By Maggie Gundersen
Prologue & Personal Essay
By Norma Field
A TV set was introduced into our household in 1957. That’s how I date my first encounter with the atomic bomb—not the mushroom cloud, but a grainy black-and-white image of a seated figure, silhouetted because vaporized was a term I didn’t yet know. The figure was so alarming that for days after, I couldn’t understand why grown-ups didn’t spend all their time trying to keep these weapons from ever being used again. It would be years before I put that image together with the earlier memory of breakfast table arguments between my American father, who came to Japan as a member of the US Occupation forces at the end of WWII, and my Japanese mother. My father insisted that the Pacific testing of nuclear weapons was necessary to defeat the Commies; my mother was adamantly opposed, though I got that only through her frowns and sighs. The power relationship between victor and vanquished was unambiguous even for a preschooler.
Trying to learn about the Fukushima nuclear disaster that began on March 11, 2011, I realized it would test whatever knowledge and tools for grappling with the world I had collected in adulthood. I had never bought the Japanese government campaign to get the Japanese people over their “nuclear allergies” and accept nuclear power. Still, the link between weapons and energy was fleshed out through the too-short life of my friend Sharon Stephens, an anthropologist who studied the impact of Chernobyl on the indigenous children of Scandinavia. Through her work, she came to understand that her health problems, dating back to childhood, were likely related to her having grown up as a downwinder of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb was produced. She became interested in exploring the secrecy that haunts individuals, families, and communities around nuclear harm.
In Fukushima, the divisions induced among those put in harm’s way emerged early on as a most painful, intractable issue. First and foremost, the divisions are an expression of the terror provoked by the prospect of radiation exposure, especially given the knowledge that illness does not announce itself immediately. Such is the lingering power of “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki.” Those who could flee are envied and resented by those who could not. Evacuation is a direct statement of danger perceived. Parents who feel powerless to protect their children, who are desperately trying to stay upbeat, don’t appreciate parents who voice anxiety. Others warn that to worry out loud is to impede economic recovery. And still others say to point out Fukushima risk is to engage in Fukushima discrimination, an ominous reference to the marriage and employment discrimination faced by the sufferers of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. As if impaired health, or the possibility of such, actually warranted such discrimination. Better to leave such issues unexplored; better yet, to deny the presence of risk factors altogether.
This Will Still Be True Tomorrow: “Fukushima Ain’t Got the Time for Olympic Games”: Two Texts on Nuclear Disaster and Pandemic
Article was originally published in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.
By Muto Ruiko
Introduced and translated by Norma Field
The fear of being forgotten that haunts the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster set in quickly in the months following March 11, 2011. The Tokyo Olympics, touted as the “Recovery Olympics,” has served as a powerful vehicle for accelerating amnesia, on the one hand justifying the rushed reopening of restricted zones and other decisions of convenience, on the other, programming moments highlighting Fukushima in the Games. As preparations for the latter, especially the torch relay, reached fever pitch, the novel coronavirus intervened to force an abrupt postponement. It also disrupted ongoing and special events planned for the ninth 3.11 anniversary. The essay below elaborates on that context as an introduction to two texts by Muto Ruiko, head of the citizens’ group whose efforts led to the only criminal trial to emerge from the Fukushima disaster. The first, a speech anticipating the torch relay, outlines what the Olympics asks us to forget about Fukushima; the second is a reflection on living under two emergency declarations, the first nuclear, the second, COVID-19.
Key words: Olympics; Fukushima; torch relay; COVID-19; coronavirus; Dentsu; activism; Muto Ruiko
Read more at “Fukushima Ain’t Got Time for Olympic Games”