Voice from Fukushima: Mr. Jukichi Ishizawa

The following article was written by Mr. Jukichi Ishizawa, a 78-year old organic farmer from Fukushima, Japan. His place, Kouriyama City, is located 60 kilometers away from the Daichi nuclear plant that was damaged by the tsunami and is emitting nuclear radiation. He has been farming in Fukushima for the 61 years and is a member of Ainoukai, an organization of organic farmers in Japan, which is a member of AFA. (Translated into English by Abe Chatterjee Shantonu, also an Ainoukai member.)

There is a saying that “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”. These were the words of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in charge of the occupation of Japan, when he was relieved of his duties by the American President on grounds of insubordination.

In the article I wrote for the March and April issues (The Age of Agriculture: 60 Years as a Farmer) I mentioned my desire to work in my fields until the day I am unable to move anymore. However, I fear that the recent happenings may force me to go the same way as General MacArthur. I may need to disappear from my fields.

It was a pleasant, sunny spring afternoon on the 11th of March, 2011. I had taken my truck into the fields in order to harvest carrots. It was then that I suddenly heard a deep rumbling, and the ground started shaking under my feet. My truck was bounced about like a toy on a trampoline, and what little water there was in the irrigation canal leapt to and fro. The tremors made it hard to stand without support, and lasted for nearly 8 minutes. As the quake subsided, the sky to the west became overcast and it started snowing with strong gusts of wind. As the wind quieted down, I could only wonder at the fury of Nature that I had just witnessed.

The radio in the car repeatedly blared out warnings of the imminent approach of tsunamis more than 7 meters high. Glancing at the town, I could not clearly make out the extent of the damage, so I could only pray that it was limited as I headed for home. The road back was full of obstacles, as fallen gate-posts and concrete walls blocked the road. I felt the true extent of the damage then.

As my house came into view, I could make out that the 2nd floor was intact and felt some relief. The damage was limited to a few fallen roof tiles and broken mud walls. As I went indoors, I found the TV almost falling off the table. I returned it to its original position and switched it on. Terrifying images of the tsunami crashing into the coast were being broadcast. I wished that the images were created, that they were from some movie or drama show. And the accident at the nuclear facility added to the terror of the whole disaster.

Daiichi plant had a history of numerous accidents which have been followed by government cover up. In such a situation, all everybody hoped for was that the situation would not get out of hand. Representatives of Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) assured us that they had 3 to 4 back-up plans. But the tsunami had destroyed everything. They tried to make excuses by claiming that the disaster was of unforeseen magnitude, but a back-up plan that does not work is the same as having no back-up. And anyway, their idea of a safety measure is a festive event with a free lunch where everybody in the vicinity participates in evacuation drills.

On the 17th of March, residents within a 20km radius were issued evacuation orders, and those within a 30km radius were requested to stay indoors. These residents, numbering around 100,000, started evacuating the area, and more than 5,600 people came to Kouriyama. Those who could not find shelter within the public facilities like schools and gymnasiums in Fukushima Prefecture moved out to other prefectures, some even going to Tokyo.

It is said that radioactive particles are carried by the wind. However, even though we had a strong west wind blowing for more than three days from Kouriyama towards Fukushima Daiichi, a reading twice that of the evacuated 20km radius area was found in Kouriyama, 60 km away from the facility. In addition to the radiation being invisible, the unpredictability of the areas contaminated also adds to my worries. If the authorities fail to contain the spread of the fall-out and the evacuation area is extended to a 60km radius, then 1.5 million of Fukushima Prefecture’s 2 million population will have to move out. In the face of such a calamity, the much vaunted Japanese calmness in response to the disaster will evaporate and there will be a mad scramble to find a place to move away to.

Double the country’s permissible rate for radioactive iodine was found in the water supply of Tokyo, nearly 300km away from the nuclear facility. This prompted the government to issue orders to refrain from using tap water to feed babies. This illustrates the fact that the effects of nuclear radiation cannot be determined only by distances.

Agricultural produce, too, was affected. The ban on sales of milk from Fukushima and spinach from Gunma, Tochigi and Ibaraki gradually extended to other vegetables as well, and customers shunned our products. Such substances as cesium 137 have been detected; these substances emit radioactivity over a long period of time, and there is a possibility that the effects will be long-term. A spokesperson for NISA was reported in a newspaper as saying that the soil would have to replaced. This shows the ignorance and complacency of both the spokesperson and the news reporter – a change of soil on such a scale is simply impossible.

Spring in Fukushima usually means working in the fields from the wee hours of the morning until nightfall, getting the seeds for the spring season planted, sowing the potatoes, and most importantly, preparing rice seedlings. After the disaster however, our days are spent glued to the television. Along with the danger of radioactive substances outdoors, the lack of gasoline and kerosene means that we cannot use machinery in the fields. All we could do was wait and pray for the situation at the nuclear plant to stabilize so that we could have the opportunity to continue producing healthy and safe products for our customers to enjoy. Receiving compensation does not even begin addressing the problems at hand.

There are very few Japanese who will support the idea of having nuclear arms, but at the same time, there are very few who will oppose the use of nuclear power-plants. But are the two really different concepts? The accident has shown us that, while nuclear arms explode in the air and spread radioactivity, power-plants sit on the ground and slowly smolder away, emitting all types of harmful materials. I feel that this is the only difference. It is impossible to label something as 100% safe as long as it is made by us imperfect human beings. And when this deception is done for the sake of profits, it only adds to the gravity of the crime. Natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami are inevitable and must be overcome at all costs, using all resources possible. But the nuclear disaster is a man-made one. It is the price that we must pay for choosing too convenient a life that many people in Japan are leading. The cost of this folly is borne not only by us but also the generations to come, the young people.

This accident must serve as an opportunity to rethink our lifestyles so that we do not repeat the same mistake. Jinzaburo Takagi, an anti-nuclear activist, likened the use of nuclear energy to the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box. The terrible events that are unfolding are the very events described in the legend when Pandora opened the box. Pandora, aghast at the results of her own actions hurriedly closed the box, leaving only hope within. This hope, I think, refers to the Ainou Movement.

We must leave behind the self-centered Industrial Civilization and move onto an Agricultural Civilization; otherwise, I feel that there is hope neither for Japan, nor the whole human race. Though we need to pool our resources together and work as one to rebuild, it is no use returning to a way of life that existed before the disaster. I think that this is a chance for us to make a paradigm shift towards a more conscious society.

As I come to the end of this message, I would like to express my gratitude to all the members of Ainoukai and South Korea’s Seinoukai, who sent me messages of encouragement and condolence. I am deeply thankful too, to a customer of mine who had been buying my vegetables for over a decade using the home delivery service. Though we have never met personally, nevertheless, there was an invitation to stay if I needed a place to evacuate to. It affirmed my belief that sharing food really means sharing life.

-J?kichi Ishizawa (25th March 2011)

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