If we don’t, someone else will (and other dubious rationalizations)

ZERO NUCLEAR POWER BY 2030’s: OFFICIAL GOAL!! ….read the headline of my Japan Times morning edition on September 14th.  This had probably been announced on the previous evening’s news as well, but I had been out walking with my neighbor in an attempt to work off a too-large portion of my husband’s delicious fried rice.  My immediate response to the morning headline was , “hmmm….what’s up? “, and I dug in to the article without delay.  Note that my immediate response was not, “Wow! That’s awesome!”—not by a long stretch.  For one thing, protestors in Tokyo are calling for an end to reliance on nuclear power NOW, which could be achieved simply by shutting down the two reactors at the Oi Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.  Zero nuclear power by the 2030’s??  That would give the government plenty of opportunity to keep the Ooi reactors running and re-start others in the meantime.  So I read the article calmly and objectively, and was not surprised to discover the clause at the end added by the Prime Minister: “It is extremely hard to predict how things may develop in the future and we should make sure that we are able to take a flexible approach.”  Flexible, meaning “Well, we’ll TRY to keep this promise. But it may not work out, so please understand, okay?” And to add insult to injury, the article

Citizens demand the closing of Fukui Prefecture’s Monju Fast Breeder (seen in the distance). Photo by KYODO News.

made it very clear that the government intended to continue the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and did not plan to give up on the Monju fast-breeder (a prototype reactor that theoretically will run on reprocessed uranium and plutonium. The reactor has been plagued by accidents and cover-ups, and currently sits idle; it has actually only produced a single hour’s worth of electricity since its completion, which involved four decades of work and an appalling amount of money),  scheduled to come on-line in 2050.  Hmmm…..no nuke plants at that time, but the country would still be producing a stockpile of uranium. And for what purpose??  The potential for nuclear armament could not be separated from the equation.

On September 15th, the Asahi Shinbun published an article on the Zero Nukes announcement, asking the question, HOW FIRM IS THE NO-NUKE POLICY? IT CONTAINS GET-OUTS, CONTRADICTIONS.  Asahi made no bones about calling Noda’s announcement a “hollow promise” as well as a shameless plug to win the support of ordinary voters (good luck with that).  From this article, I learned that a Legal Requirement Clause, added to the policy by minister Motohisa Furukawa, had been struck out at the last minute, meaning that in fact local and central governments were not bound by law to effect the policy at all. The whole declaration was, in fact, a non-binding promise thrown out in a desperate attempt by the government to save face (again, good luck with that).

Yonekura Hiromasa, Chairman of Japan’s Business Federation, had plenty to say about the Zero Nukes by 2030 announcement. (photo from Asahi Shinbun files)

Let me now skip ahead: Just five days after the original announcement, the Asahi Shinbun ran another article with this headline: JAPAN’S NO-NUKE PLEDGE IS ALREADY FRAYING AT THE EDGES,  followed by the next day’s Japan Times annnouncement CABINET FAILS TO OK NEW NUCLEAR STRATEGY, describing the “shocking reversal” that took place in a matter of six days.  The entire policy had been watered down to nothing due to opposition from both the US and the Japanese Business Federation (Keidanren). This was only “shocking” for those who believed that the government was seriously committed to its own policy, however, and since many folks wanted a break with nuclear power immediately (rather than 18 years down the road), they had not been terribly excited about the announcement in the first place.  Still, even for cynics, it was a disheartening and disappointing week.  What an embarrassing excuse for a government.

Yet although the government seems like a bundle of contradictions and broken promises to citizens of Japan, citizens abroad have differing perspectives. Let’s jump now to Vietnam, a nation which, with the assistance and “know-how” of both Russia and Japan, is about to go nuclear.  In spite of the Fukushima disaster, the Vietnamese government plans to honor their contract with a Japanese firm to build a nuclear power plant, and in fact, preparations are already underway. While the Noda administration waffles and stumbles before its own citizens, it is “leading the way” with confidence in Vietnam, where residents believe that 1) the nuclear industry is safe and trustworthy, and 2) Fukushima was something unfortunate, but unrelated to their own situation.

Vietnamese students analyzing radiation samples at the Hanoi workshop (photo by Chau Doan, for NY Times).

Japan lobbied aggressively to win the contract to build a nuclear power plant in Vietnam.  As critics correctly charge, Japan and other nuclear powers are now desperate to sell plants to developing nations, since Fukushima has destroyed the dream of a nuclear renaissance in advanced economies.  And in this case, since Vietnam does not yet possess the technology or even the know-how, Japanese experts must train a generation of young Vietnamese who hope to become nuclear engineers: future researchers, operators and managers of the nuclear power plants that the government hopes will revitalize the country.  A New York Times article  from this past March details a workshop held in Hanoi, sponsored by members of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency; in a Japanese-built research lab, Japanese specialists held a ten-day workshop for a group of twenty young and eager Vietnamese students, described as “Radiation Physics 101”.  Radiation Physics in ten days??  Is that something like the old cassette tape I used to have entitled, “Ten Classics in Ten Minutes”?  I loved that tape: you got a synopsis of Moby Dick, Great Gatsby, Gone with the Wind, and seven other novels, TRULY in ten minutes, complete with funny voices and sound effects.  At any rate, the Vietnamese government intends to move fast enough to have a  sufficient number of qualified experts to manage the first nuclear reactor (scheduled for 2020) and to build and operate at least nine more by 2030. I don’t know about funny voices and sound effects.

And I am not the only one who thinks this all a bit too hasty.  According to the same NY Times article, both Vietnamese and foreign experts have already expressed concern that this leaves “…. too little time to establish a credible regulatory body, especially in a country with widespread corruption, poor safety standards, and a lack of transparency, ” and that “…the overly ambitious timetable could lead to the kind of weak regulation, as well as collusive ties between regulators and operators, that contributed to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan last year.”  That sounds like a pretty sound assessment to me.

Artist’s vision of Vietnam’s first nuclear power plant.

Still more disturbing was an article I found in the Asia-Pacific Journal entitled “Japanese Nuclear Power Comes to a Vietnam Village” (under the “What’s Hot” tab) . It’s an essay by photo-journalist Kimura Satoru, who journeyed to the village of Tay Anh, in south central Vietnam, where the first of the nuclear power plants is scheduled for construction.  The village, as Kimura-san describes it, is much like some of the coastal villages in Tohoku: sustained by both fishing and farming, and rich in wildlife and natural resources. My daughter would be interested in the rare sea turtles that come onto the sand to breed and lay eggs.  Seven hundred households make up the village, and their inhabitants will be re-located to an area two kilos away, as early as 2014. “It can’t be helped as it’s for the development of the country,” says a farmer interviewed by Kimura, and this seems to be the general attitude of other residents as well.

Kimura-san relates the story of village residents who were invited to fly from Vietnam to tour a Japanese nuclear power plant in 2010; they returned suitably impressed and convinced of the safety of nuclear energy, and were instructed to relay what they had learned to other villagers.  The following year, meltdowns at Fukushima naturally caused  anxiety abroad, and a Japanese delegation was dispatched to Vietnam to assure villagers that Japan had learned from its mistakes and that nuclear power was, in fact, as safe as ever.  Kimura is convinced that residents of Tay Anh have accepted this explanation, as villagers he spoke with showed little evidence of fear or distrust regarding the forthcoming construction project that will overtake their homes and farms in less than two years.  Here’s the situation in the journalist’s own words:

What I see among Vietnamese in the midst of nuclear power plant construction is the impossibility of their learning about nuclear power. Above all, they lack both consciousness of the issues and sufficient information.  The reason the Tay Anh villagers are not negative about nuclear power is not that they actively endorse its safety.  The reason is that no negative information is disclosed to them.  Their trust in the Japanese people’s high technical ability seems to influence the residents’ consciousness of nuclear power.   Thus I unexpectedly heard the safety myth about nuclear power in Tay Anh village. It floated among villagers like a ghost that has no substance.

And that’s the bottom line to me: in this small Vietnamese village there seems to be a myth of safety and security associated with nuclear power, combined with a dearth of information.  Ordinary citizens have a basic right to know about the proposed facility–in detail– and to have a say in where, how, or even IF it should be constructed.  That’s only natural, since it’s their own health at stake.  And the environment does not seem to have a spokesperson at all…is there anyone pleading the case of the sea turtles?  Or the nearby National Park that could become nothing more than a cesium repository?  So far I’ve heard nothing, but my ears are open.

Reporters and Tepco workers accompany Environmental/Nuclear Minister Hosono Goshi on a tour of Fukushima Daiichi’s battered number four reactor in May, 2012.

I do not live in Vietnam, and it could be said that whether or not their government builds a nuclear reactors is none of my business. Yet since Japan is behind the construction and “education” process, I cannot help but have an opinion.  In this case, my message is to the Japanese government: “Clean up your own mess before you start a new one!”  It’s as simple as that, and I’ve written about it in a previous post.  With new revelations seeping out insidiously on almost a daily basis (this week’s shocker revealed that the town of Futaba was essentially blanketed in radiation even before the first hydrogen explosion occurred) and large pieces of machinery tumbling into the fuel pools of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactors (a thirty-five ton machine was discovered submerged at one point.  This week, a large steel beam tumbled in) , it is clear that the crisis in Fukushima is ongoing and that nuclear power will never be completely “safe”.  We have no business selling a form of energy abroad that our own citizens have solidly rejected and that has poisoned our own environment.

Govt. official Maeda Tadashi: “Hey, it’s no big deal. If we don’t sell nuclear power, someone else will, anyway.” (photo from Asahi Shinbun)

Worse yet, Maeda Tadashi, an official at the “Japan Bank of International Cooperation”, has rationalized Japan’s actions in Vietnam by saying, “They’ll just buy from another country”  if we don’t sell them nuclear power.  Send that man back to elementary school, where Japanese students study “Morality” (Dotoku)!  I would zap my own son instantly (and effectively) with the Scornful Glare of the Righteous Mother if he ever dared to use such a snivelling excuse!  Poor Mrs. Maeda, both the wife (if he is married) and the mother (if she is still alive).

As for the officials enthusiastically promoting the nuclear power plant in Vietnam, we must hope that they have the decency to put the safety of their own citizens above the lure of profit and economic development.  Journalist Kimura-san sees it as a dual responsibility and a grave one, as Japan, “….which painfully experienced the danger of nuclear power and is still unable to resolve the pain, is not sufficiently conveying that pain to the country which is for the first time planning to use nuclear power. I wonder how much the presence of the residents is within the consciousness of the planners [in Vietnam] and whether these people, who are to be placed at the front line of a national enterprise, will be protected.”  Well-considered, and well-said.

Residents of Fukushima were not protected, in the end, and citizens across the country continue to feel a deep sense of betrayal by the government.  Yet before 3/11, we too were complacent, and believed in (or allowed ourselves to be deceived by ) the myth of safety. Is it any wonder that we want to warn the citizens of Tay Anh?

Good night, and thank you again for reading.  I hope it won’t be another month before I can post again, but bear with me if that’s the case. Please rest assured, anyhow, that a long silence does not mean I have jumped ship; I plan to stay on board for the whole journey. Stay with me.


Same Material, Different Containers…..but is it Evil?

This Mainichi Shinbun photo captures the feel of the Friday night demos perfectly. I’m somewhere in the middle of all those people, sweating and hollering.

It’s Friday night again in Nagata-cho, Tokyo’s government district, and I’m literally a human sardine (this analogy means more to Americans and Europeans, who eat their tightly packed sardines from a can.  Most Japanese, who don’t, draw a blank).  Having arrived on time for the weekly demonstration outside the Diet Building, I’ve been swiftly and politely herded into a narrow sidewalk space where the street-view is blocked by a line of enormous empty busses.  And there I stand, hollering “Genpatsu, Hantai!” ( We Oppose Nuclear Power! ) for the next two hours; can’t move, can’t see a darn thing, and the two friends I dragged along (their first time) are dying of mortification and refusing to wave the anti-nuke placards I thoughtfully provided for them.  I know that one of them, Toshi, is dying to break free and head for the nearest izakaya to get a cold beer.  “Too bad for him,” I think smugly.  “He’s trapped here, and it’s for his own good!”  Toshi, I am sure, is wondering why on earth he agreed to come (out of curiosity, I suspect) and will have a few choice words for me at a later time.  Mizue, on the other hand, is holding her placard chest-high and looks like she wants to yell, “Genpatsu, Hantai!” but can’t quite get the words out of her mouth.  She might come back with me again.

It’s not just about nuclear energy, as seen by the variety of signs and banners.

The protesters around us wave a variety of signs: some reading simply “No Nukes!” , and others more specific: Work Toward a Peaceful World!  Protect the Children!  Love the Earth!  Ditch the Prime Minister!  Disarm, Now!  Stop the TPP!  Safer Food Standards! , etc. etc. The organizers of the Friday night demos have urged people to focus simply on the nuclear energy issue, but with so many anxiety-provoking related concerns, that has proved impossible.  Blogger EX-SKF thinks the single-issue focus is a mistake, and I heartily agree.  The average Japanese citizen has compartmentalized nuclear power for too long, neglecting (or refusing) to consider it holistically, in relation to a myriad of other issues that are now coming to the forefront.  Since August marks the commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, today’s post will focus on nuclear arms rather than nuclear energy, in honor of those who died and those who survived.  Some of the survivors–most are in their late seventies– bear physical scars and some are burdened with emotional scars, but none have been left unscathed.  Here are pictures, drawn by survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, that tell the story as seen through their own eyes.

Now some people may believe that nuclear armament is a non-issue for this country.  World War II ended with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; since then, Japan has been sworn to pacifism, according to Article 9 of the U.S-Japan Security Treaty of 1947, which reads, “….the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”  It is also true that since the bombings,  even the most conservative governments have followed the “three nuclear principles” prohibiting the production, possession, and introduction of nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.  The average Japanese citizen is horrified by the thought of nuclear weapons, and the country as a whole is said to have an “allergy” to the subject, due to the lingering reverberations from the devastation inflicted by Fat Man and Little Boy.

Shigeru Ishiba’s logic: We don’t have to actually make or use the weapons, just show that we can.

Recent news , however,  suggests that Japanese citizens who march for nuclear disarmament have good reason to be taking to the streets.  Last Tuesday, AP news reported that certain conservative government officials and thinkers believe Japan’s pacifist framework to be outdated.  They want to earn some respect in the eyes of their neighbors and show off their nuclear “capabilities” by continuing to maintain nuclear power plants, which develop the technology and provide the necessary fuel for atomic weaponry. “Having nuclear power plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear arms, ” declared ex-defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, stressing that Japan needs to assert itself , using the potential threat of nuclear weapons as diplomatic clout.  The same AP article claims that despite repeated denials by successive governments, a future nuclear arsenal has long been discussed  “behind the scenes”.  In  related news, a recent AFP news article by Kyoko Hasegawa revealed that an expert panel of government officials is proposing to allow the US transport of nuclear arms through the country; again, this will presumably boost Japan’s image as a nation able to flaunt the protection of America’s “nuclear umbrella”.  Lastly, those who read the newspaper closely are aware that the Atomic Energy Basic Act of 1955 was revised by the government last month to include “national security” as one of the reasons for possible use of nuclear technology.  Given that Japan has one of the world’s largest stockpiles of plutonium (did you know that?) , these new developments have caused both anger and heartache on many levels.

Should the average citizen be seriously worried that Japan could develop a nuclear arsenal in the future?  A recent guest article from the Plowshares Fund blog suggests that these fears are unfounded.  Gregory Kulacki, an expert on nuclear weapons and global security representing the Union of Concerned Scientists, states that

“Japanese public opinion polls consistently register high levels of support for nuclear disarmament and strong opposition to Japanese nuclear weapons.  The AP story fails to convey that the information now coming to light about Japan’s nuclear past reflects a strengthening, not a weakening, of Japan’s anti-nuclear credentials.”

 Past discussions on nuclear matters were kept secret, he claims, out of fear of inciting “massive public protests”,  and recent revelations of these discussions reflect the beginnings of a new transparency in government and media, which can only be seen as positive.

Oe Kenzaburou: living with a sense of outrage. (Bloomberg photo by Haruyoshi Yamaguchi)

Nevertheless, there are those who fear for Japan’s future, and those who are incensed with conservative officials who promote nuclear power as a form of diplomacy .  On August 5th, the day preceding the Hiroshima Peace Ceremony, the New York Times ran an editorial by Japan’s Noel Prize-winning novelist Oe Kenzaburou entitled “Hiroshima and the Art of Outrage“.  The letter was part editorial (introducing some of the contradictions inherent in Japan’s publicly pacifist stance) and part personal, describing Oe-san’s own reaction to them.  Stating that he feels deep disappointment in never having written a “big novel” about the victims of the atomic bombings, Oe-san seems to blame himself for not doing enough in the cause of peace.  In his own words,

“…on the day last week when I learned about the revival of the nuclear-umbrella ideology,  I looked at myself sitting alone in my study in the dead of night…and what I saw was an aged, powerless human being, motionless under the weight of this great outrage.”

 Oe-san explains that his righteous anger takes the form of a “concentrated tension” that,  although it may not result in a novel, could well be a form of art in itself.  The image of an old man, alone in his study, rendered powerless by his own anger and holding in a peculiar form of tension is in itself a powerful image, and we must respect Oe-san for revealing himself so honestly as well as making a strong moral statement.

Motoshima Hitoshi: he took a bullet for peace (photo by Hiroshi Matsubara, Asahi Shinbun).

Outrage is essentially anger: righteous anger that can be empowering rather than crippling (Oe-san proves this himself, by turning out a tightly-constructed, moving editorial in spite of his protestations of helplessness).  Let’s now move on to another story about outrage involving the former Mayor of Nagasaki, who was recently featured in the Asahi Shinbun.  Serving as Mayor of the city from 1979 till 1995, Motoshima Hitoshi consistently opposed Japan’s history of imperialist aggression.  A blunt and courageous speaker, Mostoshima-san went so far as to publicly state that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were an inevitable outcome of Japan’s agressive policies against its Asian neighbors, and that Emperor Hirohito must bear responsibility for the war.  He received the Akizuki Peace Prize for his contributions to the antinuclear peace movement in Japan; he also received a bullet in the back in 1990 from a member of a rightist group who saw things differently.  Motoshima-san survived, and remains unintimidated by his enemies.  The ninety year old former official who was interviewed this past week stated matter-of-factly that he was neither stunned, terrified, or saddened by the nuclear meltdowns and ensuing chaos at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  He viewed the disaster as a “matter of course”, brought on by the use of a technology that should never have been utilized in the first place.

But wait: I was going to write about nuclear arms, rather than nuclear energy, right? Except that it’s not that simple.  Many of Japan’s most respected thinkers believe that the two are inherently connected.  Inseparable.  Here’s how Motoshima-san sees the situation:

“The Fukushima disaster is bringing us to a new era, one in which all Japanese must confront not only nuclear weapons, but nuclear technology as a whole. As a Nagasaki citizen, I still want to believe that a nuclear-free world is not a dream vision. I can still say that we have a long way to go before we can view nuclear technology as a whole as an absolute evil.”

Poet Arthur Binard: Nuclear is wrong, whether used for energy or weapons (photo: Kyodo News).

Motoshima-san’s words are echoed by an American poet who writes and speaks fluent Japanese and has recently published a photo book of keepsakes from the victims of the Hiroshima bombing.  Arthur Binard, 45, grew up believing that the atomic bombings were necessary to hasten the end of the war and save the life of US servicemen.  Travelling to Hiroshima in 1995,  he re-imagined the situation through the eyes of the victims, who are called “hibakusha” in Japanese.  Binard now firmly opposes both nuclear weapons and nuclear power as a form of energy.  “The nuclear weapon and nuclear power plant are the same essentially, ” he says. “Nuclear fuel is inside,  just with different containers.  The story of Hiroshima is not something in the past.  It’s a lens through which we can look at today’s world where nuclear damage has been spreading.”  The former Mayor of Nagasaki would wholeheartedly agree.

The wrongness, ( the evil, as some would not hesitate to say)  inherent in nuclear technology that so outrages anti-nuclear activists worldwide lies in its destructive potential.  Given that nuclear power plants are controlled by man, and man is vulnerable,  many citizens no longer believe that the benefits (prosperity) outweigh the risks (long-term damage to the environment and potentially to the the physical and mental health of adults and children, to name just two) of using nuclear power to slake an energy need that has not proven to be nearly as large as governments and the nuclear

What remains of Fukushima Daiichi, Unit 3: damage caused by man, not nature.

industry would have us believe.  Despite TEPCO’S claims to the contrary, a panel of experts  in Japan has recently concluded that the multiple meltdowns were in fact, a “manmade disaster“, implying not an inconceivable act of nature, but an event caused and exacerbated by corruption, greed, mismanagement, incompetence, and lack of foresight.  In short, the disaster was the result of collusion between central government,  regulators, and  nuclear plant operators.  Following the “nuclear technology is evil” premise to its logical conclusion, the Daiichi plant should never have been built in the first place since its safety could not be guaranteed by men, who are inherently fallible.  Thus the former Mayor of Nagasaki’s lack of surprise and grim sense of vindication after the meltdowns.   Small comfort to be able to say, “I told you so! ” after a major nuclear disaster.

So what’s to be done to right the wrongness?  For although many may still not agree that nuclear technology in itself is inherently wrong, few would argue that the misuse of nuclear power is not a crime. Well, “what’s to be done?”  is the burning question these days, and the fact that ordinary Japanese citizens have begun to see themselves as part of the solution is progress in itself.  Rather than saying, “Shikata ga nai” (It can’t be helped) , people young and old are hoping that things CAN be helped, and are speaking out instead of waiting for something to happen.

Cynics note that although the Friday night protests outside the Prime Minister’s residence attract steadily more participants, media coverage is still unpredictable at best.  And the Prime Minister, who had promised to meet with organizers of the weekly rallies ( he had even set a date ) suddenly backed out and changed his mind, with no explanation.  And there’s squabbling and back-stabbing going on even within the ranks of the rally organizers as well, as evidenced by some public conversations on Twitter.  But still, the rallies are a source of hope and national interest.  Although I am still not besieged by requests (“Take me with you!  I’ll go to the demo, too!”),  friends and family now express curiosity and support.  If I lived in Tokyo, closer to the action, I’d have an army of friends riding the train with me to the government district. I just know it.

Fujita Yuko: Lone Wolf Physicist (photo by Hiroshi Matsubara, Asahi Shinbun).

Former Keio University professor Fujita Yuko, called the “Lone Wolf Physicist” for his anti-nuclear stance dating  back thirty years before the Fukushima disaster, recently told the Asahi Shinbun that Japan’s only hope lies in protest movements by citizens.  “The fact that tens of thousands of non-partisan people are demanding a say means a turning point in Japanese democracy. I hope it will continue on so that it will prevent the government’s attempt to cover up nuclear damage.”  So far, the movement is not only continuing, but gaining in momentum, in spite of the cynics.  While the Prime Minister still remains in power and the central government’s official policy on nuclear energy (fuzzy at best) has not changed, citizens are certainly making government officials’  life both miserable and challenging. We make a big noise, require a massive amount of manpower (bad guys should be having a heyday in Tokyo every Friday, since the entire city police force and probably imports from surrounding prefectures as well seem to be concentrated in the government district, rather than guarding banks and jewelry stores), and are indefatigable as far as petitions, letters, and complaints.  We have an awesome network and we use it.  Best of all, we represent a broad swath of the population, and can not fairly be labelled as weird, extreme, or hysterical.  On our side?  We’ve got Oe Kenzaburou, Murakami Haruki, Miyazaki Hayao, Sakamoto Ryuichi, and Setouchi Jakucho….to name just a few.  I, for one, know I’m riding on the right train, and feel certain that it’s not headed for derailment.  Where it IS headed is anyone’s guess at this point, but to keep moving is the important thing.

Meanwhile, removed from the noise and clamor of the nation’s capitol, a group of Buddhist priests have just completed their “March for Life”.  They share the same vision as the weekly demonstrators, but choose to express their outrage through prayer.  Beginning last year, the priests have travelled the length of the country  on foot, stopping at each and every nuclear power plant along the way.

Buddhist priests participating in the “March for Life”, making their way south to the Peace Ceremony in Hiroshima. (photo by Kiyoshi Inoue)

After making a plea to local officials of each host city for a nuclear-free future, they pray on the grounds surrounding the power plants and at the nearby waterside, as a ritual purification of the land which they believe has been desecrated.  Their statement, which can be read online both in English and  Japanese, is a clear indictment of nuclear technology, which they see as a violation of human rights.  “It is a precept of Buddhism that you shall not kill other living beings, nor shall you make others kill, and moreover that the life of all sentient beings is precious and shall be nurtured. ”  They believe that the use of both nuclear arms and nuclear reactors, by threatening the existence of life itself,  must not be tolerated; those who were born in this era  (they believe) must confront the crisis and bring the nuclear age to a close.

Lanterns of prayer floating down Hiroshima’s Motoyasu River (photo by Ryo Ikeda, Asahi Shinbun).

Public sentiment is with the priests, as was reflected in the twin peace ceremonies held in Nagasaki and Hiroshima this past week.  Every year on the evening of August 6th in Hiroshima, paper lanterns inscribed with the names of those who died are set afloat in the Motoyasu River, in view of the Atomic Bomb Dome.  This year’s event organizers reported the number of lanterns  inscribed with prayers for peace or calling for an end to nuclear power generation outnumbered the number of lanterns inscribed with victims’ names.  At the official ceremony itself,  Mayor Matsui Kazumi of Hiroshima gave this strong and moving appeal for nuclear disarmament:

“Determined never to let the atomic bombing fade from memory, we intend to share with ever more people at home and abroad the hibakusha’s desire for a nuclear-weapon-free world.  People of the world!  Especially leaders of nuclear-armed nations, please come to Hiroshima to contemplate peace in this A-bombed city.”

 He then extended his appeal, calling on the Japanese government to “establish without delay an energy policy that guards the safety and security of the people”.  Mayor Tomihisa Taue of Nagasaki echoed this sentiment even more directly, challenging the central governement to “..set new energy policy goals to build a society free from the fear of radioactivity.”

Catholics in Nagasaki offer prayers for peace (photo by Wataru Sekita, Asahi Shinbun) .

It is worth noting that the hibakusha of both Nagasaki and Hiroshima consider the citizens of Fukushima to be fellow victims.  Since the issue in Fukushima is long-term exposure to low-level radiation rather a direct and vicious atomic bombing that incinerated victims on impact, it could easily be said that the situations were completely different–that Fukushima citizens cannot be considered “true victims” of radiation exposure.  Yet repeated interviews of elderly residents who lived through the bombings prove the reverse: hibakusha of Nagasaki and Fukushima fear for the future of Fukushima residents and consider them as fellow sufferers.  Mayor Taue spoke for his constituents last week when he pledged, “We here in Nagasaki will continue to support the people of Fukushima, as it brings us great sorrow that every day they still face the fear of radiation.”

Atomic bombs and nuclear power plants: the same evil in a different package?  Whatever you personally believe, for more and more Japanese citizens they are one and the same.  In closing,  let me quote from the closing section of Murakami Haruki’s now-famous anti-nuclear speech entitled “As an Unrealistic Dreamer”,  in which he neatly and firmly ties together the two concepts:

“As you know, we, the Japanese people, are unique in having experienced nuclear attacks. In August 1945, US military aircraft dropped atomic bombs on the two major cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the deaths of more than two hundred thousand people. Most of the victims were unarmed, ordinary people. Now, however, is not the moment for me to consider the rights and wrongs of this.

What I want to point out here is not only that two hundred thousand people died in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear bombing, but also that many survivors would subsequently die from the effects of radiation over a prolonged period of time. It was the suffering of these victims that showed us the terrible destruction that radioactivity has brought to the world and to the lives of ordinary people.”

Murakami continues, with his own assessment of what Japan’s future should have been, and how the nation can begin to repair the damage it has inflicted upon itself:

“We should have made the development of non-nuclear power generation the cornerstone of our policy after World War II. This should have been the way to assume our collective responsibility for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Japan, we needed strong ethics, strong values, and a strong social message. This would have been a chance for the Japanese people to make a real contribution to the world. We neglected to take that important road, however, preferring to pursue the fast track of “efficiency” in support of our rapid economic development.

As I mentioned earlier, we can overcome the damage caused by natural disasters, however dreadful and extensive they might be. And sometimes our spirits may grow stronger and more profound through the process of overcoming. This is most certainly something that we can achieve.

It is the job of experts to rebuild broken roads and buildings, but it is the duty of each of us to restore our damaged ethics and values. We can start by mourning those who died, by taking care of the victims of this disaster, and by nurturing our natural desire not to let their pain and injuries have been in vain. This will take the form of a carefully crafted, silent and painstaking endeavour. We must join forces to this end, in the manner of the entire population of a village that goes out together to cultivate the fields and plant seeds on a sunny spring morning. Everyone doing what they can do, all hearts together.”

Murakami, who delivered this speech last year in Barcelona, is currently lecturing and writing at the University of Hawaii, but I feel certain that he’s cheering us on from across the ocean at the Friday evening protests in Nagata-cho.  It’s our own attempt at restoring our damaged ethics and values and, whatever minor disagreements might incur, our hearts are all together.

Thank you for reading and reflecting, and stay tuned for the next chapter.

Partying with Serious Intent: Demos in the government district heat up!

My last post was about hydrangeas–big, bold, and brazen. Well, this is a continuation on the same theme, as I’ve realized that hydrangeas also stick around longer than you’d expect.  And come to think about it, they start early as well, keeping their buds tightly closed during late May and early June and opening in fits and starts as the rainy season

Here’s the mountain train to Gora station…and look! Hydrangeas still determinedly blooming in late July!

begins in earnest.  And even in the tail end of July, the last of the dried-out blossoms stubbornly cling to life, unlike compliant sakura petals which are resigned to parting from the mother tree after only a few days of glory.  Yes, sakura are much “prettier”, but how vulnerable their petals are to both wind and rain.  Not so the hydrangea–no, not at all.  Just last Wednesday I rode the Tozan Densha, or “Mountain Train” up to the mountains of Gora, and was astonished to see hydrangea, some retaining their colors and some brittle and beginning to decay, still blooming along the narrow train tracks. “Do them a favor and look at them kindly, with understanding, ” said the train conductor.  “They’ve had a long, hard season.”  I was impressed.

Likewise, I continue to be impressed with the tenacity and creativity of the crowds who show up weekly in the government district of Tokyo to raise their voices against the re-start of nuclear power plants. I’ve been attending demonstrations for a full year now, and am starting to appreciate the progress that’s been made as I experience it on a personal

This cat enjoyed the limelight at a rally this spring.

level.  Last year, for instance, I remember marching through the Harajuku district feeling out of sync with everything around me. Only a few people here and there shouting encouragement, and crowds of fashionably-dressed shoppers gawking at us weirdos with our sweaty faces and handmade placards.  I swear there were more old people than young, and that bothered me terribly.  I didn’t mind so much feeling “uncool”, but I wasn’t convinced that our efforts weren’t futile.  Surely no “real” demonstration is complete and effective without a bunch of young people waving tambourines in the air, right? I was hoping for energy, excitement, and tension, but marching with the fifty-and-over-crowd, things were pretty tame.  Mind you, I know my place: I’m not saying I wanted to be dancing along with the tambourine-shaking twenty-somethings, but I at least wanted to enjoy watching them in action.

Another troubling factor was the slow pace and tight crowd control.  Even at rallies with tens of thousands present, the actual parade or march around town was always closely monitored by police, with sometimes an hour of waiting time before the line began to move, and only small groups allowed out on the street with staggered starts. Hard to feel either power or unity in such a situation, and I sometimes ended up in a very quiet group with no “call leader” to holler out the anti-nuke chants.  Especially if no-one in the group was even carrying a

Pedestrians taking a stroll through the city?  No, this is actually an anti-nuke parade. This past March, a huge crowd of energized citizens was reduced to a thin trickle of weary walkers.  My daughter’s still energized, though…look, she’s levitating!

placard or wearing a shirt with an anti-nuke logo, it felt more like a well-organized field trip in the city. Needless to say, there was little or no press coverage of these first rallies; this made everything seem even stranger, as if I was not only out of sync with society, but perhaps not even living in reality.  Thank goodness I have plenty of photos in my library to prove that these “field trips” actually existed.

But things have finally heated up! Since the sudden and loudly-protested re-start of the Ooi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, demonstrations have been held regularly in the government district every Friday evening.  At first, the participants numbered in the hundreds.  Then the thousands.  Then the ten thousands.  And now there’s no way of getting an accurate count, though organizers are stationed at all strategic points with counters, clicking away fast and furious, and helicopters hover overhead to get an ariel view of the crowds and how far back they extend.  See those ariel photographs here, and take a minute to consider the time and manpower involved in crowd control, and the increasing frustration experienced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police as they attempt to convince an increasingly unpredictable and ( I love this word) brazen army of citizens to do things “their way”.

In my Hydrangeas and Revolution post, I bewailed the fact that these regularly scheduled demos occur on Friday nights when I am committed to work, rather than on a more “convenient” day of the week. Well, school’s out for the summer (meaning I’m officially on vacation), and I’ve been gung-ho to get myself to Tokyo to be part of the the action.  And wouldn’t you know?  The first Friday I had free, word was that there was  NO DEMO.  So I stayed home.  And, in fact, there WAS a demo after all (according to friends in the the know), because people simply showed up as usual, raring to go.  And the “real demo” was held on Sunday as well.  I made it to the Sunday event, and I’d like to write a bit about it.

Obitani Reiko-san and her handmade flipboard poster…. Japanese characters painstakingly cut from colored duct tape!

I made the trip into Tokyo by myself, as usual, but with a tentative plan to meet up with Jacinta (of “Embrace Transitions”) at some point during the late afternoon.  For the first time, I was dressed in an official No Nukes t-shirt (found on-line, simply by doing a search for “anti-nuke goods”) with a laminated placard attached to the back.  Feeling pleased about this, I set out first for the tents in Kasumigaseki, where a group of supporters of Fukushima mothers have been camped out on the sidewalk since last summer. How were the guardians of the tent faring in the searing heat??  Very well, thank you!  My friend Reiko-san was seated outside, putting the finishing touches on her story-panel demonstration poster for the march. Let me describe Reiko, since she’s fairly typical of the type of women who are the backbone of the anti-nuclear movement. She’s a decade older than me–a grandmother–and has twice my energy and gumption.  Leaving her husband to fend for himself three days a week, she devotes that time to participating in rallies and guarding the tent; Wednesday nights, she sleeps in the tent, along with a core group of supporters that includes an eager beaver 23 year old male English conversation teacher!  I have yet to meet the youngster in question, but Reiko assures me it is all in the interest of nuclear-free Japan ( she is, nonetheless, thrilled at the opportunity ).  On this particular morning, she was up at 4:30 to make her husband’s breakfast and box lunch (annoying, but it must be done), after which she was free to work on her masterpiece: the flipboard poster with multiple messages, made from colored packing tape and two curtain rods with adjustable height.  She showed me how the rods could be stuck into her fanny pack, requiring very little effort to keep the poster aloft. I am a big fan of this kind of small-scale innovation, and immediately resolved to get a bit more creative in my own efforts. Reiko doesn’t give a hoot what friends and family say about her excursions to Tokyo (she’s from Yokohama, and comes in by train, like me), and she spends the other four days of the week in her Yokohama home, fulfilling her duties as a proper grandma. If I were her grandchild, I’d be bragging about her to all my friends, left and right.

After exchanging greetings at the tents, I set off for Hibiya Koen, the site of the rally and starting point for the day’s parade. Which is to say, I followed the steady stream of people who were headed toward what sounded like a circus come to town. The small park space was jam-packed with Catholic nuns, Buddhist priests, assorted foreigners, young parents with babies-in-snugli, old guys with straw hats, cool guys with body paint, hippies with hairy chins, beauties with fashionable sunglasses, and more. I squeezed my way through the crowd, admiring the creativity and variety of signs and costumes, and getting as many photographs as possible.

Most beautiful couple encountered….and so gracious about posing as well.

There was the usual waiting time between the rally and the parade, while police worked to prevent hoards of protesters from swarming onto the street by allowing only a thin trickle of people onto the sidewalk at any given time and cordoning off the main part of the road with dragon’s teeth.  When we moved out onto the street, however, the thin, snaking line of protesters kept up a constantly high level of energy that was matched by the cheers and encouragement of supporters on the sidelines–not marching, but there to support the marchers–and passengers in cars and taxis hollering “No Nukes!” from out open windows. Unlike last year or even this past spring, when I felt out of sync with the city, on this day I felt that we owned the city, and that was a great feeling.

I marched alongside this very vocal man in his dapper safari hat….until my eardrums began to ring. Can you see that the guy to the left is also clacking wooden blocks together?

As I marched (unaffiliated, so I could weave in and out among different groups), older Japanese men would often strike up conversations with me. “Look at this narrow space!” one man sputtered. “It’s not like this in American, is it?  A protest is a protest, and that means the protesters are in charge!  The protesters should take the whole street!  Japanese people should be ashamed!”  Even so, in the groups of marchers I moved with, no-one dared disobey the sullen-looking, humorless police officers whose sole job was to stand in the hot sun (wearing navy blue, no less) guarding the dragon’s teeth that “held back” the marchers. I cannot take credit for leading a revolt of any sort, but I did amuse myself by being a nuisance, slyly (I fancied) moving a dragon’s tooth toward the center of the road whenever an officer’s back was turned.

After the march, people milled around Hibiya Koen and began organizing to walk toward the diet building for the final event: a human chain around the central government area.  A young man with googly glasses from “Aka Hata” , or the Japanese Communist Party, helped me up onto a large stone monument. From there I surveyed the crowd, searching for Jacinta and her godchild Tenko….and suddenly there they were: Jacinta in a sweet little tomato-red  dress and long-legged Tenko in bright orange shorts with huge red cherries!  I felt terribly under-dressed, but decided to act as if I weren’t (this generally works), and we all set off to be part of the human chain.  From here on in the crowd steadily increased, as many people had not gotten to the rally and parade beforehand because of the heat, but were determined to make it to the chain.

Police were everywhere: along the sidewalks, directing movement at intersections, and looming above the crowds in cherry pickers, calling cheery instructions from  megaphones. “There’s a big crowd here tonight, folks!  No pushing and shoving now, and please move

What do you say: a genuinely nice guy?

along in an organized manner.” The cheery megaphone instructions added the strangest touch to the evening, making it seem as if the Tokyo Metropolitan Police were actually the hosts of the event, rather than enforcers of law and order.  I got a shot of this genuinely nice-looking officer holding an animated conversation with an elderly protestor…you can’t fake smiles like that, and I’d bet he’s a good guy, inside and out. At any rate, a nice contrast to the dour-looking older officers guarding the dragons’ teeth during the march.

Continuing our walk toward the diet building, we passed by a group of women camped out on the sidewalk….and Jeffery Jousan, a mutual friend (also in tomato-red), who called out, “Come meet the Fukushima ladies!!”  So we did. The ladies were clustered around a cheery-looking woman in a wheelchair, who waved to us to come on over. The woman had cerebral palsy, and was eager to give us a statement she had prepared in English entitled,

Here they are: the Fukushima Ladies, planted cheerfully in the midst of chaos.

“We Stand Against Nuclear Power Plants that Kill People With Disabilities!”  I took the paper, but before I had time to glance at it, another woman tapped me on the arm and began telling me her own story.  Amid the chaos and constant movement on the sidewalk, I strained to listen as she told me of her home, 2 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which has been abandoned and ransacked by thieves.  “But how can I sit around and cry? ” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “Look at all the wonderful new friends I have!  See how positive they are!”  I wished her well, squeezed her hand, waved to the woman in the wheelchair, hugged Jeffrey, and set off on the route again, tagging along after the red tomato dress and red cherry shorts.

To follow up on the woman in the wheelchair, Masayo Furui, I have since read her profile online and learned that she is a mother, a writer, a speaker, and an activist on behalf of those with disabilities living in Japan.  She was seated with the “Fukushima Ladies” not because she’s from Fukushima, but because she’s been active in a support center for disabled Fukushima residents that was established after the quake. The loss of an appallingly high number of elderly and disabled people who were unable to evacuate swiftly, left behind in the ensuing panic of the nuclear explosions, or suffered physical and mental trauma from the evacuation process itself is now well-known and deeply regretted; Furui wants to impart strength and courage to those who survived, and to teach them to live independently, with pride.  Read her statement, and learn about the history of cerebral palsy victims in Japan (many of whom were aborted before birth, or murdered shortly after) and their struggle to attain the most basic of human rights.

Japanese are known for their promptness. These women have arrived early and claimed a nice comfortable spot in the human chain.

Shortly after meeting up with the “Ladies”,  Jacinta, Tenko, and I found an open patch of sidewalk and linked up with the human chain, spending the next hour watching the  procession of people. Bearing candles or penlights, still waving placards and chanting vigorously, capturing the moment with their iPhones, the line of citizens seemed unending. Those around us were in high spirits, showing no signs of the usual Japanese reserve with strangers. After 30 minutes of  chanting and chatting together, the old guys on my right had to leave. They offered to take our picture, and I of course took theirs. “Get her email address, so we can exchange photos!” said one man urgently to his buddy. “Uh, how do I do that?” said the other, technically-challenged, grampa.  “Seki-gaisen, you dummy!” said the friend.  That’s “infrared communication” in English.  And it’s not possible with the iPhone, so I did my best to rapidly type in his address, squinting away near-sightedly in the dim light.  We exchanged photos by cellphone/iPhone later on, and I saw others around me doing the same: making friends and networking enthusiastically.  It occurred to me afterwards that this is a new way of socializing for many Japanese, and I knew that the excitement of connecting with complete strangers (foreigners, even!) in support of a common cause would draw them back to the government district again.

And although I did not see it with my own eyes, there was a brief ten minute period of real chaos, with police on the run (that part I saw, but did not know where they were headed or why) and protesters breaking through barriers and rushing en masse into the street. A Dutch journalist captured the incident on video, providing English subtitles explaining the sequence of events. What is clear from the short clip is that two cameramen were thrown to the ground and a woman was roughly dragged by a plainclothes policeman; even so, both sides attempted to exercise restraint. There were no injuries, the incident ended peacefully, and on the dot of eight (the appointed closing time), protesters began returning home.  Still moving in orderly lines, carrying their trash with them, and careful to make way for families with small children, citizens made their way back to the nearest train station, where restaurants overflowed with customers and conversation.

My daughter and I watched the six minute film together, and her eyes widened in surprise. “Oooh, look,” she gasped. “Japanese are disobeying orders!  They’re ignoring the police! ” Now please know that everything is relative.  The incident recorded in the film will seem tame to many folks outside of Japan, especially those who live in countries where police wouldn’t dream of attending a protest without riot gear and are quick to brandish their nightsticks (or worse), or those who live in countries where protesters are armed with stones and bricks (or worse).  But to the average Japanese, this short clip is quite shocking. Here are people clearly taking the initiative–taking a risk–and making the Tokyo Metropolitan police officers run around like panicked hens in a henhouse.  Kjeld Duits, the journalist who shot the video, makes the logical observation that if the street had been open to the protesters in the first place, the incident would never have occurred.  Too many people forced into a claustrophobically small space? Something was bound to happen, and will certainly happen again if the district police do not change their rigid approach to a constantly changing set of circumstances.  Tune in this Friday (I’m assuming that there IS another demo planned in the government district, since I haven’t heard otherwise) to see if they’ve learned their lesson.

Are things really changing??  Yesterday’s Asahi Shinbun editorial is the most hopeful assessment yet.  Describing how average Japanese citizens have become disillusioned with the process of “indirect democracy” (people voicing their concerns through representatives, who bring those concerns to the central government) , the article details how citizens are experimenting with “direct democracy”, or going straight to the top to ensure that their

“All that noise….it’s giving me a headache!”

voices are heard.  After one massive rally outside the parliament, Prime Minister Noda was asked what he thought of the demonstration going on outside.  Hemming and hawing, all he could come up with was, “Well, that’s a big noise they’re making, isn’t it?”  Those words quickly became infamous as everyone, including NHK nightly news reporters, chided  Noda for mistaking the voice of his own people and deeming it “noise”.  I love this quote from a 77 year old woman from Hyogo Prefecture, who declared to reporters,  “Democracy is supposed to be politics based on people’s opinions. Politics that ignores people’s voices is nothing more than fascism.”

After the Prime Minister’s televised and widely-ridiculed faux pas, organizers of the Friday protests met with a group of Diet members including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan; they are pressing for a direct meeting with Noda-san, who is said to be “not reluctant” about the idea.  Direct democracy in the making? We will see.  Another sign of

Anti-nuke candidate Tetsunari Iida. He lost the battle, but the war’s not over yet!

progress is the strong showing of a “green candidate” in a recent election in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where a new nuclear power plant scheduled for construction is currently “on hold”.  Although the election was lost to a bureaucrat who supports nuclear power, the victory was a surprisingly close call, especially given that his anti-nuclear opponent, Tetsunari Iida, jumped into the race at the last minute.  Read about the “good fight” in today’s Japan Times.  Oh, and Justin McCurry of the UK Guardian reports on the launching of Japan’s first  Green Party  this week. Hoping to be officially recognized in time for the next general elections, this group of activists and local politicians aims to emulate the green parties of Europe, and to put the environment as their first priority.  Hear, hear!  The sooner the better, I say!

Meanwhile, Tokyo demonstrations grow steadily larger, and the mood is one of ever-increasing confidence, as even cynics cannot deny that progress is being made, albeit little by little.  The Oi nuclear reactors have been re-started, but the government’s campaign to convince citizens of the “need” to re-start more power plants has been a dismal failure. While politicians focus on potential energy shortages in the immediate future, it is already August and despite heat and humidity that would test the patience of a saint, and some inevitable deaths from heat stroke (little old ladies found in stifling apartments with the windows closed), people are doing fine.  After all, this is not a country where folks sit around all day running the air conditioner, eating bon-bons and painting their toenails. It’s a country where old people pull on their lederhosen (really!) and set off hiking , even in the hottest summer months; where women walk or bicycle to the local supermarket daily, regardless of hills or heat; and where children do not beg to be driven, but race off to the local pool on their bikes or scooters to spend the day tearing around in the hot sun.  This is a tough country, where people work hard, play hard, and don’t whine about their troubles.

Bring on the heat–we’re ready for it! Air conditioners are for sissies!

Temperatures soaring up into the 90s?  That’s no excuse to cancel a street demonstration either, and Sunday’s parade was–as always–heavily populated by old folks. Wearing sensible shoes, sensible sun hats and sweat towels, and carrying fans and thermoses full of cold tea, they chanted, “Denki ga tariteru!” ( “We have enough electricity!”) Young folks joined them, brandishing signs reading, “Nuclear power? No, thank you. We have plenty of other alternatives.” Parents had their babies out on display, toddlers carried their own signs, free spirit types danced rather than marched, wheelchair protesters rolled along with the walkers, and middle-aged men blew bubbles from the sidelines.

Clearly, protesting is not just for hardened union members anymore. It’s a family outing!  It’s fashionable!  It’s a social event! …..and it’s desperately important for those from Fukushima who still seek justice and a measure of closure after losing the security of family, community, and the land they were meant to inherit. Those outside of Fukushima hold their breath and pray that they do not lose their health as well, as we all struggle to understand and come to terms with the reality of internal radiation exposure.  And that’s the situation in a nutshell: a Tokyo demonstration is essentially a big old street party with deadly serious intent, buoyed by conviction born of disillusionment and betrayal.  If you come to the party, you’d better be ready to play hard. Enjoy the photos, and marvel at the variety of people who came out to play in the heat.

Hydrangeas and Revolution!

Japanese anti-nuclear protesters in Tokyo (AFP photo/Toru Yamanaka).

While I’ve been busy teaching children to wrestle with nouns, verbs and adjectives (if you can recognize them, you’ve won the fight),  history has been in the making in Tokyo.  For weeks, I’ve been following friends’ accounts of the Friday evening anti-nuke demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Kasumigaseki, and wishing desperately that I could join them. Kasumigaseki is a full two hours away from my station, Shibusawa; making the commitment to go would mean canceling classes for the entire day at my English cram school, necessitating apologies, explanations, and full refunds for the day’s lost lesson.  In addition, I’d face the disapproval of  my in-laws, my staff, and a large roomful of irate mothers.  Although the demonstrations in Tokyo have now been officially labelled “Revolution” by the Japanese media, mothers of my students would be unimpressed by my throwing responsibility to the wind and charging off to Kasumigaseki.  In a matter of time, I would be out of work.  Many of my students, however, would think my actions were “kakko ii” (cool! awesome! whatever young people in the US say now. da bomb??).  I do not know if this would be enough consolation for the loss of income.  I guess you can tell by now that this will be an unusually personal blog post.

So, let me continue.  In desperation (as I said), I stooped so low as to beg my husband to attend the demo in my stead.  Knowing exactly what his answer would be even as I began my plea bargaining, I swallowed hard and used  my persuasive powers. “Your field is

Here’s the hubbub that my husband hates (AFP photo by Rie Ishii).

International Political Science! ” (this is true), and  “How can you not go?? All your colleagues will be there!” (not true, and we both know it), and  “You’re really going to get on the train and leave Tokyo just when all the action’s starting??” (he works in the heart of the city and  hates all the hubbub. Of course he’s going to get out of town before a demo) .  So, as I knew from the onset, it was all in vain.  There is no budging a very stubborn academic, although I was bound to give it a shot.  I am not one to bribe or blackmail, so when persuasion fails, I let things be.

It pains me to admit that I was not present at this past Friday’s massive demonstration (attendance estimated at between 40 to 50, ooo people).  Indeed, I have not been to a single one of the Friday protests.  I have been sending telepathic messages in the vague direction of Tokyo for months on end: “PLEEEASE HOLD YOUR PROTESTS ON DAYS THAT ARE CONVENIENT FOR ME.  ALSO, NO EARLY MORNING MARCHES. (respectfully yours, etc.) ”  This method has actually been partly successful, and I have been able to attend several good-sized demonstrations without sacrificing a work day.  The Friday demos, however, did not change to Saturday no matter how hard I willed them to.  And so, in lieu of my actual attendance, I will write about the build-up to the demo, the demo itself,  and a bit about my own family’s response.

Friday night protests had been going on for months although,  as one commentator on EX-SKF’s blog admitted, at first the action seemed more symbolic than influential.  Slowly but surely, however, attendance began growing, though there was no advertisement other than Twitter, Facebook posts, and group emails.  I believe the steady increase in popularity of the demos stemmed from the recent (and continuing) string of disappointments and betrayals felt by citizens across the country.  Particularly painful was the recent rejection–no, the refusal to even consider–of a literal truckload of papers containing the signatures of Tokyo citizens demanding a

The governor of Tokyo, behaving badly. I hope his mother is no longer around to see this. (photo by Sumio Kanematsu)

referendum on nuclear power.  Volunteers had collected 320,000 signatures ( “It was easy,” one of the signature-gathering volunteers told me during a visit to the anti-nuclear tents in Kasumigaseki. “I had no trouble getting people to sign. ” ) and presented them to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly on June 20th.  The citizen representatives were met with rudeness and  rejection.  The rejection for their referendum request was by a 2-1 margin, and the rudeness was from Tokyo’s Mayor, Shintaro Ishihara, who made the thumbs-down sign to spectators gathered to witness the event.  Having taught English in this country for thirteen years, I know that this means more than “no”.  My students informed me straight off the bat in those first few months that it’s the equivalent of “Shinei!” or “You die!”  Seeing the shock on students’ faces whenever I used this simple gesture, I very quickly learned to strike it from my repertoire.  Ishihara-san, knowing full-well the implications of the gesture, did not hesitate to use it in public. Shame on you, cantankerous old man!

There was bad feeling all around, as the citizen representatives complained of being dismissed too easily, and of presenting their case to a group of officials who had already made up their minds to reject the proposal long beforehand. Which is probably true.

Rowdy citizens? ( AFP photo by Toru Yamanaka)

Tokyo officials, on the other hand, complained of “rowdy” spectators preventing them from doing business properly.  No comment there from me; I have yet to witness even a speck of “rowdiness” as I define it (unruliness, destruction of public property, deliberate acts of violence, etc.) at any of the rallies or protests I have attended in the past year.  On the contrary, folks seem almost unnaturally well-behaved and peaceful.  Someone inside the assembly building must’ve shouted an anti-nuclear slogan or something?

The attempt to hold a citizen’s referendum on nuclear power in Tokyo clearly failed. Several months earlier, a similar attempt had been made in Osaka; that attempt also ended in failure. But the biggest setback of all was the central government’s decision to re-start two reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture.  The decision came suddenly, and was met with shock and disbelief by a majority of citizens who were ready to battle the summer heat without relying on nuclear power.  As William Pesek states in a Bloomberg news article, “When more than two-thirds of the people in a democracy of 126 million are against something, a leader might bother to listen. That’s how many Japanese want the reactors to remain offline. Noda ignored that increasingly vocal majority and cleared two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi nuclear plant to reopen.”

This Mainichi Shinbun article also details the fuss that ensued, and readers can easily imagine the feelings of anger and betrayal felt by not just ordinary Japanese citizens, but by officials of nearby cities whose future would be at stake in case of an accident.  Local officials in Oi City, however, agreed to the re-start.  Hear what correspondant Justin McCurry has to say about their entanglement in the “Nuclear Power Money Tree” in this Christian Science Monitor article.

Buddhist monks engaging in prayer and fasting outside the entrance to Oi Nuclear Power Plant (photo from Kiyoshi Inoue’s album).

The Japan Times directly opposed the re-start in a an editorial piece entitled  Regrettable “go” on Reactors, making the point that the Prime Minister and his team would have done better to come up with a plan of action well beforehand to ensure that the energy supply would be sufficient during the summer months , with or without nuclear power. Businesses and individuals have been more than willing to cooperate since last year’s disaster, and not taking advantage of the chance to implement lifestyle changes and seriously reduce energy use is “mottanai” (a wasted opportunity).  As an example of the kind of changes hoped for by the Japan Times editor, my father-in-law recently attended a neighborhood meeting about reducing energy consumption in the summer months. This prompted him to call the electric company and arrange to reduce the maximum amount of electricity we can actually use (from 50 amps to 40) without experiencing a power failure. This basically means we cannot run five air conditioners at one time in the house….as if this frugal family would ever dream of such a thing!  We will be saving money each month, and the country will save resources as well. “If everyone did this, there’d be plenty of electricity to go around all year long,” said the wise Grampa Iida.   The JT editors also mention the enormity of the risk involved in this decision, as no-one truly believes the Oi reactors are completely disaster-proof, and the nuclear safety watchdog committee proposed by the government is not yet a reality.

Mainichi Shinbun photo of the June 22 demo outside the Prime Minister’s residence. That’s a lot of people in a very small space!

In the end, the hasty announcement of the re-starting of reactors at the Oi plant was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back.  This past Friday, June 22nd, saw the Kasumigaseki district overwhelmed with protestors.  And this time, the major Japanese mainstream media were there, from Asahi Shinbun to the Mainichi Daily News.  There were interviews with individuals and live footage from the street;  one reporter even ventured into the government building where officials were attempting to work. The noisy din from outside had penetrated through to interior (EX-SKF describes it as “deafening”), and the Prime Minister could not have been a happy camper. The reporter attempted to get a reaction from both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of  Economy, Trade and Industry, both of whom were at a loss for words.  There are many official and non-official versions of the event, but I always enjoy EX-SKF, so here’s his report.

The demo made the NHK news at 10:00 on Friday night–a rather long segment devoted to the demo and the anti-nuclear movement–and I grinned in astonishment as I whacked my unsuspecting husband.  “Look!  There you are!  I told you so: you missed history! You could’ve BEEN there!”  And, for the first time, he did not huff in dismissal or make light of the situation.  My friend Kimiko said it was the same with her husband.  And my guess is that the mainstream media coverage probably tipped the scales in our favor for other dubious husbands as well.  It’s hard not to let out a satisfying cry of, “Woo-hooo!” , and so I will allow myself to do so, once (there–it’s over and done with) .  For over a full year now, I have attempted to refrain from the use of slang expressions, curse words (that’s an easy one, actually), or excessive !!!!  (that one’s not so easy) in the interest of being taken seriously, so I feel a certain reward is long overdue. !!!!

Thank you for indulging me, and now back to business.

I did not hear the term “Hydrangea Revolution” until this morning, when I opened up facebook to find a post from Jacinta, along with her own beautiful photographs of hydrangeas taken in her neighborhood. After reading that one post, the phrase seemed to pop up repeatedly, all day long.  The Friday demonstrations have been compared to the big, bold, brazen blooms ( are they not? nothing wimpy about hydrangeas) that are made up of myriads of tiny blossoms pressed together. What began as a series of small symbolic gatherings has become a huge, spirited protest that the media can no longer ignore. Make no mistake: there is much work yet to be done, and on the surface, nothing has changed. Still, people who were once thought of as embarrassments to society have now gained a measure of respect. With that respect will come increased power and influence. So I must remember that the revolution is not about me, and swallow my disappointment at not being part of the Friday demonstrations that led to the big event.  And I must also send out a heartfelt thanks to those friends that did participate (Jacinta! Angela! Izumi! Scott! Sumiko?).  Nice work!  I haven’t made it to Tokyo on a Friday yet, but I’m proud to be on the same side as such good people.  I’m part of the big, brazen bloom….Woo-hooooo!

How’s this for big and brazen?? (taken here in Hadano, by yours truly)

Tsunami Rubble Shipped Abroad for Profit? ( and other Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Ideas )

Scanning my facebook feed this morning, my eyes lit on the latest post from Helen Caldicott, decrying a recent proposal to move more debris from Northern Japan.  This time, the plan is to ship rubble from Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures across the ocean to the Mariana Islands for recycling and disposal. Led by a group of Japanese investors who promise mutual benefits and profit, the scheme (perhaps I should not have legitimized it

Pagan Island: future dumping ground for Japan’s unsavory debris?

with the term “plan” in the first place) involves sending debris-laden ships to an uninhabited volcanic island north of Saipan, unloading the rubble and beginning the recycling process while simultaneously setting up a mining industry for pozzolan ( I flipped back and forth between Wikpedia and the American Heritage Dictionary at this point, learning that pozzolan is a vitreous, sileceous material found in volcanic ash that reacts with calcium hydroxide to unlock gradually-strengthening cement-like properties), with the aim of sending those same ships back to Japan full of rocks (the pozzolan) that will be used in the making of cement…….Sound complicated?  Time-consuming?  Well, for starters, there’s no harbor, airstrip, electricity or running water on the island.  And what about permits, licenses, official safeguards and regulations?  Project head Isamu Tokuichi, chairman of the board of the Kansai Oil Company and president of the New Energy Corporation, isn’t concerned with these minor details at present. He promises a mutually beneficial long-term arrangement, with profit involved for the place in question, Pagan Island, and relief for trash-laden Tohoku.

Well, never mind logistical complications. It’s clearly an ethical and moral issue, although neither the Japanese investors nor Froilan Tenorio, former governor of the Northern Mariana Islands, are presenting it as such. While the current governor of Saipan is dubious, and private citizens of the Marinara Islands are protesting the use of Pagan Island as a waste dump,

Pagan Island, seen from the ground. (Photo by David Sischo)

Tenorio assured local news reporters that the Japanese emissaries are, “…interested only in Pagan and they want to buy pozzolan, which will be loaded onto ships that will be empty after bringing debris to the island. ”  Hmmm.  Project leader Tokuichi assures Marinara Island officials and residents that all debris coming from Tohoku will be non-radioactive and non-toxic: safe for handling and exposure, and posing no threat to the welfare of the island and its ecosystem.

It’s all in what one wants to believe, isn’t it?  After continued betrayals and lies portrayed as truth, it’s hard to fathom that so many folks in this country still swallow official pronouncements whole, without bothering to chew. What exactly is the government “safety standard”, and how is it measured?  How is it compared with the standard held by other countries or by the standard set for previous generations in Japan?  Is the particular danger being measured the only potential danger involved, or are there others that are less-publicized? And most importantly, is accepting the “promise” of harmlessness worth the weight of the implied risk?

As of now, the development of Pagan Island for waste recycling, landfill (20 percent of Japan’s debris will actually be left on the island and buried), and mining is only an idea. But greed moves swiftly, and I still cannot believe that within a year after the triple

Hosono Goshi, making his plea to “share the burden” at a temporary storage site for debris in Ishinomaki. (photo by Kyodo News)

disaster, Hosono Goshi’s plan to spread tsunami rubble across the country for burning has come to fruition. When first announced that every prefecture across Japan would be encouraged to “share the burden” of Tohoku, I assumed that it would be quickly rejected as an obviously half-baked idea. But as the “encouragement” was further defined as financial rewards for those prefectures agreeing to receive rubble, the clear waters were muddied, and the transport of debris officially began.  You will note that I refrain from referring to it as “radioactive debris”, since the government claims that the rubble has been tested as safe for burning–no nasty radioactivity will linger in the air or on the ground.

Whether that’s an accurate assessment or not (the blogger EX-SKF, to name just one source, is convinced that rubble in the surrounding prefectures of Fukushima is definitely contaminated with radioactivity), people that I speak with at anti-nuclear events in Tokyo all tell me the same thing: it’s not that simple. They are afraid of and concerned about much more than radioactive particles.  Building standards were different decades ago, and rubble from the older houses destroyed in Tohoku is contaminated with asbestos, PCBs, and other potentially harmful toxins.  A quick peek into a blog for firefighters (who must be highly motivated to stay well-informed on the potential health effects of burning buildings) reveals a detailed list of hazardous building materials, along with the declaration that, “Any building in today’s world contains materials that are hazardous to our health. They range from materials that can be toxic with short-term or low-level exposure to those that can be toxic or carcinogenic years after exposure to those that are only irritants.”  As a citizen of Saipan wrote in a  letter to a Micronesian paper , “By the way, the definition of waste is precisely that, WASTE!”  ….and that’s the long and short of it: there’s no conceivable positive spin.  Whatever the exact degree of toxicity and danger, no-one in his right mind could argue that a big pile of waste is better broken up and spread about than kept contained in one place. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening, with the boundaries now being further extended to include other countries.

“Hey, don’t mess with my territory!” (Photo, by David Sischo, of just one of the species found on Pagan Island)

How can the removal and transport of waste from Japan be presented as a business deal, with no consideration of ethical issues (or at least ethical issues related to Pagan Island?)  And who will speak up to protect the ecosystem of an island devoid of inhabitants?  Citizens of neighboring islands in the Marinara chain are already raising their voices, as are bloggers from across the ocean. And because the Mariana Islands are legally a Commonwealth (defined by American Heritage Dictionary as a “self-governing, autonomous political unit voluntarily associated with the United States”), they fall under the legislation of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is already on the alert and monitoring the situation.  Some speculate that even if permission can be obtained on a federal level (which could take up to five years), potential lawsuits could cause even further setbacks.

It seems that Japanese legislation may also prevent the deal from going through; blogger EX-SKF reports that on Friday, May 11th, a Miyagi Prefecture official stated his “appreciation for the offer”,  adding that according to the law, shipping debris abroad would be “impossible” unless Japan has no other options within its own country.  Former  Governor Tenorio and the Japanese investors, apparently refusing to take no for an answer, are still moving ahead with plans; according to a March 16th article in the Saipan Times, Japan will be sending engineers and other technical experts to Pagan Island “as early as next week” to gather data and formulate a more detailed plan.

Let us hope that that the combined efforts of individuals and government regulations will be enough to nip a terrible idea in the bud.  Pagan Island may not be inhabited by humans (though it was, until 1981),  but it houses a fragile ecosystem including several endangered

Another Pagan Island critter, posing for his photo by David Sischo.

species which are already disappearing from the more popular tourist destinations of Guam and Saipan.  I’m excited to have discovered photographs of some of the wildlife on the island, taken by a biologist named David Sischo.  Do take a look–I guarantee you will catch your breath at least once, and possibly see snails in a new light from now on.  Airstrips, harbors, quarries, recycling and incineration facilities, as well as landfills, will threaten the habitat of the creatures you see in the photos.  Both the native peoples and the ecosystem of Pagan Island have already suffered at the hands of the Japanese government (read a bit about the island’s history here); at least the ecosystem remains, and deserves a chance to flourish.

I hope that the story of Pagan Island is picked up by  some of the mainstream Japanese media such as NHK or Asahi Daily News.  Japanese citizens need to stay informed, and to consider the veracity and the implications of what’s being reported (rather than swallowing those reports whole. It is actually a well-known and well-reported fact that people in this country die from swallowing their food without chewing properly, namely a solidified jelly called “Konnyaku” in the summer and sticky rice cakes called “Mochi” in the winter).  It is not the reporter’s or the announcer’s job to present stories in a moral light; their job is to present the stories, period, as accurately and impartially as possible.  On the receiving end, the listener or the reader should be engaged, rather than passive, and looking for meaning in every story–including and especially the moral implications– rather than accepting what is presented at face value.  In the case of Pagan Island,  a potentially profitable plan to ease the burden in Tohoku clearly means the exploitation of a less-wealthy country and the encroachment upon a fragile ecosystem that cannot possible emerge from the project unscathed.

Not just ingesting the news critically, but considering the implications of our own actions

Socks drying outside on a cute-as-well-as-practical Japanese clothes hanger.

and choices is also part of living responsibly in a country facing a potential energy crisis. I say “potential”, because I firmly believe that if individuals and corporations make responsible and creative choices this summer, there will be no crisis at all. Some hardship, yes, but that does not equal a crisis.  As individuals, we do not need (for instance) clothes dryers.  My own has been broken for….four years now.  At first, I was desperate to either fix or replace it, but after the first year, I realized that my world had not fallen apart and that, despite holding down a full-time job and coping with weeks of rain in both early summer and fall, hanging my family’s laundry either outside or in the house was quite doable. Great energy savings, and very little hardship involved.

In the first months after the triple disaster, Japanese citizens learned to look with new eyes, realizing that glaring lights in the daytime, multiple escalators in train stations, and air conditioning set to “cool” in convenience stores did not have to be the norm. Riding the trains in both heat and darkness was both uncomfortable and creepy, but we all lived through it.  Train stations and parking lots were dark as well, and there was no rise in crime.  A little over a year has gone by, and already folks have forgotten

Drink machines–six in a row! Like only five wouldn’t be enough??

how to look at the world.  The lights are back on, the escalators are running, and we’re surrounded by drink machines. What’s that all about? As far as I’m concerned, there’s no excuse for having them at all. They guzzle electricity, and exist to cater to our laziness and desire for immediate gratification.  We trip over convenience stores on every block, and do not need to run out to the roadside to get an energy drink at eleven at night. With Jr. High students addicted to smoking and businessmen addicted to drinking, there certainly do not need to be cigarette or alcohol vending machines, either. Worse yet, my friend in Tokyo tells me that her Jr. High age daughter walks by a condom vending machine every morning on the way to school, and is “terribly curious”.  I used to look on these ubiquitous and cheery (some machines talk to you!) staples of modern Japanese culture with amusement, but no longer.  I look at them and see waste. Want to know some vending machine statistics?  Check out this blog post.  And Pachinko parlors? Don’t get me started there!  And I feel even Grinchier about illumination at Christmas!  In short, I felt good about simplifying my life and being less reliant on electricity last year, and it breaks my heart that life got “back to normal” so relatively soon.  The standard of “normal” itself needs to undergo a radical change if Japan is to not just weather the summer without nuclear power, but continue to re-invent itself and thrive.

Japan’s Fukushima has become a nightmare of a place, where the sea bed is being covered in concrete (to prevent further leakage of radioactive materials which have sunk to the bottom), the ground is a repository for bags and bags of radioactive soil and leaves, the forest is officially off-limits (contaminated with cesium), and yet those who speak out against nuclear power are considered strange or extreme. It is my hope that slowly but surely, the tables will turn, and those who were formerly considered odd birds and extremists will become Japan’s new heros. In certain circles, some already have, and perhaps their stories will be the focus of my next post. Thank you for your continued readership, and good night.

Oe Kenzaburou: undisputed literary genius, but is he also an odd bird? Hey, he’s my hero! Hang tough, Oe-san!

Hello?? Any Young People Out There??

My daughter and I took ourselves to another good-sized anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo this past Sunday,

“Hey! Lower your banners! We can’t see the Nobel Prize speaker!”

spending all day on our feet, enjoying the crisp, cold winter air. The day began with craning our necks to see and hear the speakers in Yoyogi Park (Oe Kensaburou-san may very well have been inspirational, but we couldn’t hear a word of the speech or see a thing. What we heard was, “Put down your banners!!  We can’t see!  Heeeeeey! Put down your banners!” And by the time this message had reached the stage area and the colorful anti-nuke banners had been collapsed, the speech had finished. Sigh. ).  The day continued as we followed our new friend Helen from the BBC Radio on her quest to find “good sounds”, and ended as we joined in the anti-nuke parade

BBC’s Helen Grady gets some good sounds at the rally!

( Genpatsu Hantai! ), which meandered at a snail’s pace through the Harajuku shopping district. The time flew by as we picked up friends along the way, met up with old “demo tomo” (friends who you know from past demonstrations), admired the costumes of other participants, and engaged in fleeting conversations with random strangers marching alongside us. By the time we had seen Helen safely to the Tokyo train station and settled ourselves into a restaurant for some solid food ( ramen-burgers and octopus balls at Yoyogi Park hardly count as nourishiment ), we realized we were exhausted. Truly exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that leaves you doubting whether your legs will obey the command to stand up again once you’ve collapsed into an actual chair.  But it had been a splendid and satisfying day.

Splendid and satisfying, except for one thing. “Where were the kids my age?” pouted my daughter (she’s 18). “I kept looking for some of my classmates, but didn’t see a single one. So many old guys, but no teenagers at all!”  Actually, we did bump into exactly one college student, who had come to the rally by himself.  Perhaps feeling forlorn, he latched onto my Ellen during the parade and tested her patience by insisting on practicing English with her as

“You can take our picture, but no interviews in English, please!”

they marched. We also saw a very attractive young couple, but they (unlike the Waseda college student) fled in a panic when Helen from the BBC asked if they spoke English and would they do an interview?  And that was it really.  A rally of 15,000 people, with only a small scattering of high school and college age students.  Well, in all honesty, I didn’t see any high-schoolish looking kids at all.  Pretty pathetic, really, and I wondered how the retirees and middle-aged company workers were enjoying the very loud rock band that kicked off the rally in the park. Probably enduring it and waiting for the speeches to start. Don’t get me wrong: the energy and spirit of the older protesters is admirable and astonishing; it should be balanced, however, by an equal or greater number of young people. The future, after all, is theirs, right??  So where were they?  Where ARE they??

Old Nellie and Japanese students wear blinkers.

Any number of places, is my guess. Third year middle school students and third year high school students are in the final stages of “ojuken”, the testing process that decides their future (or so it seems at the time).  Their life is literally on hold –and their mother’s life as well, in some cases– until the tests have finished, the results are out, and their high school or college has been decided. Those shooting for high level public schools often have only one chance: a written test.  No essays, personal interview, or other method of appeal available.  It’s no wonder they are balls of anxiety, and their mothers go gray overnight. Those kids certainly aren’t going to be marching through Harajuku to protest nuclear power plants–their mothers would disown them!  Most students in this year of their life would see a rally as having no connection whatsoever to their future; they’re like horses with blinkers attached to keep them from bolting at extraneous distractions. Those blinkers are attached by their mothers, their cram school coaches, and the pressure of their peers, and most are unable to imagine life without them.  Nuclear power is a vague worry, but lies well outside the radius of the blinkers and is therefore easily ignored. Their own immediate future is what they’re chasing after, and how current events might relate to their future or to a broader vision of the nation as a whole is not their concern.

Well then, what about the rest of the young people?  Those not preparing for exams have weekends free, right? Why do we not see them at rallys?  Sadly enough, I believe that many Japanese young people are not emotionally strong enough to participate. Until this point, I’ve been rather tongue-in-cheek, but the subject of mental health in Japan is a serious one, and one that’s troubled me since I spent five years teaching English in the Hadano public schools.  Sunday’s Japan Times column “Counterpoint” featured an excellent and moving article by Roger Pulvers on just this subject, calling depression “….the big gorilla on the basketball court, the one that’s stealing the ball but isn’t seen because everyone is willfully looking the other way.”

Pulvers, citing statistics from the Japan Committee for Prevention and Treatment of Depression, writes about conditions in Japanese schools, where 1 out of every 12 elementary school students suffers from depression; at the middle school level, this jumps to 1 out of 4.  He believes the actual numbers may be higher, due to misdiagnosis and unrecognized cases. In my five year teaching stint in the Hadano City elementary schools, I witnessed many children struggling with both anxiety and depression, feeling within myself an uncomfortable mixture of dismay, helplessness, and relief (that my own children were fairly well-adjusted and happy with their lives).  Many, if not most of these students become “futoukou”, or unable to attend school.  “Futoukou” is spoken of as a sickness in Japan (children suffering from it display physical symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, and unsteadiness), and children who fall prey to it have very few options.  Home-schooling is not recognized by the National Board of Education, and “alternative schools” are few and far between.

What sort of Japanese children drop out of school at a young age?  Let’s start with… extremely intelligent children who are bored with school (skipping grades not allowed).  Next, there are returnee children from abroad who are unable to re-adjust. And public school children planning to take exams for private schools.  And shy girls who get their growth spurt early on and cannot handle their sudden conspicuous height.  Of course, there are overweight children (a distinct minority here and easy targets for bullying).  And children with tics,  stutterers, and late developers (repeating grades is not allowed either. Children progress to the next grade whether or not they’re ready intellectually).  And children of different nationalities.  I have not seen statistics, but I imagine that since the 3-11 disaster, both children living in Fukushima and those who have evacuated to other prefectures have experienced frequent absences from school due to stress, anxiety, and depression.

And what is done to help these children?  I saw many different approaches used, depending on the school, and on the severity of the child’s distress. One girl at a small rural school in Hadano was able to “attend school” ( avoiding the problem of missed days, which can prevent graduation), but was unable to attend a single class. She ran straight for the school nurse’s office the minute her mother dropped her off and stayed there, literally clinging to the skirt of the extremely patient young nurse, who served as a kindly babysitter. This girl did not want to miss my monthly English lesson, and would creep into the room  after her classmates were seated and the class had begun. I would see her sitting on the floor in the back of the room, trying to be invisible, with the ever-present school nurse at her side.

Another boy I knew was studying to enter a private middle school. His evenings were spent at cram school, where the academic level was much higher than that of the public school he attended during the day. Bored with his studies, he began using his class time to study for his middle school entrance exams. Although he kept up stellar grades, this didn’t sit well with either his teacher or his classmates. Rather than defending his position (which this very intelligent child was capable of doing), he simply dropped out, for the entire last half of his sixth grade year. His mother, in a frantic effort to make sure he graduated properly, was able to drag him to school (Literally. This was a boy who threw up at the front gate, got jelly-legged, and refused to move) the required number of times to obtain his graduation certificate.  He successfully passed the entrance exams for the private middle school, but was so acclimated to “futoukou” life that he then refused to attend the new school as well. His mother, in a last ditch effort, drove him to school each day, where he was met by two stout male teachers. The teachers physically removed him from the car, carried him into the school, and deposited him in his classroom every morning for a full semester until he overcame his fear. In the end, he was able to return to the system and adjust himself to the school’s expectations. Whatever you may think of it (and I attempted to remain neutral in the telling), that’s the bare bones of the story.

There are many more stories, of older children who take “futoukou” one step further and become “hikikoumori”.  This is a condition where young people (and some adults as well) literally lock themselves in their rooms, refusing contact with not only their peers at school, but with parents and siblings as well. The boy I knew who had to be carried into school also went through a period of hikikoumori.  His mother told me calmly (how she could retain her calm demeaner was beyond me) that she would leave food outside his bedroom door and pick up the empty tray each morning. He only showered when there was no-one else in the house, and she’d find his clothes in the hamper every other day. Other than that, no communication at all. Personally, I think I’d borrow an axe and start whacking away at the locked door.

Manga lovers abroad may know “Densha Otoko“, the inspiring story of a train geek who is

“Densha Otoko” feels secure in his own room. Note the anime figurines lining his bookshelves.

borderline “hikikoumori”. Though the hero of the manga is able to leave the house (he goes back and forth to Akihabara, the electronics district), he’s unable to communicate with anyone face-to-face, finding security and solace in the internet.  Through a chance encounter with a kind-hearted attractive girl, he’s able to overcome his fear and rejoin society.  Most of the kids I came in contact with at the local schools were already long-term sufferers as small children, and I do not know how their stories will end.

Many Japanese children, unable to “read the air” (discern how to fit in naturally, without disrupting the status quo),  begin to drop out of society at an early age.  The school system is not kind to those children, who are seen as “meiwaku” (causing a disturbance and inconveniencing others),  and good psychological help is not easily available. A friend in Tokyo whose child is troubled waits a month for an appointment with a professional counselor.  These young people are busy fighting the battle to get up every morning, to leave the house, and to find a place in society where they feel safe and loved. They live from day to day, and anti-nuclear protests are not on their radar screen.

Well, alright then….what about the remainder of the students not battling depression or some form of anxiety?  Why are they standing along the sidewalks of Harajuku (in droves) instead of  marching through the streets carrying placards?  My guess is that although these kids are successfully maneuvering their academic and social lives, they lack the courage and

Proud to be seen marching with the Lego-Headed lady. Who wouldn’t be??

initiative to step outside the boundaries of their familiar social patterns: school, club, part-time job, and shopping or drinking on weekends. I guess it must be rather embarrassing, after all, to be seen in the same company as Lego-headed women, men wearing frog masks (in support of amphibians suffering from the effects of radiation), and gender-neutral folks with flowers sprouting from the tops of their heads…….No, no, wait a minute!  I would have loved putting together my own demo costume at their age!  What’s wrong with them?  Living in Tokyo, they have both the opportunity to participate in rallys and the freedom to express themselves without the fear of potential stigmatization that Fukushima residents experience daily. Okay, so they might lose a friend or two, or be considered a weirdo in some circles, but isn’t it all worth it?

Time after time I take the train into the big city, fight my way through the crowds in Shinjuku, manage the transfer to the government building district of Kasumigaseki, where women from Fukushima still occupy a tent along the sidewalk….and find the cavernous train station deserted. Kasumigaseki boasts over 13 exits, all of them accessed by eerie-dreary quiet concrete tunnels and staircases. Taking exit 12A, I climb the stairs and emerge onto the street where the Fukushima Women’s tent is still standing; it’s been there since September, when the hunger strikers set up camp. Next to the Women’s Tent is the Datsu Genpatsu (Stop Nuclear Power Plants) Tent. When I

Saito Michiko-san, who’s been speaking out for forty years. Puts those youngsters to shame!

last visited three weeks ago, it was a cold, cheerless day, and both tents were closed and sealed for the sake of warmth . Outside, a frail but beautiful elderly woman (“forty years of anti-nuclear protesting”) was speaking into a microphone, urging the few passers-by to visit the tents and learn about the situation in Fukushima. Inside the Women’s Tent, a handful of women and one transvestite, with perfectly applied lipstick and a bejewelled cell phone, were huddled into a heated table, discussing recent events. Inside the Datsu Genpatsu Tent, a steady trickle of visitors engaged in debate with four older “Occupiers”, who have been holding down the fort and sleeping in the tent at night, despite the bitter cold.  I encountered only a single college student that day, whom I promptly friended on facebook and will stay in touch with from here on in.  Making my way home that day, I passed through Shinjuku again, feeling the contrast between the station teeming with young people, and the too-quiet atmosphere of the Occupiers’ tents at Kasumigaseki.

All I can say is that the non-involvement of young people in the Tokyo/Kanagawa area is truly a shame. It’s a loss for the anti-nuclear movement, and young people themselves are missing out on history. My daughter attended a global conference on alternative energy in Yokohama last month….and again, was surprised to find no-one her own age attending the workshops.  Literally, noone.  Hello?  A global conference on how to change the entire way the country’s infrastructure functions?  Open to anyone able to register on the internet and pay the $30.oo entrance fee?  This is exciting stuff.  Why would young people NOT be there?  Because their friends aren’t going.  Because they will know no-one there. Because it’s something they know nothing about and feel no connection to. Because they’re not used to taking the initiative and doing something outside of their familiar routine.  Probably a combination of all these things.

In contrast, Japan’s seniors are outspoken and active. They regularly plunge into rivers (twice a year in my neighborhood) to dredge up trash and debris, wake up at four-thirty on hiking trips to reach the the top of the mountain before noon, patrol the streets with armbands and flashlights looking for loiterers or gangs of potential troublemakers, form committees to teach traditional skills to their neighborhood children, pack themselves onto busses to attend anti-nuclear rallies, attend alternative energy forums, take a mind-boggling variety of courses, classes, and lessons, and are not afraid to be interviewed, either in English or Japanese.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that many do all this while juggling the care of their grandchildren.  Who will carry the torch when they’re unable to?

My guess is that the leaders will be people like the Hunger Strikers for the Future: four

Hunger Strikers for the Future: They’ll be doing good things, and maybe even big things.

college-age students who spent 10 days sitting along the sidewalk outside the Kasumigaseki buildings  in peaceful protest to draw attention to their cause: the closing down of all of Japan’s on-line nuclear power plants, and a halt to the construction of any new ones.  They took in nothing but water and salt during the long hot days in early September .  I visited them twice during the ten day stretch, expecting to find signs of listlessness and fatigue, or at least crankiness, but they remained almost miraculously cheerful and patient up through the final day when they broke their fast and held a news conference. I found the hunger strikers themselves (and their entourage of faithful friends) to be well-informed, well-educated, cool and collected, and in possession of impressive reserves of inner strength. Responding with respect and thoughtfulness to questions posed by passers by and reporters alike, no-one could possibly accuse them of being subversive.  Watch their leader, Okamoto Naoya, explaining exactly why they are protesting, and sharing his vision of a nuclear-free future.

The hunger strikers are Japanese, but there are foreigners in Japan doing amazing

Jamie El-Banna, hard at work in Ishinomaki

things out of love for their adopted country as well.  I recently heard of Jamie El-Banna, a 26 year old from the UK who has lived and worked in Japan since 2008. You can read in detail about Jamie and his organization (“It’s Not Just Mud”) in this blog spotlighting  foreign volunteers in Japan.. To give a brief summary, El- Banna was living in Osaka at the time of the quake and travelled to Tohoku as a volunteer in May; camping on the grounds of a University in Ishinomaki known as “Tent City” and finding each and every day fulfilling, he realized he was in no hurry to return to his former life.  In a move that would unsettle most Japanese young person of the same age, he swiftly decided to leave his regular job and apartment in Osaka and installed himself in Ishinomaki permanently.  In the Tent City, he networked, and eventually formed his own volunteer organization made up of like-minded young people.  Their energy, skill, and good humor so impressed the locals that they were given two partially-damaged houses to use as their own base camp.  Undaunted by the “festering sludge under the floors”, rotting insulation, and shattered windows, El-Banna and his friends restored the houses in addition to their other community projects. These include gutting tsunami-damaged houses (done by those with strength, experience, and expertise), restoring and cleaning photographs damaged by the tsunami (done by those who cannot dig, haul, or do carpentry work), and delivering fresh fruits and veggies, winter coats, kerosene heaters, and fuel to those in temporary shelters who are carless.  Jamie, who admits to having no previous experience in volunteer work, now has his own soon-to-be-official NPO and a very professional blog site. He also keeps a personal blog, in which he  professes his desire to “become a super handsome force for good.”  Now that’s my kind of positive role model!  Japanese children, take note!

Rather than waiting around for central and local governments to find and implement solutions for them, young people like the hunger strikers and Jamie El-Banna are unafraid to buck the system and take risks in an attempt to affect change. They are already in the vanguard of the anti-nuclear movement and reconstruction projects. In addition, the high school students, college students, and young office workers who spend their weekends in Tohoku volunteering with Peaceboat (whose weekend trips to clean up Ishinomaki are booked solid, my daughter says) or Jamie’s “It’s Not Just Mud” group, are providing the people-power and experience needed to continue the fight for years to come.  Mothers who have learned to educate themselves and be pro-active for the sake of their children are creating wider networks and helping to foster ties between Fukushima and the rest of the country.  Renegade academics, scientists, and whistle-blowing experts are making sure that accurate assessment trumps propaganda; bloggers are recording all this, and making sure that those who speak truthfully become heros in the end.  Skilled translators are then making sure that everything gets passed around in as many languages as possible.  Artists, actors, writers, and musicians are providing the inspiration and energy to keep the movement flourishing.  I wish there were more leaders, more willing volunteers, more brave mothers, more renegade academics and whistle-blowers, more skilled bloggers and translators, many more artists, writers, and musicians, and at least twice as many young people involved.  In the end, that may happen, as the chain linking together those devoted to re-inventing Japan’s future becomes steadily longer and steadily stronger.

It will take years and years from here on in.  I still go through phases of impatience and

“Let’s live the slow life, not the life ruled by nuclear power”

frustration, wanting wrongs to be righted in a more timely fashion, but these days I try to return to the “Spirit of Madei” way of thinking. In fact, during my last visit to the Fukushima Tent in Tokyo, I found myself face to face with the words of the Iitate Village Mayor. “Let’s live the slow life, not the life based on nuclear power!” read the sign taped inside the tent. “Do you really believe this?” I asked the folks gathered around the tiny gas heater, warming their hands and snacking on Taiyaki cakes.  “Do you really believe that living gently and thoughtfully will instigate change in the end?”  “Absolutely,” replied Obitani Reiko, a 63 year old woman from Yokohama.  Obitani and several other friends live in the tent, spreading their bedrolls in a curtained-off part of the tent each night. Reiko-san sends me weekly updates in Japanese each week on the happenings in Kasumigaseki, and seems impervious to the frustrations I fall prey to. She is confident that, to quote the old Aesop’s Fable, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Let us hope that’s the case. It’s very late, so good night, and thank you so much for reading.

“Save the Amphibians”!

An Act of Murder?

Yes, this is a pretty extreme title for one of my blog entries, but I’m only quoting the words of the Mayor of  Namie Town, Fukushima.  My previous post,” The Spirit of Madei“, told the story of another Mayor , Norio Kanno of  Iitate Village, who advocated “slow life”,  controlling one’s anger, and living in harmony with man and nature. While writing that particular post, I came to feel a great respect for the thoughtfulness and restraint of Mayor Kanno. I still feel that respect.

However, I am forced to admit that following the Mayor’s philosophy of retaining one’s dignity by not making a fuss will not effect change.  Each day brings new and more outrageous news reports, and I’ve already been knocked off  my peaceful plateau by stories about what happens when citizens don’t make a fuss. Mind you, I still think that retaining one’s serenity in the face of chaos is an admirable thing, and though I feel completely comfortable marching in demos, I would not be comfortable hollering into a microphone or leading the ranks. This past month’s news, however, makes me think I may need to move outside my comfort zone. For instance…

News reports during the third week in January featured reports from a town in Fukushima called Nihonmatsu, where

Apartment complex in Nihonmatsu…looked fancy, but it hid a deadly secret. (photo by Gen Hashimoto, Asahi Shinbun)

evacuees from Namie Town had been re-located. Children living in a newly-built apartment complex had been wearing dosimeters indoors and out, and monitoring the results; when a Jr. High school student’s dosimeter showed consistently high readings (radiation levels higher inside than out, and higher on the ground floor than on the upper levels), investigations showed that the culprit was….concrete. Ironically, the stones used to make the cement for their brand-new apartment complex had come from a quarry in their former irradiated  hometown, Namie.

Neither the NHK televised report nor the reports in the daily papers used adjectives like “ironic” or  “unbelievable”–just the facts. Well, reports are one thing, but this is also a human interest story that begs to be written.  Kevin Dodd, in his “Senrinomichi” blog, uses the analogy of a ghost train to describe Fukushima. While passengers doze in their seats, unaware of exactly where they are and what is passing by, the train progresses without ever reaching its destination .  That is, unless (and this is the crucial part) passengers force themselves to stay awake and write postcards containing the stories, to be recorded in history and remembered.  Thanks, Kevin, for that analogy, and here’s my postcard.

More on the contaminated concrete: a January 15th report from Kyodo News, stated that some 5,280 tons of crushed stones were shipped to some 19 different contractors from a quarry in Namie between the day of the quake and April 22nd.  By the following week, investigations showed that at least sixty houses and condominium buildings in Fukushima Prefecture had been tainted by concrete made from Namie stones.  According to another article from Kyodo News on January 24th, the same concrete was also used to re-build the infrastructure of damaged cities. In other words, Fukushima cars travel along roads built from radioactive asphalt, and walkers may stroll along the river, following the radioactive embankments.  By January 26th, the amount of stones shipped from the quarry was listed at 5,725 tons, and more temporary housing units in Fukushima were deemed “likely” to have have been built from the radioactive concrete.

According to the head of the quarry in Namie, “I never imagined the crushed stones were radioactive when I shipped them. I feel very sorry for those who have been involved.” Fukushima Prefecture officials will help in finding new accommodations for those living on the first floor of the Nihonmatsu condominium, where radiation levels are highest. The Central Government “closely studied” the distribution routes of the Namie stones and the radiation levels of various housing units, but has declared that the annual radiation exposure in the units will not be high enough to warrant evacuation.

And that’s it: there’s been no news since then. Plenty of other head-shaking and even jaw-dropping incidents to focus on ( particularly the revelation that the central government’s   Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency failed to keep records for 23 meetings held directly after the nuclear catastrophe. No records—nothing at all. They are now in the process of “reconstructing” the events of each meeting, for what it’s worth, ten months down the road. Although failing to keep public records is in violation of Japanese law, there is in fact no punishment involved for perpetrators, so the central government is legally off the hook, although its reputation at home and abroad is even further tarnished. Never mind tarnished, it’s shot. There’s really nothing left to uphold. )

Namie Town

Since the news has already moved on, let me go back and piece together the story of Namie Town for those of you who are not yet in the know.  As you can see from the photo, Namie  stretches from East to Northwest, and borders the ocean. The eastern area  in particular suffered heavy damage from both the quake and the tsunami.  After the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the town was under an information blackout which would prove to bring about tragic and still-reverberating consequences. While the citizens of Namie Town (dealing with the fresh emotional horror of the quake, the aftershocks, the tsunami damage, and the ensuing fear of the uncertain situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant) were being assured that radiation levels outside of a 10 kilometer radius were safe, the central government was reviewing data based on radiation measurements that showed a blanket of radioactive fallout stretching as far south as Tokyo.

On March 14th, the central government’s computer-produced map predicting the pattern of  the radiation fallout (the SPEEDI map, now a well-known and infamous entity) was shared with the US Military. This , oficials explained afterwards, was an effort to ensure US support, advice, and cooperation in the days to come. The US used this information in deciding on their own “safety zone” of a full 80 kilometers from the Daiichi plant.  The SPEEDI map was not shared directly with residents, or even with the local government officials in Tohoku, who desperately needed the information to make life-changing decisions on behalf of their citizens. In fact, in those first days, there were no communications at all from the central government.  Naoto Kan was busy directing an attempt to dump  water from a tiny helicopter onto the smoking inferno that was the power plant. We all watched, as time and again the wind blew the meagre amount of water off-course and another helicopter bravely hovered over exactly the right spot in a futile effort to do something–anything–to avert further disaster. And so, lacking guidance and vital information, the Mayor of Namie decided to evacuate his people North, to the area of the town that lay furthest away from the still-smoking reactors.

The people of Namie,  alerted by a community radio station broadcast, evacuated to the district of Tsushima, a mountainous region lying a full 30 kilometers Northwest of TEPCO, but still within the confines of Namie.  Approximately 10,000 residents fled to Tsushima, where they were welcomed with generosity,  receiving shelter and comfort as families, friends, and strangers set up housekeeping together in what they believed was a safe refuge. Mizue Kanno, who owns a spacious house in Tsushima, took in 25 friends and strangers on March 12th. She later told her story to Japan’s Asahi Shinbun, where it was published in serial form, under the title, “The Prometheus Trap“.

The serial story reveals that the radiation levels in Tsushima were, in fact, dangerously high on that day, but that police were forbidden to tell locals. Kanno-san and her

Kanno-san’s  house in Tsushima (photo by Jun Kaneko)

housemates learned of this from two mysterious men in white protective suits who drove to the house, stopping only long enough to warn them to evacuate immediately, then speeding off into the night.  Sounds like something out of a novel??  Well, everything was surreal at that point in time, and Kanno-san and her new friends decided to trust the warning.  Leaving in staggered groups, they all fled the Tsushima district; “Prometheus Trap” follows up, giving details on how they fared and where they eventually landed.  Many others who had not been warned and chose to stay on in the district were exposed to varying levels of radiation.  Although I share in the widespread dismay over the lack of detailed media coverage on many aspects of the 3-11 triple disaster, I give credit to Asahi for publishing the story, eight installments in all, in both its English and Japanese editions.

Let me continue the story where Prometheus Trap leaves off.

Take a leap of the imagina, and put yourself in the shoes of Namie mayor, Tamotsu Baba. He had successfully taken the initiative and evacuated citizens from the eastern part of the town when the western half of Namie (the Tsushima district) was then declared to be dangerous, and designated as part of a new, expanded evacuation zone. Those who had taken refuge in Tsushima from the eastern Namie were forced to move again, this time scattering far and wide. The Mayor himself  became homeless, and felt the heavy burden of having chosen the wrong refuge for the citizens who had depended on him.

Some of the Namie citizens who fled the Tsushima district in March  found shelter in the northerly village of Iitate, whose Mayor Norio Kanno welcomed them to his “slow life” community.  Happy ending at last?  No, not yet.  Those of you who read my previous post know what happened in Iitate:  an unexpected northwesterly wind had blown a blanket of radioactive snow straight across the village, effectively causing radiation levels matching–and in some places exceeding–levels within the evacuation zone. This was discovered some weeks after the fact, and Iitate was also evacuated, marking the third move for a number of Namie families.

Niihonmatsu in relation to the evacuation zone

Other Namie citizens fled from Tsushima to Nihonmatsu, a city lying well to the west of the evacuation zone…. and now it has been discovered that evacuee housing in Nihonmatsu has been built with radioactive cement from the Namie rock quarry, which continued to function after the majority of its citizens had evacuated. When I saw the article in the Japan Times, my heart sank.  It seems that families from Namie have been betrayed many times over.

The radioactive cement incident is terribly disturbing, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry can certainly be blamed for establishing no radiation restrictions on crushed stones (if other products within radioactive zones have restrictions, why would stones not?) , and for allowing shipments to continue to leave the quarry well after residents, fearing for their health, had deserted the area. The head of the quarry’s protest (“I never imagined the stones might be radioactive!”) also rings hollow, and the central government’s easy dismissal of the incident is troubling as well.  I remembered that the Mayor of Iitate  had also fought to ensure that industries in his village could continue to function after the evacuation orders were in place, and wondered if  similar damage was unknowingly done as a result of his desire to preserve his beloved Iitate’s economy. Complicated, isn’t it?  I don’t pretend to have an answer, but I certainly recognize and feel the injustice suffered by the residents of both Iitate Village and Namie Town.

Now, fast-forward to January 2012, ten months after the quake.  Namie Town’s Mayor Baba has learned that vital information that could have changed the fate of thousands of his town residents (the data contained in the SPEEDI map) had been purposely witheld. Apologizing for the “delay”,  Reconstruction Minister Goshi Hosono explains that the central government had  “feared it might trigger panic. ”  Ummmm…maybe a bit of panic had actually been in order, and certainly a measure of haste would have limited residents’ exposure to the high radiation levels in Namie following the quake and nuclear explosions.  Certainly, if the mayors of both Iitate and Namie had realized the scope of the radioactive fallout, they would have acted differently, evacuating residents to areas well beyond the danger zone and preventing later multiple moves.

Mayor Baba of Namie recently spoke out in an Australian news broadcast, regretting that, “Because we had no information we were unwittingly evacuating to an area where the radiation level was high, so I’m very worried about the people’s health. I feel pain in my heart but also rage over the poor actions of the government.”  Yes, his word choice was “rage”.  And it’s understandable rage at that. One never hears such extreme  language in Japan (at least I personally do not), and his concluding statement is even more startling from the Japanese point of view.  The Mayor himself realizes he’s breaking a social taboo by beginning it with an apology: “It’s not nice language, but I still think it was an act of murder. What were they thinking when it came to the people’s dignity and lives?”  The answer is, tragically, that the central government was not thinking at all about either dignity or life, and Fukushima residents have every right to feel betrayed.

In fact, so do residents of Tokyo, and my own Kanagawa Prefecture. While we assumed ourselves well out of harm’s way, data generated by the government that we never saw clearly showed otherwise. Specifically, it showed that radiation levels on March 15th were alarmingly high, not just in Tohoku, but in Tokyo and Kanagawa as well.  Hiroaki

Thank you, Prof. Koide!

Koide, from the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University ( a position he was relegated to as a form of “purgatory” according to some, because of his unguarded criticism of Japan’s nuclear industry)  knew of the extent of this radioactive fallout, but was pressured to withhold the data from publication. Koide-san got his revenge by testifying in front of Japan’s Upper House Government Oversight Committee on May 23rd, and has since become somewhat of a national hero. His speech exposing the government’s dirty tricks and the reality of the threat of radioactivity to Japan’s children was viewed on live stream by thousands at home and abroad, while the you tube video has been widely viewed, shared, and translated into English.   At every demo and rally I have attended, I’ve seen at least one, “Thank you, Koide-Senseii!” sign or banner.

And so, in the end, the full extent of the damage caused by the withholding of vital information by the Japanese government has yet to be evaluated. While Itaru Watanabe, representing the National Science Ministry, now admits that, “….maybe that same data [the SPEEDI map] should have been shared with the public, too. We didn’t think of that. We acknowledge that now,” residents of both Iitate Village and Namie Town continue to suffer from the aftermath of their respective evacuations and re-evacuations.  Google Iitate Village, for instance, and you will find some disturbing statistics gathered from a recent survey of residents who evacuated.  One third of all families, if the Wikipedia article is accurate, are now living apart from their children, which cannot be a good thing. The authors of the fine bi-lingual blog “SeeTell” take a strong stand on the SPEEDI incident, concluding that, “In the end, no-one will be held accountable for this act which was either a calculated and deliberate cover-up to protect the interests of the politicians, bureaucrats, nuclear industry, the US, and whoever else holds influence over this corrupt government or…well…there is no other explanation.”

As for me, I’ll do my best to speak up and speak out, in defense of those who were betrayed.  Calling the government’s witholding of the SPEEDI map an “act of murder” is an extreme statement, but if there are a rash of deaths in years to come from the effects of internal radiation exposure, the Mayor’s words will have been prophetic. In the meanwhile, thousands of people must live with uncertainty and fear, for themselves and their children. That alone is reason for anger and for action. Thank you again for reading.