometowns where contamination is so thorough and will stay lethal far beyond their life span.

Lying is a perfect mirror reflection of our government’s coping machination with the horrific catastrophe. When our leaders look at themselves in a mirror each morning, what I wonder would they see on the mirror of their conscience? Shame is not the first thought on their mind perhaps. And, that is shame.

Does monopolistic Tokyo Electric, still a rich giant group of nuclear scientists and other bright business professionals, lie to their unsuspecting customers?

Yes, conspicuously since the biggest earthquake and the biggest tsunami in our national memory, since the irreparable meltdowns, and since an unseasonable cold March 11, 2011. I do not want to abbreviate Tokyo Electric Power Company to TEPCO, because its abbreviation dehumanizes a very human Company that faces its own Frankenstein.

Don’t Complain

Tokyo Electric and the government, perhaps joined at hip, tell us that we have received the benefit of nuclear power generation and, because of such power, we enjoyed the postwar prosperity. Hence, don’t complain. Nonsense. Did we people have any choice in deciding whether Japan should go nuclear power? No.

Their coordinated excuse for the man-made disaster fails to disclose that the government and Tokyo Electric have together constructed a most seductive mythology that nuclear power is safe, cheap and forever clean. To maintain the façade of this myth, the government and Tokyo Electric hid nuclear accidents or underplayed their serious health hazard.

Nuclear power is apparently not safe. It is not clean. Cheap it is not.

The nuclear industry receives an enormous amount of government subsidy (our tax money). The industry is a virtual monopoly, hence no incentive to improve itself. The only desire the industry has shown is to maintain the status quo.

That is why electricity in Japan is the highest in the world. The South Koreans, our closest neighbor and an economic powerhouse of Asia, pays for their electricity 2.5 times less than Japanese. No wonder their economy is booming.

Tight Friendship

When the government bureaucrats in the agencies that regulate the nuclear industry retire, they move into the nuclear industry with huge pay increase. It is nepotism, if not incest. We citizens hope that the mass media would relish muckraking the whole unsightly scene. The mass media reply on advertising money from the nuclear industry. Hence they hesitate to bite the generous hand feeding them. Reportedly the electric power industry is one of a few biggest spenders on advertising. The industry must be also a large contributor to all political parties to sedate any opposition. Since March 11 we have learned all these building blocks of the safe-cheap-clean nuclear mythology. What a sham.

Just imagine. If nuclear power is safe, why are all of 54 reactors built in Japan’s remote corners with few people? If safe indeed, build several reactors on the shore of Tokyo Bay where demand for electricity is constant and very high.

What is “dirty” is the industry’s play on poverty and greed of the people living in those remote villages and towns.

I’d like to explain.

The industry with tacit government consent chooses a remote corner on a seashore like Fukushima, which has only a small population with a barely sustainable tax base. I am sure a reader can already see a scenario of seduction by money.

The industry pays a huge residence tax and corporate tax, and offers to build a new infrastructure such as bridges, roads, swimming pools, auditorium and gymnasium which are disproportionately large and luxurious for the number of the people in a village, and to hire local people for the nuclear power stations. The people of a small seaside village get to vote to decide whether they want a nuclear power station. They don’t have a choice but to accept if they want to live happily ever after. They vote yes practically every time and everywhere. They bargained at a threshold of heaven and hell. If no accident, the village people live in heaven. If they lose a gamble, they are in Fukushima.

This way, Tokyo Electric and other power companies have made a huge profit, enough to make all electric power companies one of the most desirable stocks to park our money. Then, March 11, 2011.

All the villages with nuclear reactors throughout Japan hold their breath dreading that their own might suddenly enact the same nightmare. Should the entire Japanese people bail out the endangered nuclear power stations?

Fukushima alone would cost us tens of billion dollars until someone in the near future succeed at entombing five Fukushima reactors.

The government and Tokyo Electric do not have enough money to cover the disaster and its collateral damage. So, prominent politicians have begun floating the same old idea of raising income tax, corporate tax, consumption tax, toll road fees, and an endless list of more taxes. Are they going to suffocate Japanese economy that has suffered the twenty years of emaciation? Aren’t they the same group of our elite who mismanaged an economic recovery by suddenly increasing taxes? These are rhetorical questions. The answer is yes and yes.

I hear a low but loud grumbling of “Not so fast” for tax increase. I hear the people (including taxi drivers) say that the government and Tokyo Electric are using the people caught in the quake and tsunami to collect money from us to save Tokyo Electric. Is this another case of government bailout which is engineered by none other than former bureaucrats and their accommodating politicians?

Would we be asking too much if we insist Tokyo Electric first sell their enormous assets to pay for the damage?

When Tokyo Electric makes a huge profit, it keeps it. When the Company loses money by causing a man-made accident, must the ordinary citizens of Japan pay for the loss? Haven’t we heard this bizarre way of doing business happen only in Wall Street of our favorite nation across the Pacific?

We the people of Japan have no right, no choice, of deciding if we ever wanted nuclear power stations in the first place. Who brought it to us from America? Are we not the one who received the world’s first baptism of nuclear bombs? Aren’t we scared of everything nuclear?

Yes, we are very scared of it. Apoplectic, in fact. For the past 65 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan has successfully cultivated a religion of anti-nuclear bombs. But an unexpected thing happened along the way, and Japan has been metamorphosing into a strange creature of its own making.

A new strand of immunity against things nuclear has entered into our national psyche. While all the foreigners left Japan within the first two weeks from the Fukushima accident, no Japanese ran, because Fukushima is not a nuclear bomb (although more scary in a long run).

Having been immunized by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we are not frightened enough to launch into mass exodus. Hence, we look like we are calm and collected in the midst of a horrible reality.

Regarding Fukushima fiasco let me say that we do not need more scientific assessment of the situation. We already know no science can repair the disaster.

We need courage and resilience. We must find within ourselves the courage to face the aftermath of our own folly and hubris. It is the courage to tackle head-on to rebuild our nation with a revolutionary vision of man and nature, with Japan’s legendary way of embracing nature without deforming it.

Japan stands at the threshold of a rise or fall of a great nation. I am not exaggerating here. Japan’s old formula of success has lived beyond its usefulness. The Japanese have an unshakable faith in their ability to overcome an insurmountable hardship and rise like a phoenix from the ashes. After all, we have lived and prospered on the Ring of Fire from time immemorial.

Born in Osaka, Japan, Toshio Nishi graduated from Kwansei Gakuin University near Kobe and received an MA and PhD from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is a professor at Nihon University in Tokyo and concurrently a research fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His interest is on Modern Japan and Asia-Pacific, US-Japan relations, and US Occupation of Japan. He lives in Palo Alto and in Chiba, which is sandwiched perfectly between Fukushima and Tokyo, on the cesium road.


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