Hidenobu Fukumoto (right), head of a group that produces picture-story shows, visits the home of Yoko Oka in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, in January. Namie was a restricted zone until the government lifted an evacuation order in March.
Six years ago in March, a firefighter in the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture couldn’t save tsunami victims in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, because he himself had to evacuate due to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
His anguish has been illustrated in the animated film “Munen” (“Remorse”), which was shown in France at Maison du Japon of Cite Internationale Universitaire de Paris on March 25 this year following screenings at various places in Japan.
The film begins with a scene in which the wife of the firefighter explains to her niece why her husband puts his hands together everyday and looks toward Namie.
“He is apologizing to lives that he could not save,” she tells her niece.
At the screening in Paris, the audience of about 100 people stared at the screen. The crowd erupted in applause when the film ended.
France depends heavily on nuclear power, which produces 75 percent of its electricity.
“I could understand clearly the seriousness (of nuclear power). I want many French people to watch this,” said a male university professor.
A citizens’ group that created the film has also produced about 40 illustrated story performances in the last five years, featuring experiences of evacuees of the nuclear disaster and a folk tale set in areas that have emptied of people. The shows have also been screened at various locations.
One story called “Mienai Kumo no Shita de” (“Under the Unseen Cloud”) depicts the life of a female evacuee from Namie.
Another called “Yuki-kun no Tegami” (“Yuki’s Letter”) features an autistic boy who struggles in an evacuation center, while a work titled “Inochi no Tsugi ni Taisetsuna Mono” (“The Precious Thing Next to Life”) is based on a story from the disaster that a manager of an inn heard from a fisherman.
“Munen” was also based on an illustrated story.
“An illustrated story show is easy and inexpensive (to produce). It tends to win the sympathy of the audience as it stimulates their imagination,” said Hidenobu Fukumoto, who heads a group called Machi Monogatari Seisaku Iinkai (Town Story Production Committee).
The 60-year-old former official of the Hiroshima Municipal Government was born in Hiroshima and graduated from Hiroshima Shudo University.
At the city office, he was involved in publishing a public relations magazine and event planning, with many opportunities to create illustrations. He retired in March.
What prompted him to create the shows was a book about the relationship of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the nuclear plant in Fukushima operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. He read the book when he was engaged in volunteer activities in Fukushima after the disaster.
The book by Hisato Nakajima, titled “Sengoshi no Nakano Fukushima Genpatsu” (“The Fukushima Nuclear Power plant in Postwar History”), includes the story of a Tepco employee who was involved in the construction of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
The man, who lost his older brother in to the atomic bombing, also helped rescue atomic bomb survivors. In around 1964, he was assigned to work in the town of Okuma in Fukushima and talked to local people who were concerned about hosting a nuclear plant.
“I saw the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb and the mushroom cloud that soared in the sky afterward. I know the fear more than you all do, and that’s why I studied nuclear power seriously,” the man is quoted as saying. “I believe nuclear power is safe enough, as it is put under extremely thorough safety measures.”
Fukumoto was shocked to learn that the man’s atomic bombing experience was used to convince people to accept the construction of a nuclear power facility.
Meanwhile, the book also tells about a landowner in Namie — where Tohoku Electric Power Co. had planned to build a nuclear power facility — refusing to sell his land because he witnessed the devastation following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
“In the 1960s when I was in elementary school, atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima refrained from talking about the bombing over fear of being discriminated against,” Fukumoto said.
“If the horror of the atomic bombing had been conveyed better, people in Fukushima might have become suspicious about being persuaded, and nuclear power plants would not have been built,” he said, adding that if Fukushima becomes silent, the silence could be used as an excuse for maintaining nuclear power.
In order to prevent that outcome, Fukumoto is determined to convey the stories of remorse triggered by the meltdown disaster, the stories of evacuees, and the individual personalities of the victims.
Every month, Fukumoto makes a round trip of around 800 kilometers between Hiroshima and Fukushima to hold interviews to create new stories.
On Jan. 31, he visited the Namie home of 56-year-old Yoko Oka. Oka evacuated to the city of Fukushima, as her home was in a restricted zone which allowed only daytime access. The restriction was lifted at the end of March this year.
Her home was almost empty after she threw away everything but a chest, which she brought after getting married. There were many holes in the paper doors because they were devastated by masked palm civets, which also scattered feces in the home.
Oka stood in front of a pillar marked with the heights of her two daughters.
“This is the only proof that we lived here,” she said.
Fukumoto listened carefully to Oka and photographed her. Based on such interviews, he uses his computer to make illustrations for new stories and write scripts.
The production group currently has around 10 members, including a hibakusha from 72 years ago. The survivor continues to contact Fukushima evacuees, believing it is not someone else’s problem as they both were exposed to radiation.
There are also many evacuees who perform similar shows in various places.
Hisai Yashima, 51, who evacuated to the town of Kori, Fukushima, belongs to a group of around 15 storytellers.
“I could not have talked about (the nuclear disaster) if I were in my 20s … waiting to get married or expecting a baby,” she said. “Our generation can talk about it and young generations can succeed after they get older.”
After hearing the experiences of those who survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Yashima thought the prejudice echoes the discrimination suffered by the Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees.
But she is proud that the group was able to visit some 500 locations to screen shows.
“We are able to send out (our message). We will never let people become silent like in Hiroshima,” Yashima said.
Mothers who fled to the Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, to escape radiation spewed by the March 2011 core meltdowns in Fukushima Prefecture say they are concerned about the safety of the Genkai nuclear plant in neighboring Saga Prefecture.
SAGA – A group of mothers who evacuated from the Kanto region to Fukuoka Prefecture after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis is ramping up protests against efforts to restart the Genkai nuclear plant in neighboring Saga.
After meeting with Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko on Saturday, Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi is expected to approve the restart of two reactors in the town of Genkai as early as Monday.
Earlier this month, four of the moms gathered for a meeting in Itoshima in Fukuoka and discussed plans to send the city a document and an inquiry conveying their opposition.
As they racked their brains to deliver effective expressions, the meeting lasted for around six hours until their children returned home from school.
Three of the moms moved to Itoshima after becoming worried their children would be adversely affected by exposure to the fallout spewed by the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in Fukushima Prefecture in March 2011. The plant is run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
“I wanted to go far away for the sake of my unborn child,” said 39-year-old Fumiyo Endo, the leader of the group.
But the place she relocated to was within 30 km of the Genkai plant run by Kyushu Electric Power Co.
In March, she attended a meeting of residents to get explanations about the restart but was concerned whether safety would be ensured by sheltering indoors as instructed should an accident occur.
She also felt angry after hearing a utility official say that restarting the plant is necessary “for a stable supply of power.” She said it sounded as if the utility did not care about human lives.
But she did not decide to leave Itoshima because she wanted to keep living there, to stay close to the sea and mountains.
Another member of the group said it was important to keep resisting.
“It is significant to protest against nuclear plants near the plant sites,” said photographer Nonoko Kameyama, 40.
Kameyama, a mother of three, has published a photo book of mothers hoping to bring about a society without nuclear power plants.
A day after attending the residents’ meeting, Endo and other members called the Saga Prefectural Government to urge it to reject the restart.
When asked by a prefectural official during the call what the name of their group was, they came up with an impromptu title: “Mothers Who Want to Save Children’s Lives.” Dozens of people have recently joined in response to its Facebook post.
The group has submitted petitions to Saga Gov. Yamaguchi and Itoshima Mayor Yuji Tsukigata.
“Resuming operations only makes residents feel unsettled and we cannot see a bright future,” said Endo. “We want our leaders to understand such feelings.”
Yamaguchi is expected to approve the Genkai restart as early as Monday, after meeting with METI chief Seko on Saturday.
“The central government has shown a strong determination to work on nuclear energy policy in a responsible manner,” Yamaguchi said Saturday, adding he wants to convey his decision “as early as possible.”
The government is pushing for reactor restarts despite the triple core meltdown at Fukushima No. 1, saying nuclear energy is Japan’s key energy source.
In January, reactor Nos. 3 and 4 at the Genkai plant passed the tougher safety requirements introduced in the wake of the Fukushima crisis. On Feb. 24, a majority of the Genkai Municipal Assembly voted in favor of restarting the plant.
Many children of families who have fled Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear disaster have become targets of bullying at school.
The education ministry said on April 11 that a total of 129 cases of school bullying in which children from Fukushima were victims have been confirmed over the past fiscal year.
Only four have been formally recognized as cases linked directly to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and the consequent catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But the ministry said it has not tracked down all bullying cases involving Fukushima evacuees.
The confirmed cases are, of course, the tip of the iceberg.
In some past cases, the victims suffered various forms of verbal abuse.
“The nuclear plant exploded because of people like you,” is one example of verbal harassment hurled at a bullying victim. “Don’t come close to me. I don’t want to get contaminated with radiation,” is another.
These harrowing stories of bullying are reminiscent of the high-profile harassment case involving a boy who moved from Fukushima to Yokohama with his family after the accident. In that case, which made headlines in the media last autumn, the boy stopped attending classes.
“Behind the problem is a lack of understanding about radiation and the situations of evacuees,” said education minister Hirokazu Matsuno.
Children tend to be influenced by the words and attitudes of adults around them. The problem of rampant bullying of Fukushima evacuees reflects a lack of understanding among adults about the plight of these people.
But some Cabinet members have also made remarks that hurt the feelings of people in Fukushima Prefecture.
Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of rebuilding areas affected by the nuclear accident, for example, recently said so-called “voluntary evacuees,” or people who have fled areas not subject to evacuation orders, are “responsible for their lives.”
Nobuteru Ishihara, speaking about where to store contaminated soil from the crippled nuclear plant, said, “In the end, it will come down to money.”
Tamayo Marukawa, while voicing skepticism about the government’s goal for lowering radiation levels around the plant, said, “There are people who express anxiety no matter how much (radiation levels) are lowered, people who can be called the ‘anti-radiation’ crowd, if I may use an unusual term.”
Both made these remarks while serving as environment minister.
The government seems to be betting that an increase in the number of Fukushima evacuees who return home will help the reconstruction of the prefecture make progress, or at least make it look as if progress is being made.
The government’s desire and efforts to see that happen may be making Fukushima evacuees not returning home feel small.
If a lack of understanding is the cause of bullying of children from Fukushima, adults have the responsibility to give children opportunities to learn and think about the reality.
Collections of materials for ethics education compiled by the Fukushima prefectural board of education may help. Different versions designed for classes at elementary, junior and senior high schools are now available and can be obtained from the education board’s website.
The collections include materials based on real stories concerning such serious topics as the feelings of local residents who were forced to leave their homes, discrimination driven by fears of radiation and unfounded prejudice against agricultural products grown in Fukushima.
Reports and documentaries describing the lives of evacuees and the realities of Fukushima can also be used as teaching materials.
These topics and issues can also be dealt with along with those related to radiation in comprehensive learning or contemporary social studies classes.
People in Fukushima have made different decisions on such vital questions as whether they should leave their communities or stay and whether they should return home to make a fresh start or rebuild their lives where they are living now. That’s because there is no simple answer to these questions.
“We hope children will have honest discussions, recognize that they may disagree on some issues and learn to get along while respecting one another,” says a Fukushima prefectural board of education member.
The problem of bullying of Fukushima evacuees should be taken as a good opportunity for educators to tackle the challenge of offering classes designed to encourage children to think on their own instead of instilling ideas and views into them.
Survey on Fukushima-linked bullying reveals hundreds more cases
TOKYO (Kyodo) — A government survey prompted by the bullying of a boy from Fukushima Prefecture has unveiled hundreds more cases in which evacuees from areas hit by the nuclear crisis were targeted, data released Tuesday showed.
The first nationwide survey on bullying of children who evacuated Fukushima Prefecture due to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011 showed there were 129 cases in fiscal 2016 ended this March and 199 more cases in previous years.
Among the total, 13 had apparent links to the nuclear disaster or the major earthquake and tsunami that triggered it.
Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno indicated there could be other cases that may have gone undetected, saying, “It is difficult to conduct a survey that covers them all.”
“We will consider our response in light of the possibility that (some) bullying has not surfaced,” said Matsuno.
The latest survey targeting roughly 12,000 evacuees showed some of those who were bullied in relation to the nuclear crisis were told to go back to Fukushima or stay away, as they would contaminate others with radiation.
The incidents included the highlighted case in which classmates of a boy who relocated to Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture demanded he give them cash, and called him a “germ.”
After the case in Yokohama surfaced in November, a slew of similar incidents were brought to light in other parts of the country, prompting the government to request schools that accept evacuees check whether they have been bullied or not through interviews and other means.
Survey: 204 bullying cases of Fukushima evacuees
A survey by Japan’s education ministry has found more than 200 cases of bullying involving children who fled Fukushima Prefecture after the nuclear disaster in March 2011. But the survey attributes fewer than 10 percent of these cases to the accident, prompting the education minister to admit the need for further studies.
The ministry surveyed more than 11,800 school-age evacuees through regional education boards in March.
The results show 204 cases of bullying occurred since April 2011. One pupil was told to go back to Fukushima soon after entering elementary school. Classmates also told a junior high school student to stay away because radiation is contagious. But the ministry’s survey linked only 13 of the bullying cases to the nuclear accident.
In comparison, a recent NHK survey of more than 740 families showed that at least 54 children were bullied because they were “nuclear accident evacuees.”
Education Minister Hirokazu Matsuno said on Tuesday that the ministry will consider additional studies to bring hidden cases to light. He said that if children were bullied because they were nuclear evacuees, they might have found it difficult to respond to the survey.
Professor Naoki Ogi of Hosei University said the failure of teachers to take the effect of the nuclear accident sufficiently into account has resulted in an extremely superficial appraisal of the problem.