Written by: Barbara Boncek
From the 25th March to the 27th March I went with two of my co-workers and a professor for radiobiology of the Teikyo University to the cities Minamisouma and Namie in Fukushima prefecture. There, ICA Japan is supporting projects for the revitalization of the community.
As for the preparation for the trip, I read about the cities we were going to and tried to memorize specific Japanese vocabulary.
In Germany my major is East Asian Politics with Japanese, but since I am planning to focus on Human Development in Natural Disaster Regions during my Master studies, I was looking forward to this trip and to the chance to learn in such an environment. Since we do not really experience natural disasters as severe as in Japan, it was the first time for me to visit such a place and I was not really sure about what was expecting me.
I met with my co-workers and the professor in the morning of the 25th March to rent a car, before we went to Fukushima. On our way to Fukushima Prefecture, the professor explained a lot about radiology and its effect on the human body and the environment. As we got closer to our destination, I was quite surprised, because I expected the level to me much higher, but most of the time it was comparable with the level in Tokyo. But this depends also on the current environment and weather. For example is the level higher in the mountain side and when the sun is shining. This is caused by the ability of the mountains and trees to absorb the radioactivity. Therefore, the only way to decontaminate them is to cut off the trees. One of the few places where it was remarkable higher was Okuma, where the nuclear power plant is located.
Arriving in Minamisouma, I learned that not all the cities around the power plant are necessarily “dead regions”, since it is a very lively city with many young people. Nonetheless, there are still many problems Minamisouma is facing. One of them is the increasing population of the wild boars, which are coming closer to habited areas. To control the population they have to be killed, but it’s not possible to eat their meat, since they are eating radioactive food. That means that they have to be buried, which is regarding the space a rather difficult task.
A social activist gave us a tour to places, which were affected by the tsunami, the construction places for future disaster prevention and the deposit of the contaminated soil. I was quite shocked so see the places which were affected by the tsunami with my own eyes, because there is basically nothing left. It is hard to believe that those are former housing regions, since they just look like plain farmland now.
At the second day we went to Namie, a city next to Minamisouma, which is within the 20km radius around the nuclear power plant. There we went to the city hall and talked the staff. The staff was presenting us the current situation and measures to decontaminate the soil, as well as the situation regarding the citizen. Namie had around 20.000 citizens before the tsunami. Now they are 500 and most of them are older, because most of the young people moved away after the disaster, since it was easier for them to just start a new life somewhere else. I was able to ask my own questions, too, which I am very thankful about. Therefore, I learned about the psychological support of the people in these regions and the collaboration with companies for the revitalization.
Afterwards, we were given another tour, this time around the Namie area. First we went to the harbour where we saw the new disaster prevention construction of a wall, which shall project in case of the occurrence of a tsunami. Then we were guided to a former grade school, where most of the children survived, because they went to a kind of platform, which we visited after that. At this place they also had a memorial plate for the people who died during the disaster. Again, it really had a huge impact to me to see that this whole former housing area is now just empty.
After we went back to the city hall, we visited another social activist. She talked about the current situation, the temporary housing and the nuclear power plant. It was a very interesting to listen to her, since I was able to get a social perspective next to the administrative one I got earlier that day.
Our day started with the volunteer group meeting of Midorikai in Minamisouma. There, the professor, who was coming with us to Fukushima hold a presentation about how to live in low radiation areas. His presentation was very interesting and easy to understand. I was able to learn that the radiation is not the primary problem but the stress and isolation the people are experiencing in the evacuation centers and temporary housing. Regarding this problem it is very important for the citizen to recreate a community. For this ICA Japan was already supporting the "Flower Planting" project, which helps people to interact with each other and getting back into normality.
Afterwards a volunteer tour guide gave us a third tour around Minamisouma. He showed us the famous horse race stadium and the place where the current Tenno will plant a tree this year. Then we went back to the meeting and ate lunch together with the volunteers.
In conclusion, I learned a lot from this trip and I am very glad that I was able to make this experience. Even though the region around the nuclear power plant might me a difficult environment for living, the staff of the local governments and the volunteers are making lots of effort and work hard for revitalizing their cities.
Some difficulties I had during the trip were mostly language based. The Fukushima dialect is quite hard to understand and I missed some important vocabulary. In case of going there again, I would definitely put more effort into my Japanese studies, but it really helped me though that I read about the two cities, since it gave me some basic knowledge and made many things more understandable.
I am thanking my co-workers for their help during the trip in form of translating a lot and encouraging me to ask my own questions and ICA Japan to enable me to make this trip.