SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Stefan Wuerrer Returning to the Questions of “Who are the Victims?” “Where are the Disaster-Stricken Areas? ”

I first visited Fukushima in May 2018. I joined the Fukushima tour organized by the Atsumi International Foundation and stayed there for two nights.  This time, I visited Iitate as a voluntary interpreter for the IPPS (International People’s Project) organized by CISV Japan Kanto Chapter.  (*CISV:Children’s International Summer Village)



What motivated me to visit Iitate again was a desire to learn more about the issues of unequal distribution of responsibility and burden and the arbitrary or self-willed demarcation between “us” and “others,” or, more simply put, the question of  “who is the restoration of Fukushima for?”   



There were also other things that left an impression on me in Iitate. I was reminded of my father’s beautiful homeland in North-East Austria where the deep green blends in with the beautiful surrounding woods and fields. There was also the non-negligible existence of piles of polluted soil covered by black sheets which stand out prominently yet ominously.  I dare say that these piles of polluted soil are being left as is in the agricultural fields because the government can use the excuse of saying that their hands are full with the Olympics. There are also solar-panels that have been left in the fields because they were rendered impossible to use due to radioactive contamination. I heard that dozens of these solar panels are owned by big companies and that Iitate can receive only the rent from them, not electricity.  



In the midst of these circumstances, a fissure grew in this local community.



The accident at Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant led the younger generation, for better or worse, to leave their hometown to work in other places.  On the other hand, the elderly exerted themselves to restore their homeland where they were born and lived for most of their life.  As I live in Tokyo, I have little chance to learn about this situation. According to the newspapers or TV, it seems the accident at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant and radioactive contamination is already over. Staying at a disaster area or “the site” and listening to what the people who live there had to say gave me a very valuable experience and made me more conscious of the situation.     



Last year when I tried to summarize my impressions, I was left with one question.  Is it correct to use the expression “the site”?  Where is “the site” or disaster area?  Where is the evacuation order zone which is contaminated by radioactivity?  Where is the zone that is difficult to return to?  Which are the villages or towns where restoration or decontamination work is being conducted?  Is it the Fukushima nuclear power plant?  What about Tokyo or Japan, or the Pacific Ocean? How can we understand “the site”?



When I was packing a few days before my visit to Iitate, I recalled my last visit there and these questions.  Mr. Hoshino, with whom I stayed as part of a homestay to interpret for two foreign participants of IPPS Fukushima, sent me a speech written for a speech contest by a student of Iitate Junior High School which also spurred my thoughts.



CISV is a private non-profit organization. It organizes international educational programs and area projects for people over 11 years old in 69 nations to foster global citizens who can contribute to creating a peaceful and fair world. IPPS, as one of the educational programs, held a workshop in Iitate from August 11 to August 24.  In this program, participants over the age of 19 joined with people and organizations in Iitate to tackle difficult problems in the area over a period of two weeks. In the first half, they learned about Iitate, and in the latter half contributed to the area as a form of output. Over a weekend between the first and latter half of the program, we went on a homestay in the homes of volunteers in the Iitoi and Sasu areas.



On the last day of our visit, we visited a museum for the decommissioning of the nuclear reactor and the site of Fukushima nuclear reactor number 1. I joined these visits as an interpreter together with other four Raccoons and we had a variety of activities in these two days. In visiting a cowshed in the Komiya district where several hundred cows are raised, we came to know about the agricultural situation in Fukushima after the earthquake. We also learned about the historical background of the Mano-Dam when we drove to Lake Mano, which had splendid scenery. We also enjoyed pizza which was baked in the stone oven in the garden of our host.  He had constructed this oven for people to get together. During the garden party he organized for us, we were also treated to a jam session with a variety of musical instruments. We even helped mowing grass together with the community in Iitate. There are still many problems remaining in Iitate, but we can also gain many valuable experiences through being in this area that is rich in nature and broad-minded people.  We cannot thank Mr. Hoshino, our host, enough.  



Mr. Hoshino works at Iitate area support center as a public health nurse and cares for the elderly. As mentioned above, he had sent me a speech from an English speech contest by Miss. Yasumi Sato, a student of Iitate Junior High School. The title of her speech was “Don’t Call Us Victims”.



In her speech, she says, “There is a word which I do not like to use. It is “victims.”



The word “victims” means people who suffered from disasters. We are not victims now. We are disgusted by being called victims. (・・・) Many people get information through the mass-media and trust such information. I have seen many TV programs regarding the earthquake disaster and was interviewed many times. And, I tried to let many people know the true situation that we are struggling with. But,(・・・)pictures or interviews were exaggerated. They purposely portrayed us as “victims”. Do we keep being victims as long as the media wants? Victims are considered miserable. But, I do not agree.



Victims are not necessarily miserable.” (Publicity paper “Iitate”, December, 2017)



When I read her speech, I thought about my question from last year – where is “the site”, the disaster area? Who are the victims?  Why do people like to create “victims” or to be “pitiful” ?  Any line dividing “this side” and “the other side” would be an arbitrary one,  or a result of neglect of “the other side”. However, we are unable to stop drawing the line somewhere.  As far as we are humans, in order to be “oneself” one has to draw the line somewhere, on one side or the other. Considering why we desire to draw this line and the function it serves is a worthy question of thought.  It would also provide a response to Miss, Sato’s speech and her feeling of being “disgusted” as well as my questions of place and victimhood, as well as the general questions of for whom the resurrection of Fukushima is for? Who is responsible for this resurrection?     



The word “site” or “disaster area” exists on the assumption that there is a place which is not “the site” or “disaster area”. In talking about the Great East Japan Earthquake or the accident of the Fukushima nuclear power reactor, using the words “disaster area” to signify a specified area or site and the word “victims” as a specified group of people  means that there is an imaginary line demarcating “non-victims” or “non-disaster area.”



We can imagine “here” as “non-disaster area” and “myself” as “non-victim”.



Expressions such as “I will do something for somebody” or “supporting” have the same meaning as the words “pitiful” or just “Fukushima”.  In the world of renting and borrowing the words “I will do something for somebody” mean that “this side” will help “the other side” beyond a border line, entering into “the site” with “goodwill”.



However, what will happen after “doing something for somebody”?  We return to the problem of “this side” and “the other side”. In other words, the side “to support” and “to be supported” are different or distinct. Where is “the site” in such cases? Is it “this side” which supports “the other side”?  Does “the site” belong to “the other side”? Is it “this side” which supports “the other side”? When we say “let us support”, is it correct to understand resources or “time to spare” for supporting as belonging to “this side”?



If so, we are producing ourselves unconsciously to be “kindhearted”, stretching or enlarging our consciousness.



Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying “stop supporting”.  It is “we” (this side) that used the words “pitiful” or “the other side”. Do not escape from the responsibilities of empathy, sympathy and cooperation by being intoxicated by the words “I will do it for you” or “kindhearted me”. We have to recognize “the other side” who stand on different footings. Radioactive contamination and its aftereffects by the Fukushima nuclear power reactor, which was caused by the large scale earthquake and tsunami of 3.11, produced this area with its specific needs. But, it is “our” problem and responsibility. No matter where we live, “we” use the energy generated by the nuclear power reactor before 3.11 and after 3.11 as well.



It is “we”, whoever voted for or against the parties which agreed on the construction of or resuming of the nuclear power reactor.  It is also “we” and the government who regard the Olympics as more important than the restoration of Fukushima.



The restoration of Fukushima is “my” or “our” problem and responsibility regardless of whether I move to another country or stay in Japan. We should not irresponsibly adhere to “the other side” by using the term “pitiful” and by showing fake compassion on the basis of being on “this side”. This issue is not a temporary performance of goodwill. It is “we”, plural and the first person, who can make possible the access to resources that the disaster area has lost. It is not because environmental pollution and natural disasters cross the borders of prefectures. When nuclear power stations were built, their burdens and risks were enforced one-sidedly on the area where plants were built.    



I saw the words “sympathy” and “cooperation” many times on the leaflets of Resurrection of Fukushima which accepted and guided us last year. I could hear the voices which called for the necessity of “sympathy”, “cooperation” and “sharing” in Iitate last year and this year. How can we make possible “sympathy”, “cooperation” and “sharing” by “myself” beyond our differences in needs and contexts?



This is a question that I brought back from Iitate last year, and which I continue to ponder. 



SGRA Kawaraban 610 in Japanese (Original)



Stefan Wuerrer / 2018 Raccoon, Graduate School of Arts and Science, The University of Tokyo



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sonja Dale