Last weekend I went with a group of other JETs to the coastal areas affected by the tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. Before I came to Fukushima, I wasn’t sure what the prefecture was like let alone what kind of life the people here have been living since 3.11. Fukushima has become such a buzzword in the news and most of the photos of the prefecture make it seem like all of Fukushima is some sort of barren wasteland. My area of Fukushima was damaged pretty badly during the earthquake but by the time I came here, the empty lots where houses once stood are the only visible reminders of what happened over 2 years ago.
I came to Fukushima because I wanted to experience life in Japan completely on my own and I wanted to see for myself what was true about life in this part of the county. Last weekend’s visit to the coast was my first opportunity to talk to farmers whose businesses were affected by the radiation fears and members of communities who have had to move into temporary shelters.
We mostly spent time between Onahama and Hisanohama. Even though it’s been over 2 years, there is still a lot of work to be done. Everything by the sea is gone but they’re working on rebuilding new homes. Even though living near the sea is risky, people want to come back.
A lot of farmers in Iwaki have abandoned their fields which has led to an increase in solar panels to utilize the space somehow. Apparently this is becoming just another problem for the farmers who want to come back and try cultivating the land again but for some, they’ve decided to get involved with organic cotton.
I’ve never seen cotton like this up close let alone pick it. One of my goals while living in Japan is to get more involved with agricultural projects like this one. I just think there’s something so cool about providing for yourself through planting and harvesting. It’s not uncommon for most people in my town to have their own fields and grow enough vegetables to feed their family. The kids here learn from an early age not only how to grow food but an appreciation for where it comes from and the process it takes to get into the stores and on their dinner table. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma when it comes to Fukushima produce. Projects like this to utilize abandoned fields and jump start the local economy again are great but I can’t imagine how tough it must be for farmers of other crops between radiation fears and uncertainty surrounding Japan’s involve with the TPP.
There’s been a big push to showcase the best of the prefecture and to get people from the rest of Japan to experience the produce themselves. Posters like these are all over the place in local supermarkets and stores. I even saw them when I went to Tokyo.
I loved getting to have coffee and talk with different people about how their lives have changed and what they hope for from here on out. The comment that stuck with me the most was that before 3.11, Fukushima produced both food and energy for the people of Tokyo, almost existing as the servant for a city hundreds of miles away. The events of 3.11 though have forced a lot of people to reconsider what and who it is they work for and instead bring their focus back to the center, back to their home.
This essentially sums up the focus of the agricultural community in Fukushima: 地産地消. It basically means locally produced, locally consumed. The people here don’t want the rest of the country to pity them. Rather, they want them to visit and see for themselves the efforts to revitalize and support the local economy and the life of the people who live and work here. More than anything though, they want to strengthen themselves from within their communities with what they can provide locally.
A lot of people ask me if I’m afraid of radiation and why don’t I maybe try and move to another prefecture, as though any radiation within Fukushima magically disappears as soon as you cross into Tochigi or Miyagi. Before I came here, I talked to doctors and activists about what the situation was and I could never get a straight, middle of the road answer. There’s a line from a movie Odayaka that I thought of when I was first researching Fukushima: “でも、安全って何?” Who can say when you cross the line over what’s safe and what isn’t? What I do know is that I’m glad I made the decision to accept the job offer and move to Tohoku. I’ve been able to do a lot in my time here and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I want to see more of Fukushima, I want to understand the situation better. I know a lot of people disagree when it comes to nuclear energy and the effects that the Daiichi Nuclear disaster will have on the people here down the road. I don’t have an answer, no one does. Whatever the view, I think it’s important that people at least visit Fukushima to see for themselves what’s happening here now.