Today I met Mrs. Mutoh, mother of son Shougo, 11, and daughter Rimi, 8. After the nuclear meltdown last year, she kept her children inside and tried to make them understand that they couldn't play outside or do any of their favorite things like going to the mountains in the spring to forage for edible wild plants.
Shougo suffers from severe eczema and his hands and fingers are covered in open sores. Mrs. Mutoh warned Shougo about the dangers of playing outside, but in June of last year, three months after the meltdown, on his way home from school he wandered into a rice paddy in search of frogs. When Mrs. Mutoh went looking for him, she found him playing in the contaminated water and holding several frogs.
Within a month, Shougo was having severe nose bleeds. The first time it happened there was so much blood that Mrs. Mutoh was sure Shougo had cut his head open. Shougo also started having fainting spells, and a red rash broke out over his entire body.
Mrs. Mutoh brought Shougo to a university hospital in Fukushima City. A blood test was conducted, and Shougo was found to have a low white blood cell count. Without asking, the doctor immediately told Mrs. Mutoh that Shougo's condition was NOT related to radiation exposure and that no treatment was neccesary.
|Mrs. Mutoh holds her son Shougo's blood test results showing his low white blood cell count.|
After school, Shougo, Rimi and some of their friends came home. After finishing their homework, Rimi and her friends played Old Maid and a spirited game of hide-and-seek. Despite the beautiful weather, the children are not allowed to play outside. Mrs. Mutoh told me a story about how Rimi had found a four-leaf-clover over the summer and had brought it home in hopes of her wish coming true. Thinking of the radioactive contamination of grasses, it broke Mrs. Mutoh's heart to have to take away something so seemingly innocent from her little girl. When I asked Rimi about her life post 3-11, she said, "We aren't allowed to go out and play and we can't touch anything outside."
|Rumi, left, and a friend stay indoors and draw pictures.|
When I first came to Fukushima, I couldn't understand why the kids were constantly playing video games. I was finding it difficult to pry them away from their games to talk, and then it occurred to me: these children would normally be playing outside, but now they are trapped inside.
Although Shougo's friends had come over to play together, they each had their heads buried in a video game. I was slightly relieved, though, to learn through their conversations that somehow they were all playing the same game and were interacting as a group within the game and not just playing individually.
|Shougo (fourth from left) and friends play video games together.|
Mrs. Mutoh expressed to me her concern that in the government tests of water, food and internal radiation exposure, they are ONLY testing for cesium. She points out that there are many different radioactive elements that were released after the nuclear explosion, of which cesium is just one. With the help of an NPO in Southern Japan, Mrs. Mutou has sent a baby tooth that Rimi lost six months after the meltdown to a lab in Switzerland to be tested for strontium. She is still waiting for the results.
Both Shougo and Rimi have had the official thyroid test and were both found to have thyroid cysts, but Mrs. Shougo was given no additional information, was not given a copy of her children's thyroid sonogram, and was told no further examination was required. Although the results do reveal the thyroid cysts in her children, she is worried that the government ordered tests may be intentionally inaccurate in an effort to downplay the situation and that the cysts could be bigger or more numerous than she was led to believe. Mrs. Mutoh intends to bring her children to a private hospital in a neighboring prefecture for a second opinion.
In the meantime Mrs. Mutoh is left knowing only that Shougo and Rimi have thyroid cysts but not knowing what that means for their futures.
|Shougo, age 11, Mrs. Mutoh, and Rimi, age 8|