Societies of Sustainability and Sufficiency:
Learning from Fukushima & Building Green Temple Communities
Ongoing Crisis in Fukushima: Now, more than three years since the explosions at the Fukushima #1 Nuclear Complex, the crisis has shown no signs of abating. The fuel rods remain volatile and continue to emit high levels of radioactivity, which are requiring vast amounts of water to cool. This now highly radioactive water is posing a secondary crisis of containment with leakages and purposeful discharges into the Pacific Ocean. The crisis link also extends inland towards areas of human settlement, from the 20 km mandatory evacuation zone to the 20-60 km radius where radiation levels continue to remain well beyond those recommended by international nuclear authorities such as the IAEA. Concerns for air, water, and food security are particularly acute for the children who continue to live in these areas and have already shown high rates of thyroid disease and leukemia. Further suffering is being caused by the breakdown of communities due to evacuation of the majority of their young generations, destruction of local economies and employment structures, and imbalances in the distribution of aid and compensation. These structural factors are leading to increasing rates of divorce, mental and emotional trauma, and suicide in the region.
The Abe Adminstration vs. Public Opinion: In the wider national scheme, the present administration of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came into power in 2012 as a voter led judgment on the Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) handling of the Fukushima crisis, even though the LDP were the architects of Japan’s nuclear industry from its beginning. Facing two decades of economic stagnation and mounting public debt to provide for its rapidly aging population, the Japanese government under both the DPJ and LDP has gone to great lengths to minimize the perceived effect of the Fukushima incident and avoid paying compensation to victims of it. While the DPJ crafted a policy based on public opinion polls to phase out nuclear energy fully by 2030, the LDP has changed this policy and sought to re-establish the nuclear industry while using public taxes to prop up the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Public opinion remains for the most part against nuclear energy and especially against the bailout of TEPCO. However, the Japanese public remains deeply concerned over daily living standards and fears further economic hardship if Japan must make drastic changes to its economic policy, such as in the shift away from nuclear energy and limits on consumption. This is perhaps one reason why public opposition to nuclear energy has not translated into civic action or protest against it. Finally, the LDP’s aggressive export of its nuclear technology all over the world, but especially within Asia, extends concern and anxiety of future Fukushimas being creating outside of Japan.
A Future Vision Has Emerged: At the same time, numerous Japanese businesses are seeing the economic opportunities afforded by the “green economy” and have begun developing and promoting the use of solar energy generation. Increasing production of wind farms and experiments in other clean and sustainable energies are taking place on a number of levels in Japan, from large corporate ones to community based initiatives. The Japanese government has slowly begun to embrace these initiatives and has created some structural shifts in its energy policy, such as a feed in tariff system that supports the development of smaller energy companies using a variety of means of generation. In this way, the question is not so much whether Japan will shift away from nuclear to renewables but how quickly. A deeper question in the minds of progressive development experts and activists is whether Japan can develop a decentralized model of energy generation and consumption, based on the chi-san chi-sho model, or will it continue to embrace its highly centralized and authoritarian economic structure of a few major corporations holding the means of electrical production, albeit through renewables rather than nuclear or fossil fuel.
Japanese Buddhist Social Engagement: Japanese religion, especially the predominant tradition of Buddhism, has been circumscribed, systematically absorbed, and finally marginalized by the modern Japanese nation state since the Meiji Restoration in 1867. After its complicity with Japanese nationalism and the Pacific War, Japanese Buddhism became further discredited in the post war years as “Funeral Buddhism”, a pejorative term indicating the wealth temples and priests accrued from performing the regular custom of ancestral veneration. The deep secularization of Japanese culture, the strict forbidding of religious professionals in public areas of service like hospitals, declining membership, and the larger economic downturn of Japan have caused a major crisis in Japan’s large Buddhist institutions. In the last decade, a small movement of priests has occurred to respond to the inner crisis of these institutions and the outer psycho-spiritual malaise of the Japanese people. Entering into a variety of social issues—such as suicide prevention, homelessness, youth problems, hospice care, and disaster relief—increasing numbers of Buddhist priests, temples, and organizations are engaging in social work. (a more in depth look at this issue)
Buddhist Engagement in the Nuclear Issue: In the wake of the Fukushima #1 explosions, the Japanese Buddhist world was at first slow to respond, having grown accustomed to staying away from taking public stands on issues, especially those directly related to government policy. However, a small group of long time anti-nuclear religious professionals, called the Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, led a growing sentiment in the Buddhist world against not only nuclear energy but the culture of consumerism and economic expansion upon which it was built. The Japan Buddhist Federation (JBF), representing all the traditional denominations, issued a statement on December 1st, 2011 against nuclear energy under the leadership of its then President, Rev. Taitsu Kono. Rev. Kono had already been an outspoken critic of Buddhism’s support of the Pacific War and has now come to question its support of government policies, such as nuclear energy. As denomination after denomination developed their own anti-nuclear and sustainable consumption policy statements, some denominations, such as Kono’s Rinzai Myoshin-ji sect, and other small individual temples have begun to construct solar panels at their facilities and take leadership in their communities for promoting a post-nuclear society based on sustainable lifestyles rooted in the Buddhist value of “sufficiency” (samtusti). As a parallel to the Japanese government’s export of nuclear technology throughout Asia, we will consider below the potential of Japanese Buddhism to export, or rather share, their experiences facing nuclear energy and their attempts to build a post-nuclear society to the large number of Asian Buddhist communities who are now just beginning to face these issues.