Friday, December 21, 2012
On my last evening in Fukushima, the children and I decorated gingerbread houses for Christmas.
For many of the children in Fukushima, the only safe places they will ever have will be the ones in their imagination.
Later, some of the mothers and children who shared their very important and personal stories with me gathered for a meal.
As our time together came to a close, I watched them sharing their pain and joy, and I felt a hurting in my heart.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
My day began at the Fukushima Collaborative Clinic (website), an independently-run private hospital that provides services such as screening children's thyroids for cysts and nodules. I interviewed Mrs. Shina, one of the founding members and spokesperson for the hospital.
Mrs. Shina explained that one of the most sought after services that they provide are "thyroid screening second opinions" since so many Fukushima parents do not trust the results of the health survey overseen by the government. The appointments for such screenings are fully booked until May of next year (!).
Parents have shared with me stories about doctors who vehemently deny ANY possibility of a connection between thyroid cysts and the nuclear meltdown; about being denied access to second opinions at university hospitals; about getting second opinions at hospitals outside of Fukushima and finding out their children have more and bigger thyroid cysts than were revealed in the official exam.
Next, I visited "Smile Park in Fukushima", a traveling event created by the Japanese Red Cross Society (event website HERE, Japanese Red Cross Society website HERE). The event is brought to cities around Fukshima and provides a safe place indoors for children to play since outdoor activities are limited due to concerns about radiation. I have been struck by how every time I meet a child in Fukushima, he or she seems to have their head in a portable game (which I wrote about HERE in "Trapped Inside"). I quickly learned the reason is because they aren't allowed to play outside.
I was shown around "Smile Park" by Ms. Tomita, a Red Cross staff member.
Even though many schools and playgrounds have been "decontaminated", the surrounding mountains and land have not. Parents are worried about their children playing outside as it has already been documented that because of wind, rain and other factors, the radiation levels in areas that had been previously deemed "decontaminated" are already beginning to rise again.
Ms. Tomita allowed me to run, jump and play on the equipment with the children and it was a beautiful, fun and rare time when I was able to forget, just for a moment, why I was there and why this event had been created.
I stepped back to take a long shot of the entire event, the sound of hundreds of children laughing echoing through the hall. Suddenly, I was overcome with emotion and began to sob. At first I couldn't understand why I was crying and had to excuse myself to go outside and recover.
I almost never cry during interviews; during interviews I am usually too much in shock (is that the right word?) to allow myself to "feel" what is happening. It is when I am editing that the emotions come flooding out; it is when I am editing and I must watch over and over painful, sad, scary moments that the tears tend to flow.
When I returned to the hall, I apologized to Ms. Tomita for my emotion. I explained to her that it had just suddenly hit me why the event existed: these children cannot play outside, cannot live their lives as children normally do, and with that realization I had been unable to stop my tears (just thinking about it now as I write this I am crying). Ms. Tomita leaned in close to me and whispered, "it happens to a lot of people who come here".
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Today, many mothers and their children gathered at Mrs. Shima's home to share with me their very personal stories. Mrs. Shima, along with Mrs. Sugano, have been instrumental in getting the word out about my filming Fukushima and introducing me to so many of the families I am documenting. (Mrs. Shima also organized a meeting like this during my last trip to Fukushima, which resulted in this story HERE).
Mrs. Shima welcomed the mothers and their children into her home which was so beautifully decorated for Christmas. While they took turns sharing with me their stories, I noticed that in the other room they were talking amongst themselves. I was so honoured that the mothers were willing to come here to speak with me and also glad that Mrs. Shima's inviting them here was providing them with an opportunity to be together and to share information with each other as well.
Mrs. Yasuda is concerned about the decontamination of the schools her son Haruto, 8, and daughter Yuri, 11, attend. She does believe that the radiation levels at the school are "lower" than what they were last year directly after the nuclear meltdown, but worries that the levels still may be dangerous. She also is concerned that the areas surrounding the schools have not been decontaminated.
Mrs. Sato brought with her the ultrasounds for her son Kaishin, 10, that show the multiple cysts on both sides of his thyroid. She desperately wants to believe what the doctor administering the official government health exam told her: that it is possible that the cysts are naturally occuring, were there before the nuclear meltdown and have nothing to do with the radiation, and that they will not develop into anything more serious.
I met Mrs. Tsuda the last time I was in Fuksuhima, but this was the first time for me to meet her children. Mrs. Tsuda's son Naoki has multiple thyroid cysts. Her daughter Yuika has so many cysts the doctor couldn't count them. Yuika's blood work also shows that her thyroglobulin levels are elevated.
|つださんの息子は数個の 嚢胞があり、娘は数えきれないほどの 嚢胞が見つかった。|
Mrs. Suzuki is concerned for her daughter Rin, 2. Her daughter Airi, 8, has multiple thyroid cysts.
Mrs. Ooyama's daughter Nozomi, 17, is in her second year of high school and speaks perfect English. She wants to be an entertainer AND an engineer. She also has thyroid cysts. Nozomi told me that she and her friends are worried about getting married and having children.
I am so honoured that these families came together to share with me their very important and personal stories. Despite all that has happened and is continuing to happen to them, the people of Fukushima remain warm and welcoming.
What does the future hold for these children of Fukushima? I am again left with more questions than answers.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Last year, the home in Date City, Fukushima Prefecture where Mr. and Mrs. Sugano lived with their three children, son Koutarou, 9, daughter Kae, 6, and son Shinjirou 5, was discovered to be located in a radioactive hotspot. The home was classified as an area for evacuation and the family was relocated to temporary housing through government support.
In September of this year, the Sugano family home underwent the government-sponsored decontamination process, which I documented HERE, HERE and HERE.
|The Sugano Family home undergoes "decontamination" in September 2012.|
On December 15, the Sugano's received a letter from the government stating that the decontamination of their home was complete and that the classification of their home as an "area for evacuation" was being rescinded.
|The letter stating the Sugano's house is no longer classified as "an area for evacuation".|
Mrs. Sugano wanted to test the radiation levels herself, so she returned to the family home today.
|Mrs. Sugano measuring the radiation level at their home on December 19, 2012.|
She took photos to prove the radiation levels are still high even after “decontamination”.
|Radiation levels outside the Sugano Family home remain high even after "decontamination".|
Right outside the “decontaminated” house the radiation is still 2.18 µSv/.
|Right outside the “decontaminated” house the radiation is still 2.18 µSv/h.|
Although the house itself has been “decontaminated”, the immediately surrounding street, mountains and land has not.
|The areas surrounding the Sugano Family home have not been "decontaminated".|
Directly across the street the radiation remains at 3.54 µSv/h. If the children returned here to live, they would walk by this area on their way to school.
家の敷地外では放射線量はまだ3.54 µSv/h もし子どもたちが戻され生活をすればここは学校へ行く通り道。
|Directly across the street from the Sugano Family home the radiation level remains at 3.54 µSv/h.|
Since the government has lifted evacuation orders on the Sugano Family home, their evacuation support will not be renewed, effectively forcing them to return to home. The Sugano’s son Koutarou, 9, daughter Kae, 6, and son Shinjirou 5, will be forced to live in a contaminated house surrounded by areas of high radiation.
|The Sugano’s son Koutarou, 9, daughter Kae, 6, and son Shinjirou 5, at their temporary accommodation on December 18, 2012.|
Monday, December 17, 2012
Mr. Shibuya and I went to Fukushima City Hall today for the City Council meeting at which the issue of using locally-grown rice in the mandatory school lunches was on the agenda.
Last week, Mr. Shibuya called the City Hall to confirm the room in which the meeting would be held, where in the agenda the discussion of the use of local rice in school lunches was scheduled, and the process for which members of the public would be allowed to attend the meeting. He was told that members of the public could attend the meeting after registering their name and address and that anyone, including people from out of town (like me), could attend. He was told that the school lunch issue would be discussed in the afternoon session and so we should come after lunch.
Meanwhile, several citizen's groups who oppose the use of local rice in school lunches were sending out mass e-mailings to their members to encourage members of the public to attend the meeting. Among the city council members there are few who oppose the use of locally grown rice in school lunches, but one is a young City Councilman* named Mr. Oouchi (also spelled "Ouchi"). Mr. Shibuya hoped that we would be able to talk with him after the meeting.
When we arrived at City Hall, the meeting room was dark and no one was around. We were still a bit early for the afternoon session, so we were about to head back downstairs when a sign on the door of the meeting room caught my eye. It was about the use of cameras during the session, and Mr. Shibuya and I headed back toward the room to read it. As we did, a young man stopped us and asked if we were there for the meeting. He then told us the agenda had been changed suddenly and that the issue of using local rice in mandatory school lunches had been discussed in the morning and that the meeting had already been adjourned for the day.
The man was Councilman Oochi.
I asked him if he would give me his comments on record about the meeting, why he felt the agenda had been changed, and more importantly, why the city was pushing so hard to use locally grown rice in the children's schools lunches.
Mr. Oouchi immediately escorted us to a private meeting room and granted us a interview which lasted for 25 minutes!
*Due to a translating error, I referred to Councilman Oouchi as "Assemblyman Oouchi" in some of my tweets during the day.
Mr. Oouchi asserts that the City Council intentionally changed the order of the agenda, discussed the issue in the morning and adjourned the meeting in an attempt to curb public attendance.
Mr. Shibuya's presence at the interview gave it a kind of depth that otherwise would not have been there. Rather than just having me as an "outsider" asking Councilman Oouchi questions, Mr. Shibuya was asking him questions as a resident of the city and a parent of two children attending city schools. In the morning I never could have predicted that I would have been able to film such an important interaction.
When I asked him why the city was so keen on using local rice in the children's school lunches, Councilman Oouchi's answer was simple: the contract represents 250 tonnes of rice per year. It all comes down to money.
Mr. Shibuya and I headed for his home. I think we were both filled with a kind of melancholy mixed with some small satisfaction. We felt like we had been tricked, duped into believing that we could witness the local government at work by attending the public meeting, and were feeling weak for having been so easily defeated. And yet it was the move by the assembly to change the agenda and effectively shut out the public which provided us with the opportunity to film a private meeting with Councilman Oouchi.
When we arrived at Mr. Shibuya's house, his son Ayumi, 12, and daughter Mutsuki, 9, were just arriving home from school. We had cake with the children, joined by Mr. Shibuya's wife and the children's grandparents. The children did their homework and the adults talked, everyone sitting on the floor with their legs under the same low heated table, called a "kotatsu". Family.
The Shibuya's home is decorated for Christmas, and it is warm and welcoming and filled with joy. Family.
On their Christmas tree is an origami paper crane, a symbol of happiness. It serves to remind me of why I am in Fukushima doing this work. This is about families, like the Shibuya's, who have hopes and dreams for the future happiness of their children. Family.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
I am back in Fukushima this week.
I have been contacted by more parents who have discovered that their children have thyroid cysts and nodules; I have been sent more results of the Fukushima Health Management Survey, that while public, don't seem to make the news; and I am more than ever filled with many questions and few answers.
Every time I think I am beginning to understand one part of this complicated problem, I realize just how much I still do not know; it seems that for each piece of the puzzle that is revealed to me, I realize that there are a hundred more gathered in the shadows.
A few days ago Mr. and Mrs. Shibuya called me and asked if I could meet them out of a drink. I have met the Shibuya's several times since I first met them a couple of months ago, but I had always seen them at their home with their children. This time they were going to leave their two children, son Ayumu, 12, and daughter Mutsuki, 12, with their grandparents and come out to meet me. It seemed that they had some news that they couldn't talk about in front of the children.
When I met the Shibuya family two months ago (here and here), they shared with me that both their son Ayumu, 12, and daughter Mutsuki, 9, have thyroid cysts.
The Shibuya children's results of the official Health Survey revealed only that their cysts are class A2, that is "less than 20mm in size". However, the results do state how big the cysts are within that range, nor how many cysts there are. If there is one cyst that is 1mm, that is a very different problem than having multiple cysts that are 19mm.
I met the Shibuya's tonight as soon as I arrived in Fukushima. They took me to a local restaurant where a feast of local delicacies had been prepared. It was good to be together in a casual setting rather than in a formal interview. We had great food and delicious beer... it was almost "normal", save for the conservation which centered around the radioactive contamination of the local area and the discovery of more and more children with thyroid cysts and nodules.
One of the most pressing issues that the Shibuya's wanted to talk about is the move by the city of Fukushima to return to using locally grown rice in the school lunches. The issue affects most elementary and middle school children since taking school lunch is mandatory in most schools in Japan. It is highly unusual for students to be permitted to "opt-out" of eating the school lunch and those that are are often ostrozized for eating something different, and therefore "being different", one of the worst things you can be in this island nation. As they say, "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down." Even Mr. and Mrs. Shibuya have felt ostrocized by some parents of their children's classmates for being "too vocal" with their concerns about the effects of radiation on their children.
The issue of using locally grown rice in the mandatory school lunches is ostensibly quite simple. The government is saying that they will test the rice and will only use rice that is contaminated with "LESS THAN 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium". Concerned parents, including the Shibuyas, are protesting saying that they want to know the EXACT amount of radioactive cesium contained in the rice, not simply that it is below 100 becquerels, since the range of 1 to 99 becquerels of radioactive cesium is simply too large. They also argue that the threshold of 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium for rice is far too high since rice is a staple food that many families consume three times a day.
But Mr. Shibuya's concern lies in something far more sinister: he believes that the government is trying to use the issue of putting locally-grown rice in the children's school lunches as a way to gain the public's trust. He believes that if the government succeeds in its push to use local rice in the school lunches that it will open the door to using more banned products, to the re-instating of banned outdoor activities and to the opening up of more land that has been, until now, been deemed off limits due to radioactive contamination.
What could the government possibly gain from doing this? Each product the government deems safe for consumption represents less compensation they must provide and increased tax revenue through sales. Each piece of land deemed "de-dontaminated" represents more people that can be effectively forced to return to their homes by withdrawing compensation.
I will be attending a debate tomorrow at City Hall about the issue of using locally-grown rice in the mandatory school lunches. The parents are worried about their children's future health. The government is worried about the economy. Is the government effectively trying to put a price on the children's health?
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
When I was 11, I first met the Adachi's, the couple who I would later call my Japanese parents, "haha" (mom) and "otousan" (father). They had come to the US as part of our sister church program with a parish in Tokyo and had stayed in our home.
Although I didn't live in Tokyo when I first moved to Japan years later, I met my Japanese parents often for diner and church when I would travel to Tokyo for the weekends. Then I lived with them for a couple of years while I was learning to stand on my own two feet after I returned to Japan from the UK after completing my MA in filmmaking.
In 2008, "otousan", my Japanese father, died. Each year, "haha", my Japanese mom, and sister gather together for dinner on otousan's birthday, December 12.
Otousan loved wine. And cake. And roses. We had them all, along with his picture.