A half year has passed since March 11. My mind is still not able to decelerate and give a decent reflection of what has happened. The struggle continues, though we have regained something that you could call a normal life – just that a slight amount of radioactivity has become part of that normality. For lack of spare time between the last aftershock and the next, pictures have to stand in for words, brief glimpses of my life at Asian Rural Institute during the past six months.
On March 11, I was in Kyôto, far away from the tremors that shook Eastern Japan and unleashed floodwaves of biblical proportions onto the coastal areas. It was from this tv in a small Chinese restaurant that I got a first impression of what was going on.
I moved to Asian Rural Institute on March 26th. The members had evacuated to the seminar house nearby and set up a crisis central, following the developments at the Fukushima I power plant with growing concern. Every morning started with information sharing: Wind direction, radiation levels of air and water, etc.
Since strong aftershocks continued, almost all of the ARI community members stayed together in the seminar house. We reduced outdoor activities to a minimum for fear of radioactivity. Throughout April, serious discussions about ARI operations went on. We decided to temporarily move the training program to Machida, a safer place west of Tôkyô.
Dr. Tasaka from the International Christian University helped us taking the first soil samples from our fields for radiation checks. The hydrogen explosions at Fukushima 110km away had released radioactive material into the atmosphere, polluting our fields with iodine and cesium.
Not knowing whether this year’s rice would be edible or not we nevertheless completed the transplanting of rice seedlings. The harvest will feed the community members for one year and is one of the most important community works at ARI.
A delegation of politicians and scientists from Korea pays a visit to get a closer look at our microorganism project. The tanks in the background are part of a company’s experiment using microorganisms to reduce radioactivity. ARI agreed to provide some of its paddy fields to try it out – so far with meager results.
During the evacuation in Machida I often went to Tôkyô city for distraction and errands. Tiny alterations in the people and the city’s appearance indicate that the traumatic events are changing Japan. On this day, fundamentalist Christians had posted themselves at the Shibuya crossing telling the citizens to repent.
Each plant absorbs contamination differently. The mushrooms we sowed in spring had to be thrown away as they easily accumulate radioactive particles. The onions are alright. ARI lies in a low-contamination zone, but the effects on our farm are substantial.
Beginning from April, ARI had been heavily involved in a citizen’s movement called “Kibô no Toride” (Fortress of Hope). The members of Toride project conduct thorough radioation measurements and decontamination throughout the Nasu area, since the local government’s responds are lackluster. In staff meetings we share the latest results to take appropriate action.
The evacuation of our training program ended at the end of July. The participants, staff members and volunteers moved from Machida back to the ARI campus in Nishinasuno – a huge work.
Sunflowers are part of phyto-remediation, a decontamination method tested around Chernobyl. These plants absorb radioactive cesium from the soil. The sunflower seeds can be used for radiation-free oil and biodiesel, while the rest of the plant is burnt in special incinerators.
Soy beans are another means of land decontamination. Much of our daily farmwork these days is spent on weeding the many fields on which we planted them.
ARI staff members started organizing public study sessions related to atomic power and the pollution that comes with it. Hundreds of citizens have attended to listen to guest speakers and watch documentaries.
Dr. Fujimura Yasuyuki (leader of the Toride project), Inaba Mitsukuni (organic farming NPO leader), Murakami Moriyuki (organic farmer and religion expert), and Dr. Kawata Masaharu (Chernobyl decontamination expert) answer questions from the audience and discuss alternative ways of energy production.