What Fukushima Means to Me

14 Oct
Mount Bandai Photo by Breakover

Mount Bandai in Fukushima (会津磐梯山)
Photo by Breakover

What does Fukushima mean to us, Japanese?  The answer depends on who you ask:  For many it is a constant reminder of the nuclear power plant accident, the reason to protest against the danger of nuclear power, a place where their donations and prayers are sent.  For some it is a faraway place where they rarely heard of until the recent tragedy, an obscure northeastern prefecture known for peaches, kokeshi dolls, and onsen.  For me it is my ancestral home where my family lives.

My grandfather was a farmer who grew fruits and vegetables in his small farm near Fukushima city.  Until he died recently at the age of 96 he sent us fresh produce from his farm throughout the year.  My grandmother owned a small market, so she, too, regularly sent us boxes containing various local fruits and vegetables – peaches, cherries, grapes, cucumbers, pumpkins, spinach, etc.  Produce from Fukushima meant fresh, tasty, and nutritious.  Today they raise concerns about radiation.

During the summer break or New Year, I visited my family.  Taking shinkansen (bullet trains) from Tokyo it took only an hour and a half to Fukushima, yet they were worlds apart.  Walking around the neighborhood near my grandparents’ homes, I always saw the same people, some of who were related to me in ways that I could never recall.  People walked slowly and took time to smile and bow.  The mountains surrounding the prefecture stood firmly on the ground.  I had an illusion that Fukushima was a place where I could always go back and expect more of the same. But everything changes.  So did Fukushima.

Tsuruga Castle in Fukushima (会津若松鶴ヶ城) Photo by Umako

Tsuruga Castle in Fukushima (会津若松鶴ヶ城)
Photo by Umako

The change came suddenly in the most unexpected way.  We had always been told that the nuclear power plant was safe.  Even after the tsunami hit the plant in the early afternoon of March 11, 2011, the government and the media gave an impression that everything was under control, and that the amount of radiation emitted into the air was an acceptable level.  But now we know that the damage was far worse than anyone had expected and the consequence of the accident remains unknown.

People have asked why my family hasn’t moved out of Fukushima.  The answer isn’t as complicated as you may think:  It is difficult to relocate, leaving everything – your job, your elderly parents, your farm, your livestock, your friends, or your house with a mortgage. Even if they want to move, they can’t afford to do so.

Some people are deeply connected to their land. Home is not merely a location of their residence but the center of their existence.  People of Fukushima are like that, which adds to their suffering.

Fukushima city

Fukushima city (福島市)
Photo by Decosu

The word, fukkou (recovery) has been used frequently since the disaster. It is what everyone wants – normalcy, stability, and comfort.  But I wonder how fukkou could happen when the contaminated water is still released into the ocean two and a half years later.  The situation is not under control.

On the way from Tokyo to Aomori, where I now live, shinkansen passes by Fukushima.  It does not stop there.  But I can’t help noticing the familiar view of Fukushima city from the window and think of my family and millions of other people who are living in constant fear of radiation.   Fukushima as I know it is forever changed.

20 Responses to “What Fukushima Means to Me”

  1. Mary O'Brien October 14, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Yumiko, A very well written article, thoughtful, provocative. The problem remains, perhaps for many years. Your piece brings out how the event has effected personal lives, your own and your families. We can multiply that by many more. Thanks for sharing what this means for you and those remaining in Fukishima.

    • Yumi October 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

      Hi Mary, thank you for your comment. Yes, so many people have been affected by the disaster in the region, and it continues to be a very difficult situation. Many of us here in Japan are concerned about nuclear power plants that exist throughout the country.

  2. TonyJ2 October 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I agree with Mary’s comments. You have given me a personal insight into the ongoing impacts that the nuclear disaster has.

    • Yumi October 15, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Thank you, Tony. I like your Ultraman picture. He was my childhood hero. 🙂

      • TonyJ2 October 15, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

        Yumi, you must write a story about Ultraman.

        I stayed just near the Bandai Group office in Kuramae. There are many character statues on the footpath.

        • Yumi October 16, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

          That would be interesting to visit ultraman statues and write about them!

  3. Ronald Larsen January 30, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    “What Fukushima Means to Me” enlightened me as how important your home and the surrounding area means to you. Your life and existence threatened by radiation. Your sense of belonging and security in this world threatened by very stuff made by man, that said it is safe-safe perhaps if you don’t have a tsunami. But the way to handle this disaster is beyond their knowledge.
    I am personally saddened at what things have happened in your country with Earthquake,tsunami and Fukushima disaster-the result of which shall affect the whole world, and we the people here in New Brunswick, Canada, as the radiation is in the air and in the rain on the jet stream. There is a total media blackout here, and many of the people don’t even know the radiation will affect them one way or another.
    This an extremely grievous occurrence.

    • Yumi January 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      Thank you so much for your concern and sharing your comment. You’re right that the nuclear disaster in Japan will affect people around the world. This is indeed a sad situation and my hope is that responsible actions will be taken to resolve the problem as soon as possible. You’re also right that radiation problems exist in many parts of the world, but people are not aware of it. As for the nuclear power, I think we’ve created a monster we don’t know how to handle…

  4. dsullivan9026 February 11, 2014 at 3:37 am #

    We get very little accurate information about the ongoing disaster in Fukushima here in the United States. Mostly, it’s just scare stories or stories dismissing the consequences of the problem. Thank you for your account explaining why people stay behind. When mankind learned the secrets of the atom, the clock began ticking on the end of the world as we know it. To think otherwise is no more than hubris. Please continue to write occasionally about the situation in Fukushima. The world needs to not forget.

    • Yumi February 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

      Thank you very much for your comment. Even in Japan it is difficult to get accurate information about the situation in Fukushima, which is very strange and frustrating. As the third year anniversary of the disaster approaching on March 11, I am planning for another post on the topic.

  5. hollywoodsam February 12, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    We all change as we grow older but, it’s reassuring to think that places from our childhood remain the same. Allowing us to revisit a memory from the past.

    I found your article to be saddening on many obvious levels as well as what Fukushima may mean to you now. More people need to share the true impact of this disaster in order for us to learn how to handle this ‘monster’.

    I sincerely hope that the affected people can over come this disaster. Will we learn?

    Great post!

    • Yumi February 13, 2014 at 10:11 am #

      Thank you so much for your comment. Japan is still building nuclear power plants and even talking about exporting the technology overseas. I hope we will learn from the mistakes we have made before it is too late.

  6. Gerald Bellot June 8, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    Thank you for this posting. I’m in grad school and doing a business paper on nuclear energy and Japan. I’ve always found Japan fascinating. Your posting gave me insight on the human toll and reflection from the terrible event. Here in the US, there has been a long debate over nuclear as well. The latest reactor was approved about a year ago since the last one was built 30 years ago. I hope that the global economy will spur a greater emphasis on renewable energy by Tepco.

    • Yumi June 19, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      Thank you so much for your comment. Good luck with your paper! It is such an important topic today.

  7. camelliajapan2014 September 4, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Reblogged this on Kiitos!! and commented:
    I really appriciate you wrote about Fukushima.
    As you mentioned, it is so complicated and difficult for us to decide to leave everything and move out. I love my hometown so much and hope Fukushima will be the most cleanest place in the world!

  8. Sharmaine Bryan November 4, 2019 at 4:11 pm #

    My Heart goes out to all these Beautifull Humble Japanese Families May you find true peace and be able to get back to some normality in your daily lives ,MAY God Bless and heal your people and your land.

    • Yumi November 5, 2019 at 9:12 am #

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Bryan.


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