Monday, March 13, 2017

Documenting the March 11 disaster: six years on

I marked yesterday, March 11, 2017, the six-year anniversary of the triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Edmonton.  The event, sponsored by the Prince Takamado Japan Centre, University of Alberta and the Centre for Japanese Research, University of British Columbia (INFO), included a screening of the work-in-progress of my new documentary about the Fukushima nuclear disaster which I also screened earlier in the week at an event at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (INFO).

Attended both by students and professors from departments as diverse as Japanese studies and Film-making, the post-screening Q&A allowed me to hear how this work-in-progress is being seen and understood an opportunity for which I am extremely grateful. This was the second time for me to screen some of my Fukushima-based work in Edmonton, after having the honour of screening my films "A2-B-C" and "In the Grey Zone" during the Global Visions Film Festival (now called Northwestfest) three years ago (STORY).

Each year on the anniversary of March 11, I have reflected on some of the experiences I had in the days and months after the disaster framed around the short documentaries I filmed during that period. I have re-posted below two entries I would like to share again this year.

Thank you all for your continued support and for keeping those people still affected by these terrible events six years later in your thoughts and prayers.

Ian Thomas Ash
Edmonton, Canada


originally posted March 4, 2013 (LINK)

On March 13, 2011, two days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I described the situation in Tokyo in an open letter to my friends and family (HERE).  I posted it along with a short documentary about panic buying and the following explanation:
I simply couldn’t stay inside today and just watch the news coverage, so I took my brother-in-law’s advice: I took my camera outside to see what was happening in my neighbourhood. The result is (this) ten-minute video about “panic buying”.
I could never have imagined at the time that this would be the first in a series of short documentaries that would eventually evolve into two feature films documenting the nuclear crises in Fukushima spanning the following two years.

As the two-year anniversary of the March 11 disaster approaches, I find myself reflecting on how it all unfolded.  As part of this reflection, I have re-visited my early documentaries and edited them together to see how my journey began.


originally posted March 12, 2015 (LINK)

Documenting 3.11: the first ten days
My journey documenting 3.11 started with the first entry I wrote (HERE) and a short documentary I filmed about panic buying in Tokyo a couple of days after the disaster (story HERE).  This was followed by several short documentaries posted in quick succession.  A compilation VIDEO of all of these early short documentaries that I edited together and posted for the 2nd anniversary... and the accompanying guest blog published by Discovery News is HERE.  The full collection of my early short documentaries about the disaster is HERE and all of the guest blogs I wrote for Discovery News can be found HERE.

Documenting 3.11: One month later
After reading a newspaper article describing the government's plan to re-open schools near the zone 20-30km from the nuclear power plant just one month after the nuclear disaster, I traveled to Fukushima with friend and cameraman Colin O'Neill.  We documented the children living there, and soon after we returned to Tokyo we posted a four part "making of" documentary, beginning with this Video (part 1 below, all 4 parts HERE):

This would become my first feature documentary about the disaster, 'In the Grey Zone' (TRAILER below and website HERE):

Documenting 3.11: Six months later
Six months later while editing 'In the Grey Zone' in Japan with friend and colleague Ed Ison, Colin and I traveled back to Minamisoma City in Fukushima where we filmed an update that we posted in three parts (Part 1 story HERE and VIDEO below, stories about Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE, with all three VIDEOS HERE).

Documenting 3.11: One year later
For the 1st Anniversary of the disaster in March 2012, I filmed a three-part update about the children living in the 20-30km zone which I posted to my channel (Story Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE and Part 3 HERE, VIDEO part one below, all three videos HERE):

Documenting 3.11: Fifteen months later
A couple of months later, I returned to Fukushima, this time with friend and cameraman Koji Fujita, and in the summer of 2012, I posted two short films about the continuing nuclear disaster.  The first of these was 'Nuclear Refugees: the people of Iitate Village, one year later' (story HERE and VIDEO below):

The second short documentary I posted that summer was 'In Containment', a five-part series that documented some shocking revelations about life in Fukushima after the disaster and found me entering the no-go zone for the first time (VIDEO for Part 3 below and those for Parts 2, 3 and 4 HERE).  During the filming and editing of 'In Containment', I realized I was uncovering a story much larger story than just an "update", and that I had in fact started making a new film.  Parts 1 and 5 would eventually form the beginning of my second feature documentary about the Fukushima disaster, 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語).

 Documenting 3.11: The children in Fukushima

I continued filming throughout the autumn of 2012 and early winter of 2013, focusing on the children and families living in Fukushima.  Posting the trailer in February of 2013 (TRAILER below), it was serendipitous that the last day of editing I did on the film before handing it off to Ed and Colin back in the UK to finish the post-production was on March 11, 2013, the second anniversary of the disaster (STORY).

Documenting 3.11: The story continues
In between the continuing international and domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C', I am currently filming the follow-up to 'A2-B-C', in what will be the third film in my series about Fukushima.  Thank you all so very much for your continued support and encouragement.


Friday, March 10, 2017

The Politics of Invisibility: Fukushima, 6 years after 3.11

Yesterday, the event "The Politics of Invisibility: Fukushima, 6 years after 3.11" (INFO) was held at the University of British Columbia with sponsorship from the Centre for Japanese Research.  I was honoured to present at the conference, which was organized by Geography Professor David Edgington.  I had the honour of presenting here two years ago also at the invitation of Dr. Edgington.

Split into two sessions, the lunchtime workshop began with Dr. Edgington's presentation "A day out in Fukushima: Reflections on a field trip to the Dai-chi Nuclear Power Plant" focused on his recent experience touring the crippled facility complete with photographs from inside the plant.  Dr. Matsui, Professor of Law, presented his talk "Restarting Nuclear Power Plants in Japan After the Fukushima Disaster", which focused on law, policy and public opinion regarding nuclear power in Japan following the meltdown.

In the evening, there was a screening of the work-in-progress of my documentary "Sezaruwoenai" ("Unavoidable", working title), which eventually will be the 3rd film in my series about young people living in Fukushima, following "In the Grey Zone" (2012) and "A2-B-C" (2013).  It was a rare and extremely meaningful experience for me to share this work-in-progress, and the feedback I received from this study session held at the university will stay with me as I move forward in thinking about the direction I will take with the film.
photo courtesy Savannah Li
At the lunchtime presentation preceding the screening, Dr. Edgington had asked me to focus on the plight of the so-called "voluntary evacuees" who are facing tough decisions as financial support for them is being terminated at the end of this month.  In addition to sharing about the press conference for which I served as the MC in January (INFO), I had decided the best way to for the audience to understand the situation for these families was through their own words.  I asked Noriko Matsumoto, who I had first met at the press conference, and another young mother who wished to remain anonymous (and whom I had met through one of the mothers who appeared in my documentary "A2-B-C") to write statements about how they would be affected by the termination of financial support for those who had chosen to leave Fukushima with their children.

Their statements, translated by Anthony Davis, are in full below:


松本 徳子、避難者(川崎へ母子避難)





何とか、正しい情報で子ども達を守りたい! そのためには是非沢山の方々のお力をお借りしたい。切に願います。

March 1, 2017
Noriko Matsumoto (evacuated to Kawasaki with her children)

Today, the lead article in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper stated that on March 31 or April 1, evacuation orders will be lifted for some areas within 20 kilometers of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant—the towns of Namie, Kawamata, Iitate, and Tomioka.

Why do the Japanese and Fukushima prefectural governments not give us the right of evacuation, instead attempting to return even children to these areas where the level of radiation is still high?

I am so angry and sad that it is difficult for me to express it in words. However, once this happens, evacuees like us from outside of the restricted zone will find it harder to obtain the right of evacuation, which is a matter of human rights. How can we help people in a position of weakness, and those who care for children or disabled persons?

I feel a deep sadness at the foolishness of Japan, where only the affluent ever hold power, and the weak are discarded.

I want to protect the children somehow, with accurate information! I hope for the support of many people to this end.

Translation: Anthony Davis, Kobe, Japan, March 2017






『ONE FOR AII AII FOR ONE』一人はみんなの為に、みんなは一人の為に・・・

安部総理は、東電は『アンダーコントロール』のもと、震災で大変な想いをした人々全てに『ONE FOR AII AII FOR ONE』一人はみんなの為に、みんなは一人の為に・・・支援を続けていると、発言を撤回し世界へのメッセージとして伝えてもらいたい。



March 4, 2017
Mother who evacuated with her children to Niigata (wishes to remain anonymous)

The background to my deciding to voluntarily evacuate (with my children) came after I comprehensively evaluated the incidents which I describe below.

At the time of the accident, I learnt that, previously, the radiation dose limit for the general public was stipulated by law as one millisievert in a year (or 0.23 microsievert per hour).

Before the nuclear power plant accident, the radiation level in Fukushima city was 0.03 microsievert per hour. Immediately following the 2011 accident, even inside homes, the level was 0.6 microsievert (approximately 20 times the normal level), and outside, the level was commonly 2 microsievert or higher (some 66 times the normal level). This amounts to levels far in excess of one millisievert per year. I thought that this was abnormal (and a violation of law).

On April 19, 2011, in Fukushima prefecture, the level at which children were permitted to engage in outdoor activities was changed to 20 millisievert a year, or 3.8 microsievert per hour. Thus, the former standard of 1 millisievert per year was raised to 20 times that level.

In May, the Board of Education issued notice limiting the outdoor activities of elementary, junior high, and high school students to a maximum of three hours per day.

On April 29, Toshiso Kosako, advisor to the Cabinet Office, held a press conference announcing his resignation in protest against the height of the levels. In tears, he stated the following:

“It is very rare even among the occupationally exposed persons to be exposed to radiation levels even near to 20mSv per year. I cannot possibly accept such a level to be applied to babies, infants and primary school students, not only from my scholarly viewpoint but also from my humanistic beliefs.”

The press repeatedly reported the government’s explanation that “the levels would not have an immediate effect on the human body or on health.”

Meanwhile, amid a confusion of various other information, I resolved to evacuate from Date city to Niigata, wanting to take care of my children in a safe environment in peace of mind. Now, Fukushima prefecture has started to discard evacuees, under the banner of “Acceleration of Reconstruction.”

In June 2015, Fukushima prefecture announced that it would stop providing rental housing for voluntary evacuees at the end of March 2017. The provision of free housing for voluntary evacuees will end.

Five years ago, when I voluntarily evacuated from Fukushima prefecture to Niigata, I had to start from zero. Many people were kind in their support, including local people I met, and those at my children’s school. But with the upcoming changes, the livelihood which I have finally built up after five years will be taken from me, and I will be deprived of my right to evacuation.

In Fukushima, decontamination of residential grounds has reduced radiation levels from the post-accident levels, and a false sense of security is spreading, even though radiation has not reached pre-accident levels.

With its eyes set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan is lifting the evacuation orders and discontinuing compensation, and it is firming up policy to end housing support for voluntary evacuees. I strongly resent that Japan is gradually cutting financial housing support, and forcing people into poverty, after which they are encouraged to return home and are then abandoned. Rather than the proclamation which Prime Minister Abe made for the Olympics that everything is “under control,” I want to convey a message to him of “One for all, all for one.”

I want Prime Minister Abe to retract his statement, and instead, I want him to tell the world that support will continue “One for all, all for one,” for all of the people who suffered so much from the disaster, while TEPCO was said to be “under control.”

People who were previously under evacuation orders were known as compulsory evacuees. The term “voluntary evacuation” is widely used. However, this is in no way voluntary evacuation. Using the term “voluntary evacuation” in contrast to “compulsory evacuation” implies that people made a choice of their own volition, therefore the term which should be used is “evacuation from areas outside of areas designated under evacuation orders.” Voluntary evacuees from outside of designated areas are being forcibly returned home, or forcibly evicted.

I want to tell the whole world that this is what is really occurring in Fukushima now.

Translation: Anthony Davis, Kobe, Japan, March 2017

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Marking Fukushima disaster in Canada

As the 6th anniversary of the March 11, 2011, triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown approaches, I am honoured to be traveling to two Canadian universities to participate in educational events.

I will be screening the work-in-progress of the third feature documentary in my series filmed in Fukushima.  With a working title of "Sezaruwoenai" ("Unavoidable"), it follows my films "In the Grey Zone" (2012) WEBSITE and "A2-B-C" (2013) WEBSITE.  While I do not know yet when the film will be finished and released, I am extremely honoured and grateful for the opportunity to screen "Sezaruwoenai" as a work-in-progress and to be able to both share the interviews in the film with the viewers and to receive feedback and comments of support from them that I can then share with the participants in the film.  I first screened an early cut of the film in Berlin last year at the IPPNW congress organized for the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl and the 5th anniversary of Fukushima (STORY).

Following the screenings in Canada, I will also be sharing statements from two young mothers who are so-called "voluntary evacuees"; that is, they have decided to evacuate from areas in Fukushima not officially under mandatory orders to evacuate.  With the government set to end financial support for such "voluntary evacuees" at the end of this month, these families are facing the painstaking decision of whether or not to return to Fukushima with their children.   More about these "voluntary evacuees" can be found in my post about a press conference for which I served as the MC at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in January (STORY).

On Wednesday, March 8, I will be presenting at the University of British Columbia at the workshop "The Politics of Invisibility: Fukushima, 6 years after 3.11" which is sponsored by the UBC Center for Japanese Research.  Two years ago, I had the honour of screening my film "A2-B-C" at the same event (STORY).

Then on Saturday, March 11, the 6th anniversary of the disasters, I will be presenting at the University of Alberta in Edmonton at an event sponsored by the Prince Takamado Japan Centre for Teaching and Research.  

It is an honour to take part in these activities being organized to educate and ensure that the events of March 11, 2011, are not forgotten.  

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement.

Ian Thomas Ash
Haneda Airport, Tokyo, Japan

Friday, March 03, 2017

Events marking the 6th anniversary of 3.11 begin

It is hard to believe that the six-year anniversary of the March 11 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster is approaching.

Yesterday, I was honoured to serve as the MC for the press conference "Yoshiko Aoki, Fukushima storyteller" at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ press release HERE).  Although Ms. Aoki is a former principal of the Tomioka High School, located in one of the towns badly affected by the nuclear disaster, she began her speech by saying "I am not a politician, philosopher or professor.  I am speaking today as an ordinary citizen".

During the Q&A, when asked if she felt "abandoned" by the government, she replied "no".  Rather, Ms. Aoki said, since the accident, which she emphasized had been a man-made disaster, she had become more independent in her way of thinking and no longer depended on the government.  Now when a government official says something "stupid", she said she no longer even becomes angry as that is what she has come to expect.  Ms. Aoki's full comments and the Q&A that followed can be found on the FCCJ Channel here:

Then this morning (Thursday evening in the US) was the event "The Politics of Uncertainty: Reassessing Japan After the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster" arranged by the Japanese Cultural Association at Brown University (event info HERE).

Following a screening of my documentary "A2-B-C" (WEBSITE), I was honoured to join via Skype the panel discussion, which included:
* Taro Kono - Member of Japan’s House of Representatives and Former Chariman of the National Public Safety Commission (via Skype)
* Kerry Smith - Associate Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Brown University
* Daniel Aldrich - Director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern University
* Ian Thomas Ash - Documentary Filmmaker and Director of "A2-B-C" (via Skype)
This was the first of several events I will be taking part in at universities holding events to mark the 6th anniversary of 3.11.

******** UPDATE March 6, 2017 ******

An article about the screening has been published by the Brown Daily Herald.  READ