David Slater and Yomiuri on how activism re Fukushima is being stifled, contamination efforts stymied
Posted by debito on December 3rd, 2011
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Hi Blog. This is an email written by an academic in Japan sent to a public Japan listserv. It is a very indicative accounting of how protests and grassroots activism is systematically stifled and stymied in Japan (in the context of Fukushima), and how even local governments are given the wrong incentives and making weird (and wrong) decisions (e.g., the apparent public shame in decontamination). Plus the terminology (i.e., kegare) that is shifting the blame from the perpetrator of the contamination to the victim. Followed by an excellent conclusion that is worthy of print that the social effects of this disaster (particularly in terms of discrimination) will last a lot longer than anticipated. The bits I found most enlightening I’ve rendered in boldface. Arudou Debito
From: “David H. Slater”
Date: 29 November, 2011
Subject: Re: [jaws] reports of bullying Fukushima kids, and roaming cows
Reply-To: “East Asia Anthropologists’ discussion”
Just to follow up on an old thread–if anyone else has been working on these topics it would be interesting to share what we have…. dhs
Levels of contamination: kegare in official designations, in community activism, in young bodies
As the process of decontamination in Tohoku gets going, we see a range of often chilling representations and bad options, pollution and risk everywhere. “Contamination” today goes beyond the early reports of avoidance behavior and school bullying. Fear of this stigmatization is forcing some townships to forgo governmental relief and retarding local protest efforts. These fears and choices are being played out in municipalities, communities and individual images of life course.
In yesterday’s Yomiuri [full text below] there was an article about municipalities that have refused governmental help with the decontamination processes for fear of stigmatization. ‘”If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.” Another official is quoted: “If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears.” This, despite the fact these townships have already received excessive radiation measurements. Usually, the townships are afraid of hurting tourism or exports of agricultural products, but often the cost of decontamination is too high for them to pay themselves. Here is the English version of the article: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T111127003736.htm
In Community Activism
In a set of interviews that I have been doing among Fukushima women anti-nuke activists, one explained that it was very hard to enlist other women from her community for similar reasons. “It is sort of crazy–even though these women are afraid of radiation, and even though they actually know that areas all around [their children’s school] have high radiation, they do not want to say anything…. because they are afraid of the being singled out.” This activist was frustrated with the other mothers, angry because their reluctance to say anything weakened the voice of the community in taking a unified position. She also understood their reluctance, albeit with some impatience. “I know, I know. If you object, then you are also bringing attention to yourself and maybe worse, to your community, as dirty, as full of radiation. I know that story.” But she said, “If we do not say anything, are we really protecting our community or even our families?” Later in a more reflective moment in the interview, when she was acknowledging the ambiguous progress that activism has made, she said “We mothers know that activism might puts these ideas into other people’s heads sometimes, and this might hurt us, mark us, for years. It is a hard situation, knowing what to do.”
In Young Bodies
In my class on oral narrative of disaster, one group of my students at Sophia U. is interviewing another group of college students from Fukushima University, old high school friends now separated by radiation. The result is alarmingly direct, intimate interviews. (Besides being gifted interviewers, they are also of the same age, which seems to be important.) In one interview, a Fukushima college student addressed her own fears in a way that frightened my students. She resents those who call it the “Fukushima” disaster, marking everyone who lives in the prefecture. And yet, she also called herself contaminated, using the work kegare, a Shinto term meaning unclean, impure, defiled. She wondered, seemingly more to herself than to the interviewers, if she would ever marry or have children, knowing that this is how she will be thought of, knowing this is how she thinks about herself. Then she snapped out of it to explain the many active and constructive programs and events that the young people in her college relief and support club were doing, how they were looking ahead (mae muki) to a fresh start to the next year.
Not knowing how far to push this religious connection, my understanding is that usually kegare is the result of natural occurring contamination, unlike tsumi, which is more the result of human transgression. If radiation were considered tsumi would there be some transgressive agent who might be held responsible (Tepco)? In either case, is purification possible? If so, does it coincide with the on-going decontamination procedures? In any case, radiation is not just science nor just ritual pollution, but because now it involves official government designation and the transfer of funds (or not), these labels have consequences beyond the reports of random discrimination that occurred almost as soon as people began to evacuate. By linking contamination to official nomenclature and funding schemes, marks of contamination might last far longer than the excessive levels of radiation.
David H. Slater, Ph.D.
Faculty of Liberal Arts
Sophia University, Tokyo
Towns avoid govt help on decontamination
Keigo Sakai and Tomoko Numajiri / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
Yomiuri Shimbun Nov. 28, 2011
MAEBASHI–Municipalities contaminated with radiation as a result of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are concerned that the central government’s plan to designate municipalities for which it will shoulder the cost of decontamination will stigmatize those communities, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
As early as mid-December, the government plans to begin designating municipalities that will be subject to intensive investigation of their contamination, which is a precondition for the government paying for decontamination in place of the municipalities.
Municipalities with areas found to have a certain level of radiation will be so designated. The aim of the plan is to promote the thorough cleanup of contaminated cities, towns and villages, including those outside Fukushima Prefecture.
However, many local governments are reluctant to seek such designation, fearing it may give the false impression that the entire municipality is contaminated.
Based on an aerial study of radiation conducted by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in mid-September, municipalities in Tokyo and Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba prefectures were candidates for the government designation.
The aerial study examined radiation in the atmosphere one meter above the ground. Municipalities with areas where the study detected at least 0.23 microsieverts of radiation were listed as candidates. About 11,600 square kilometers of land, equivalent to the size of Akita Prefecture, reached that level, the ministry said.
The Yomiuri Shimbun has asked municipalities in the prefectures–excluding Fukushima Prefecture–whether they would seek the government designation as municipalities subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination. Fifty-eight of the cities, towns and villages that responded to the survey said they would seek the designation.
Almost all the municipalities in Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures had areas where radiation in excess of the government standard was detected. However, only 10 municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and 19 in Ibaraki Prefecture said they would seek the designation.
The figures represent only about 30 percent of the municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and about 40 percent of those in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The Maebashi municipal government said it would not request the designation.
In late August, radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s provisional regulatory limit was detected in smelt caught at Lake Onuma, located on the summit of Mt. Akagi in northern Maebashi. The opening of the lake’s fishing season for smelt has been postponed.
Usually, the lake would be crowded with anglers at this time of year, but few people are visiting this season.
However, in most of Maebashi, excluding mountainous regions, the radiation detected in the September study was below the regulatory limit.
“If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.
The Maebashi government wants to prevent the city’s tourism and agriculture from being damaged further, the official added.
Daigomachi in Ibaraki Prefecture, a city adjacent to Fukushima Prefecture, said the city has also refrained from filing for the designation. Usually about 700,000 people visit Fukuroda Falls, the city’s main tourist destination, every year, but the number has dropped to half since the nuclear crisis began, the town said.
“If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears,” an official of the town’s general affairs department said.
In recent months, citizens in the Tokatsu region of northwest Chiba Prefecture have held protests demanding local governments immediately deal with areas where relatively high levels of radiation were detected. All six cities in the region, including Kashiwa, said they would file requests for the government designation. The Kashiwa municipal government said it had already spent about 180 million yen on decontamination.
“People are loudly calling for decontamination. We hope that the designation will eventually lower the cost of decontamination,” an official of the municipal government’s office for measures against radiation said.
Observers have said one of the reasons the six cities decided to request the designation was their low dependence on agriculture and other primary industries that are vulnerable to fears of radiation.
Kobe University Prof. Tomoya Yamauchi, an expert on radiation metrology, said: “It will be a problem if decontamination activities stall due to local governments’ fears of stigmatization. To prevent misunderstanding of radiation, the government needs to do more to disseminate correct information.”