Fukushima 3/11 has become a watershed; a moment when it became very apparent that the sacrifices of modern industrial development had outpaced the benefits. While Japan became the first Asian nation to achieve a high level of modern development, it accomplished this feat by dismantling its intimate rural communities and ancient cultural traditions for alienated urban life based on workaholism, consumerism, and the endless drive for growth and success. Its rich natural environment has been slowly compromised in this process with the present specter of nationwide nuclear contamination endangering life itself. For a country that has a rich Buddhist history of over 1,400 years, it seems the Buddhist values of sufficiency and harmony with others and with nature have no role in contemporary Japan. In tandem, the role of Buddhist priests and temples in society has been deteriorating over the past 150 years of Japan’s drive to modernization, and Buddhist institutions are in crisis today on a number of levels. As Japan has been the leading nation within Asia of the promise of modern development, is its situation the fate that the rest of Asia and the Buddhist world must follow? And how about the West that is already experiencing the same dislocations of Japan?
It was against this backdrop that the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) held its annual Executive and Advisory Committee Meeting hosted by the publisher of this volume, the Kodo Kyodan Buddhist Fellowship under the leadership of Rev. Shojun Masazumi Okano (INEB Advisory Board). The two-day meeting in Yokohama Japan from November 8-9, 2012 was sandwiched by 3 two-day study tours to better understand Japanese society and Japanese Buddhism beforehand and a daylong symposium and networking event open to the general public afterwards. One of these study tours was a delegation to visit the people and communities of Fukushima, led by Rev. Hidehito Okochi of the Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy. The tour was supported by Prof. Hisashi Nakamura, a specialist in development economics at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Rev. Daiki Nakashita, a Buddhist chaplain who has worked with the dying, homeless, and those traumatized by disasters, Ms. Yuki Kitano, a volunteer for the Interfaith Forum, and team members from the Japan Network of Engaged Buddhists (JNEB), Rev. Kobo Inoue, Rev. Naoyuki Ogi, and myself.
In two vans, the group travelled along the northeast corridor from Tokyo to the cities of Sukagawa, Nihonmatsu, and Fukushima. These towns are all some 60 kms from the nuclear facility with common radiation readings of around 1-2 microsieverts/hour—0.3 is considered normal; Tokyo is on average 0.45). We then turned southeast down towards the coast and the 20 km primary evacuation zone and the 30 km secondary evacuation zone. This southeast corridor is the area with the highest levels of radiation since the fallout from the largest explosion at the nuclear plants on March 15th was pushed in this direction by wind, rain, and weather patterns. In this way, the abandoned town of Iita-te, some 40 kms from the plants, has much higher radiation readings from 3 to 7 microsieverts/hr than the still inhabited northern part of Minami-Soma, some 25 kms from the plants, which has levels between 1.5 and 2.5 microsieverts/hr.
Wherever the group travelled, we learned of the heartache and trauma of both those who have remained and those who have evacuated. Especially for those who have stayed in these areas, we learned first hand that by denying the danger to those outside of the 20-30 kms radius, the Japanese government does not provide information on radiation levels and food or health security to enable these communities to avoid unnecessary dangers caused by higher than normal radiation levels that persist. This includes the difficulty concerned parents have of finding a doctor or medical facility to conduct thyroid examinations in Fukushima, which national and prefectural medical authorities are suppressing. Finally, the group was overwhelmingly moved by the courage of these local people, especially a number of Buddhist priests, to remain in the area to try to educate their people on the nuclear issue and the way forward to rebuilding their lives. From this experience, the group helped the INEB board to draft and adopt an official statement on nuclear energy: Statement on Nuclear Energy by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists: Affirming the Value of Life and Working towards Interdependent Lifestyles
Outline of the Volume
We here at the International Buddhist Exchange Center (IBEC) and among our wide network of friends in the Japan Network of Engaged Buddhists (JNEB) have been endeavoring to fulfill the action platform expressed at the end of the above declaration. We have designed this volume to represent these endeavors in the following way:
- Section I provides a forum to bear witness to and “make widely known the voices and suffering of the people of Fukushima.” The essays in this section are for the most part edited transcriptions from the talks given by Fukushima residents that the INEB group visited in November 2012. They follow the progression of communities visited from the farthest to the closest to the reactors.
- Section II documents the work of a wide variety of Buddhists in Japan to not only educate others on the nuclear issue but also develop innovative activities to shift Japan to post-nuclear “sufficiency” lifestyles based on renewable and ecological energy sources.
- Section III offers an in depth view on nuclear energy from a Buddhist perspective. The writers come from Japan, other parts of Asia, and the West to offer one of the first wide-ranging Buddhist critiques of nuclear energy, not just nuclear war.
Acting as editor for the volume, along with the director of the project Rev. Shojun Okano, we would like to express our deepest thanks to the wide range of people who supported the putting together of this volume: firstly and foremost, the very generous and kind people of Fukushima who hosted us during our study visit and opened their hearts to communicate their experiences and sufferings since 3/11; the many activists within Japan who welcomed our documentation of their work and at times generously hosted us in their communities; the esteemed writers from outside of Japan who took time to reflect and write on the issues in depth; and finally the members of our JNEB network who led us to Fukushima for the study tour and responded to the editor’s many requests for the transcription and translation of the talks, documents, and articles that appear in this volume—with specific thanks in this latter work to Rev. Kobo Inoue, Rev. Jin Sakai, Rev. Naoyuki Ogi, Mika Edaki, Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu, Naomi Takasawa, and Prof. David H. Slater and his students from the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Sophia University, Tokyo working on video oral narratives of 3/11.
Jonathan S. Watts
Yokohama, Japan August, 2013
Jonathan Watts has been a research fellow at IBEC since 2006. He is also a research fellow at the Jodo Shu Research Institute working on Buddhist care for the dying and bereaved with Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu and at the Rinbutsuken Institute for Engaged Buddhism with Rev. Jin Hitoshi. He teaches contemporary Japanese Buddhism and social issues at Keio University. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). Living in Japan since 1993, he presently resides in Kamakura, just south of Tokyo, with his wife and daughter.