Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Radiation Discrimination

Before I could speak Japanese, I used to think that the Japanese people were more respectful, more polite than Westerners. My mother used to say "She wouldn't say sh*t even if her mouth was full of it" to describe someone who was really high class. This is how I used to feel about Japanese people.

However, as I began to learn more Japanese, I learned something else as well: Japanese people are just the same as the rest of us.

Doing research and filming for my documentary on the children of Minamisoma, I have come across several shocking examples of discrimination of Japanese people by Japanese people. I will say that I just hope these are isolated examples... yet with the frequency people shared them with me, I fear that this may be more widespread than I would want to believe.

Accurate information regarding radiation contamination needs to be made available: how it can and cannot occur. It is not a communicable disease that is airborne and can be 'caught' person to person. It is from a lack of information that rumours run rampant and things like this begin occurring:
1. An elderly man approached me when I was up north because my car had Tokyo plates. He told me that when he had visited Chiba prefecture (near Tokyo) the week before that his car had been 'keyed'. The words "GO HOME" were etched into the side of his car, presumably because his plates were from Fukushima Prefecture (the home of the damaged nuclear power plant). There have been many reports in the news here of the people of Fukushima facing discrimination from people who fear radiation contamination.

2. A father in Minamisoma who evacuated his wife and children told me that one of his children faced discrimination in his new school. The children called his son names, including "bacteria".

3. The rice farmers have not been able to grow rice this year due to the dangerous levels of radiation. This has a knock-down effect on the agricultural supplies businesses and rice sellers. Even though the rice from last year's crop has been in storage and is perfectly safe to eat, many people won't buy it. When I have mentioned that I bought the rice to try to help support the shop owners, I have had people in Tokyo tell me they would never eat it because it is "dirty".

4. A young, unmarried woman shared with me that she was blatantly told to change her family registry. She was told that no man would ever accept her as his wife if she was registered as being from Fukushima Prefecture, let alone from Minamisoma City.
How can the people of such a small island nation turn against their own citizens in such an unjustified and unwarranted way? It just makes me question even more:

Under all the social structures put upon us, are we humans just basically evil?


Anonymous said...

Hi Ian, I'm from Canada. I love Japan including its people even after this radiation incident. In fact, I know a lot more of Japanese culture and history rather than my own nation even if I've never had the chance to be there. It's sad to know that this incident has a powerful ability to bring out the worst of these people but, that's human nature. From your question - under all the social structures put upon us, are we humans just basically evil? I believe that humans are not basically evil. Rather, we all are essentially good and bad to some extent depending on our surroundings and experiences. You've helped a lot of people so keep up the good work and never let those negative factors influence your thinking. Your documentaries are one of the best ones that I've read and seen. I wish you the best there!

Ian Thomas Ash said...

Rose, Thank you for your message. I do believe that there is hope, and I guess that through filming I am trying to find it. As you can see in the films, the places where there is the most hope are the ones where most everything has been taking away. When you strip away all of the conventions and comforts of modern life, hope is what is left. It's the people who haven't felt the pain of what has happened that retain the luxury of being able to discriminate. I find that really hard to understand. Anyway, thank you for your feedback and encouragement.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you are saying, but I think that people not buying food from Fukushima is not only okay, but smart. The fact is, most people around Japan have continued to buy produce and dairy from the Tohoku region, and much of it is dangerously contaminated.

I understand that the rice is last year's crop, but I'd rather have people aware and overreacting than not aware and poisoning their children.

The fact that the government and NHK are hard-selling food from Fukushima on TV every night angers me. The fact that cows from the Tohoku region have been shipped all over Japan in order to prevent "discrimination" is almost criminal. I'm sorry that farmers in the region might have their businesses wiped out. I hope the government and all people in Japan will help them find new ways to make a living, or support their welfare.

But asking people to eat highly radiated food in order to save Tohoku businesses isn't kind, it's insane.

Ian Thomas Ash said...

Anonymous, I, too, agree with most of what you are saying. I certainly believe that safety needs to come first, especially when it comes to the food we are feeding children. As you can probably tell from my video posts, I certainly don't trust the government to make the right decision when it comes to protecting its citizens. And the government's campaign to promote Fukushima goods that you rightly mention is part of an even bigger problem: putting the economic recovery above the safety/ recovery of its own people. My only point about the rice was that combined with the other examples of discrimination I am feeling quite troubled about the whole situation.

Your opinion is completely valid and leads to a great dialogue. It's just too bad that it's anonymous. Saying something potentially unpopular and then not being able to sign one's name to it... feels rather Japanese, actually.

Anonymous said...

^_^. Not everyone wants to become a spokesman or take a public position. My aim in leaving a remark wasn't to spark a dialog, although if it did, that would be fine. Rather I just thought that by making this website you were hoping to test and hone your ideas, so I thought I might give two cents. I'm very happy to be Japanese, and I imagine I will continue to be happy being so.

Ian Thomas Ash said...


I absolutely made this website to be challenged and tested, and so I really appreciate your feedback. Dialogues like these do help me to really think about the issues that we are talking about.

I am sure I will both contradict myself and change my position on certain topics as I learn more about the issues. My hope is that I will always be aware of that and will be able to admit when I am wrong.

I believe as long as all the parties are in dialogue, we will be able to come up with a solution. Let's keep talking.

timerty said...

I think the over-discriminating Japanese are obsessed with cleanliness and self-preservation like a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which can cause them to be lacking in understanding and helpful towards their own people because they are too caught up in preserving their own health.

They were also raised to be quite narrow-minded and to strictly follow culture and social norms instead of thinking for themselves and challenging the old ways of self-expression.

So their restricted mindsets would naturally cause some of them to practice restricted and self-centered ways of preserving themselves.

If you raise people to be evil(restricted), you might just get evil(restriction) from them.