“Comfort Women” Show Makes Nikon Uncomfortable But Not Tokyo Courts

The “comfort women” aka 慰安婦 (ianfu) issue is one that divides Japan. Who were the comfort women? They were Korean, Chinese, and sometimes even Japanese women who worked as prostitutes during the Second World War, primarily offering sexual services to Japanese soldiers (There were also Dutch women in Indonesia). Many of the women were coerced into working as virtual sex slaves, while others may have worked on their own initiative, just as many women today still work in Japan’s sex industry. The issue of who ran the brothels aka “comfort houses” during the war was disputed for years but in 1992, Professor Yoshimi a well-known Japanese historian published Japanese archival documents that established the direct involvement of the Japanese military in running a network of military brothels known as “Comfort Houses.”  The Japanese government also released over a hundred documents in the same year that supported the research. However, there are still questions as to how many women were coerced into working at the brothels and their living conditions.

However, for Japan’s right wingers and historical revisionists, any suggestion that the Japanese military engaged in human trafficking is anathema.  The discussion of the subject and any films, books or exhibitions dealing with the taboo are sure to draw the attentions of these radicals. Therefore, it was not really a huge surprise when Nikon, which had agreed to host a photo exhibition about the comfort women, got cold feet at the last minute.

The photos of former "comfort women" makes Japanese right wingers and historical revisionists distinctly uncomfortable.

Korean photographer Ahn Sehong, 41, who married a Japanese woman in 2007 and lives in Nagoya for 3 years, was scheduled to have an exhibition of the portraits and photos of former comfort women at the prestigious Nikon Salon (Shinjuku) starting in June.  However, in May of this year, the exhibition was unilaterally cancelled by Nikon without explanation. The exhibition, planned from June 26 to July 9 has finally opened, but not without any problems.

“We are just lending the place,” Nikon officials allegedly told Ahn Sehong, “we cannot help you– if there is any problem we will have to end the exhibition immediately.”

When Ahn Sehong and his colleagues were preparing the exhibition, three lawyers hired by Nikon were systematically after Ahn.

“They were asking me to whom I had talked and what I said, ” said Ahn. The exhibition was only held after a court decision by the Tokyo District Court ordered them to do it.

At a press conference held today at the Foreign Correspondents Club (June 28th, 2012) Ahn said that he felt anxious all the time, fearing that his exhibition might end at any moment.

“I bet Nikon is trying to find any possible reason to stop the exhibition,” he told reporters.

The reasons given by the optical equipment maker Nikon to withdraw the exhibition were unclear at first, but its company representative told Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF/Reporters Without Borders) that Nikon’s measure “was taken after numerous calls and e-mails criticizing the exhibition.”

According to Ahn, inside the Nikon Salon gallery, when reporters came to ask questions to him, the Nikon lawyers and the guardians prohibited any exchange within the gallery.

 “I had to go at the first floor, then walk to the closest park outdoors in order to speak to reporters who came to visit my exhibition. In such situation, I feel that my freedom of expression are denied,” he said.

RSF or Reporters Without Borders, an international organization, which defends the freedom of information, condemned “the move to censor the photo exhibition,” it announced in a press release.

Mr. Naomi Toyoda, representing the JVJA (Japan Visual Journalists Association), who supported Ahn Sehong’s photo exhibition at Nikon with great vigor, said at the press conference that, “every photographer has a message. Each photo exhibition has a political message, but the photos and the photographer must be different. As a photographer myself, I defend freedom of expression at any price.”

Mr. Sehong does not approach his subject lightly and has done substantial research.

“My sources almost all passed away by now. Since 1996, I met 12 former comfort women in China, and about 40 in Korea. They did not know each other but they all told me the same facts”

The RSF in a statement about the problem noted, “ (the) thirty-seven photos and portraits of former Korean “comfort women,” who served at the fronts of the Japanese military camps in Asia, “besides their esthetic quality, supported by documentary research conducted by the photographer since 2001, are an important work of education, which must be shown to as many people as possible, without political consideration,”

The topic of the so-called comfort women is indeed embarrassing for Japan, however, in 1993, Yohei Kono, then Chief Cabinet secretary, issued a statement acknowledging that Japan organized during the war a brothel program for its military men, and offered an apology to Korea. But the Japanese government has always refused to pay individual compensation to these women.

Ahn Sehong told journalists in Tokyo that, his project started in 1996, when he first met a Korean old lady living in China, who used to be a comfort woman at the Japanese military front when she was younger. Most of the comfort women were taken away from their houses at very young age. “I wanted to help these old ladies to express their experience. If you look at the photographs, they speak for themselves. Their story needed to be told and remembered. And the Japanese people should also know about these facts.”

Ahn Sehong, photographer

 The RSF stated that, “it would be unacceptable that Nikon, a private company held in high regard by the world of photography, should become an accomplice to censorship.” RSF also urged the Japanese authorities to “determine if intimidation was perpetrated by individuals opposed to the work of the photographer,” and launch an investigation.

Dozens of Japanese ultra-nationalist group members, uyoku, have demonstrated in Yurakucho, in front of the Foreign press club building to remind their message, which is that these Korean comfort women never existed. The tirades run along the line of: “The comfort women were professional prostitutes not victims, and the photographer is mediocre too!”

At the Nikon Salon, in Shinjuku, a full security management is deployed: heavy metal detectors and guardians are stationing in every corner of the exhibition hall.

According to a FCCJ staff member, some leaders of the right wing groups tried to enter the Yurakucho Denki Building, where the Foreign Correspondents Club is based. They were denied entry.

Ahn Sehong’s family also had to move from their home in Nagoya, for fear of the multiple threats they have received. “I got pressured by Japanese Right Wing groups over time. After Nikon announced the withdrawal of the exhibition, my private contact details were released on the Internet. I received many phone calls and e-mails teaching me that the Korean comfort women never existed,” he said, “some messages said ‘you should die.’”

Ahn Sehong: "I like Nikon. I use Leica since 2002, but it is not because of the issue I had with Nikon that I do not like their cameras. This picture, on my left, was in fact taken by a Nikon camera."

A BRIEF EXPLANATION OF THE EUPHEMISM OF “COMFORT WOMEN”

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism describing the Asian women, mostly Koreans, who were enrolled to serve as sex workers for the Japanese military troupes during the WWII. The estimates of the number of women involved in this forced sex industry is a huge controversy even in the present days among Japanese, Korean and Chinese scholars. Some Japanese estimate the numbers to “as low as 20,000,” whereas some Chinese scholars estimate the numbers “as high as 410,000,” depending on the definition of the victims. The exact number is still being researched and debated.

A good discussion of the issue can be found at The Washington Coalition for Comfort Women.

NewsFLASH: Cop Dressed in School Girl Uniform Fired For Public Nudity; “Sailor Moon”!?

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department announced the punitive dismissal of a thirty-eight year old male traffic cop yesterday (June 8th, 2012). The police officer was previously arrested in March, for dressing up in sailor girl outfit (school uniform) and exposing his genitals and buttocks to a 16 year old girl in Musashino City–adding a new meaning to the term “sailor moon”.

It's not a crime for a cop to dress up as a woman in a sailor outfit, but it is "public indecency" not to wear any panties with that cute skirt. Sorry buddy!

The officer allegedly became fascinated with dressing up as a woman circa 1995.  He told friends, “I really became fascinated with high school girls. I wanted to be a high school girl!” He is also suspected of having exposed himself to the teen-aged objects of his admiration two more times in the last year. (公然わいせつ)

The severe punishment meted out by the authorities and his pending court cases makes it seem unlikely that the officer will return to work as a “police woman.”

Demonstrators Oppose Restart of Reactors “The Nuclear Age is Over!”

On May 5th 2012, Japan’s last operating nuclear power plant among a total of 54 nationwide was shut down for a routine maintenance. It was a first time since 1970 that Japan was not using atomic-generated energy. However, despite last year’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the biggest since Chernobyl, the Japanese government is intending to restart the Oi nuclear power station, in Fukui prefecture.

Kokkai-gijido-mae June 1st 2012

Disagreement sparked among the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) over the request made by the administration to restart two reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant, in Fukui prefecture.

Last April, DPJ acting policy chief, Mr. Yoshito Sengoku, including Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Minister Yukio Edano requested the restart of the Oi nuclear power plant and made several visits to the local government of Fukui to explain that “Japan’s economic society cannot live without electricity,” and compared the state of having no nuclear power to a “collective suicide.” Conclusion of discussions between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and cabinet members Edano, Hosono and others stated that the reactivation of the Oi nuclear power plant was “appropriate.” Yoshito Sengoku reportedly participated to all these discussion meetings.

Yesterday, as every Friday evenings since April 2012, in front of the Japanese Prime Minister’s headquarters in Kokkai-gijido-mae, close to the National Diet buildings, thousands of anti-nuclear power activists gathered together in a long and very ordered queue to protest against the re-start of the Oi nuclear power plant.

The protest started at 6pm and ended around 8pm, according to the organizers. By 7pm they counted 1505 participants, including some people from Fukushima.

Kokkai-gijido-mae station
Kokkai-gijido-mae station

Some protesters who came from Fukushima in the crowd were yelling to ask the people of Tokyo to come and live at least one week at their house in Fukushima, to see how it is to live there on a daily basis. They were also asking the government leaders to stay long term in Fukushima, and “not just few hours and pretend they made an official visit.”

Michiko Mori (71) is a former middle school teacher, currently retired: “I came here today to express that I am against the idea of re-running the nuclear power plant of Oi. I want to say, ‘look at the present situation of Fukushima’, hundreds of thousands are forced to live away from their homeland. Children cannot play outdoors. Is this accident real? No one will take the responsibility of it.”

Three Japanese mothers, concerned by the effects of radioactive leakage from the Fukushima Daiichi plant

Yuko Shinkai (34) is a temporary staff in a company: “I would like my government to stop considering using any nuclear energy at all. The people of this country are rarely given the chance to have their voice heard. With the Oi nuclear power plant, they are attempting to repeat the past mistakes. I do not wish anyone in the world to experience the same incident in their own country.”

Harada-san, the organizer said that the Japanese people will not be tricked this time: “I would like to ask the Japanese media and the people in Kasumigaseki central government not to try and trick the Japanese people again, because they are also part of our community. I would like to ask them not to use the lives of their people to make money.”

Artists expressing their nightmares over the fear of radiation

Jan Hataguchi (51) is a fashion designer in Tokyo and she has a 25 year old son: “The government is trying to ignore the voice of the Japanese people. Letting Oi nuclear power plant to function shows that they did not learn from the lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima. I wish all the nuclear power plants are banned.”

Hiroyuki Okada (29) is a graphic designer in Tokyo, but his hometown is Ibaraki, one of the affected areas: “I am very strongly opposed to re-start any nuclear power plant. Hundred sixty thousand people are moved from their homes. How can the government guarantee that during that short period of time, (when they function the nuclear power station) there will be no accident? Who can take the responsibility? No one. No nuclear power station should run, even temporarily.”

"The Nuclear Era is Over"

The organizers are a network of anti-nuclear power activists called No Nukes More Hearts, and the metropolitan coalition against nuclear power.  For more information contact Miss Misao Redwolf at info@nonukesmorehearts.org, twitter ID: NONUKES_MH

 

United Nations Experts Committee to Investigate the Fukushima Accident

Tokyo – May 26, 2012

In Vienna until yesterday, 72 international experts provided by 18 member states of the United Nations converged from May 21 to 25, at their annual meeting of the United Nations Scientific Committee on Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).

Last Wednesday, they released their interim findings of a major assessment into the 3.11 Fukushima Daiichi accident.

The final report about the levels and effects of radiation exposure from the accident will be presented by UNSCEAR “towards the end of 2013”, for the UN General Assembly.

We have summarized here the content of a statement announcing  the UNSCEAR Interim-Report released earlier this week. The full press release is available on the UNSCEAR webpage, accessible to the general public.

Radioactive Releases

The interim assessment of the UNSCEAR presents their understanding of the “nature and composition of the releases to the atmosphere” from the four damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant’s reactors. With the measurements of radioactive elements in the air, soil, water and food, the study will be able to “assess doses to adults and children in different areas of Japan, considering organs such as the thyroid,” the statement said.

Measurements made by the Japanese authorities on the thyroids of thousands of children in the worse affected parts of Japan given to UNSCEAR will “be compared with our own results and analysis,”  Wolfgand Weiss, Chair of the UNSCEAR said in a statement. “Any differences will be highlighted and addressed.”

Radiation Exposure of the Public: External Irradiation, Inhalation and Ingestion

The Committee did not present their own assessment at this point, and is expecting to have access to results of its own assessments, but it announced how it will study the evaluation of doses to the public published by the World Health Organization.

It also presented the results of a thyroid monitoring conducted by the Fukushima Prefecture government over thousands of children under age 15, in some affected areas. “However, the date on which internal exposure began, a parameter necessary for accurate estimation of the cumulative thyroid dose is not entirely clear.” The press release explained.

The assessment will look at exposure pathways in the air and on the soil, internal exposure from inhalation and internal exposure from ingestion of marine and terrestrial food and water.

 Radiation Exposure of Workers: “Presently no data available About Thyroid Dose Estimates”

“Six workers have died since the accident but none of the deaths were linked to irradiation.”

The report says that conducting an independent dose assessment for workers involved in the clear-up operations at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant requires “comprehensive and precise information on the internal and external monitoring regime that was implemented.” The literature search found “a small number of relevant documents that address doses likely to be received by TEPCO workers and contractors.” As of January 31, 2012, a total of 20,115 workers had been involved in the mitigation activities.

“Currently available information shows that worker deaths and injuries were a result of physical trauma, cardio-vascular stress and heat stress, associated with the tsunami or the damage mitigation activities at the site.” “One acute leukemia death cannot be attributed to radiation exposure from the accident owing to the short time between the exposures and the death.” Although there were several workers whose skin was irradiated by contamination, there were no clinically observable effects. “Accordingly, from the currently available literature, there has been no evidence of acute radiation injury in any of the workers.”

The report also says that the Government of Japan is also compiling information on doses received by workers such as the Self Defense Forces, policemen, firemen, and municipal employees, for the UNSCEAR’s review.

Effects On Animals and Plants

A a mozaique floor near Fukushima JR station, 2011

The UNSCEAR looked back at their 1996-2008 Reports on the effects of radiation exposure “on non-human biota” following the Chernobyl accident.

To date, there are only a few published assessments of exposure of non-human to radiation resulting from this accident, the press release said.

Working with Japan: A Language Issue

Most of the data used in their assessment came from the official Japanese government agencies. Many data are available on websites “though not in machine-readable formats,” the press release said. “Most, but not all of the information, is available in English. The government of Japan has been requested to supply the data in electronic formats, together with supplementary information, so that the experts can more readily use the data.”

(Photo: Geneva, Fukushima)

 

A Nuclear Respite In Japan; The Buddha Of Fukushima Comes To Tokyo

“Look around you. Do you think Tokyo needs nuclear electricity?” Naoto Matsumura, observing Tokyo life in Yurakucho, one day after all the nuclear power stations have been shut down in Japan, temporarily.

Japan’s last operating nuclear power plant reactor went off yesterday, but only for maintenance. Japan had 54 reactors before the Fukushima Daiichi power plant accident last year. This weekend Tomari nuclear power plant in Hokkaido shut down and  Japan is running without nuclear energy for the first time in 42 years.

The Washington Post reported some anti-nuclear power demonstration in Tokyo on Saturday, which coincided with Children’s Day. The traditional 鯉のぼり/koi nobori, carps flying in the air, on the Children’s Day,  became the symbol of the anti-nuclear movement.

Naoto Matsumura, the well-known farmer, who stood alone against the government’s decision last year to evacuate the cities situated within the 20km zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, because the fauna in that zone would go out of control, visited Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday. The purpose of his visit was to participate in  a fund rising event in Yokosuka for the Fukushima animals.

Naoto Matsumura and his friend Mr. Kaneko said at a press conference in Tokyo last February that they were actively trying to set up an NGO to look after the abandoned farm animals or residents’ pets. After three months of struggle, Mr. Matsumura said that his NGO called “Ganbaru Fukushima” (“がんばる福島”) got approved  by The Civil Society Support Center of Yokohama very recently, and will be officially starting out on May 11th 2012. “It is almost 90% sure that they will approve our activities, but the official starting date will be on May 11th”, he said today. The NGO’s leader is Naoto Matsumura, and the vice-presidents are Mr. Kenji Kaneko, together with professor Yamashita, from JAXA. Under the three leaders of the new group, there are an additional 10 people from various backgrounds supporting Ganbaru Fukushima’s activities.

Naoto Matsumura, on his way home to Koriyama this evening, the closest city to Tomioka Town where he lives, paid a visit to TEPCO headquarters near Shinbashi station, in Tokyo. As he was staring at the buildings, he recalled all the times when he went there to ask the leaders to shut down all their nuclear power plants. On Saturday, it became reality. Matsumura on his way to Tokyo station said: “Look around you. Does Tokyo need nuclear electricity? Is the city in darkness?”

Naoto Matsumura at Tokyo TEPCO headquarters, near Shinbashi station one day after all the nuclear power plants shut down in Japan.

And he quietly walked from TEPCO headquarters to Tokyo station to take a bullet train back to Fukushima.

Naoto Matsumura spent two days in Tokyo. He went back home on a Sunday evening. He said: "I will stay in Tomioka town until its soil will be completely decontaminated."

Yakuza Terminology: Updated With Weasels and Monsters

We’ve updated the yakuza terminology section here and there. If you’re interested in the Japanese underworld and anti-social forces, have a read. Brush up on the Japanese you shouldn’t know. By the way, if someone knows how to play itachi-gokko the correct way (like young kids used to play it), please teach me how. It sounds sort of fun.

itachi (鼬・いたち): a weasel, but in the yakuza world also slang for a very good police detective. いたちごっこ(itachgokko) “to act like a weasel” refers to a game that Japanese children play in which it is impossible for either side to win. The police versus the yakuza war which has been going on since 1965 is often referred to as itachigokko.

bakecho (化け調・ばけちょう): A shady private investigation firm, or a supposed corporate investigation that is carried out under fraudulent pretenses or with the goal of blackmailing the target, and/or illegally obtaining information for the yakuza or other anti-social forces. Private investigation firms are often used as front companies for the yakuza, and since they also collect information, they are wonderful vehicles for collecting intelligence to extort money from people or silence investigators. Recently (February 2012)  the Private Investigation firm,  Galu Agency, which has 150 offices nationwide in Japan, had their  Yokohama bureau chief convicted for fraudulently obtaining the personal records of an organized crime cop—on behalf of the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai. Yakuza Private Eye–it’s a scary combination.

Private Investigation Agencies are popular front companies for the yakuza. The companies and/or their operations/investigations are sometimes called 化け調, from 化ける/bakeru (to become a monster) and 調査 (chosa)to investigate. Illustration by @marikurisato

 

For even more  yakuza slang, press here with your remaining fingers.

 

A Light In The Dark Empire: The Man Who Fought TEPCO.

Katsunobu Onda, investigative journalist and author of "TEPCO: The Darkness of the Empire" and "The Last Will and Testament of A TEPCO Foreman"

Katsunobu Onda is a writer and investigative journalist who has been chronicling the corporate malfeasance in Japan’s nuclear industry for over two decades and his book  Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO): The Darkness of the Empire 「東京電力・帝国の暗黒」which was published in November of 2007 was the first book to dig deeply into TEPCO’S problems and sounded a warning that no one heeded. In some passages it almost eerily predicts the disaster that took place on March 11th, 2011. The book has recently been re-issued and his new book, The Last Will and Testament of A TEPCO Foreman published in February 2012, using first-hand accounts of the cover-ups, shoddy maintenance, labor abuse and corporate malfeasance at Japan’s largest energy provider, makes a strong case that TEPCO needs to be shut down or taken over by the government in order to prevent yet another tragedy.

First encounter with nuclear power plants

The first time Onda had the opportunity to visit a nuclear power plant in his career was 25 years ago at Fukushima Number One nuclear power plant. Onda says that inside the nuclear power plant, and the facilities itself, there are many people who do the daily maintenance work: “I decided to go and visit Fukushima Number 1 nuclear power station 25 years ago, because I heard stories about several people who died from exposure to radiation,” he said.

 

People who work in nuclear power stations

Most of the time, the people who work inside the nuclear power plant facilities tend to be local people whose main work is in farming or in the fishing industry. These are seasonal occupations, and quite often these people spend the off season going to other places in Japan, to do construction work as well. With the nuclear power plants, the people were able to do their off season work locally. Because they could commute from home, it was a rather attractive kind of job.

Speaking with these people, Onda learned that they all had almost no education with regards to the dangers of radioactivity: “Basically they were given a simple lecture. The lectures were short and ceremonial. They were given very simple background information and immediately after they would be standing at the reactors to work.” In Onda’s findings, most of the nuclear power plant maintenance workers had no understanding of radioactivity and the dangers of radiation. Radiation, of course, is also invisible. He also found out that there were no accurate records kept of how much radiation the workers have been exposed to. As a result, “each person had no idea of how much danger he or she was in by continuing to work at the plants” he said in a press conference in Tokyo.

 

Personal anger and sorrow

Onda says that the very first impression that he got when he started to cover nuclear power energy issues was that basically he could not forgive the way they functioned: “Nuclear power plants exist on the foundation of sacrificing organic life, whether you are a mammal, a beast or a plant.” “The negative effects of radiation is the same for all,” he said while he started to weep.

 

The power plant and the coming Great Tokai Earthquake

Onda started reporting on Chubu Electric Company, as a result, he wrote a book on the theme of “the power plant and the great Tokai earthquake.” He says he had similar impressions when he visited TEPCO, but in the case of the Chubu power plant, the reactors that he visited were stuck as a result of “undergoing inspections.” Therefore he was able to really get inside the reactor and view the facility from inside, and at that time, his impression was that, “not only there were no real understanding of a danger” or a deeper understanding of the possible replications of high radiation exposure, but he also thought from a technical point of view, that he had very great doubts with regard to the preparations in case a very big earthquake occurred.

Not only he discovered that there was a great danger for the people working inside the plant, but he felt at that time he did his research, that “if there were a real big accident, this would not only be disastrous and dangerous for the people working inside the power plant, but also for the people living around the plant.” And the accident could inevitably affect the people around the world as well.

 

A causal relationship between nuclear accidents and earthquakes

Onda has spent many years working as a reporter for a weekly news magazines and over time, when there were opportunities, he did more in depth reporting, for example when there was an accident at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant in 2007 and also for the Fukushima accident last year as well. Onda says that he has tried to convey his concerns to the greater public to the best of his efforts.

“I feel very strongly that five years ago, after the accident at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, it was made very clear to everyone who was paying attention, that there is causal relationships between earthquakes and nuclear power plants accidents.” Yet, it seems that the lessons were not very well learnt after the disastrous situation at Fukushima.

At that time, Onda felt that he needed to bring that matter to the public and he brought together his book called TEPCO, The Darkness of The Empire.

 

A source within the nuclear power plant company

Over the years, he has written many articles in many magazines about the nuclear power plant issues. One person served as a strong foundation for his reporting. That was deceased Mr. Norio Hirai. Mr. Hirai was a foreman at a TEPCO power plant.

Onda says that in the past, it was very difficult for trying to get answers and honest opinions from people within the electric power plants and electric power companies themselves, therefore Mr. Norio Hirai was a very special person to him, because the man was the first person to be a whistle blower, “someone who brought the electric power plants problems to light from within the company.”

From Mr. Hirai, Onda has received very valuable information, such as the status of radiation exposure of the workers inside the plant. Mr. Hirai gave Onda more detailed information about life inside the plant, and told him about the “structural and technical problems with the plants,” and listening to him, Onda says he could understand the issues very well, because, himself has had the opportunity to view the installations from inside.

For years, the government, TEPCO, and other electric utility companies in Japan have insisted on the “safeness” of the nuclear power plant facilities to the public. Onda believes that the electric utility companies, the power generating industry itself, and the government are all one single unit, that’s why he refers to it as “the nuclear mafia.”

 

Money, the power of  “the nuclear mafia”

The root of the power of the nuclear mafia lies in the fact that they have money. Using the power of money, they were able basically to push upon the public this myth of safety and as a result, “they were able to convince the media, including myself that this myth was actually true.” The Japanese media also played an active part in perpetuating the deceptive activities of the nuclear industry: “They bare a tremendous responsibility for helping the government and the electric industry to perpetuate this myth.” Onda says. “When I look back on what has happened, I feel an enormous feeling of anger and regret, feeling powerlessness that I was not able to do anything more.”

 

Fight against the lobby of nuclear energy

Onda is now a freelance journalist and writer, he said that although he feels tremendous regret, he has not lost his fighting spirit at all, in fact he intends to work and report more regarding nuclear power plants. Now that he heard people like Mr. Naoto Matsumura (the Buddha of Fukushima) and his colleagues are trying to do something about this issue, Onda says it inspires him to keep on writing and investigating. He was the first journalist to really shine light into the darkness of the TEPCO empire; many hope that Mr. Onda will finally expose the dangers of Japan’s nuclear industry before all of Japan is exposed to the danger from their mistakes and corporate malfeasance.

The Buddha Of Fukushima 1-Year Later (Post 3/11)

Last year, we told you the story of Naoto Matsumura, Tomioka City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan–the last man standing in  Fukushima’s Forbidden Zone. He will not leave;  he risks an early death because his defiance of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the government is his life now. He is not crazy and he is not going. He remains there to remind people of the human costs of nuclear accidents. He is the King of The Forbidden Zone; its protector. He is the caretaker or empty houses, a point of contact for those citizen who can’t return. He takes care of the animals, “the sentient beings”, that remain behind because no one else will.  He is the Buddha of the forbidden zone. 

This is how things are now.

Mr. Matsumura is holding a painted stone sent from supporters saying, "Thank you!"

“Nothing has improved inside the 20km zone.”

One year after the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster that hit northern Japan, the living conditions for most of the evacuees has not changed much, especially for the evacuees of the most dangerous zone defined by the Japanese government as being forbidden for people to stay in or live in. Naoto Matsumura, “the Buddha of Fukushima”, stayed in his farmhouse, in his town Tomioka, all this time. Although the people are not allowed there, the animals have been left behind, abandoned by the human beings.

(Naoto Matsumura、came to speak on February 28, 2012 at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan in Tokyo. This is what he had to say.)

 

Life in Temporary Housing Shelters

All the people who evacuated the town have been stuffed into very small quarters in these evacuation temporary housing shelters. Most of them have anything to do with their time waiting for the day the government will announce they can return to their homeland. The people in the temporary houses have a tremendous amount of stress, many people have developed illnesses over the past year. Many people have actually died. “The government is not taking action, in fact they don’t even think about us.” Matsumura says.

The victims ask themselves: “How many years will it be before we will be able to return?” It may be in fact many years before people might be able to return, if that is the case. Although the older people will be able to return, the younger people will not be willing to return in such deeply contaminated land.

 

Matsumura’s Dream 

If things remain as they are, Matsumura thinks that many years from now, Tomioka town will continue to be a ghost town. There are however many Japanese, who feel frustrated with this, who want to try to act where the government does not. Therefore some of Matsumura’s friends are trying to establish an NPO group, believing they might be successful if we are able to develop the NPO framework, and even to establish it. “Because many people will come together, we will be able to do things where we do not have to depend on the government.”

“Of course, my days are spent now trying to do everything I can to take care of the abandoned pets, and the animals that remain in Tomioka.” Matsumura adds. His fervent wish is that decontamination procedure progresses, and he hopes that someday people will be able to go back to Tomioka.

 

A great thanks to the supporters in the world

Matsumura took the time to express his thoughts to the people who have been writing post-cards and letters. Many supporters all over the world, from the USA, Australia, Italy, Russia, France, have sent their message of support to Naoto Matsumura. Because he lives inside the danger zone, the postal service have been delivering the important messages to the address of his evacuation shelter, which he visits once in a while also to charge his mobile phone: “I feel great gratitude for the people throughout the world who have a thought and willingness to cooperate and help. If their wishes are meant, I think that in the near future, this might change in a very big way.”

 

“I do not know how many years are left to me, maybe 10 years, or 20 years, but I hope very much to see my dreams realized while I am still alive.” Matsumura’s dream is to see his town restored to its former state. The government seems not to be of any great help, according to Matsumura, and the Japanese media has not really reported what is occurring in the areas in which he lives: “I am making an appeal to any media organization in the world, any audio-visual organization to report it as it is.” Matsumura believes that people throughout the world have much more information about what is happening in Tomioka and the cities around it, compared to the people in Japan. The progress is very slow and Matsumura and his friends from Tomioka do not have a great deal of power, but people like him, are willing, step by step, the realization of his dream.

All over the world support and donations have come in to support Matsumura-san in his protests against TEPCO and his efforts to take care of the remaining wild-life in the forbidden zone.

 

“The government and TEPCO are liars.”

TEPCO are at present shutting down their nuclear reactors, but many Japanese people know that their plan is to say that Japan is lacking electricity, or that Japan has electricity shortage problem. “TEPCO will say that they need to restart the Fukushima nuclear power plant as well,” Mastumura fears.

 

If this happens, even if soil and building decontamination proceeds, and even people will be able to return to these areas, they will face the same fear and terror of another accident occurring. In reality, they will not be able to return to their homes. “My desire is that TEPCO disappears from this earth. People working at TEPCO have no tears nor blood, they are not human!” Matsumura says.

 

In the past, TEPCO had many nuclear accidents but whenever these reports were presented on television, the ending phrase was always: “The amount of radiation leaked is not enough to adversely affect the human body.” Matsumura adds.

 

Japanese Media Over the Years

In Japan, because all the TV broadcasts always used to say that nuclear power plants are “absolutely safe”, “you can always have peace of mind, because we are taking all measures necessary,” Matsumura believes that as a result of all this publicity, TEPCO staff itself were brainwashed: “They feeling they are working in a very safe environment.”

Matsumura says he spoke to people who worked at TEPCO at the time of the accident, and heard a story form a man who was working outside the facility on March 11, 2011: “Suddenly, there was a broadcast urging to seek shelter inside immediately.” “The man told me that once they were inside the building, they heard this huge explosion outside, and what they thought at first is that they were under a missile attack.” In other words, it never even occurred to them that they were working in such a dangerous facility that this facility might ever produce an accident, they thought it was an outside reason.

 

“TEPCO’s Apology Manual”

In the continuous negotiation between TEPCO and the Japanese government, TEPCO always said it was the responsibility of the government and the government was responding the same arguments. In other words, many believe that nothing would change unless one of them collapses. And since the Japanese government cannot collapse, Matsumura believes that the natural solution is that TEPCO collapses: “But until TEPCO collapses, we will make no progress on the compensation and negotiations.”

 

When Matsumura went to meet TEPCO at their headquarters in Tokyo with his friends, he says they really lost temper, but the only thing TEPCO could answer was “sumimasen” and apologize. “They must have written a manual on how to apologize.”

 

Matsumura believes that there will be a court case in the end. As it is very well known, the court cases are very long in Japan, this one may take 20 or 30 years. The current victims will all be dead by then. This is always the way the government deals with difficult issues, according to some experts. If one looks back at history, when there were similar incidents, the Japanese government is finally resorted to fighting it on the court, and the court comes with a final decision so many years later that most of the people involved in the case, and most of the victims are already dead by the time it issues a decision.

Independent Commission on Nuclear Accident: Earthquake, TEPCO negligence, Myth of Safety Caused Meltdown

On March 1st, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, established in September 2011 by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, lead by Koichi Kitazawa, former president of Japan Science and Technology Agency, held a press conference on their recently issued report. The commission is a civilian project staffed by nuclear experts, investigative journalists, and experts in risk management.

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Committee press conference. Mr. Kitazawa (center) Mr. Funabashi (far left)

We have summarized the press conference and the report for our readers. During the press conference, the committee stated that there was solid evidence to suggest that the earthquake caused enough damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant to create the meltdown and that the tsunami was a secondary factor. This conclusion flies in the face of the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) claims that an unprecedented tidal wave was responsible for the disaster rather than the earthquake.

The committee found that there was not only a problem in the reactors of Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, but that the pools that store the spent fuel “were one of the biggest source of possible radioactive leakage.” The other main problem during the crisis management was the lack of information sharing and coordination inside the government offices, and also the failure of international communication with regard to the dumping of contaminated seawater into the ocean. The Japanese tatewari hierarchal systems of the Japanese government offices had been disclosed to the whole world.

“National Psychological Spiral”

This report did not only cover the direct or indirect causes of the accident, but also the socio-historical part of the cause.

The report pointed out that the situation in Japan with regard to nuclear power is very “poorly prepared to accidents.” A “psychological spiral” may have lead Japan into having arrogant self-confidence in nuclear energy. “All the people who worked or still work in the nuclear industry” felt that “there was something wrong in what they were doing”, but failed to report it.

As a scientist, Mr. Koichi Kitazawa, the chairman of the panel and Former President of Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), feels that the nuclear power reactors in Japan are “too crowded” on the same site. Because of this “crowded distribution of radioactivity sources”, the accident developed in the way that “each of the radioactive sources interacted with each other” and therefore amplified the scale of the accident.

The report also pointed out that, the people who knew about the meltdown knew that “the most dangerous part of the plant was not just the reactors, but also the pools where the spent fuel is stored”. “The spent fuel pools were one of the biggest source of possible radioactive leak”, but this time “fortunately” the leak from these pools could be avoided in time. However, this “luck” cannot be guaranteed in the future.

TEPCO Requested Retreat from the Accident Site

During the most critical times of the accident, between March 14th and 16th, TEPCO had requested former PM Naoto Kan’s office to pull out the group of workers operating on the Fukushima Daiichi power station accident site. The president of TEPCO called the people who were closely working with the PM asking them to convince the PM to let them evacuate their employees. But PM Naoto Kan and his advisors did not permit TEPCO to retreat. In total, about 600 people retreated from the accident site, but the so-called Fukushima Fifty were left behind to work inside the nuclear power station to avoid the accident to go out of control.

According to the investigation of this panel commission, perhaps the greatest achievements of Mister Kan could be that he “was able to prevent TEPCO to retreat entirely from the Daiichi site.” In other words, while Prime Minister Naoto Kan was a hot-headed jerk, his decisiveness and ability to threaten and intimidate TEPCO into not abandoning ship,  like a bunch of rats, was decisive in preventing an even greater nuclear disaster.

However, the excessive involvement of the PM’s office to the crisis management was “more than necessary” and turned out to be “not really effective.” The reason for this involvement was because “the presence of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan was so dilute and insufficient”. The PM’s office was not able to gather enough information from these organizations and “gradually became suspicious about the efficiency” of the bureaucrats and those involved in the accident management. This has led the PM to go directly to the accident site.

The report concludes that the reason why the accident was on an epic scale was because of the “lack of a sense of responsibility and professional negligence on safety issues of TEPCO and of the government.”

The world is supposed to have accumulated much improvement in terms of security issues in nuclear power plants after the accidents of Three Miles Island and Chernobyl. However Japan has not been able to use the world’s experience in nuclear disaster. Ambassador Tetsuya Endo, member of the committee and former chairman of the Board of Governors said that the main problem in Japan is the lack of the information sharing during the crisis management and the “arrogant” self confidence of the Japanese nuclear energy industry accumulated since the 1960’s which led Japan “not to pay enough attention from the recommendations coming from abroad, including from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

“Negligence in the last 20 years has led Japan to become a place not safe enough for using nuclear energy.”

 The reasons why Japan did not accept the recommendation from the other countries about the safety issue, according to the investigation, is believed to be the “self trapped situation” of the people related to regulation from which a nuclear power generation trapped in the so-called “miss in absolute safety.” This is why the safety issue did not reach a higher level in Japan.

In other words, the words “improvement in safety issues” has even become almost “taboo” in the manufacturing companies of nuclear power plant and for electric power companies. In their logic, believing that nuclear energy is “100% safe”, there was no room for “improvement.”

Preparedness to a Nuclear Accident for Nuclear Power Generation

As for the people related to the regulatory side or the promotion of nuclear energy, according to the interviews conducted by the investigation crew, have expressed that they have felt that there was “some problems,” but felt that if each of them started to speak out something different from what they were promoting, the nuclear power would not get support from the general public.

According to Mr. Kitazawa, each one of whom they have questioned said they “regretted what they have been doing” without sufficient knowledge, which raises the legal part of the issue of responsibility. The belief in the absolute safety of nuclear energy turned out not to be true, but those who were promoting it believed that this energy was 100% safe. And so these people ended up believing that improvement was “not necessary and unreasonable,” according to the findings of the report.

Information Mismanagement

The report found that the management of information was a failure as well. “Japan was not ready at all to manage a nuclear crisis starting from the accident site to the PM’s office.” How to gather and transmit information in the crisis management turned out the support from the people, and unfortunately during the management of the accident the Japanese government failed to grasp support or reliability of the people on the government.

The Power of Twitter and Bloggers

Mr. Funabashi, another member of the committee, and former reporter at Asahi Newspaper, said that indeed, the Japanese media should have challenged the Japanese government officials more critically. The System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) designed to provide precautionary measure to those who are supposed to evacuate was not made public, and the first to be reporting on the issue were the foreign media, which gradually the people at the PM’s office be informed on the issue. For example, active tweetters and bloggers questioning the SPEEDI and its effectiveness, such as Professor Hayano Ryugo at Tokyo University, started to mention SPEEDI on internet around March 15th. This professor had many followers and one of the first to follow him was a member of the PM’s office. Yet the official explanation given about this story was that “given the uncertainty of the source’s terms the system cannot be utilized,” and it was recommended to the politicians that the system should not be activated. Even though they had invested much money on this system in the past years, they decided not to use it. With so many stories like this one, the Japanese media should have investigated more. And in the most critical moment of the history of the accident, Mr. Funabashi believes that the Japanese media did not serve the general public and that the long established Japanese “Press Club System” is hurting Japanese journalism “to do a rightful and useful job.” For example, the reporters who were already aware of the SPEEDI on March 14th and 16th, have asked many questions to the ministers and the deputy ministers, but no serious report came out on these days in the major Japanese media. “So the press club system did not help communication at all, in this case.”

Although the PM’s office and those who worked on the accident site have worked their best to improve the situation, the report concludes that “most of the effort was not efficient.” Mr. Koichi Kitazawa insists on the fact that “luckily”, the situation did not get worse than what happened, “not too much radioactivity was leaked,” but this “luck” cannot be guaranteed in the future.

The Spectre of Nuclear Terrorism

Ambassador Endo also spoke of a great risk of terrorist attacks taken by TEPCO over the years. According to him, “terrorists could have achieved their intention, as TEPCO hired its employees without keeping track of where they come from and their competence in working in the sector.”

Some of the so-called Fukushima Fifty are still unknown, because TEPCO failed to trace who they are, he noted. (Editor’s note: Suzuki Tomohiko, author of Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry, has asserted that some of them were actually local gangsters. Considering TEPCO’s long history of cozy relations and/or tacit approval of organized crime related firms, this is probably not surprising.)

Did the meltdown occur before or after the Tsunami hit?”

The chairman of the committee said that “there had already been a fatal accident, and a failure of the system had taken place before the tsunami arrived.” The report contains an interview with a person who stayed inside the nuclear power plant. The person interviewed talks about what he and his colleagues saw before the tsunami hit. “According to this person, they saw some steam coming out from inside the reactor and they had special word for the vapors,  namajoki (生蒸気) in Japanese, which is raw steam. They suspected at the time that it was the steam coming from some pipeline between the reactor and the turbines.”

However, in order to tell if there was an accident occurring before the tsunami hit, the workers would have had to go inside the reactor in order to find out what was really happening in there. “At that moment, the radiation level was too high and they could not check what is really happening inside the reactor.” Therefore, the committee “could not finalize the conclusion.”

Jake Adelstein also contributed to this article. 

The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld coming in 2015

Jake Adelstein’s 2nd book, a narrative non-fiction history of  post-war Japanese organized crime, The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese World  is due to be published in 2014.  The book by focussing on several former yakuza bosses and their associates, including the cops who arrested them, will follow the rise of the yakuza, their movement into the financial world, and the gradual disintegration of the professed code that let them be tolerated in Japanese society.

Publisher’s Weekly had the story before it was officially announced. The Atlantic Wire also kindly gave the announcement of the book deal a write-up yesterday.

Agent William Clark, at William Clark Associates, just closed two notable deals. In the first, he sold U.S. and Canadian rights to Jake Adelstein’s nonfiction book The Last Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underworld to Tim O’Connell at Pantheon. (Adelstein’s first book, 2010’s Tokyo Vice, is also with Pantheon.) The author is a journalist who grew up in the Midwest before moving to Japan, where he began covering crime for a Japanese paper. The first American to work that beat, Adelstein, who was recently profiled in the New Yorker, has emerged as one of the foremost authorities on organized crime in Japan. The new book, about a former gang boss, is, as Clark explained, “a singular, in-depth, occasionally funny, often dark, but nonetheless inspiring, tale.” A U.K. auction for the book was in progress at press time. (July 2nd, 2012) 

 

From The Atlantic Wire. 

Some in-house book news: Atlantic Wire contributor Jake Adelstein has a deal for his book The Last Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underground. Adelstein, an expert on organized crime in Japan, worked as the crime reporter for Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, the first American to hold that position. He was profiled in The New Yorker earlier this year. The Last Yakuzaaccording to Publisher’s Weekly, is about a “former gang boss.” Adelstein previously published Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, a memoir. [Publisher’s Weekly]