by Masuo Nagasho
Masuo Nagasho is a resident of the village of Iita-te, a radiation hotspot about 40 kilometers northwest of the Fukushima #1 Nuclear Complex. For about 45 years, he worked as an employee at the Iita-te Public Office and for four of those years as the vice-head of the village.
Although Iita-te lies well beyond the 20 km restricted area from the nuclear reactors, it was designated as a “hot spot”, because in the days after the explosions at the reactors, weather and wind blew high levels of radiation towards the northwest. In this way, Iita-te as well as the cities of Da-te and Fukushima (60 kms from the reactors) have unusually high levels of radiation despite their distance from the reactors. Present radiation readings in Iita-te range around 3.0 microsieverts/hr, which is 10 times above a level considered normal and safe. Hence, our entire village was ordered by the government to evacuate on April 11, 2011. At present, I live in Da-te, but I go back to Iita-te about once every three days, since it is allowed to engage in activities in the village during the day but not to spend the night. Upon returning, I think of how truly sorry I am about having to leave my home. This is the sentiment that others from Iita-te also surely feel.
The results of the National Diet Investigation Committee, the Governmental Investigation Committee, and the Fukushima Nuclear Incident Investigation Committee have all declared that this was a man-made disaster. If we look at it this way, but consider everything humanly possible that could have been done to prevent it, then this sort of incident should not have happened. So we have the results of various investigations, but if I might say so, isn’t something more going to be done about this damn situation!? What really makes me angry is that we feel the people working at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and whatever other government offices are just collecting on their salaries during this crisis. Surely, there are some positive aspects to nuclear energy, but we must reflect on how it affects our lifestyles because of the inability to control it and the subsequent fear and anxiety this generates. Therefore, we must do as much as possible so that such dangerous times do not come again.
The Suffering and Anxiety of an Evacuated People
Although the citizens of Ita-te have evacuated to various different places, in the evenings, some of us who are concerned often gather to talk. Everyone has various worries, but the biggest one is the devastation of the mental health of our children. This anxiety has come to invade the dreams of us adults at night. Up to now, we still cannot have normal dreams. We have dreams that we cannot express in words. However, it is the mental health of the children especially that is being destroyed. Adults for the most part can control themselves, but children are different.
The children of Iita-te have evacuated to the nearby cities of Da-te, Fukushima, or Nihonmatsu. Children from Iita-te who go to school in Fukushima have to ride a bus for an hour to get to school. The children of Iita-te are all brought together in one place and given school education. In this situation, we are very concerned about the destruction of their mental health. Although they go to school, we wonder if they are really able to concentrate on studying. When they return home at the end of the day, their usual friends are not there, so their home environment has totally changed. I think that the situation in which they cannot go out of their house and play in the fields will continue on for many years. So I am really worried about how the children will change.
A Confused Nation
We are now dealing with the question of whether the accumulated wisdom of scientists from all over the world can develop a good method to deal with the nuclear contamination in Fukushima. It cannot just be cleared away with heavy machinery that will tear up our beautiful fields. We must also consider how to revive the micro-organisms and power of nature that are affected by the radiation.
When we look at what the government has done for decontamination since the incident, I feel like someone is scripting this whole reconstruction scenario. It is always the major construction companies that benefit from such scenarios. They benefitted when the nuclear reactor was built; when the disaster had to be cleaned up; when the temporary housing had to be built; and now when the decontamination work has to be done. Even the design made for the new road for locals to return home by was made by a big construction firm. In the end, from the creation of the nuclear complex to the coping with the disaster to wondering what we should do from now, it has all been a set up for moving money to the big construction companies.
In this way, we felt that even before the nuclear incident, Japanese society had become confused. Japan has become a country so deeply in debt – as evidenced in the uproar in the Diet over issuing debt covering bonds – that it seems like it is no longer a developed nation. We have a debt that is the equivalent of seven million yen (US$75,000) per citizen; that’s the highest in the world. Simply speaking, we have gained prosperity by passing on our debts to our children and grandchildren. I think this is the real situation in Japan now.
We remaining citizens of Iita-te have decided to move quickly toward rebuilding our village and to not be defeated by the radiation. The plan we have developed to rebuild Iita-te involves creating a “madei village”. The word madei in Japanese means “genuine” or “sincere”. From such a foundation, we understand that to deal with food in a “genuine” way is to eat it in a careful or mindful way; it is important to eat this way. Children should also be raised in such a “genuine” manner. The term madei sums up in one word the sense of approaching things with appreciation and with care, which will be the basis for us to rebuild Iita-te.
Iita-te is surrounded by mountains yet is still an agricultural village. When we began thinking about how to rebuild this village, we consulted everyone, but rather than saying, “Let’s build a great cultural center, or a great hospital, or great roads,” everyone decided to rebuild the village in a genuine (madei) way. This means that children are to be valued; money is to be valued; food is to be valued; and human relationships are to be valued. Having great facilities and buildings does not bring happiness; rather, building a village rich in human relationship does. This is the basic concept of Iita-te village.
Therefore, the concept of designing regional revitalization based on the enticing benefits of the Fukushima #1 Nuclear Complex contradicts the concept of Iita-te. When the complex was built 40 kilometers away, no benefits from it came to our village. However, we never thought that we would get contamination from it. This remark may be filled with bitterness, but Iita-te is contaminated with nuclear radiation all throughout it, and this really enrages me. The prosperity of Japan should really be based on this basic concept of ours called madei, in which we handle money a bit more carefully and handle everything more carefully so that we don’t create a village enslaved simply by lavish modern things.
The Kindness of the Japanese People
There are aid groups coming here from all over the country from Hokkaido to Nagoya. We want to work together with such people who are truly interested in seeing if there is a way to do efficient decontamination work that doesn’t cost a lot of money and is kind to the environment. We have been a part of creating this village, and we cannot just abandon this place that was built by previous citizens over many hundreds of years. There are not many of us, but we must revive it. Of course, young people and children will not be here because of the danger, but we who are over sixty years old cannot just abandon our village as it is now. In whatever way that we return, we will rebuild the village as it was in the past. I hope that one day we can create a situation in which the people of Iita-te can return home.
However, this is not just about Iita-te village. I want people in other areas who have not experienced the feeling of evacuation or the anxiety and worry of this process to pay attention. After evacuating Iita-te, I was taking a walk in Da-te and by chance saw a sign about practicing Zen meditation at Senrin-ji temple under the abbotship of Rev. Shoki Matsuda. Later on, in June 2011, I called upon the temple. Since then, Rev. Matsuda and everyone around here has treated me kindly. I would come by on walks, and they would provide me with vegetables. Since I evacuated, everyone around here has worried about me and how I will survive. In this way, I have come to believe that Japanese are really wonderful people. I hope as many people as possible can come to understand our situation.