TokyoSpring blogs about his experience in Tomioka city and Okuma Town in Fukushima Prefecture on May 31. This post is also available in Japanese here.
” Tomioka is the location for the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant, Tepco owned.
Population in January 2012: 1
Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture, site of Daichi Nuclear Power Plant, Tepco owned, population in December 2012: 104 (allowed to temporarily return)
On Wikipedia it says that Tomioka and Okuma are abandoned towns. I looked up the origin of the word Abandon. The original sense of Abandon was “bring under control”, later “give in to the control of, surrender to”.
We left for Fukushima by bus very early on May 31, from Yokohama. The trip was organized by social activists working with day laborers and the homeless.
I dozed off a couple of times during the ride and the next thing I knew, we were there, almost there. We stopped at a rest area to pick up our guide, the lovely and brave lady Masumi K.
My first reaction when we arrived in Fukushima was: Wow! We are already there? That was quick! That’s close…close to Tokyo, 200 km I think. Then I just started to think about the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo in 2020 and how obscene the idea of such an event was.
Shame on the Japanese government!
Shame on all the Japanese people who are looking forward to them while Fukushima is dying!
Shame on the Olympic committee for choosing Tokyo as host!
Shame (total lack of it in this case): A painful emotion resulting from an awareness of inadequacy or guilt.
Fukushima was murdered by the combined greed of the Japanese State, Tepco and the greed of a large portion of the indifferent Japanese population.
The 3 monkeys: Mizaru, Mikazaru and Mazaru.
There is a song by Tom Waits called All The World Is Green.
All Fukushima is green, I have never seen so much lush green in my life, and I am just talking about one part of Fukushima prefecture. It’s as if all the green of the world had gathered there in solidarity to fight radiation. All green around us and above our heads a sea of blue sky, I felt like dipping my hand in it. The beauty of it all was suffocating.
In 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened, I was a teenager in Yugoslavia, from the images I saw on State TV I found that region bleak, even before the tragedy it always looked bleak, grey sky, grey landscape…so, in a very sick way, it went well with the catastrophe, a good match. In case of Fukushima, Beauty was under siege, it just didn’t make any sense to me that something so horrible could happen in Eden.
At the rest area where we stopped to pick up our guide, Masumi K., a little before Tomioka, light blue protection masks and white shoe covers were handed out to us, I already had my own, quite expensive good quality mask. We arrived at what’s left of Tomioka station and got off the bus, we will have gotten off only twice, for in total of less than one hour. The first question I felt like asking once off the bus was: we are in 2014, right? The area was ETN (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear) struck in 2011, during the 3 years following the calamity no work to fix whatever was done. The railway tracks have disappeared under a fast growing jungle and the whole neighborhood around the station and beyond is…well…broken windows, cracked walls, collapsed walls, collapsed roves, tall weeds, overturned rusting cars, piled up cars, smashed rusting cars in gardens overtaken by wild plants, huge cracks in the streets…
Some say that the zone is too contaminated to bring in workers to clean it up, but a couple of hundreds meters away, in the next neighborhood, there are a few people living and working, running businesses…
On the other side of Tomioka station tracks is a long stretch of land dotted with dozens and dozens of huge black plastic bags containing contaminated soil and tree branches, there are also bulldozers and workers walking about. These huge black plastic bags, 1×1.5 I’d say, are everywhere, the whole area that we visited, Tomioka and Okuma, all the fields around them, are dotted with them, there are places where there are hundreds of them, if not thousands, sometimes all together, next to each other, lined up along the roads or just 3 or 4 next to an electric pole or just sitting in the middle of a green, green beautiful field. It seems that’s how the Japanese government is pretending to decontaminate the area. I also saw places where hundreds of these bags are in turn covered with huge green plastic sheets, and seen from afar, you’d think they are fields, maybe it’s another Japanese government’s way of trying to hide, camouflage, cover up, sweep under the carpet its criminal incompetence and lies. There are places where local farmers, I think, go around piercing holes in them bags because they tend to inflate and explode.
The Japanese government is actually telling internal refugees that some areas, if not all, are safe enough for them to return.
After some more time on the road, we visited an abandoned residential area with empty beautiful houses, gardens turning into something different, our guide Masumi K. told us that the inside of the houses is overran by mice, growing numbers of wild bores feel more and more free and daring to roam the streets, and as if that weren’t enough, burglars are helping themselves with abandoned stuff, household appliances and such…she also pointed out for us the ridiculousness of government’s safety measures by showing us some streets where head high fences have been erected in the middle dividing the contaminated areas from the non contaminated ones in a clear, precise and straight line fashion, the fences themselves were guarded by uniformed guard men, standing all they long there in front of the fences, in the sun or rain, some of them not even wearing a mask. There were traffic lights here and there with a blinking orange light, long, empty, pretty streets with green trees on both sides and eerie silence mixed with total confusion.
According to Masumi san, the population is divided between those who trust the government and the ones who don’t, she gave us an example of the schism, 2 elementary or junior high schools in the same area, two principles, one telling the children and the parents all is safe and under control, the other saying they should leave, if possible, or advising them to be extra careful…
Some of the damaged roads have been patched up. At one point we saw a lot of workers in the middle of nowhere, big bulldozers, trucks from various construction companies with their names displayed on big billboards, we were told they were building a huge parking lot for the cleaners, with mobile latrines and temporary housing units…go figure.
Don’t forget Fukushima are the words spoken to us by Masumi K.
Our guide Masumi K:
She is a lady in her late 50s, early 60s, an anti nuclear activist since ever, her father was a fervent anti nuclear activist, too, he died in mysterious circumstances in an accident on a construction site. Masumi is from Okuma which she fled with her family after the nuclear explosions in 2011, they now live in a temporary housing unit in Aizuwakamatsu. Right after the catastrophe struck, they were all placed in a sports center turned internal refugee shelter where she started publishing a paper about the dangers of radiation and exposing government lies. She has been also battling cancer for some time now, underwent surgery several times. During the ordeal her husband got seriously sick and needed a new kidney, Masumi gave him one of hers. She is also a member/head of a feminist group fighting against the Japanese government’s reassuring lies. She has also been receiving veiled anonymous threats regarding her activism.
After Tomioka and Okuma, we took off our masks and shoe covers, put them in a plastic trash bag and headed back for Iwaki city to some sort of town hall to hear a talk by a couple of cleaners and Masumi K. One worker agreed to talk to us on condition of anonymity, no photos, no name. We were served lunch boxes, I had brought my own food and water. Iwaki city was supposed to be safe, we were told, although it’s next to Tomioka. The anonymous worker told us about their working conditions, the raking and scooping of contaminated soil, the trimming of contaminated tress and filling of those huge plastic black bags. He showed us the “protective” gloves they were given to do the work, the gloves I use to clean houses here in Tokyo are better than his, I believe. He also showed us the “protective” masks…again, the one I had brought with me for a one day visit to Fukushima was way better and more expensive than the masks they use working there all day long, everyday. There are safety…I wouldn’t say rules and regulations…guidelines if you like, nothing is enforced. When they try to complain about the working conditions, they are met by HR people whose job it seems is to pretend to listen to them and do nothing about it. Most of the complaints get lost half way through “the proper channels” which involve dozens of sub contractors. The pay is far from great considering the health risks. Half of the workforce is local, some were dock workers from the ports that were destroyed by the tsunami, the other half form all over Japan, as far away as Hokkaido and Okinawa…Many workers doing the cleaning take off their masks in the middle because it’s too hot or just because of their bad quality they are uncomfortable to wear…
These are just a few things among many others that this young anonymous worker told us, he told us about so many small and big acts of exploitation by top firms and their myriad of subcontractors that…well…one stops listening, not on purpose, but it’s just too much, too overwhelming, it starts sounding normal after a while, I am sorry I can’t remember all of it. At every step in that area one can see or hear or feel the Japanese government’s lies and crimes. To be honest, near the end of the meeting I just wanted to get out of there, I am not proud of myself for saying this but that’s how I felt. I just got tired of being careful not to touch anything around me and if I did, I had to be careful not to touch my mouth…those were some of the instructions we were given before and during the visit. Once back in Tokyo, I wanted to go back to Fukushima. In Tokyo I feel loathing more than ever.
After the young anonymous worker, Masumi K talked again. She told us, again among many other stories of suffering, about the increase in suicides, consumption of alcohol, domestic violence, depression…she also told us how after the ongoing nuclear disaster there was a time when quite lots of people suddenly started having nose bleeds, cats and dogs too, it lasted for some time and then it suddenly stopped.
After her talk someone among us asked her: “What can we do from Tokyo and Yokohama? What can we do to help?
Masumi answered: “Don’t forget us. Don’t forget Fukushima.”
Why did all this happen? Why is it still happening? The answer, at least for me, although too simple for some maybe, is this line from the song Human Error by Frying Dutchman: “it’s all about money, money, money!”
I took a lot of photos of all this, you can see them on my facebook timeline, my tumblr or my google+.
On the way out of ghost city Tomioka to ghost town Okuma, we suddenly saw a house with a family…living there or who had stayed there or who had returned because the government told them it was safe and clean or who had just dropped by to pick up a few of their belongings…anyway, there was a teenage boy standing next to the house, in the driveway, wearing blue shorts, a black jersey with red patterns, bare feet or wearing sandals, I forgot, he was staring at our passing bus…we stared back.