Socialist Worker

Fukushima nuclear crisis creates a spirit of dissent in Japan

by Dave Handley, in Kawasaki, Japan
Issue No. 2246

As Japan tries to come to terms with the havoc and devastation wreaked by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, much has been written about the 'stoical character' of the Japanese people. It's true that, for many, the only certainty in this world is disaster—specifically 'tensai' (heavenly disaster).

I read an article by a Japanese journalist reporting how, as soon as they are able to walk, Tokyo children are equipped with a 'bosai zukin' (safety hood) to ward off flames and flying debris, and a small rucksack packed with emergency food, bottled water, a towel and first-aid gear.

But more important for socialists is the growing discontent at the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the same robber barons who send me my overpriced electric bills every month.

People have lost trust because of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

While the Japanese government and Tepco are trying to play things down, some international reports and websites are predicting Armageddon.

There is still widespread general confusion here about the situation. People want to know exactly how serious things are, what the possibilities of irradiation might be and the consequences of all this.

Tepco president, Masataka Shimizu, obviously a master of understatement, made a formal apology “for causing such a great concern and nuisance”. There are 55 such reactors in Japan with another 11 in development. That’s 66 'nuisances' waiting to happen.

And it isn’t only the threat of radiation that’s affecting people. Increasing numbers of people are reporting symptoms resembling seasickness, with some complaining of severe vertigo. This is known as jishin-yoi (earthquake sickness) or 'post-shake syndrome'. The symptoms can also include nausea, chilled extremities and heavy perspiration.

People who have had to sleep in their cars for more than three consecutive nights are also reporting circulation problems similar to 'economy class syndrome' that affects air travellers. More than 200,000 people are still staying in evacuation shelters.

Discontent

Refugees have been voicing their discontent.

“Many of us feel betrayed,” said Tomoko Sato, who left her home in Minami-soma, a small town in the 12.5 mile evacuation zone around the stricken Fukushima reactors, and who is now staying in a refugee centre in Akita prefecture, more than 125 miles north of the plant.

“We were told again and again it was safe”, said Sato who broke her collarbone when she was swept away into a muddy stream by the tsunami. She was pulled clear from the water by her husband.

“This is a man-made disaster,” said Ikuko Ishibashi, a farmer whose husband has remained on the farm to look after their livestock. “We would be able to restart our lives more easily if we had only had the quake and the tsunami.

“We can’t do anything unless the problem with the nuclear plant is resolved. I want the reactors to be dismantled as soon as possible.'

Another evacuee said people were panicked by a lack of information and by the inadequate evacuation measures.

“Because we did not have enough information, our anxiety increased”.

His family was ordered by local authorities to get “far away from the plant” without being told where to go.

Most former residents of Fukushima have given up on the idea of ever returning, but Sato's family would like to go back someday. She said, “It should be in a location where the sea is not in sight and it should be far away from the plant”.

There have been a number of anti-nuclear demonstrations in Japan, but you wouldn’t know about them if you relied on the Japanese media!

On 26 March, NHK (the Japanese equivalent of the BBC) covered a demo in Germany, pointing out that it was triggered by the crisis at Fukushima.

The next day protesters held an anti-nuclear march in Tokyo. It was much smaller than the German protest, but it was in Japan. The media ignored it.

Japan has a committed anti-nuclear movement. The memory of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is kept very much alive and is part of the school curriculum.

But for too long, Japanese society has been apathetic about politics in general, with an entrenched belief that 'we’re all middle-class'.

The fact that the Japanese media disgracefully ignores any kind of dissenting movement is a problem that needs to be addressed by a weak, but by no means defunct, Japanese left.


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Article information

International
Tue 5 Apr 2011, 18:23 BST
Issue No. 2246
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