I first found out about the danger of the nuclear radiation leaking from the Fukushima plants after the disastrous March 11th earthquake in Japan from a single text. A French friend who was studying abroad in Tokyo with me sent me a series of panic-stricken words full of concern about the effects of the radiation. “My friends from home are telling me it is dangerous to stay,” she had written. “Are you going home?”
This caught me completely by surprise, since in the days following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of northern Japan, I, along with everyone else, was still just trying to accept the reality of the harrowing, stark sights of the aftermath of the tsunami. The Japanese media covered the nuclear plant and its many problems, but officials calmly proclaimed on television that of course, everything was under control. My host family believed them, as did I.
So I laughed off that text, replying to her that it would blow over soon enough and that there was absolutely nothing to worry about.
Then, my parents finally got through to me on the faulty phone lines, and my father’s worried voice cut through across the Pacific and into my innocent ear. He told me that he and my mother were rooted in front of our television day and night, watching the news on the Japanese news channel. The situation with the plant could get worse, and the Japanese media may be hiding the truth from its citizens, he told me.
I could feel the panic steadily grow inside of me as a thousand what-if scenarios repeated over and over in my mind. What if the media was feeding us lies? What if the nuclear plant blew up and radiation leaked into Tokyo? Tokyo was only a three hour bullet train ride from the plant. What if I couldn’t get to safety in time? What if there was another, even more destructive earthquake and tsunami headed to Tokyo? Tokyo Bay would rush in and drown us all.
That night, I started having nightmares of being pierced by radiation. The moonlight that streamed in through the window would burn me alive in these dreams, and I would toss and turn to try to get away. I wondered if there was already radiation in the water I drank to quench my parched throat in the morning. I trembled as violently as the aftershocks.
But my host family continued on as if nothing happened. They laughed, just as I had laughed at my friend, about my fears of radiation poisoning. They focused their energy on keeping Japan together after the tragedy of the tsunami.
To this day, I wonder if it was right of me to leave Tokyo just as Japan was facing a catastrophe. I could have stayed and helped the Japanese citizens somehow. I could have suffered with them. But my family was calling anxiously over the rushing waters of the ocean that separated us, and the nightmares would not stop.
I feel terrible because I had the option to leave. My host family and friends from school did not have that luxury, and thus comforted themselves with a baseless knowledge that they would not be hurt. I left with tears of sorrow, but also of guilt.
Thus, I applaud the courage of two indie filmmakers, Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski, for going back to the radiation filled lands and air of Fukushima after the disaster, and trying to capture the stories of those who could not escape – those whose lives have deep and impenetrable roots in the now contaminated soil of Fukushima. Kajino and Koziarski’s documentary, Uncanny Terrain, which they are still in the process of completing, shows the lives of organic farmers of the area who cannot sell their produce because of the level of radiation.
Kajino and Koziarski held a preview showing of the documentary on Sunday at High Concept Laboratories. They showed only raw footage of what they had taken so far at this benefit event. In order to go back to Fukushima again to capture the one year anniversary of the earthquake, they needed to raise money, they said.
In the footage, one farmer poses the question of what can be said to be grown organically – without pesticides or herbicides – when the land itself is contaminated. Another farmer explains how many Fukushima residents face discrimination from other Japanese. He said people do not want to be near them for fear of “catching the radiation” and that cars with Fukushima plates are asked to be moved from parking spaces because they think those cars will contaminate the spaces.
When I saw the footage of the beautiful green mountains and rice paddies, which now are contaminated by radiation, I was both filled with sorrow and guilt. But another emotion soon consumed me – anger. These farmers had done nothing to deserve this, and yet, they suffer severely. Farmers are being forced to kill their livestock. They do not know of the effects of the radiation on their own bodies.
Had Japan done this to its own people? A well-researched article called “The Fallout” in the New Yorker explains that the United States may have effectively introduced nuclear power to Japan. After World War II, the article said, President Eisenhower was concerned that the fear Japanese citizens had of the nuclear weaponry America used against Japan was pushing it away from the United States. The solution they came up with was to put in place nuclear plants for peaceful purposes. Japanese politicians soon got on board, since they saw it as an easier way to create energy.
Now, more than half a century after the eruption of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan is again plagued with radiation. Will it be able to escape from nuclear energy? Will Japan finally learn to turn to wind, solar or geothermal energy?
Though someday I would like to return to live in Japan a bit more, my mother is still wary of the idea. There is always the danger of earthquakes and tsunamis. But now there is the added bonus of radiation – and radiation-poisoned food.
But as I think of my father’s own organic farm in Central Illinois, I think of the fact that Illinois relies heavily on nuclear power, as well. Recently, there has been news of a nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois, shutting down because of power loss. My solution when faced with danger in Tokyo was to run away, but what will happen if our own organic farm was contaminated by radiation?
I can only sit and pretend that there is no danger, and fill myself with lies. This time, I have no other home to escape to and my heart is rooted in the dark black soil of our Bottomland.