The After Fukushima and Japan’s Declining Birthrate, Japan’s Demographics a National Crisis

From Chris Busby:
Japan’s birth rate was declining but gradually, as was the Belarus birthrate. The rate at which it was declining was low. Then after Fukushima it fell of the cliff.
I made this graph from Japan vital statistics data on the web.
In 2005 it was 8.32. So there is a sharp fall in the rate after Fukushima. Same thing happened in Belarus after Chernobyl. Look at the Bandashevsky’s after Chernobyl birth rate graph.
It was expected What I am saying is that the fall in birthrate in Japan is a Fukushima effect in the same way as the fall in birthrate in Belrus was a Chernobyl effect.


chernobyl & fukushima birthrates.jpg

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe describes demographics as a national crisis
Japan suffered its biggest population decline on record this year, according to new figures that underline the country’s losing battle to raise its birth rate.
The number of births fell to its lowest since records began more than a century ago, the health and welfare ministry said, soon after parliament approved an immigration bill that will pave the way for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers to address the worst labour shortage in decades.
The ministry estimated 921,000 babies will have been born by the end of 2018 – 25,000 fewer than last year and the lowest number since comparable records began in 1899. It is also the third year in a row the number of births has been below one million.
Combined with the estimated number of deaths this year – a postwar high of 1.37 million – the natural decline of Japan’s population by 448,000 is the biggest ever.
The data suggests the government will struggle to reach its goal of raising the birth rate – the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime – to 1.8 by April 2026. The current birth rate stands at 1.43, well below the 2.07 required to keep the population stable.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has described Japan’s demographics as a national crisis and promised to increase childcare places and introduce other measures to encourage couples to have more children.
But the number of children on waiting lists for state-funded daycare increased for the third year in a row last year, raising doubts over his plans to provide a place for every child by April 2020.
Japanese people have an impressive life expectancy – 87.2 years for women and 81.01 years for men – which experts attribute to regular medical examinations, universal healthcare coverage and, among older generations, a preference for Japan’s traditional low-fat diet.
But the growing population of older people is expected to place unprecedented strain on health and welfare services in the decades to come. Some of those costs will be met by a controversial rise in the consumption (sales) tax, from 8 per cent to 10 per cent, next October.
Earlier this year the government said 26.1 million – or just over 20 per cent of the total population of 126.7 million – were aged 70 and over.
The number of centenarians, meanwhile, had risen to 69,785 as of September this year, with women making up 88% of the total.
Japan has the highest proportion of older people – or those aged 65 and over – in the world, followed by Italy, Portugal and Germany.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Tokyo estimated that more than 35 per cent of Japanese will be aged 65 or over by 2040.
See also:

Pr Chris Busby on infertility risk around Fukushima, Japan, etc

Pr A.Yablokov and Pr C.Busby on Fukushima victim estimations

A Multifaceted Fukushima—Trauma and Memory in Ōnobu Pelican’s Kiruannya and U-ko

By Barbara Geilhorn
Focusing on Ōnobu Pelican’s play Kiruannya and U-ko-san (2011), this article analyzes documentary theater from the area afflicted by the triple disaster of March 11, 2011. Kiruannya and U-ko provides a rich tapestry of the multiple and often contradictory features of Fukushima Prefecture in the aftermath of the Fukushima calamity, weaving a dense fabric of fictional material, newspaper clippings, and reality. I show that Ōnobu’s play opposes national discourses of a spatially limited disaster, and that it offers keen insights into the highly ambivalent and emotional landscape of those residents of Northern Japan, whose homeland was turned into a disaster zone and/or radioactive wasteland after 3.11.
 This article provides a close reading of Kiruannya to U-ko-san (Kiruannya and U-ko, 2011), a documentary play by the playwright and director Ōnobu Pelican (b. 1975)1, which received high acclaim in Japan. Ōnobu lived in Minamisōma, a city heavily affected by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami, located 25 km north of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.2 Parts of the city were evacuated because of radiation, and many of the evacuees have still not returned to their homes. In the meantime, authorities have successively lifted evacuation orders (excluding the “difficult-to-return” zones, kikan konnan kuiki), to allow for the alleged return to normal in the disaster zone.3
In the first months after the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear catastrophe, Ōnobu felt an urgent need to address the painful experiences of people affected, and decided to make these experiences the topic of his new play.4 This article examines the potentialities of documentary theater as a medium for processing trauma in post-disaster Tōhoku, and analyzes how Kiruannya and U-ko engages in the cultural work of transforming individual suffering into collective memory.5 Documentary plays enact negotiations between reality, its image, and its interpretation, and can thereby open up new approaches to one’s own reality, as Janelle Reinelt has argued.6 In her study on documentary theater, Carol Martin created a list of the functions of documentary plays.7 The following are particularly relevant in the context of this article: “1. To create additional historical accounts; 2. To reconstruct an event; 3. To intermingle autobiography with history.” In other words, besides helping people to overcome trauma, documentaries have the potential to trigger critical engagement and activism.8 I will return to this later.
In this article, I argue that the playwright constructs a narrative countering images of ‘Fukushima’ as a region of destruction and despair, one that can only be characterized by the disaster and its aftermath. He does this without neglecting contentious issues around the nuclear catastrophe or uncritically supporting slogans for quick recovery. While a critical stance is not rare for theater responding to the Fukushima calamity, Kiruannya and U-ko is unusual in addressing so many conflicting dimensions in response to the disaster. As I show in detail below, Ōnobu’s play allows those immediately affected to construct and re-experience trauma as a first step in assimilating these stressful events. At the same time, the narration addresses those living far away and invites them to relate emotionally to the traumatic experiences addressed. Kiruannya and U-ko criticizes the promotion of economic growth at the expense of the local population’s livelihoods, and leaves sufficient room for them to mourn for what is lost.
A multifaceted Fukushima – Conflicting images of the beloved homeland
Kiruannya and U-ko premiered at the Subterranean Theater in Tokyo in June 2011,9 directed by the author and performed by his troupe Manrui Toriking Ichiza (Loaded Bases Bird King Troupe),10 which shifted its base of activities from Minamisōma to Fukushima City due to the calamity. After the Tokyo premiere, the play was presented in other Japanese cities.11 Kiruannya and U-ko was discussed positively in national theater journals and nominated as “play of the month” by the renowned Performing Arts Network. Subsequently, Ōnobu gained visibility on the Tokyo theater scene, becoming a frequent guest in panel discussions on Japanese theater after 3.11, as well as a participant in round table discussions addressing the Fukushima calamity.
Ōnobu Pelican Kiruannya and U-ko (Courtesy of Akai Yasuhiro)
Kiruannya and U-ko centers on the ambivalent emotions of people living in the areas affected by the tsunami and/or the nuclear exclusion zone in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and provides an account of Fukushima Prefecture’s history, beginning in 2011 and going back to the beginnings of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 1970. The play is a collage of newspaper article readings and quotes from literary texts bound together by a fictive narrative of two women and a man searching for a woman called U-ko. However, each of the three figures in the play, called Man, Woman 1, and Woman 2, seem to be looking for a different person: a childhood friend, an acquaintance met on the World Wide Web, or the chef of a bistro. Her name is written with the U in romanization and the latter half in a Chinese character, but is pronounced Yūko. U-ko lives in a town where the newspaper deliveryman Kiruannya scatters clippings from old newspapers all over town. The nickname, a combination of kiru (cut, kill) and annya (older brother; Fukushima dialectal word for a friendly male who is older than the speaker), refers to this very activity. I will come back to the relevance of both names later.
The repetitive character of these episodes evokes flashbacks experienced by individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The play evokes the return of a repressed trauma experienced by those who were searching for family members, friends, and acquaintances in the aftermath of the disaster, often unsuccessfully. The term ‘trauma’ refers to an experience of extreme intensity that overstrains the coping capabilities of an individual and causes lasting damage to his/her self-conception. However, what is perceived as a traumatic experience is not the event itself, but the persisting re-experiencing of it.12 A traumatic experience is thus temporally and spatially separated from the triggering event (latency). The ‘embodied’ memory is not directly accessible and cannot be narrativized.13 Narrativizing the dreadful events, and allowing viewers to re-experience and construct their trauma is a major task of the play.
Ōnobu’s stage design and effects are minimalist. The stage is completely covered by newspaper clippings and is dominated by the model of a village hanging at its center, symbolizing the town where the newspaper deliveryman Kiruannya and U-ko, the person sought in the play, live. Although the two figures are central to the play, they do not appear on stage. Classical music, including famous pieces such as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, set the contemplative tone of the play. Although Kiruannya and U-ko consists largely of characters quoting newspapers and literary material, it is not a static performance. As the man and the two women move around the village model at center stage, the tempo of the figures’ movements and speech increases with their growing despair and desperation, generating a spiral of dynamism. The actors are moving around frantically, calling out U-ko’s name, as well as the dates and places where she was last seen or lost. The affective dimension of the calamity becomes tangible even to audience members who lack direct experience of the dreadful events. The play invites the audience to actively connect with the emotions triggered by the disaster, and hence stimulates them to engage with the trauma. In some audience members, this might be the starting point for re-thinking their own stance towards the use of nuclear power or their private energy consumption.
Ōnobu Pelican Kiruannya and U-ko, revised version (Courtesy of Akai Yasuhiro)
The actors alternatively read newspaper clippings about a person named U-ko that are scattered across the stage. They start in January 2011, and proceed in chronological order. When the man calls out the date of March 11, the review of everyday local events is suddenly interrupted by an Early Earthquake Warning siren evoking haunting memories of the calamity in actors and audiences alike, including the anxiety and uncertainty caused by the numerous aftershocks that lasted for weeks. In his review of the play, Masaki Hiroyuki (b. 1964), the Tokyo-based former editor-in-chief of the journal Theatre Arts (Shiatā Ātsu), writes about his involuntary reactions to the sound of the Early Earthquake Warning, and the shock that gripped his body when he saw the play about six months after the catastrophe.14 When the three actors resume reading the newspaper clippings, they refer to the disaster. Again, it is U-ko who is the protagonist, and who represents the local people’s various reactions and behaviors, such as an evacuee taking neighbors out of the radiation zone in her bus, a mayor encouraging villagers to return and get involved in reconstruction, and a woman complaining to the visiting prime minister about living conditions in temporary shelters. When the actors finally read out the Fukushima Police Department’s list of missing people whose bodies were identified, again, all of them are named U-ko. It becomes ever more uncertain who U-ko is, and if she ever existed at all.
The quest to find U-ko invites the audience to relive the fraught days after 3.11 as people desperately searched for missing relatives and friends. By making the dominant color of the stage, including the performers’ clothing, white, Ōnobu opens up a wide space for imagination. What is presented on stage is not limited to a specific historical time or geographic place such as “Fukushima.” Audiences are encouraged to imagine themselves in the position of the two women and the man in their search for U-ko. Her name is telling: while U can be read as referring to the unknown, the name’s Japanese pronunciation also suggests the English personal pronoun “you.” Moreover, Yūko is a very common Japanese female name, which can be written with a number of different Chinese characters. U-ko represents the countless people who are still missing to this day, and gives the nameless victims an identity. At the same time, U-ko stands for everywoman: she reminds us that everyone could find themselves in her situation. Thus, in Kiruannya and U-ko, which was first conceived to be performed in front of a Tokyo audience, Ōnobu is invested in the cultural work of creating an imagined community affected by the calamity that is not limited to those living in the immediate disaster zones. Differentiating between individual and collective trauma, Alexander and Breese argue that “for collectivities […] it is a matter of symbolic construction and framing, of creating a narrative and moving along from there. A ‘we’ must be constructed via narrative and coding, and it is this collective identity that experiences and confronts the danger.”15 Events have to be expressed and constructed as trauma to be perceived as such by a group of people. By actively inviting audiences far removed from Tōhoku to imagine themselves in the position of those directly affected, Ōnobu counters national narratives of 3.11 as a geographically limited disaster and a short-term recovery.
A number of times, the quest to find U-ko is interrupted by readings of citations from local literature, which are distributed among the three actors and establish a new level of involvement with issues related to 3.11. The first reading cites the entire Episode 99 of Tōno monogatari (The Legends of Tōno),16 a record of folk legends that were orally transmitted through the generations in the Tōno region, which is located near the Pacific coast of Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas most severely affected by the triple disaster. Yanagita Kunio (1875–1962), the founder of Japanese folklore studies, collected these legends based on the memory of the Tōno native Sasaki Kizen (or Kyōseki, 1886–1933). The resulting book is a rewriting of local oral history into a literary work that addresses a national audience and engages with the problems of Japanese collective identity in the modern world. Subsequently, Tōno as described in the legends became the canonical representative of the Japanese homeland (furusato)17 in the collective imagination.
Episode 99 relates the story of Kitagawa Fukuji, who lost his wife and one of his children in the devastating tsunami of 1896. Living in a temporary shelter with his surviving children, he got up one moonlit night and encountered the ghost of his dead wife. While crying about the loss of her children, Kitagawa’s wife also reports that she has found a new partner. Although Tōno monogatari relates the very basic facts of the event fleetingly, it nevertheless succeeds in conveying the emotional vividness of the protagonist. This is even more the case if one reads episode 99 in the context of the Fukushima calamity. Mirroring the situation of recent disaster victims who lost close family members, the text conjures up accounts of wandering spirits of people who died in the tsunami.18 Describing the encounter between the living and the dead, and at the same time hinting at the possibility of finding peace in the afterlife, the scene reveals what survivors of the triple disaster might long for. For those not directly affected, the episode is also deeply disturbing, thereby emotionally drawing spectators far removed from Tōhoku into the play and inviting them to imagine the process of mourning experienced by survivors. Moreover, by adding a passage pertaining to a local disaster from an account from over one hundred years ago, Ōnobu links 3.11 to the past, emphasizing the fact that Northern Japan has a long and tragic history of devastating tsunami disasters, and questioning the unpredictability (sōteigai)19 of the nuclear disaster as frequently claimed to obscure the human responsibility for the Fukushima meltdowns. Tōno and Tōno monogatari, both epitomizing the Japanese homeland, again highlight the relevance of the tragic events beyond the spatially limited confines of the disaster area.
Kiruannya and U-ko draws a multifaceted picture of Fukushima Prefecture before and after the devastating events via the reading of extracts, not all of which mention the topic of disaster, from various kinds of sources – quoting well-known literary works, as well as local newspaper reports.20 The information mined for the performance mainly deals with local events and politics: agricultural reports, coverage of local sports and cultural happenings, and crime reports. The broad variety of topics is needed, not only to paint a full picture of the locale before the disaster, but also to contrast with the chronological record of significant occurrences in the history of the region’s nuclear power industry – a history that is intertwined in the local reportage. For a post-3.11 audience, the latter stand out against the majority of rather trivial local events. The play traces the prefecture’s development into one of the country’s major energy suppliers, without omitting the attempts of Japan’s most powerful utility and the operator of Fukushima Daiichi, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), to cover up problems in Fukushima’s nuclear reactors.
Ōnobu also provides information on the region’s overall development, such as the opening of new train routes or school buildings, highlighting the fact that the high-risk technology of the nuclear industry was established in the region to trigger economic growth in a rural, less developed and sparsely populated area. This also hints at the fact that locals might have willingly accepted the dangers of nuclear power in favor of jobs and socio-economic development, which became a source of ambivalence and tension after the disaster. Locals may still be reluctant to criticize the nuclear industry for causing the calamity, since their livelihoods depended on the nuclear plant. What is more, criticizing the use of nuclear power would entail a re-evaluation of their own involvement.
Kiruannya and U-ko addresses the whole complexity of problems that led to the Fukushima calamity. As the theater critic Masaki has done, the play can be interpreted as showing the author’s embitterment, perhaps even an accusation, towards the inhabitants of Tokyo for heaping the risks in meeting the capital’s energy needs onto the people of Fukushima Prefecture. Certainly, Ōnobu criticizes what has been called gisei no shisutemu (“sacrificial system”)21: companies and policyholders assigning the tremendous risks of nuclear energy to peripheral regions such as northern Japan, whose safety and future are jeopardized for the benefit of the metropolitan center. However, I would suggest a more complex reading of the narrative. Besides taking a critical stance towards parties responsible for the development of the nuclear energy industry in Tokyo and Fukushima Prefecture, the play draws a positive, even affectionate image of Onobu’s home province, with its abundant natural and attractive cultural heritage. For example, the performance touches on the establishment of Oze National Park in 2007, which stretches across Fukushima, Gunma, Niigata and Tochigi Prefectures, and the Sōma Nōmaoi, a designated cultural treasure of Japan, which involves an annual horse race organized by three shrines in Fukushima Prefecture, where the participating riders wear historical costumes. Ōnobu joins other local artists and cultural initiatives such as Wagō Ryōichi and Project Fukushima!22 in an effort to counterbalance post-disaster images of Northern Japan that reduced the afflicted areas to mere disaster zones. Both aim at countering the stigmatization, which reinforces the already existing marginalization of the aging, rural prefecture of Fukushima. However, Ōnobu goes one step further. Via commentary on local politics, festivals and landscape, Ōnobu provides insight into the complex emotional state of the local people: traumatized by loss and bereavement, affected residents are torn between charges against those responsible in the capital, self-accusations, and the love of and pride in their homeland.
While the Japanese government and the nuclear power industry have targeted such remote, less developed areas that depend on the jobs and subsidies brought by hosting nuclear facilities, local people assented and accepted the dangers of nuclear energy in exchange for jobs and modest prosperity.23 Although national stakeholders pushed nuclear power forward by emphasizing its safety (anzen shinwa), it must be assumed that there was a certain level of willing ignorance on the part of the local community. Having said that, we also have to consider that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a strong anti-nuclear power movement to mobilize citizens did not exist in rural Japan or, indeed, almost anywhere in the world. Now, as a consequence of the nuclear disaster, the homes and livelihoods of numerous people, as well as many of the region’s natural and cultural assets, which were important components of local identity, are lost and might never be regained. The readings of newspaper excerpts intertwined in the play provide local reportage highlighting all these aspects. Kiruannya can be read as the very embodiment of the calamity: kiru, written in the katakana syllabary writing system, hints at two possible Chinese characters, meaning ‘cut’ or ‘kill’, thereby evoking associations comparable for a Western audience to the Grim Reaper wandering about town to collect the dead.24 Spreading the clippings all over town, he also symbolizes the ceaseless process of coming to terms with the complex emotional state of affected residents, as well as the flashbacks related to the experience of trauma.
Ōnobu highlights the beauty and value of what has been lost, when using the following two poems, which are emotionally charged representations of Fukushima Prefecture, in his play. Fukushima-ken Futaba-gun Kawauchi-mura (Kawauchi Village in Futaba District, Fukushima Prefecture),25 by the Fukushima-born poet Kusano Shimpei (1903–1988),26 presents an idyllic picture of life in the countryside with rich wildlife and a vibrant community, all the while emphasizing the uniqueness of the village. By making the poet’s reed hut and second home a place of exile and retreat from the noisy life of the city, Kawauchi-mura is imagined as an alternative to living in the city. When the poet imagines himself to be back there one day after temporarily leaving for Tokyo, theater audiences are painfully reminded that returning home will no longer be possible for many people displaced by the Fukushima calamity.
The second poem quoted in Ōnobu’s play, Juka no Futari (Two People Under A Tree), by the well-known poet, sculptor, and painter Takamura Kōtarō (1883–1956),27 strikes a similar chord to Kusano Shimpei’s text. Juka no Futari is a hymn to Fukushima’s natural beauty. The beauty of Mount Atatara and the glistening of the River Abukuma are invoked several times through the poem, acting as a refrain and setting the scene. Takamura links his praise of the region with the treasured memories of his late wife Chieko (1886–1938), a Fukushima-born painter and poet herself, who died from tuberculosis after a long-term mental illness. In the context of Kiruannya and U-ko, the poem, written on March 11, 1923, gains a new meaning. Besides evoking the calamity by the very date of its composition, the inscription of the poem into the performance triggers associations of the survivors’ emotional distress from outliving family members and/or friends lost in the disaster. At the same time, the poem mourns the fact that places deeply linked to the private memories of people living in the afflicted areas are now polluted by radiation for the foreseeable future.28
Kiruannya and U-ko was not performed in Fukushima City until November 2012, nearly a year and a half after its premiere in Tokyo. At a symposium called the Earthquake Disaster and Theatre: Asking for a New Paradigm for Theatre, held on October 8, 2012 in the Za Kōenji theater in Tokyo,29 Ōnobu talked of his hesitation about staging the play in his home prefecture, and expressed his concerns about finding a different approach to the disaster – particularly, one that takes into account the emotional distress of affected people, without glossing over contentious issues.30 He voiced his concerns that the play might be criticised for contributing to fūhyō higai,31 harmful, unfounded rumors, allegedly spread about affected areas in the aftermath of the disaster. Fūhyō higai is a highly controversial issue persistent in public discourse on the Fukushima calamity. On the one hand, rumors arise when reliable information is unavailable in the event of disaster, and reports on wide areas made virtually uninhabitable by radiation constitute both a substantially pragmatic and emotional burden for locals. However, allegations of fūhyō higai became a powerful tool in the hands of pro-nuclear pressure groups, including the Abe government, to silence critical voices warning of the risks of nuclear power and especially the risks to those returning to the contaminated land.
In this kind of environment, the danger of self-censorship in the arts is very real. However, experiences in the course of rehearsals made Ōnobu change his mind and present the play in Fukushima City. What initially proved to be emotionally challenging for the troupe, since many people from their immediate environment had died or were forced to live in contaminated places, evolved into a way to overcome emotional distress. The troupe’s experience of emotional healing (iyashi) lent impetus to the idea of performances with the aim of inducing a similar process in local audiences.32 Shows in Fukushima in 2012 were well received with emotional responses.33 Ōnobu was confronted with hardly any of the reproaches of fūhyō higai (harmful rumors) that were voiced so readily in the aftermath of the disaster. A major reason might have been that his play does not overlook the locals’ strong bond to their native land.
‘Fukushima’: progress and disaster
In winter 2013, about two and a half years after its Tokyo debut, Kiruannya and U-ko was restaged in Tokyo and Shizuoka in a slightly revised version under the direction of Akai Yasuhiro (b. 1972).34 The Fukushima City native was the director and head of the Tokyo-based theater Subterranean, where the original and revised versions of the play premiered. In the new version, the original text remains largely unchanged. The only difference was the inclusion of a “woman from 1970,” who makes her appearance in an exaggeratedly happy march to the tune of Minami Haruo’s Sekai no kuni kara konnichiwa (Hello From the Nations of the World), the official theme song of the Osaka Expo of the same year. The song sets the naïvely positive atmosphere of the short scene. The design of the woman’s dress (she wore a white T-shirt with red vertical patterns down both sides of the front and a golden party hat) was reminiscent of Okamoto Tarō’s (1911–1996) Taiyō no Tō (Tower of the Sun), one of the most famous works by the avant-garde painter and sculptor, and the symbol of Expo 70. Part of the Osaka Expo’s central festival plaza, the Tower of the Sun was a representation of the past (lower part), present (middle part), and future (the face) of humankind.35 Consequently, her dress identifies the “woman from 1970” as a personification of the year of the first World’s Fair held in an Asian country and hints at her being a link between past, present, and future in the play. I will return to the latter aspect shortly. Besides Okamoto, numerous other writers, artists and architects participated in shaping the image of the Expo, which was a “locus of both collaborative and contending ideas about the future.”36 “Progress and Harmony for Mankind” (Jinrui no shinpo to chōwa), the theme of the exposition, included praise of nuclear power as a new technology that was supposed to bring about a bright future for the whole world.37
Ōnobu Pelican Kiruannya and U-ko (Courtesy of Akai Yasuhiro)
Marching in time to Minami Haruo’s song and providing a cheerful picture of the Expo’s opening ceremony, the woman in search of the future arrives in the town where U-ko and Kiruannya live. However, she does not interact with the characters searching for U-ko, preferring to observe the events that unfold on stage. The “woman from 1970” reads excerpts from the official record of the two Osaka Expo time capsules buried adjacent to Osaka castle, containing 2,098 objects “representing the achievements of our civilization and the everyday experience of the Japanese people,”38 which are to be excavated in 5,000 years. What was once a proud symbol of the cultural and technological advancement of humankind has turned into an icon of the long-term nuclear legacy after 3.11. The woman in the Osaka Expo’s dress quotes at length from a letter by a schoolboy addressed to people 5,000 years in the future. To contemporary ears post-2011, the letter reads like a science fiction fantasy; an idealistic enthusiasm for future potentialities carried to the extreme.
Short episodes featuring the “woman from 1970” are repeatedly interspersed in the play. She seems to pop up like an unpleasant memory of the careless acceptance of the risks of nuclear power that cannot be suppressed. Akai emphasized her role as a startling intruder by means of lighting. She sits on a little platform in the corner of the stage, occupying the spotlight when quoting from the Expo’s official records. Her naïve cheerfulness is in sharp contrast to the growing despair of the characters in their quest to find U-ko, which underlines the absurdity of her lines. Thus, the “woman from 1970” embodies the naïve faith in science and technology, and is a spirit haunting the future that had been imagined so brightly by her generation.39 Furthermore, by handing over the three literary texts examined above for her fellow actors to quote, she visibly acts as a mediator between different periods of time and hints at how Kiruannya and U-ko integrates the Fukushima disaster into a wider historical frame.
However, the play casts doubt on whether humankind will be able to learn the lessons of the past. In 1970, man-made disasters such as the Minamata disease were common knowledge. Yet attitudes towards science and technology – specifically as having the answers to all of life’s challenges – have changed little over the last four decades. Moreover, the problems and dangers of nuclear power are not resolved yet. It is only a matter of time until the next nuclear disaster occurs in some part of the world. Akai intended to highlight this universal aspect of Kiruannya and U-ko. Unlike the original, the revised play was performed by a cast of Tokyo actors and a Korean actress, whose role was to provide Korean language; she read the history of four decades of Fukushima Prefecture mentioned above, and Japanese subtitles were provided. By employing the Korean actress, Akai aimed at moving further away from the local focus of the play, and universalizing its subject.40 The problems and risks connected to the use of nuclear power do not end with the Fukushima calamity. Akai wanted to hint at the fact that a similar calamity is not unlikely to happen in one of Japan’s neighboring countries using nuclear energy. Thus, through the combined efforts of the playwright and the new director, the global dimensions of the play, together with the criticism of humankind’s blind faith in technology and science, become more explicit.
On the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima calamity, the new version of the play was performed in translation in Munich by the German-Japanese theater collective EnGawa, under the directorship of Satō Otone.41 Although an original production in its own right, Kiruannya to U-ko-san – Bruder Sense und Frau U (Kiruannya and U-ko – Brother Scythe and Mrs. U)42 owes many staging details to the Japanese version. Performed in German with only a very few lines recited in Japanese, it likewise highlighted the global dimension of the issues touched upon in the play. The troupe’s cross-cultural performance is also reflected in the title of the play, which keeps the Japanese original with the German translation. As the Munich performance demonstrates, Kiruannya and U-ko has the potential to be shown internationally.
Weaving a dense fabric of fictional material, newspaper clippings and reality, Kiruannya and U-ko provides a rich tapestry of the multiple and often contradictory features of Fukushima Prefecture in the aftermath of the triple disaster. Ōnobu’s play offers keen insights into the simultaneous ambivalence and highly emotional landscape of those residents of Northern Japan, whose homeland was turned into a disaster zone and/or radioactive wasteland after 3.11. Although the numerous cross-references to local issues or literary quotes make the play particularly rewarding for a local or a Japanese audience, it can nevertheless be appreciated by international spectators, as the Munich performance has shown.
Kiruannya and U-ko works at two overlapping symbolic levels: one level offers local audiences a temporary space to process individual trauma, and experience emotional healing. Interweaving autobiography with history, the play encourages audiences to reconstruct the terrible events, a major function of documentary theater, as Carol Martin has outlined. The other level creates an alternative reading of the calamity, and constructs a narrative resisting the dominant image of Fukushima as a nuclear wasteland and as a geographically limited disaster. Kiruannya and U-ko integrates the March 11 disaster into the larger historical context of Northern Japan as a region known for devastating tsunami disasters, as well as into the establishment of the nuclear industry in Japan, and points to the shared responsibility of national and local stakeholders. The play moves viewers beyond the temporally and spatially limited confines of the disaster to integrate audiences into an imagined collective of people traumatized by this calamity that has its origins far beyond the borders of those areas immediately affected. Opposing national discourses of a disaster limited to a particular area, Ōnobu engages in transforming individual trauma into collective memory, thereby involving the diverse perspectives of Fukushima residents.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Ōnobu Pelican and Akai Yasuhiro for providing me with DVD material, a recording of the performances, and photos. I am much obliged to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for providing me with the funding to conduct research in Japan. I also thank the reviewers for their insightful and helpful suggestions.
Ōnobu P. Kiruannya to U-ko-san. Shiata Ātsu 48, 2011, pp. 121–138. See also Performing Arts Network (The Japan Foundation). Play of the Month. Kiruannya and U-ko. Pelican Onobu [online] (March 30, 2012). Available here, accessed: July 19, 2018.
For further detail on the situation on site, see, for example, McNeill, D. and Quintana, M. Mission Impossible. What Future Fukushima? The Asia-Pacific Journal, 11 (39), 1 [online] (September 30, 2013). Available from here, accessed: October 12, 2018. McNeill and Lucy Birmingham show how local people dealt with the earthquake, tsunami, and following nuclear disaster. McNeill, D. and Birmingham, L. Meltdown: On the Front Lines of Japan’s 3.11 Disaster. The Asia-Pacific Journal, 9 (19), 2 [online] (May 9, 2011). Available here, accessed: October 12, 2018.
Fukushima Prefecture provides up-to-date information on the transition process, accessed: October 12, 2018.
Sakate Y., et al. Shinpojiumu shinsai to engeki: Atarashii engeki paradaimu o motomete (Tokushū shinsai to engeki). Shiatā Ātsu 53, 2012, pp. 5–6.
See DiNitto, R. Narrating the Cultural Trauma of 3.11: The Debris of Post-Fukushima Literature and Film. Japan Forum, 26 (3), 2014, pp. 340–360 for a revealing study of these issues in the context of literature.
Reinelt, J. The Promise of Documentary. In: A. Forsyth and C. Megson, eds. Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp. 9–11 and pp. 22–24.
Martin, C. Bodies of Evidence. TDR (The Drama Review) 50 (3) (T 191), 2006, pp. 12–13.
In some cases, the political dimension of documentaries becomes more explicit in film, as in the work of Kamanaka Hitomi. In a recent interview with Hirano Katsuya, she raises similar issues to the ones I will discuss here. However, the scope of her work goes far beyond the realm of the risks of nuclear power. Kamanaka H. and Hirano K. Fukushima, Media, Democracy: The Promise of Documentary Film. The Asia-Pacific Journal, 16 (16), 3 [online] (August 15, 2018). Available here, accessed: October 12, 2018. See also the accompanying essay by Margherita Long.
Long, M. Japan’s 3.11 Nuclear Disaster and the State of Exception: Notes on Kamanaka’s Interview and Two Recent Films. The Asia-Pacific Journal, 16 (16), 4 [online] (August 15, 2018). Available from:, accessed: October 12, 2018.
On June 25 and 26 as part of the SENTIVAL! at atelier SENTIO festival. See the trailer here, accessed: June 19, 2018.
Ōnobu founded the troupe in 1996 when he was a student at Fukushima University. In January 2015, Manrui Toriking Ichiza was renamed Shia Torie (THEA TRiE). See the troupe’s homepage, accessed: June 19, 2018.
Kiruannya and U-ko was then performed in Sendai (September 17 and 18, 2011) and Yokohama (September 24 and 25, 2011), followed by readings in Aomori (January 21, 2012), Kitakyūshū (March 10, 2012) and Fukushima City (November 17 and 18, 2012).
Nünning, A., ed. Metzler-Lexikon Literatur- und Kulturtheorie: Ansätze, Personen, Grundbegriffe. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2008, p. 728.
In her influential rereading of Freud, Caruth describes this paradoxical nature of traumatic experience as follows: “Trauma is not locatable in the simple violent or original event in an individual’s past, but rather in the way its very unassimilated nature – the way it was precisely not known in the first instance – returns to haunt the survivor later on.” Caruth, C. Trauma: Explorations in memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995, pp. 3–4.
Masaki H. Sabuterenian purodyūsu ‘Kiruannya to U-ko-san’ [online]. Wonderland, 2014. Available from here, accessed: June 19, 2018.
Alexander, J. C. and Breese, E. B. On Social Suffering and Its Cultural Construction. In: R. Eyermen, J. C. Alexander, and E. B. Breese, eds. Narrating Trauma: On the Impact of Collective Suffering. Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers, 2011, pp. xii–xiii.
Yanagita K. Tōno monogatari. Yanagita Kunioshū. Nihon kindai bungaku taikei (NKBT) 45, 1973, pp. 299–300. Tōkyō: Kadokawa shoten. References to the Tōno monogatari also appear in some literary works on the Fukushima calamity. See the forthcoming book DiNitto, R. Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan’s Triple Disaster. University of Hawaii Press, 2019.
Ivy, M. Discourses of the vanishing. Modernity, phantasm, Japan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 100.
Parry, R. L. Ghosts of the Tsunami. London Review of Books [online], 36 (3), February 6, 2014, 1–11. Available from here, accessed: June 19, 2018.
For a critical discussion of the alleged unpredictability of the Fukushima disaster, see Samuels, R. 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013, pp. 35–39.
Sources are the Fukushima Minpō Shinbun and Fukushima Min’yū Shinbun.
Takahashi, T. Gisei no shisutemu – Fukushima, Okinawa. Tokyo: Shūeisha, 2012. For an in-depth analysis of another play invested in this issue see Geilhorn, B. Local Theatre Responding to a Global Issue – 3/11 seen from Japan’s Periphery. Japan Review 31, 2017, pp. 123–139. Available from here, accessed: June 19, 2018.
Iwata-Weickgenannt, K. Precarity Beyond 3/11 or ‘Living Fukushima’: Power, Politics, and Space in Wagō Ryōichi’s Poetry of Disaster. In: K. Iwata-Weickgenannt and R. Rosenbaum, eds. Visions of Precarity in Japanese Popular Culture and Literature. London and New York: Routledge, 2015, pp. 187–211. See also the project’s homepage, accessed: June 19, 2018. 
Aldrich, D. Networks of Power. Institutions and Local Residents in Post-Tōhoku Japan. In: J. Kingston, ed. Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan. Response and Recovery after Japan’s 3/11. London and New York: Routledge, 2012, pp. 127–139.
This is why Otone Sato chose Kiruannya to U-ko-san – Bruder Sense und Frau U (Kiruannya and U-ko – Brother Scythe and Mrs. U) as the title for the German version of the play, which I will briefly touch upon later.
Kawauchi-mura is situated in the 20–30 km zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. While the town was initially subject to mandatory evacuation, it is part of the area that was eventually opened up by authorities. These details are not made explicit to the audience, but will be known to locals.
Kusano Shimpei, born in Kamiogawa (Fukushima Prefecture) is one of the major Japanese poets of the twentieth century and particularly known for his lyric poems about nature.
Takamura K. Chieko shō. Tōkyō: Shinchōsha, 1967, pp. 65–67. Takamura Kotaro was an outstanding poet of his time and, among others, crucial to the establishment of shintaishi (new style of poetry that was no longer limited to the combination of verse of five or seven syllables common in traditional poetry) in the vernacular language. Two People Under A Tree is part of his most prominent collection of poems, Chieko shō (a selection of writings on Chieko, first published in 1941), which comprises works from the very beginning of their relationship until well after Chieko’s death. For an English translation, see here, accessed: June 19, 2018.
The area referred to in this poem is situated outside the mandatory evacuation zones. However, it remains to be seen what long-term effects the radiation exposure will have on residents.
Sakate et al., pp. 4–23.
Sakate et al., p. 18.
For a close reading of Okada Toshiki’s play Genzaichi (Current Location), which addresses the problem of fūhyō higai in a fictionalized form, see Geilhorn, B. Challenging Reality with Fiction – Imagining Alternative Readings of Japanese Society in Post-Fukushima Theatre, in B. Geilhorn and K. Iwata-Weickgenannt, eds. Negotiating Disaster: ‘Fukushima’ and the Arts. London and New York: Routledge, 2017, pp. 162–176.
Sakate et al., p. 22.
Ōnobu P. E-mail correspondence with the author, November 20, 2015.
From November 29 to December 3 at Sabuterenian in Tokyo and on December 5 and 6 at Atorie Mirume in Shizuoka. For further information, see the theater’s homepage, accessed: June 19, 2018.
See here, accessed: June 19, 2018, for an image and further details.
Gardner, W. O. The 1970 Osaka Expo and/as Science Fiction. Review of Japanese Culture and Society 23, Expo ’70 and Japanese Art: Dissonant Voices, 2011, p. 28. [online] Available from here, accessed: June 19, 2018.
To be sure, organizers were absolutely aware of the numerous problems around the globe and the Expo’s exaggeratedly positive mode did not escape criticism and ridicule from contemporaries, as Gardner has shown. But critical voices were mitigated and pushed to the margins (see Gardner, p. 38).
Panasonic, 2010. Time Capsule Expo ’70. A gift to the people of the future from the people of the present day… [online]. Available from:, accessed: June 19, 2018. In the list of contents you can find a Plutonium timekeeper, Radioactive carbon C14, Plutonium Pu239, which is used for the production of nuclear weapons, and scientific reports for the future, including one on atomic science, but also records of the atomic bombings. Obviously, the people responsible did not realize the conflict between the remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the promotion of nuclear technology for energy supply.
Interestingly, Okada Toshiki’s Unable to See, which was shown at The World is Not Fair – The Great World’s Fair 2012 festival in Berlin, also employs references to the Osaka Expo in what was one of his first attempts to address the Fukushima calamity on stage. However, as a satirical piece displaying strong irony and sarcasm, it is very different in character. For more details, see Geilhorn, Challenging Reality.
Masaki, Sabuterenian purodyūsu.
The theater collective was formed on the occasion of the Fukushima calamity and has presented related performances on its anniversary since 2012.
Ōnobu P. Bruder Sense und Frau U [online]. Aus dem Japanischen von Otone Sato. Munich:, 2014. Available from here, accessed: June 19, 2018. The play was staged between March 13 and 15, 2015, and included a talk after the performance (on March 14) with the director and the following Japanese guests: Nishidō Kōjin (renowned Japanese theater critic and president of the International Association of Theatre Critics), Takahashi Shinya (theater specialist and professor of German studies at Chūō University, Tokyo) and Akai Yasuhiro. The performance was part of a cultural event lasting several days.
For further details, see Leucht, S. Neuanfang unter Kirschblüten. Vor vier Jahren havarierte im japanischen Fukushima das Kernkraftwerk. Zwei Veranstaltungen erinnern im I-Camp an die Katastrophe und weisen in die Zukunft. Süddeutsche Zeitung (Bayern – Kultur), March 11, 2015 and EnGawa. Kiruannya to U-ko-san – Bruder Sense und Frau U. EnGawa [online]. Available from here, accessed: June 19, 2018. See the trailer.
Source: The Asia-Pacific Journal

Prosecutors demand 5-year prison terms for Tepco’s ex-bosses for Fukushima nuclear disaster

Prosecutors say TEPCO leaders should have known the risks a tsunami could pose to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which sits along Japan’s eastern coast. Here, the Unit 3 reactor is seen this past summer, amid storage tanks of radiation-contaminated water.
Executives In Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Deserve 5-Year Prison Terms, Prosecutors Say
December 26, 2018
The former chairman and two vice presidents of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. should spend five years in prison over the 2011 flooding and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japanese prosecutors say, accusing the executives of failing to prevent a foreseeable catastrophe.
Prosecutors say the TEPCO executives didn’t do enough to protect the nuclear plant, despite being told in 2002 that the Fukushima facility was vulnerable to a tsunami. In March of 2011, it suffered meltdowns at three of its reactors, along with powerful hydrogen explosions.
“It was easy to safeguard the plant against tsunami, but they kept operating the plant heedlessly,” prosecutors said on Wednesday, according to The Asahi Shimbun. “That led to the deaths of many people.”
Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78; former Vice President Ichiro Takekuro, 72; and former Vice President Sakae Muto, 68, face charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. Muto and Takekuro once led the utility’s nuclear division. All three have pleaded not guilty in Tokyo District Court, saying they could not have predicted the tsunami.
The stricken plant triggered mandatory evacuations for thousands of people. Prosecutors attribute 44 deaths to the incident, including a number of hospital patients who were forced to leave their facilities.
The sentencing recommendation came as prosecutors made their closing arguments on Wednesday, more than two years after the executives were initially indicted.
The next step in the case will see a lawyer for victims and their families speak in court on Thursday. But it won’t be until March of 2019 that defense lawyers will deliver their closing arguments, according to Japan’s NHK News.
Hinting at what the defense’s argument might be, NHK cites the prosecutors saying, “the former executives later claimed that they had not been informed, and that the executives put all the blame on their subordinates.”
The case has taken a twisting journey to arrive at this point. In two instances, public prosecutors opted not to seek indictments against the three TEPCO executives. But an independent citizen’s panel disagreed, and in early 2016, prosecutors in the case — all court-appointed lawyers — secured indictments against the three former TEPCO leaders.
Both TEPCO and the Japanese government lost a class-action lawsuit in late 2017, when a court found that officials had not prepared enough for potential disaster at the Fukushima power plant. In that case, the Fukushima district court ordered payments totaling nearly $4.5 million to about 3,800 plaintiffs.
All told, around 19,000 people are estimated to have died in eastern Japan’s triple disaster that included a powerful earthquake off the coast of Tohoku, a devastating tsunami, and the worst nuclear meltdown since the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986.
In September, Japan’s government announced the first death due to radiation that was released at the Fukushima plant.
The region is still sharply feeling the results of the calamity. As of late November, more than 30,000 people who fled the area had still not returned, Kyodo News reports.
Jail term demanded for ex-bosses over Fukushima nuclear crisis
The charges are the only ones to have stemmed from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986
December 26, 2018
DANGEROUS. A staff member of the Tokyo Electric Power Company measures radiation levels between reactor unit 2 and unit 3 (Rear) at the tsunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture.
TOKYO, Japan – A 5-year jail term was sought for 3 former executives at the company operating Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, media reported Wednesday, December 26, the only people to face criminal charges over the 2011 meltdowns.
Former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro are charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury, and have pleaded not guilty.
They are the only charges to have stemmed from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Attorneys, who are exceptionally acting as prosecutors in the trial, said the 3 executives were aware of data indicating the nuclear plant risked being hit by a tsunami with waves exceeding 15 meters (52 feet) – enough to trigger power loss and cause severe accidents.
“They should have halted operations at the nuclear plant” until the company finished anti-tsunami measures, including construction of a breakwater, the prosecutors told Tokyo District Court, according to Jiji Press.
Katsumata, 78, has said during the trial he could not have predicted the towering waves that pummelled Japan’s northeast coast and swamped reactors in March 2011.
The disaster forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes near the plant. Many are still living in other parts of Japan, unable or unwilling to go back home as fears over radiation persist.
The charges against the ex-bosses are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalized patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.
Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.
But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 that the trio should be put on special trial in which designated attorneys accuse defendants and demand a penalty.
Waves as high as 14 meters swamped the reactors’ cooling systems in March 2011 after a 9.0 magnitude tremor.
Although the quake-tsunami disaster left some 18,500 people dead or missing, the Fukushima accident itself is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.
A parliamentary report a year after the disaster said Fukushima was a man-made crisis caused by Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience.”

5-year prison terms sought for former TEPCO executives

Five-year jail terms are being sought for former Tepco executives Tsunehisa Katsumata (left), Ichiro Takekuro (middle) and Sakae Muto for their alleged failure to prevent the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns in 2011.
5-year prison terms sought for former TEPCO executives
December 26, 2018
Prosecutors on Dec. 26 demanded five-year prison terms for three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the disaster caused by a tsunami slamming into the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“It was easy to safeguard the plant against tsunami, but they kept operating the plant heedlessly,” the prosecution said at the trial at the Tokyo District Court. “That led to the deaths of many people.”
Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, former chairman of TEPCO, Sakae Muto, 68, former vice president, and Ichiro Takekuro, 72, former vice president, are standing trial on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury in connection to the triple meltdown at the plant in 2011.
According to the prosecution, the failure of the three to take countermeasures against tsunami led to the deaths of 44 people and the injuries of many others.
Many of them were hospital patients who were forced to evacuate when the nuclear crisis unfolded.
The defendants have all pleaded innocent. They said they had no way of predicting a tsunami of the height that inundated the Fukushima plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.
Prosecutors had dropped the case against the three, but they were mandatorily indicted by an inquest of prosecution committee comprising ordinary citizens.
Lawyers are acting as prosecutors in the trial.
Shozaburo Ishida of the prosecution side said if a nuclear accident occurs, it results in an irreparable situation in which radioactive materials are spread.
He said the three defendants, who were in the utility’s top management at the time of the Fukushima disaster, should be held responsible because they failed to pay close attention to the safety of the plant.
The prosecution accused the three of “postponing” anti-tsunami measures despite learning that an in-house analysis showed that a tsunami of up to 15.7 meters in height could hit the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The plant sits on land 10 meters above sea level.
According to the prosecution, the three gave the nod to anti-tsunami measures in 2008 based on a government assessment report about the probability of earthquakes striking Japan.
However, they stalled in taking the necessary steps, the prosecution said.
During the trial, the defendants denied the credibility of the government’s long-term assessment report.
They also said “15.7 meters” was a preliminary figure, and that asking the Japan Society of Civil Engineers to evaluate the appropriateness of TEPCO’s projection does not amount to “postponing” anti-tsunami measures.
5-year prison terms sought for 3 ex-TEPCO execs over nuclear disaster
December 26, 2018
TOKYO — Five-year prison terms were sought for three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on Dec. 26 over a nuclear disaster at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northeastern Japan in 2011.
A court-appointed lawyer who indicted the three — Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, former chairman of TEPCO; Ichiro Takekuro, 72, former vice president; and Sakae Muto, 68, another former vice president — demanded the punishments at a Tokyo District Court hearing.
Prosecutors had abandoned indicting the three former TEPCO executives. However, after a prosecution inquest panel comprising those selected from among members of the general public deemed twice that they deserve indictment, a court-appointed lawyer indicted them in accordance with the Act on Committee for Inquest of Prosecution.
The lawyer said the defendants’ failure to take measures to prevent tsunami caused the accident.
“Even though the defendants were the top-ranking executives of a nuclear plant operator, they failed to do what they should have done, continued to operate the nuclear plant and caused the deaths of many people,” the lawyer said. “If they had obtained necessary information on possible massive tsunami on their own authority and taken appropriate measures, they could have prevented the serious accident.”
Katsumata, Takekuro and Muto are charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the March 2011 nuclear accident. Specifically, they are accused of neglecting to take preventive measures while being aware that a massive tsunami could cause an accident at the plant, forcing patients at Futaba Hospital in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Okuma to take shelter for a long time and causing 44 of them to die.
The key point of contention during the trial is whether the three defendants could have predicted the accident before tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake crashed into the plant.
In 2008, TEPCO estimated that tsunami waves as high as 15.7 meters could hit the Fukushima Daiichi complex based on a long-term evaluation by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion. Nevertheless, the company stopped short of taking countermeasures against such massive tsunami at the plant.
Muto had been briefed of the estimate, but chose to put countermeasures on hold because the company asked experts to re-examine the long-term evaluation.
With regard to this, the court-appointed lawyer pointed out that they delayed countermeasures even though they could have predicted the disaster.
The three defendants argued that they took “appropriate procedures,” and that “it’s only natural that we asked experts to examine the evaluation.”
Five-year jail terms sought for ex-Tepco executives over Fukushima nuclear crisis
Dec 26, 2018
Five-year prison terms were sought Wednesday for three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. for their alleged failure to prevent the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
At the Tokyo District Court, court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors said if the three had collected information properly and prepared necessary safety measures it would have been possible to predict the massive tsunami and prevent the disaster.
Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, chairman of the company at the time of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, and Ichiro Takekuro, 72, and Sakae Muto, 68, both former vice presidents, have pleaded not guilty, arguing the tsunami was unforeseeable and the disaster would have occurred even if they had implemented preventive measures.
A final hearing for the defense will be held next March.
The court-appointed lawyers said it was clear from earlier testimony that the utility had been informed by one of its subsidiaries in 2008 that a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters could hit the plant, but it did not immediately take preventive steps.
“(Muto) prioritized avoiding suspension of the power plant and put off the problem,” one of the lawyers said.
The three were charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury by the court-appointed lawyers in 2016 after an independent panel of citizens mandated they be indicted.
The independent panel’s decision came after Tokyo prosecutors twice decided against charging the three.
The former executives have been indicted for the deaths of 44 people, including patients forced to evacuate from a hospital, as well as injuries suffered by 13 people, including Self-Defense Force members, resulting from hydrogen explosions at the plant.
A total of 34 hearings have been held since last June, during which 21 witnesses, ranging from current and former Tepco officials to earthquake and tsunami experts, were questioned.
On March 11, 2011, the six-reactor plant located on the Pacific coast was flooded by tsunami waves triggered by a massive quake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply. The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered fuel meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the No. 1, 3 and 4 units.
As a result of the nuclear crisis, the worst since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, around 160,000 people were evacuated at one stage. More than 30,000 of them were still displaced as of late November.

2020 Olympics being used to put a nice gloss on nuclear industry, and Fukushima nuclear catastrophe

December 2, 2018
Bach: Olympics will show Fukushima’s recovery
The president of the International Olympic Committee says the Tokyo Games will be a chance to show the world how far people affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami have recovered.
Thomas Bach spoke to reporters in Tokyo after being briefed about preparations for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
He said he cannot remember seeing a host city as prepared as Tokyo in all respects.
He also referred to his first trip to Fukushima City, where the baseball and softball events will be held. He met with local high school students during the trip.
He said that he was very impressed that sport is helping young people recovery psychologically from the disaster.
Bach said some people have criticized the decision to hold the events in Fukushima, saying it will hamper the recovery work. But he said local people told him they are looking forward to the events.
Bach indicated that he wants to visit Hiroshima when the Olympic flame arrives in the atomic-bombed city.

Ken Watanabe to Star in Film About Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

I ‘d like to know who are this movie producers, who are financing it…. Will it be straightforward or will it be just another spinned piece???

November 19, 2018
‘Fukushima 50’ will tell the story of the workers who stayed at the power plant after a massive tsunami had knocked out its cooling systems.
Ken Watanabe will star as the head of the crisis-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima 50, from Japan’s Kadokawa Corporation and directed by Setsuro Wakamatsu.
Watanabe will play Masao Yoshida, the superintendent of the plant who was on duty when it was swamped by a tsunami that followed a massive earthquake in Japan’s northeast on March 11, 2011, knocking out the cooling systems. Yoshida ignored orders by his bosses at Tokyo Electric Power Co. and pumped seawater into the overheating reactors, likely preventing a worse disaster.
The following year, Yoshida was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and died in July 2013 at age 58.
The crewmembers at the plant who stayed on to try and prevent the meltdown of three reactors at the nuclear power station were lauded in the international media as the “Fukushima 50.”
Appearing alongside Watanabe will be veteran actor Koichi Sato, who in his 106th career role will play the shift supervisor at the time of the disaster. The film is based on the book On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi by Ryusho Kadota.
“I had promised to Koichi that I would play any role in his next film,” said Watanabe. “However, this was a challenging film to be a part of when the people of Fukushima are still suffering such loss and devastation. My hope is that, along with the wonderful cast and Wakamatsu directing, we will make a film that shows the intensity and bravery of these people that prevented a tragedy of epic proportions.”
Said Wakamatsu: “The Fukushima accident shook not only the people of Japan but also around the world. This film is about the power plant workers on the front line who faced an unprecedented crisis and risked their lives to save their families, their hometown and avert a disaster of global magnitude.”
Shooting on the film is set to begin at the end of November, with a release scheduled for 2020.

Excerpts from Asahi Journalist AOKI Miki’s “Streets Erased from the Map: Post-3.11, the Prohibited Truth”



November 18, 2018
AOKI Miki (青木美希) is a journalist at the Asahi newspaper, one of Japan’s major news companies. Kodansha published her book, Streets Erased from the Map: Post-3.11, the Prohibited Truth(『地図から消される街ー3.11後の「言ってはいけない真実」』), in March 2018. It is the culmination of 7 years of continuous reporting on the 2011 TEPCO nuclear disaster. I have roughly translated and/or summarized some of the stories she documented in this book. (Where she refers to herself in the text, I have translated it as “I”; clarifying annotations/notes are mine).
CHAPTER 1: Local TEPCO Employees Who Can’t Raise Their Voices
Pages 28-39 (summarized):
Before the nuclear disaster, becoming a TEPCO employee was something many people aspired to. People used to say, “For a man to work at TEPCO means lifelong security; women should try to marry a TEPCO employee.” But after the disaster, they were resented. In the evacuation shelters, parents watched as their sons went back to work at Ichi-efu (1F = Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant). Before they left, they would write letters conveying their final farewells. I talked to a father who could not tell anyone at the shelter that his child worked at TEPCO.
I spoke to a young TEPCO worker. He was a local hire with a high school degree. He often went to TEPCO’s public relations museum as a kid, hoping he could one day become part of the future it displayed. When the earthquake happened, he wasn’t worried. The Meteorological Agency estimated that the tsunami height would be 3 meters, so he figured it would be about 1 meter, if it came at all. But as he was working in the reactor building, the power went out. Sea water started gushing in in the darkness. He ran up to the central control room, filled with monitors that would normally display live footage from various sectors of the power plant. But since there was no electricity, there was no information. He couldn’t get any of the pumps to move, since there was nothing to power them. So there was nothing to do but wait. That is where he was when the first hydrogen explosion happened. There were no windows in the control room, so he only heard it—an awful noise. The phones were still working, and he learned from a coworker that reactor 1 had exploded, and was thick with smoke.
About 2-3 hours after the explosion, an older employee said at least all the guys in their 20s and 30s should go to the quake-proof building, which is built with thick steel-enforced concrete [i.e., younger workers should evacuate there because the radiation levels are lower]. By then, more people had come in to work, and there were quite a few present who were in their 40s and 50s. So it was decided that all the younger men would evacuate—about 20 to 30 people total. They put on full face masks, light protective gear, and gloves to protect themselves from radioactive contamination, then ran together to the building, 350 meters away. The area was covered in debris, so they couldn’t use any of the cars onsite. They ended up running about 1 km to avoid getting too close to reactors 1 and 2.
Once they got there, he heard that two coworkers who had been sent to reactor 4 were missing. The building they had evacuated to still had power, so they could use the computers. But they still couldn’t do anything. All they could do was wait. They were still there during the explosion at reactor 3 on March 14th. Then the fuel rods in reactor 2 were damaged. The young TEPCO workers evacuated to a gym at the Daini nuclear power plant. They stayed there until the evening of March 16th, and then were told to go home.
After a week, the young worker was told to come back. His father didn’t say anything, but his mother told him not to go. But he told himself, “Who is there but us? This is happening in the town I grew up in. I need to keep the damage to a minimum.”
He did work like helping other workers out of their protective gear and handling the power switches for various machines at the entrance of a reactor building.
When he had been waiting in the quake-proof building, he had learned that two of his coworkers were missing. Someone started a rumor online that they were just enjoying themselves in Koriyama, drinking and joking about having pretended to be victims of the tsunami. Their bodies were found on March 30th, in one of the lower levels. The cause of death was shock from external bleeding from various injuries. Like him, they had been working in reactor 4 as ordered by their superior when the tsunami hit.
Things started to calm down in fall 2011, and he started to worry about the impact of the working conditions from that earlier period. His radiation exposure levels had not been recorded. He had been working without an APD (active personal dosimeter).
Note: It is industry standard for all workers to carry a personal dosimeter with them to record their external radiation exposure levels. According to a study summarized by the Radiation Work Network (Hibaku Rodo Network), the amount recorded can vary significantly even depending on where the dosimeter is kept on the body. It should also be noted that there are frequent reports of various workarounds to manipulate radiation exposure measurements. Though journalistic reports of the Japanese nuclear industry have suggested that conditions improved when records started being digitally displayed instead of being transcribed by hand, personal dosimeter measurements remain one of the things that are made flexible in a work-related pinch. Some workers who go to areas with high radiation levels are not issued APDs; sometimes a veteran worker might take both his and a subordinate’s APD with him to make that worker’s exposure levels seem lower or higher; etc. (In some cases, workers want their exposure levels to seem lower than they actually are to stay under the exposure limit so they can keep working).
At first, this was because nearly all the APDs were lost in the tsunami. Of the 5000 or so APDs that were onsite, only the 320 or so stored in the earthquake-proof building remained. At first, TEPCO said there would be enough to go around if only one representative from each work team used an APD. But even after huge amount of APDs were sent to 1F from other nuclear power plants, TEPCO kept up with this policy. So about 3000 people continued working without APDs.
Radiation levels varied significantly by location (0.03-0.04 millisieverts/hr in the central control room, versus 1 millisievert/hr+ close to the exhaust stacks where the hydrogen explosions had occurred). But the radiation levels for all members of a team were recorded as the same as that of the team leader.
Note: This account actually understates the extreme degree to which radiation levels can vary onsite. There are small hotspots with extremely high radiation levels, whose locations might change with conditions in the plant. One worker remembered being told to stay away from a particular corner. The radiation levels there were 600-some millisieverts/hour. He was shocked, and said, “600 millisieverts, not microsieverts?” To which he received the dry reply, “That’s right, millisieverts. In microsieverts, it would be 600,000 per hour.” The area was not cordoned or marked off in any way. This was a few years after the meltdown. (For reference, average radiation levels in Fukushima prior to the meltdown were 0.05~0.07 microsieverts/hr; the international standard for the general population’s annual exposure limit is 1 millisievert/year).
On March 31st, TEPCO was issued a warning by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and subsequently recommenced issuing one APD per person. After that, workers were told that the company would correct its records of their radiation exposure levels. They were asked for details about where they had worked during the first week. But they probably couldn’t do much to correct the numbers, since no one had measurements of the radiation levels in different areas of the site at that time.
The first time they were able to measure their internal radiation levels was in early summer. A bus drove a simplified whole body counter (WBC) to Iwaki city, and measurements were taken. But the data was not shared with the workers. They were told it could not be share with them because it was “personal information.”
After repeatedly asking for it, the young worker finally got his data. He found his internal exposure level had been recorded at 50 millisieverts (mSv). Combined with his external exposure of 30 mSv, he had been exposed to a total of 80 mSv. When he thought about the standards for occupational illness recognition, he became afraid. It’s 5 mSv for leukemia; 25 mSv for a malignant lymph tumor; 50 mSv for multiple myeloma; 100 mSv for stomach cancer or esophageal cancer… He wanted to get married down the road and have kids… What if he got cancer 20 years later?
Note: Radioactive particles cycle through the body at different speeds according to their chemical properties. For example, Cesium-137 and Cesium-134 generally remain in the body for about one month. Additionally, much of the radiation emitted during the early stages of a nuclear meltdown comes from radioactive isotopes with short half-lives. A WBC is unable to measure the amount of radiation that was emitted by particles that already cycled out of someone’s body, nor can it measure the amount of radiation that had been emitted by particles that have already ceased to emit radiation. Consequently, even the figure of 50 mSv is an underestimation of his total internal dose from the nuclear meltdown.
<<Rough translations start here>>
He asked to be transferred, but his superior refused, telling him, “You haven’t gotten to 100 mSv yet. I’ll let out people with high exposure levels first.”
He thought about quitting. His mother encouraged him as well. But, he thought to himself, the reality is that about half of the hires at TEPCO are local people. If we don’t go, who will? Not to mention, all of my neighbors, relatives, and classmates know that I work at TEPCO. If I quit, maybe they will reproach me, asking “Why did you quit?”
It wasn’t just this young worker who thought that way. Many people kept their mouths shut, tortured with worry. Running away was scary; continuing to work was scary.
Every time he left for work, he felt like there was no place for him to run. Some people became depressed a few weeks after the disaster. At first, people were working thinking, “What can you do,” but now that it was fall, he felt like he was becoming depressed…
The young TEPCO worker wondered to himself, as one member of a worksite that tasked itself with providing “the safe energy of the future,” why had things turned out like this for him?
The company created something this dangerous in their pursuit of profit. They ignored the opinions of experts. Why didn’t they implement measures so that even if a tsunami came, they could continue to cool the reactors using the emergency power generators?
There had been times when the president of TEPCO and senior directors came to the site.
“Thank you.”—That’s what they would say. Even though he heard them, he could not feel that he was being thanked for his labor. They were not saying, “I’m sorry that we caused you this hardship,” or “Hang in there.” They said it as though it was entirely someone else’s affair, and he felt the insurmountable distance between conditions on the ground and company headquarters in Tokyo.
Residents of Fukushima often said, “Move your headquarters to Naraha town (where the nuclear power plant is), don’t leave it in the top-class district of Shimbashi [in Tokyo].” Even as a TEPCO local hire, he could understand their feelings.
He feels that people view the circumstances of those like him who are at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant like, “This is where we are; what else is there to do?” But he wants others to know that it’s not that everyone is resting on their laurels. At the very least, he did all he could in the midst of that terror.
His dad said, “It’s the people on the ground that lose.” That’s exactly how it is.
The young TEPCO worker’s request to be transferred was granted after more than a year had passed. But, he was told it was for a “limited time,” and after a few years he was issued another appointment, and returned to Fukushima.
Pages 40-43:
The Reality That 26% of Men in Their 50s Are Without Work
People chose many paths in the life they lived with TEPCO. There were people who stayed at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and there were people who left, seeking a different path. But there are also people who can’t go forward, who can’t help being fixed to one spot. Men in their 50s, who have trouble finding new employment.
A man in in his 50s who had done electricity-related work at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was speaking at an evacuation center in Iwaki city, his face red: “I’m never going back to 1F (Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant).” There was an open one-cup sake can next to him. A man I spoke to in Saitama was also saying, “I didn’t know it was so dangerous.” He was also about 50 years old. But, if they left their jobs, there was no way they were going to find work.
Though not limited to TEPCO-related workers, Fukushima University conducted a survey of the residents of the municipalities of Futaba County, which surround the nuclear power plant, in February to March 2017. There were 10,081 respondents. 31%, the largest percentage, responded that they had “little hope” for their future work or lives. 19% responded that they had “absolutely no hope.” 26% of those in their 50s reported being without work.
Note: She says “TEPCO-related” because the nuclear industry is composed of multiple layers of subcontractors. Power companies contract work out to monolith “zenekon,” or general contractors, like Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Toshiba, and so on. These companies then parcel out jobs to a vast array of subcontractors, who then further distribute the work through their own networks. There have been reports of at most 7 or even 12 layers of subcontractors, though a local expert noted that it would probably be impossible for the lowest-level subcontracting company to break even if the reports of 7+ layers were true.
Many people who worked at the nuclear power plant lived in Naraha town, on the southern side of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A man who was 48 years old at the time of the disaster, who ran a subcontracting company in Naraha town and worked as a site foreman, went to work in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant right after the accident in March 2011.
The site was wrecked. It completely overturned his sense that nuclear power plants are safe.
He was called to Fukushima Daiichi again in April of that year, but after that he thought, “I don’t want to see that wrecked nuclear power plant anymore,” and went to Saitama prefecture, where his wife and children had evacuated.
In September 2015, Naraha town’s evacuation orders were lifted. Shortly thereafter, he returned to his hometown. He renovated his house, and, wanting his family to return, he left a cumulative dosimeter in the house to measure its radiation levels. After one year, it read 0.1 mSv. He explained to his wife, “The radiation levels aren’t that high. I know because I’ve worked at the nuclear power plant.”
“I don’t want to be close to the nuclear power plant.”
That was his wife’s reply.
While displaced, the man developed diabetes, and in May 2016, he was diagnosed with depression. Since, he has been seeing a psychotherapist.
When I heard his story in April 2017, he was 54 years old. With white hair and a tired face, he looked far older than his fifty years.
His eldest son and eldest daughter are both in their 20s and working. His wife and children already bought a house in Saitama. Before, he would drive two hours and forty minutes one way to be with his family in Saitama. But before he realized it, his visits became rare, and he said he could not remember the last time he went.
Their life over there must be better now…
He wanted to be with his family. He is lonely and sad. He started to drink. Whenever he has time, he drinks. When he drinks, he feels a little better. When he gets sober, he starts to feel sad again. So he drinks again. If he drinks, he gets sleepy. It’s more of a “win” to fall asleep drinking.
But even so, he has fitful sleep, and at the very least he wakes up twice during the night. It’s a cruel cycle.
About 2 months after the national government lifted Naraha town’s evacuation orders, the returnee rate was at the 4% mark. Even later, it did not rise much, and the town stopped publishing statistics with the 11.1% it recorded in March 2017. Instead, it now publishes “town resident percentages,” which include new residents such as new nuclear power plant workers and recovery construction workers.
In the last available statistics on returnees, published in March 2017, 65% were in their 60s or older, and 5% were minors.
In the former site foreman’s neighborhood, only elderly people in their 60s to 80s have returned. He is the youngest in his block. He said to me, “I don’t know what is going to happen at the nuclear power plant so I think I’m going to quit. I want to work a normal job and die normally. It’s not like I can find new work now – what should I do? Right now, we get 160,000 yen per month as compensation, but TEPCO is saying it will stop paying. Are they telling us to die?”
His son was a nuclear worker, too. Their pride in their work, their life with their families, and their health was broken… They don’t have the energy to get back on their feet anymore.