Fukushima’s Children Get Hang Out Time in Hokkaido

from the Asahi Shimbun (Osaka edition) July 24, 2012

Since the incidents at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima #1 Nuclear Complex, the children of Fukushima have been unable to play outside freely due to concerns over radioactive fallout. They and their families have now been invited to journey to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, for rest and relaxation. This activity has been taken on by the Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy—a group of nationwide religious professionals transcending sectarian affiliation who are supporting the lives of children endangered by the nuclear incident.

Established in 1993 by a group of Christian, Shinto, and Buddhist priests of varying denominations, the Forum began these activities for the children of Fukushima in the summer of 2011. Through their networks, they have located Buddhist temples and Christian churches in Hokkaido that host for one week children and their families from areas in Fukushima with high levels of radiation. Lodging and consumption costs are free. The Forum has also provided funds for the roundtrip travel costs to Hokkaido and back to Fukushima. In the summer of 2012, from July 25 to August 26, 300 people were sent over four separate periods to ten different locations.

According to the Forum, the influence of radioactive fallout on children is several times worse than on adults. The children of Fukushima who live in areas with high levels of radiation cannot play outside freely, and their parents have begun to ask that at least during the summer school holidays they be allowed to spread their wings and get outside. The 2011 program by the Forum also included about 300 adults and children.

At the host temples and churches, there are ongoing religious services and prayers, but the participants are by no means required to join them. Last year, groups from both regions created a Fukushima-Hokkaido children’s exchange group. Rev. Hidehito Okochi, one of the Forum’s representatives and abbot of Juko-in temple in Tokyo, explains that, “The local people can understand that this kind of activity does not involve a focus on personal gain by any one religious group.”

From April 17-18, 2012 the Forum held a conference in Fukushima City for people from around the country to bring attention to the nuclear incident and to learn from experts about the problem of radioactive fallout. On April 19, the Forum visited the Fukushima Prefectural Office to call on government officials, “to preserve the health of children in remote rural areas in the short term as well as long term by decreasing the amount of radioactive fallout in the environment and by taking effective measures to ease the psychological burden on both parents and children.” Afterwards, the Prefectural Education Committee Office replied, “It is ideal for the preservation of children’s health that they should be kept out of such an environment.” Rev. Okochi commented that, “In order to protect the children, various people need to be brought together to help and to restore living standards through coordinated support in each region. Before these activities are begun, though, a vision for the future of Japan must be developed.”

Postscript: In the summer of 2013, the Forum held its third such Hokkaido summer camp with dispatches of children and parents in five groups from: 1) July 21-August 8; 2) July 21-July 31; 3) July 25-August 4; 4) July 29-August 8; and 5) August 18-August 24.

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