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20 Bitter Voices Rise From Fukushima After Japan's 2011 Nuclear Disaster

Right after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Japanese Buddhist priest Daiki Nakashita visited [ja] the disaster-stricken region, and provided emotional support to victims, as a part of his larger work on preventing suicide in Japan. Recently, the priest wrote a blog post [ja], in which he quotes 20 residents affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. 

While Daiki humbly writes in the post [ja], which recently hit more than 2,400 likes on Facebook, that the commentary represents only a fraction of Fukushima Prefecture's two million residents, the post has been widely circulated on social media. Many of the people quoted in the post are described as living in provisional housing, temporary housing units that were set up post-disaster.

When and how these quotes were collected is not clear, nor can Global Voices track down or fact-check these quotes. Nevertheless, they offer a powerful glimpse into what life has been like since the nuclear accident more than two years ago.



A woman in her 80s, Fukushima city provisional housing: “Decontamination? That’s just like when we were young (during the war) and we were made to carry bamboo spears and call the American soldiers brutes. Everyone knows it’s just a clever response that doesn’t have any meaning whatsoever. But if you say as much, you’ll get criticized. It’s peer pressure.”


A man in his 60s, Minamisoma city: “A request for decontamination of one home with the Takenaka Firm will cost 5,600,000 JPY. At the actual scene the subcontractor has lots of bribes and kickbacks pilfered from him and it costs 700,000 JPY to do the job. It’s about 8,000 JPY per day for the final workers. Because the jobs disappear when the decontamination is finished, everyone’s doing real sloppy work. By doing that, they’re guaranteed long-term employment, and the economy turns. That’s the real state of the decontamination business.”

Google Earth Image of Japan and Korea. Fukushima's power plant is marked as 'A'.

Google Earth Image of Japan and Korea. Fukushima's power plant is marked as ‘A’.


A man in his 60s, Iwaki city provisional housing: “I worked at the nuclear power plant for 30 years. But now my body has been exposed to radiation, and I can’t work. People are avoiding the bitter reality right before their eyes. I make it a point of intentionally not thinking about things like the future. I drink alcohol; I sing karaoke; I kick back and relax. But when I think about what the younger folks are gonna do, it makes me miserable.”


A man in his 60s, Iwaki city provisional housing: “How do we stop using nuclear power? Well that’s simple. If there isn’t another explosion at another power plant somewhere, and the ground doesn’t get polluted, and people don’t have to leave their homes then there’s absolutely no way we’ll stop using nuclear power, is there? But America, the financial world and bureaucrats putting pressure on politicians for construction is also a problem.”


A-san, originally from Okuma and entered into Fukushima’s provisional housing in his 70s, has the following to say: “So that we could make a stable income without having to work away from home in the winter, so we could be with our children and grandchildren the whole time, we accepted the power plant. We accepted the power plant in the hope that it would provide stable growth and a good livelihood. And that’s how I came to work there. That it would come to something like this, was just…


A man in his 70s, Iwaki city provisional housing: “Even though they are all called victims, the situation is different for everyone. There are those whose families died, and those whose families are alive; those who lost their jobs, and those who have jobs; those whose houses washed away, and those who have houses; those who have a place to go back to, and those who have no place to go back to; those who have money, and those who don’t… What’s for certain is that the disparities that existed before the earthquake are now laid bare.


A woman in her 50s, Minamisoma city: “Lately there have been many times in which I’ve come to think that human beings are scarier than radiation. Here in Fukushima, just by talking about the radiation there’s a social atmosphere that exerts a sort of pressure that is spreading. There are lots of people desperately trying to deliberately not think about the radiation problem. It’s a sort of blank-minded condition. Do they do that to protect themselves?”


Photo of provisional housing in Fukushima, taken by Flickr user selena lynn on July 2013. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


A man in his 70s, Fukushima provisional housing: “I worked at the power plant from the start. However, dangerous work was being passed on to subcontractors. Even though we knew they were bringing in day laborers from gathering places like Sanya and Kamagasaki, we turned a blind eye. And now, after the accident, thinking back on it, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and I are both probably at fault.”


A man in his 60s, Fukushima, Nakadori: “We heard it repeated on the radio: Be a kid who won’t be defeated by radiation! The Fukushima Board of Education is spouting that on the radio. There’s only this faint awareness that the people of Nakadori are victims. It’s for that reason that the Board of Education criticized those who evacuated from the prefecture. People don’t even really wear masks anymore.”


A woman in her 20s, Minamisoma city: “Up until now, I haven’t really researched nuclear power at all. But my eyes were really opened after my husband was exposed to radiation while working at a sub-contracting company of Tokyo Electric Power and had to be hospitalized. Since 3/11, even getting bathed in radiation I treated as someone else’s problem, thinking ‘I’m sure someone will do something. I’m sure it’s safe.’ I realized, it was apathy that brought about our ruin.”


A woman in her 40s, Iwaki city provisional housing: “A middle-aged man killed himself in the provisional housing. Tomorrow it might be one of us… But I can’t go and tell the kids that as long as you’re alive they’ll be good things. A bright future here in Fukushima is unimaginable. To live an ordinary life, to just get by, I never expected it would be this hard.”


A woman in her 20s, Minamisoma city: “Every time I hear about how a girlfriend of mine had an abortion, I think that it would be unreasonable for me to have kids as well. It seems as though both my husband and my mother-in-law want kids, but you can’t raise children in Fukushima any longer. We were really surprised when we measured the area around our house with a radiation dosimeter. Even if we had kids, I’d feel bad for them because we couldn’t let them play outside.”


A woman in her 20s, Minamisoma city: “Since the nuclear accident I’ve come to criticize others as being evil: the country, the government, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. But when I really think about it, I’ve not once participated in an election, I don’t read the newspaper, and as for TV, I only watch comedies. Even though I was living next to the power plant, I didn’t even try to learn anything about nuclear power. When I think about it now, I’m embarrassed.”


A man in his 60s, originally from Okuma, now Aizuwakamatsu provisional housing: “Now I want you to think about it. This ordinary country town—without jobs, or money, or industry—was drawn in by the allure that a nuclear power plant would be a great blessing. A carrot was dangled in front of everyone’s eyes. Exactly how many people do you think there are that could turn down that offer? Of course, I think there are also people who can’t be swayed by money, but that’s probably just a small portion of the whole.”


A man in his 50s, Fukushima provisional housing: “I went to Sendai. Construction personnel from all over the country had gathered, and it’s sort of like a recovery bubble had formed. At a bar one time, this guy who seemed like a manager said ‘There’s no way around it, this is going to be profitable.’ Even if you
think that in your head, nobody wants you to say that out loud. After all, so many people lost their lives.”


A man in his 50s, Fukushima provisional housing: “Two of my male acquaintances committed suicide here over the course of a few months. Men are really weak, once they lose their families and their jobs. Up until now, you competed purely with what was written on the title line of your business card, but on 3/11 everything went back to zero. I’m also unemployed right now. They’re running a salon and such at the assembly hall of the provisional housing. But I wonder, will a single grown man be able to join in?”


A woman in her 20s, Fukushima provisional housing: “Because I have children I think I’d like to learn about radiation exposure, so I’m making a point of going to lectures within the prefecture. However, a lecture of an esteemed professor was all ‘The radiation level is nearly zero,’ ‘there is no such internal radiation exposure,’ and ‘Fukushima is perfectly fine.’ I can’t get any accurate information. If you raise your voice about that, you’ll get criticized all the more.”


A man in his 60s, originally from Okuma, now Aizu provisional housing: “I've made my peace. For the garbage dump site, it’ll have to be in the area around the power plant. The reason is people no longer live there. If they have the money for decontamination, it would be best to buy up the land surrounding the power plant and create a garbage dump site. As for the locals from that area, no one is considering moving back to Okuma.”


A woman in her 50s, Minamisoma city: “The methods of this country and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. are abysmal. They don’t consider people to be people. But I too, up until now, have depended on the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and lived by relying on the country. The greatest evil is my dependant lifestyle. I fell into a sort of stupor. If things are alright for the moment, then it’s ok. As long as I’m making money, it’ll be alright. I put a lid on my suspicions, and lived my life.”


A man in his 70s, Fukushima provisional housing: “For the younger generation, isn’t the best choice for them to flee Fukushima? I want the young people, those who have a future, to run away. However, older folks like us, there’s no running at this point. I want to live in the town that I was born in and raised in until I die. But, this is something I decided for myself. No matter what happens, I’ve made my decision.”

Quotes were translated by Taylor Cazella

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