Out of Tokyo

230: Project FUKUSHIMA!
Ozaki Tetsuya
Date: October 27, 2011

One afternoon in July, a very different kind of lecture took place at a studio of the NHK. It wasn't the subject that was odd. It was the peculiar aura that the audience of about 60-70 people was radiating. They included numerous alternative musicians, individuals related to contemporary art, people like Ohno Yumiko, Kahimi Karie, Sakamoto Ryuichi, Sawaragi Noi, Nanao Tabito, Haino Keiji, Rei Harakami, Harada Ikuko, Pika and Yamakawa Fuyuki, and a handful of music promoters, art museum curators, etc. Usually the ones who are "watched" on a stage or podium, for this particular occasion they were sitting with serious faces (well, some of them weren't) and listening closely.


Lecture by Kimura Shinzo | REALTOKYO

Lecturer was Kimura Shinzo, formerly a researcher at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. A radiation hygiene expert, he has been measuring environmental radiation at places like Tokai-mura and Chernobyl after the respective nuclear accidents. After the accident in Fukushima, Kimura’s superior at his workplace that is overseen by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare told him not to go, but on the same evening, he "silently placed a letter of resignation" on his desk, and left for Fukushima. He measured the radiation at various places across the prefecture, and collected soil and plant samples. With help from his fellow researchers, he analyzed the data, and drew a detailed "contamination map", which was even documented in a special program of NHK ETV. The project is still continuing today.


Lecture by Kimura Shinzo | REALTOKYO

The lecture was realized as a result of a meeting with musician Otomo Yoshihide. Otomo spent several years between third grade at elementary school and university in Fukushima, where his parents are still living now. While harboring complicated feelings toward his hometown, after the events in March 2011 Otomo lauched the "Project FUKUSHIMA!" together with poet Wago Ryoichi and musician Endo Michiro, who graduated from the same high school, and organized the "FUKUSHIMA!" outdoor festival on August 15. For more info on the event, please refer to the official website. Below is an extract from Otomo Yoshihide’s May 22 entry in his "Jamjam diary".


"Newspapers and TV are reporting about our project as aiming to "support Fukushima", but that’s not the type of event that we are having in mind. The question how to face the severe current state of things in Fukushima, and how to live with this situation, is the big issue, so our idea is absolutely not something like inviting a bunch of hip musicians to Fukushima and shout restoration. The circumstances Fukushima is in is not that easy. There is something inhumane going on, but that’s extremely difficult to understand, and it’s certainly no exaggeration to say that the residents of Fukushima are struggling with that situation day in, day out."


Anyway, the amounts of radiation in Fukushima remain high. While still not sure whether it is really okay to gather lots of people at a festival, Otomo watched an ETV special, and was introduced to Kimura by someone at NHK. According to the latter, staging a festival in the western part of the city shouldn't be a problem. As it was to be an outdoor event, there was a possibility of radioactive materials on the surface adhering to shoes and clothes, but this problem could be easily solved by covering the ground with sheets, which help at once prevent the materials from diffusing. The organizers collected large amounts of cloth for covering the ground at the venue, and Kimura came up with the idea to have artists make them into artworks after the festival. Kimura himself would later appear in the "FUKUSHIMA!" event on August 15, where he would talk about the effect of radioactivity. The lecture (at the NHK studio) was held mainly for those artists who participated in the event, as well as related individuals from Fukushima and elsewhere. That was because Otomo had felt that, "What is most needed right now is scientific knowledge related to radioactivity, and proper data."


Otomo Yoshihide (left), Kimura Shinzo | REALTOKYO
Otomo Yoshihide (left), Kimura Shinzo

Kimura delivered an enthusiastic speech about radioactivity. With jokes thrown in for good measure, at times his light and easy way of dealing with the serious matter even made the audience laugh out loud. Next to explaining such basic things as what exactly radioactive rays are and what types of them exist, he also mentioned a very recent meeting with a 25-year-old mother with a thyroid tumor in Chernobyl. Let me remind you that the nuclear accident at Chernobyl occurred 25 years ago, in 1986. The effects can still be seen today.


A shock wave ran through the audience when Kimura introduced a law that was put in force in Ukraine, where the Chernobyl accident happened. First of all, the area is divided into the following four types of contaminated zones. 1: exclusion zone; 2: compulsory resettlement zone; 3: guaranteed voluntary resettlement zone; 4: heightened radiological monitoring zone. When Otomo asked, "So what about the area where I grew up?", the answer was, "That would be zone 1." Otomo dropped his head into his hands.


The next subject was the tolerable level of radioactivity in food and water. In addition to the obvious danger of external exposure to radiation, what is even more terrifying is internal exposure through contaminated food and water. As has been previously reported, the criteria for the prevention of internal exposure determined by the Ministry of Health of Ukraine are much stricter than those in Japan, which can be easily told by looking at the temporary criteria the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and the Food Safety Commission announced for Japan. Below is a list of selected items for comparison of the tolerable level of Cesium 137 in Ukraine and Japan. (Bq/kg, Bq/L)


  Ukraine Japan
Root/leaf vegetables 40 500
Meat, meat products 200 500
Fish, fish products 150 500
Milk, dairy products 100 200
Drinking water 2 200


Internal exposure doesn't only concern the person that is directly exposed, but it may indirectly affect also that person’s future children. In this respect, there is a danger of marriage discrimination, and compared to marriage discrimination based on racial or dowa (buraku) related issues, the half-baked scientific underpinnings make this problem all the more awkward. Those that are able to get away from the "contaminated zone" should hurry to do so. The question is, how much time is left?


On a question from the audience, Kimura replied, "Based on statistical data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what we can say regarding radioactive cesium is that the present numbers don't suggest an effect on children and babies in the womb." However he added, "Considering that there might be a threat of internal exposure in the future, this fall, when large amounts of agricultural products are being harvested, surely has to be one time limit." This is not a time limit for evacuation, but what Kimura is saying is that it is necessary to achieve the safety of food by fall. The distribution of food is not an issue that concerns Fukushima alone, so measures have to be taken as soon as possible.


As we all know, the battle against radioactivity is going to be a long one. Sakamoto Ryuichi, one of the artists that appeared in the "FUKUSHIMA!" event and subsequently attended the lecture, commented, "It is certainly meaningful that artists do events like this. Like Joseph Beuys, for example, artists, musicians and architects should respond to this situation. It’s going to take time of course, but I think there could also be art exhibitions for example."


Sakamoto Ryuichi | REALTOKYO
Sakamoto Ryuichi

Sakamoto has been pointing out the danger of the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, launched the forest preservation organization "more trees", and is actively involved in various social work. His comment was a matter of course, however he had also made the following remark at the Artists Summit in 2007 at the Kyoto University of Arts and Design. "If art has no value as art, it will be meaningless even with the best purpose and intent." In that sense, the current state of affairs can surely be classified as a state of emergency. Endo Michiro, one representative of the "Project FUKUSHIMA!" planning committee, proclaimed, "March 11, 2011 – that’s the day the war began!" (on the official website). The "war" is going to continue for quite a while.


[The "Project FUKUSHIMA!", along with this lecture, are going to be featured in an NHK program this fall. I'm looking forward to that!]


(July 27, 2011)


Ozaki Tetsuya / Editor in chief / REALTOKYO