Chiho Kaneko, a permanent resident of the United States born in the Iwate prefecture, which is near Fukushima, has returned to visit family there a number of times since March 11, 2011. These words are adapted for print from a speech she delivered in Brattleboro at a ceremony to commemorate the first anniversary of the tsunami and the catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Originally published in The Commons issue #144 (Wednesday, March 21, 2012).
What about next year?
This is but a very small example of what’s happening in Japan. As you can imagine, the situation is a lot worse in Fukushima.
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It’s said that 100,000 people are displaced in Fukushima. While some of them are temporarily living in other towns within Fukushima, an estimated 60,000 people left, including many women with small children whose husbands chose to stay for work.
That means they maintain two households. The family is united maybe two weekends a month. As the separation prolongs, stress and fatigue mount.
What’s worse, in many cases these women are considered voluntary evacuees, with not much support from the government. They are constantly pressured from their husbands, their in-laws, or their friends to return home.
A huge gap is created between people who remain and people who leave. Mothers who have left want to protect their children, but they feel guilty for breaking the unity of the community and family. They feel guilty for stigmatizing their own hometowns. They feel guilty for being perceived that they have the financial means to relocate on their own, even thought that’s not always the case.
Some mothers chose to stay, and they, too, struggle with a different kind of guilt — a guilt that they are putting their children at risk. They suffer now, and they will probably suffer for the rest of their lives.
There are many cities and towns outside of the evacuation zones, where radiation levels are several times higher than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “dose limit for individual members of public.”
Among those cities is Fukushima City, the capital of Fukushima prefecture whose population exceeds 280,000.
So is Nihonmatsu City, the sister city of Hanover, N.H.
And so is Koriyama City, hometown of Keiko Kokubun, a Salisbury, Vt. resident who returned recently for the first time since the disaster. Her initial emails to me upon arrival revealed so much conflict within herself.
Keiko, who has been one of the most steadfast voices against nuclear power over the past six months, found herself overwhelmed by the social pressure to keep quiet about her fear of radiation and the anger she feels towards the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Keiko eventually she posted some of her observations around the anniversary on her blog.
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Most people in Japan would agree that the government has been trying to cover up the facts and downplay the seriousness of what’s going on at the Fukushima Daiichi.
However, some choose to cling to the more optimistic evaluation of the radiation levels in the air, soil, water, or food. Even some people from the most contaminated areas hold out hopes of returning to their homes soon — say, within two years.
These rosy views go hand in hand with the government’s and TEPCO’s desire to get out of the responsibility.
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