From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, To Find the Next Step via The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

We are ogres of the North

“Those of you from Fukushima, please stand. Hello, everyone! I came here from Fukushima. I came today with many busloads of companions from Fukushima Prefecture and from the places where we’ve evacuated.”1

These unassuming words begin the speech that electrified the 60,000-some gathered under an intense autumn sun for an anti-nuke rally in Meiji Park on September 19, 2011. Six months had passed since the triple disaster. The rally was dramatic evidence for a world that had forgotten the first postwar decades that Japanese people could, and indeed do, protest. Mutō’s speech spread over the internet, over the archipelago and into the world. Six months later, she would be heading The Complainants for Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, whose activities represent the most sustained, and to date, only successful effort to seek criminal prosecution of individuals responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

What are the features of that speech that have given it a distinctive place in the annals of postwar Japanese movements? What does it tell us about the kind of leader Mutō has become and the movement she represents?


“Division,” or bundan, continues to be a recurrent word designating one of the thorniest problems afflicting Fukushima. It might be said that TEPCO and the state expend what ingenuity they have in exercising the principle of “divide and conquer.” This speech acknowledges the pain of division, explicitly and implicitly: people have responded in opposing ways to the series of choices, so-called, enumerated above. Because of the pervasive, invasive anxiety produced by the prospect of exposure, neighbors are readily threatened by neighbors’ decisions about mundane and definitive life choices. Mutō draws them together as “ogres of the North” (Tohoku), reminding them of their centuries-old union as dominated peoples capable of mounting resistance against centralized power.


As an outgrowth of work with the Complainants, Mutō Ruiko helped organize a national group, Hidanren (Gempatsu Jiko Higaisha Dantai Renrakukai, or the Liaison Council of Victims of the Nuclear Disaster). Established in May of 2015, it continues to seek affiliates for mutual support, including pooling the knowledge gathered along the arduous path of legally challenging the state and the nuclear industry. Although many of the names of membership organizations, including “observers,” take the form of “xx [place, often an evacuation location] Nuclear Power Plaintiffs,” others give a more vivid sense of plaintiff identity: The Association for the Trial Seeking to Protect Children from Radiation Exposure; The Association to Protect Evacuee Life; Plaintiffs in the If Only Nuclear Power Had Not Existed Trial; “Give Us Back Our Livelihood, Give Us Back Our Land”: Fukushima Nuclear Power Plaintiffs; Denouncing Nuclear Power Damage: Fukushima Petitioners of Iitate Village. The last-named group is engaged in an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) procedure outside the courtroom. Individuals and groups, including prefectural governments, have had recourse to ADR in the hopes of swift settlement, Many have been disappointed, however, by TEPCO’s refusal to accept the sums suggested by a national dispute resolution center and ended up going to court.6

Two major categories of claims have emerged from these struggles: compensation for loss, psychological as well as material, and support for continued evacuation. It goes without saying that the government and TEPCO wish to minimize such forms of expenditure, and that that wish is inextricable from the desire to minimize, preferably to deny altogether, the impact of the nuclear disaster, thus safeguarding the role of nuclear power in the Japanese energy mix as well as overseas sales. The migration of the “safety myth” from nuclear power itself to radiation exposure can be traced in the breathtakingly cynical redefinition of safety as measured in air dose rate from the government’s original decontamination goal of 1 mSv per year to up to 20 mSv per year. The threshold of 20 mSv per year, averaged over five years, is the ICRP (International Commission for Radiological Protection) standard for industry workers, not the general public.7 Combining the announcement of compensation cutoffs (for mental anguish and damage to business) with lifting evacuation orders from “preparing-to-lift-evacuation-order zones” and “residency-restricted zones”(most recently, on July 12 of 2016) effectively reinforces the new safety campaign,8 which, moreover, must have completed its work in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was in September of 2013 that Prime Minister Abe, bidding for the Olympics in London, declared Fukushima to be “under control.” Now Mr. Abe is even suggesting reopening parts of the “difficult-to-return zones.”9 In the meanwhile, compensation payments, like the initial designation of concentric zones of risk/safety, with their inevitable semblance of arbitrariness, have yielded the by-product of suspicion and resentment, in other words, division.10

An especially urgent target of struggle is the cut-off of housing aid, announced for March 2017, to so-called “voluntary” evacuees. Because they left without government orders, they have been eligible only for housing assistance under a general disaster relief law. Their very status as “voluntary” evacuees is the result, of course, of the excruciatingly parsimonious designation of zones warranting departure. The anxiety understandably provoked by general awareness of the sensitivity of children to radioactivity—even or especially among those who have thought themselves unable to leave—has made this a distinctly fraught issue. “Don’t you love Fukushima? Why do you want to hurt it?” is the sort of question leveled at parents who have stayed away.11 The imminent cut-off of housing aid for evacuee families, most of whom have had to maintain two households, means that “parents must now choose between submitting their children to poverty or to radiation exposure.”12


As Mutō observes to Hirano, recognition of oneself as a victim demands effort, especially when social conditioning suggests that life and livelihood are more secure if one is numb to exploitation. Without establishing the truth about responsibility, both the prevention of future repetition and mitigation of ongoing harm are hamstrung; without acknowledging victimization, the harm itself remains obscure. These elements are interdependent in the logic of this complaint.


Fukushima health anxiety intertwines two potent strands of dread: (1) fear of illness and (2) fear of discrimination, tracing its way back to the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Together, they sustain a regime of mutual surveillance and self-censorship as pervasive and penetrating as anything the state could wish for.

Read more at From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, To Find the Next Step

This entry was posted in *English and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply