This post has been waiting to be written for quite some time. I have nearly written it, thought better of it, and convinced myself to back down several times in the past few months; a peek into a controversial blog this morning determined me to finally do it and get it out of my system. So here goes: tonight’s entry is about conspiracy theorists, how folks respond to them, and how they can help themselves.
People are anxious these days. They are fearful and mistrustful. You could even say that many have become paranoid. While government and TEPCO officials present the current situation at Fukushima Daiichi in a positive light (things are stable and progressing smoothly towards cold shutdown, the de-contamination efforts are going well, etc.) , various underground figures in the blog world are having a heyday, spouting hatred and spreading panic not only within Japan, but overseas as well. Mind you, I believe the situation here is far from stable (despite official reports to the contrary), but I have had quite enough of wild speculation and bizarre conspiracy theories. To be precise, I’ve had enough of one specific fellow, a blogger from Yokohama who churns out posts at a prodigious rate, each one stranger than the one before.
So, ignore him, you say. Well, I’d like to, but I can’t. This is because the blogger in question has such a large and devoted following, and I am fascinated to see how his fans respond to his over-the-top declarations. I’m involved in a sociological study (despite the nagging inner voice that says to let it go, and certainly against my own better judgement), and what I find is deeply disturbing. Let me provide some background first…..
The blogger is a young man, single, living in Yokohama with his beloved turtles. I keep turtles myself, but that’s as far as our shared interests goes. He lists his work as “Civil Engineer” and “Importer of Pop Culture Goods”. Yet given the time he invests in his blog (and his facebook posts), he cannot be working full-time…..or perhaps he does not sleep? I first ran across the blog on another site, where he, Mochizuki-san, was described as a brave Japanese posting from the front lines of the nuclear disaster. His blog was in danger of being censored and taken off-line ( the site said) and we all should read it and re-post. I imagined someone near or in the evacuation zone in Fukushima, and was surprised to find that he was based in Yokohama, in my own prefecture of Kanagawa. Well, I thought, if he’s a hero, then I must be, too. Hmmph. At any rate, I began reading his blog fairly regularly, to see what the fuss was all about. I will add a link to his site so that you may check it out for yourself rather than taking my word for it.
Dipping into the pages of Fukushima Diary with Mochizuki-san was like plunging down
the rabbit hole with Alice (that’s an analogy that he himself uses in one of his posts)–things got curiouser and curiouser, with strange stories becoming further befuddled by his poor English translation. Just last week, I was shocked to see a blurry photograph of Hosono Goshi, the minister in charge of decontamination, with what appeared to be two brown spots on one cheek. This was juxtaposed with a photograph from Hiroshima of a spot-
raddled victim of radiation sickness, which the blogger calls “city entering exposure”. I do not personally care for Hosono Goshi, but I felt indignant on his behalf. Japanese are very self-conscious about any spots on their skin anyway, and there was no need for leaping to reckless conclusions. But that is the specialty of this particular fellow it seems, who is now convinced that the Emperor himself, who is currently hospitalized with pneumonia, is also a victim of radiation sickness! In short, the author of this blog believes that the entire country is unsafe, and that residents of Tokyo should evacuate.
The blogger in question is convinced that he himself has “caught the plume” of radiation from his visits to Tokyo, and is suffering from radiation poisoning (according to one of his entries, he’s being well-supplied with iodine and various supplements from Chris Busby, an outspoken and controversial UK expert/advisor on low-level radiation ). Recently, he noted that his diarrhea has stopped, but he assures readers that this is because his body has become “used to the sickness”. He plans to evacuate himself to France, and has set up a Pay Pal account to fund his own move. He writes disparagingly of de-contamination efforts, believes everyone in Tohoku should evacuate, and–as far as I can see–has no further constructive advice or solutions to offer. He also believes that both the government and TEPCO are out to get him, and has posted on facebook of his desire to get “revenge”, urging others to join him in his cause. Whew. He is an extremely busy man, what with analyzing his own symptoms, taking his supplements, speculating on the situation in Fukushima from afar, evading stalkers and censors, plotting revenge, and responding to all his fan mail.
Again: I should be able to ignore this guy. Instead, I find myself reading his awkwardly-written and inflammatory posts and delving into the comments that inevitably follow. At first, back in the spring and early summer, most of the posts were warm and supportive. These days, however, it’s a mixed bag. I myself have mailed him twice, urging him to hire a proper English translator and check his facts, and others now voice similar opinions. Your English is “mecha-kucha” (all garbled)!! wrote one woman in a recent post, and several others advised him to calm down, though one fan attributed his agitation to the stress of living in the radioactive zone, and urged others to have compassion for him. Most sympathetic comments inevitably come from those living abroad, who do not know the geography of Japan, and imagine that they have found an inside source of direct information. In fact, they have found a hypochondriac who spends day and night in front of his laptop in Yokohama– he goes nowhere near Tohoku itself and speculates from a distance, imagining himself in grave danger. It bothers me that his blog is listed on others’ blogrolls, and that he’s considered a legitimate source of information. Yes, he does some good work, but way too much of what he writes is sloppy, inaccurate, and downright mean-spirited.
On the other hand, he and I are technically on the same side. We both attend the same Anti-Nuclear rallies and are committed to seeing Japan become a nuclear-free country. It’s just that (as I see it) he’s chosen the wrong path to get there, and has taken a whole lot of others with him. I do not wish revenge on him, and I do not hate him, by any means. I believe his self-centered nature, lack of clear perspective, and hasty temper have done great damage to an important cause, and that saddens and disappoints me. As his elder (this approach is allowed in Japan. I am technically an “Obasan” and may speak with that authority of life experience), I would like to offer my advice to Mochizuki-san. Here it is, as follows:
1. Get out of your apartment! You live in Yokohama, not Fukushima, and you need the fresh air! Yes, there are “hot spots”, so don’t stand in puddles of muddy leaves or hang around abandoned houses for long periods of time. Get out and walk–or better yet, take up jogging! Look around you, and don’t be afraid to breathe deeply. 2. Get out of your own head! You are not the victim here, and there’s no need for martyrdom. The real victims are in Tohoku, not Tokyo or Yokohama, and you are detracting sympathy from them to yourself! 3. Stop typing and do something! Get over your fears and get yourself
to one of the northern prefectures to volunteer! Get your hands dirty! This will serve the purpose of transforming some of your anger and frustration into constructive action as well. You might start learning to love, rather than focusing on revenge, making your days more pleasant and your sleep more restful and refreshing. 4. Leave the internet for a time, and talk to real people. Go out of your way to meet all kinds of folks, listen to what they have to say, and learn from them. Be willing to change your own pre-conceived notions as a result of what you may learn. 5. Do not beg for money!!! This is an insult to families in the north who are in desperate need of cash–some are unable to evacuate from Fukushima because of personal debt and lack of family connections outside their prefecture. Instead, economize as best you can, and send anything you can spare to an NPO that is doing good work and will use the money efficiently and wisely. I’ve seen photos of you and all your accessories (everything Mac, like me) and know that you are not in dire straights. 6. If you truly are strapped for cash, cut down on your blog time and get back to work at a regular job, doing ordinary tasks, on an ordinary schedule. Your mind will be healthier and you will salvage some of your pride as well.
And that’s all. Just following any one of these six helpful suggestions will do you a world of good. You will see that it is not your job personally to save the country, and that you are just one of the many who are concerned for the future of Japan. Coming away from your laptop and becoming involved with real people will show you just how complicated and heartbreaking the situation is for people in Tohoku. You speak of evacuating as if it were a black and white issue, when in fact it is not. Many people with means to leave have chosen not to, and not a few of them have very good reasons. You scoff at efforts to de-contaminate Fukushima, but would you rather leave the land as it is?? Do you think Tohoku should be abandoned entirely?? You urge readers at home and abroad not to eat Japanese produce, but what have you done in support for the farmers whose livelihood has been taken from them? So leave off typing and join forces with some of the doers.
Let me mention some of those doers: There’s Aileen Mioko Smith, founder of the Green Action organization, who has devoted the past thirty years to opposing Japan’s plutonium program, an uphill battle with very little funding from within the country. Smith and a group of women from Fukushima were in Tokyo for ten days this month, sitting outside the Ministry of Environment, Trade, and Industry. Their purpose? To garner support and for and publicize their petition, which demands that Japan’s existing nuclear power plants be shut down, and that Fukushima City residents, particularly those of the Watari District, be given the “right to evacuate”, which would provide government compensation for those who wish to leave but are financially unable. The petition was presented to the Prime Minister’s office on November 11th, and the tireless Smith along with members of the Avaaz oganization have vowed to continue gathering signatures and to present the petition again and again until the government takes action. As of three minutes ago when I checked their site, they had 132,818 signatures, with the meter still clicking away. You, too, can add your signature, by clicking here. In fact, I urge you to do so.
And then there are Ed and Junko, an international couple who flew to Fukushima from the US
when others were fleeing. Concerned for the fate of organic farmers in Tohoku, they spent the post-quake months living among farming families, following their efforts to cleanse the soil and continue growing crops. Knowing that their produce would not be salable, many of the farmers were determined to continue the planting cycle to feed their own families, while experimenting with different ways to reduce the level of radiation in the soil. Junko and Ed spent hours talking with residents, filming them at their work, and doing the groundwork for an independent film they plan to produce, hopefully for international viewing. The farmers you can read about in Ed and Junko’s blog, Uncanny Terrain, are those who have chosen to stay in Fukushima despite the risks, and despite an uncertain future. They love their land, they love their work, and a peek into their world gives us a new respect for those who chose to stay. Don’t miss the video of Yoshizawa-san, the strong-willed farmer who fought to save his cows.
Who else can I mention? There’s a long list, including EX-SKF, the mysterious bilingual blogger who provides pithy and insightful commentaries on Japanese news reports, printing the original articles along with his own excellent translations. Click on his page to see a giant Ultra-Man, urging Japan to “Ganbare!”
And there’s Hirose Takashi, who has been researching and writing about the danger of nuclear power plants since the early 1980′s. After the 3-11 triple disaster, he wrote and published a book called Fukushima Meltdown, working with a team of translators to produce an English version as well. In a “burst of energy”, the book and the translation were finished, and both versions are now available on amazon.com. Reading a positive review in the Japan Times, I ordered the book for my Kindle, and have been devouring it this past week. It’s clear, comprehensive, and eye-opening, revealing some conspiracy theories that are quite plausible (ever wonder why the 3-11 quake was upgraded from 8.4 to 9? The author has his own theory, and he’s pretty convincing).
Lastly, let me quote from “Quakebook“, a slim little publication (also an e-book) put
together by a team of writers and translators and headed by a blogger known as “Our Man in Abiko”. The book, which was organized on Twitter, is a collection of personal reflections and experiences on the quake itself and the ensuing chain of disasters. It was published when the horror of the quake and tsunami were still fresh, and the rest of the world was still humbled by the courage and stoicism of the people of Tohoku in the face of death and destruction. Because of this, Quakebook is largely devoid of the cynicism that has infected the entire country in recent months. The last essay in the book, called “Test”, asks the reader to judge whether or not he is capable of being a “good person” in the face of disaster. Here are some of the questions the writer asks us to consider:
“…what exactly makes a good person?
When they speculated that there might be a shortage who so shamelessly spent money for unnecessary hoarding?
Who sold currency in the ensuing inflation after the quake?
Did you have fun consciously writing posts fanning the flames of doubt from the comfort of your warm room?
Did you donate a pittance with a solemn face while leaving the rest for nature to run its course?
Do you only worry about the radiation while putting the land itself at a distance?
Are the victims just others, and not a part of you, too?
In the end, is this all the responsibility of the government?
……..Isn’t this test for us to see whether or not we can start to become Good People? To be a Good Person, it requires neither showy performances nor great self-assertiveness, nor fancy rhetorical arguments nor any great technique; but instead…a soft but composed and sincere definition. “
Hmmmm…..I know that’s an awkward translation from the Japanese, but does the meaning come through? Basically, the writer urges us to calm down, quit showing off, and do what needs to done for the sake of others and ourselves as well. If Mochizuki-san can stand to learn humility and empathy, I probably need more of both qualities myself. And so, in the end, my advice to the blogger who brings me no end of frustration must not go unheeded in my own life. * Sigh. * And now I will have the added uncertainty of wondering if this post will ever be read by Mochizuki himself, and whether or not he will deem me worthy of “revenge”. I could get myself pretty worked up imagining a Mochizuki-out-to-get- Ruthie conspiracy if I chose, but I believe I’ll pass. I have things to do, places to go, friends to meet, and a life to get on with. Now I’ll stop typing and get busy. Good night, and thank you all for reading.