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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
The Kiyomasa Well (清正井), located in the Meij Jingu (明治神宮) Inner Garden is believed to be one of Tokyo premier power spots. No one is sure when the rumors began but around 2010, Japanese celebrities began whispering that if you took a photo of the well and used it as your cell-phone mainscreen that your good luck would bubble over, like the pure water that continues to bubble from the Kiyomasa well for many decades. We know that not everyone can make it to “the pond of power” so we decided to go for you guys. We’re so glad we did.
It’s easy to miss the magic well of Kiyomasa, since the Meiji Jingu Inner Garden is a little off the beaten path to the main shrine. According to Meiji Shrine, the garden first belonged to Lord Kiyomasa Kato and later Lord Li during the Edo Period. (When was the Edo period? Look it up. :D) In the reign of Emperor Meiji, who was quite the radical reformer in his day, it was passed over to the Imperial Estate.
The well is fountain head of Nan-Chi (South pond) and the pure water bubbles out in a steady flow all year round. Apparently, it was a lucky strike when Lord Kato started to dig a basement. The well is famous for its simplistic design and the excellence of the well-water. Unfortunately, since the triple-meltdown in March, the shrine now asks people to refrain from drinking the water. However, photos are still okay! You can even dip your hands into the relatively warm water. Swimming: not allowed. Enjoy the luck while it lasts!
This is 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.
For more than nine months, the 20 km zone around the Fukushima power plant has been a forbidden zone, where evacuation is an obligation for everyone, except one man. Since the nuclear accident, Naoto Matsumura refuses to leave his farm. At the age of 52, this farmer is physically in a good shape. In the city of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, where he currently lives, there is no water and no electricity. “When I wake up in the morning, I take my dogs for a nice walk. I brushing my teeth. I do this for about twenty minutes. And then I try to think about what to do for the rest of my day”. Matsumura usually eats instant ramen, which are easy to prepare with a bit of boiled water. He drinks mineral water when he manages to find some. In summer, he took showers in the greenhouse, with the water from the river, which he boils with charcoal he finds here and there. The water from the river is radioactive. Before the nuclear accident, Matsumura used to fish at the river. Last summer, he did his laundry there. With a large smile on his face, Matsumura says: “I love fishing. The rivers and the sea here are full of fish, however I cannot eat them, because they contain too much cesium. The rain of cesium particles spread by the crippled Fukushima Number 1 power plant （福島原発第一） after the nuclear meltdown back in March has contaminated them.”
Tomioka is a small town that stands between the Fukushima Number 1 and Number 2 power plants. It used to be a quiet little town on the Pacific coast of Japan, where 16,000 inhabitants lived before March 12. To this day, some elderly people have been coming and leaving, but there is only one citizen who has stayed and lived there continuously. Tomioka was been evacuated on the next day after the tsunami hit. The orders from the authorities were clear and simple: “Take the minimum amount of your possessions and get out.”
The refugees from Fukushima (Tomioka) have abandoned their houses, their belongings, their cars, their pets, but they hoped to come back afterwards. The last people who were resisting the orders like Matsumura, felt they had to give up the fight. TEPCO, the private operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, after first denying any meltdowns later revised their statements to acknowledge the core of three reactors had melted down and that the “problem” might still be actually solved… after 30 years. Matsumura notes that “TEPCO and the Japanese government have never stopped lying, out of their good will, in order to avoid panic among the population. Such good intentions, of course.”
Despite his white hair and mustache, Matsumura looks like a Hollywood actor. He smokes twenty “Mild Seven” cigarettes a day: “I buy cigarettes when I go out of the forbidden zone from time to time. I like smoking. If I quit smoking now, I may get ill!” He laughs.
Back in June 2011, according to a photographer who entered the forbidden zone to visit Matsmura: “Around his newly built house on the top of a hill in Tomioka, enormous spider nets invaded the vegetation, like everywhere else in the ghost town. Enormous spiders seemed to take advantage of the radioactivity and the evacuation of the zone in order to pullulate”.
Matsumura has been looking after 400 cows, 60 pigs, 30 fowls, 10 dogs, more than hundred cats and an ostrich. The ostrich was the official mascot of TEPCO; they brought it to the town, allegedly. The ostrich was supposed to represent energy efficiency. The ostrich needs very little food to survive and thrive; it’s a very energetic animal. Unfortunately, it also has a tendency to bury its head in the sand when dealing with danger and is not a very bright bird. It makes a fitting symbol for TEPCO and its executives. (There is, however, no past history of ostriches being arrested for criminal negligence resulting in death and/or injury. They’re stupid creatures but not evil.)
“What happened to the animals is that, when the people of Tomioka evacuated in March, everybody opened the gates and the cages of the animals. They left their animals alone or returned them to nature, and especially the cattle and the pigs have become wild and they are currently living in the wilderness where they are growing”.
Matsumura goes to bed at around 6 PM, and gets up at the rising sun. He has no electricity in his house, and the temperatures go below freezing. When he wakes up, he listens to the silence that surround him. At least he can hear the sound of the living birds, dogs or cats, which are ill or depressed. He does not know if their pain is due to radiation. Only the cows that have gone wild seem to be flourishing and healthy: “They are gorgeous and fat. They eat a lot of grass,” Matsumura says.
In Tomioka, human time has stopped twice. Once when the tsunami hit, and a second time during the massive evacuation.
A photo reporter who went inside the red zone in April 2011 spoke about his impressions: “While looking at the sea, there was no other noise than the noise of the wind and the waves hitting the rocks”. “Inside the houses, which have become ruins after they were hit by the tsunami, dirt has been accumulating in the living rooms”. “There is a cynical contrast with the town streets, which remained clean despite the lack of care”. “We have to search very closely to discover that, behind those quiet houses, in the back side of the walls, a window has been broken.”
Robbers and thieves have made their ways into the zone. “The ATM in stores were also tempting and easy prey. There were no policemen in the zone. The ATM have been broken up with hammers and looted in order to steal radioactive money, which currently circulates somewhere in Japan.”
“Farms have become death camps. The cattle houses are full of dead animals in the stage of decomposition”.
To erase the smell of the mass graves, more time will be required. However, all the cows that escaped are not out of danger. On a farm, Matsumura saw a young cow that was suffering. She was not in good shape. A rope attached to its face was blocking its jaw. After seven months, the calf had become a cow. “The skull that was growing fast was trapped within the rope. The skin and the muscle were cut vividly by the furrow created by the rope. The animal could not drink, nor eat.”
The cow was trying to get rid of its rope with its foot leg but without success. When Matsumura approached the cow in order to cut the rope, the cow escaped. Like many cows before her, she was going to starve to death.
In this human desert, the air seems so pure, that one could forget the radioactive contamination that cannot be measured without a Geiger counter. Matsumura lives in his dangerous solitude like a king, and the forbidden zone is his kingdom. He treats the animals that live in there like his friends. He is a benevolent king.
When he sees a cat or a dog, he stops, he strokes them and offers them a share of pet food crackers. For him, the massively abandonment of the cattle to a long and painful death in their cages, in their barns, was a hideous crime. In spring 2011, he heard that the veterinary services of the Fukushima prefecture were going to launch a campaign to kill the surviving cattle and other animals. Metallic wire fences had been prepared all over the forbidden zone in order to trap them in order to inject disinfectant in their veins, not poison, which would cause them to die a painful death. Matsumura was angry: “This massacre made no sense at all. They are living beings. I want to tell the whole world that they are not only going to kill the cattle, all the animals in the forbidden zone will be killed in secret!” In May 2011, there were about 2000 living cows. Three moths ago, there were 400 of them. As for the cats and dogs, we are not really sure about the numbers anymore.
Matsumura spends his days feeding the animals. Every morning, he goes from houses to houses in order to feed the cats and dogs that stayed in town, then he goes to feed the his pigs and wild pigs.
Matsumura also used to own 32 beehives, but he has only 3 left. Radioactivity seems to have decimated his bees. One day in June, Matsumura made an unexpected encounter in Okuma, a neighborhood in Tomioka. He does not like to go there because the level of radiation is very high, one of the highest spots in the forbidden zone. In Okuma, the corpses have been abandoned because they were too radioactive to be given back to their families. In the middle of the street, there was an ostrich. She was the only survivor of the local farm, which used to keep thirty other ostriches. That ostrich is very popular among the policemen who started to patrol inside the forbidden zone around August 2011.
“They gave her a name: Boss”.
Matsumura tried to attract the bird with dog food and put a rope around her neck so that he could keep her with him to enjoy her company. But she escaped. “Boss” seemed in very good shape after seven months of freedom. The policemen wearing anti-radiation suits used to take photographs of themselves next to her. Matsumura spends his days without a Geiger counter. He does not calculate the doses of radioactivity he absorbs on a daily basis in the food, in the air and in the soil. The whole world had been touched by the dignity of the Japanese people during the successive disasters that hit the country. For Matsumura, when asked to speak on the subject of TEPCO, the operator of the power plant, he thinks they did not act with excessive moderation, but with apathy and indifference.
“The citizens of Fukushima protest very little. TEPCO took their houses, their land, the air and the water, and they accept it! No one was angry. Before the construction of the nuclear power plant, TEPCO said: ‘Problems will never occur, never’. Everyone has been cheated. I went myself to the headquarters of TEPCO in Tokyo to ask them for explanations. The only things that the leaders have been able to tell me is ‘sumimasen’ (we’re sorry). And the Japanese government has repeatedly announced during three months, that the radioactivity is not dangerous!”
Matsumura has been living without a Geiger counter, however recently, JAXA, the equivalent of the NASA in Japan has discretely given him a dosimeter.
JAXA has analyzed some sample of land and food taken from the zone. “Around Tomioka, the levels of radioactivity in the soil are superior to Chernobyl,” he was told. Matsumura likes the mushrooms in the forest. However he knows that those he took in the forest are highly contaminated. Despite his weariness, Matsumura is conscious of the risks he is taking. However, his sense of humor has not left him; it may outlast the radioactivity.
“There are good sides to this tragedy. The telephone is free, and I do not need to pay my electricity bills. Life has become cheaper.”
At some point, Matsumura has accepted to take a whole body counter check of the situation inside his body (internal exposure). The doctors exclaimed: “You are a champion of radiation!” Matsumura does not wish to comment any further on this subject. When he speaks about his family, he speaks very freely: “My father is 80 years old, my grandmother lived until she was hundred years old, so I had the hope to live at least until I get to my eighties. With the radioactivity, I think I will live until my sixties, at best”.
“Tomioka, for me, is the most beautiful place in the world, there is the ocean, the mountains and the forest. Nothing will make me leave this soil, on which my family has been living on for five generations”.
Dear readers and supporters of Mr. Matsumura,
If you live in Japan and if you wish to support Mr. Naoto Matsumura in his struggle to keep the animals alive, please feel free to use his Japanese Bank account. With Japan Subculture we will soon fix a pay pal system to collect donations from abroad. Mr. Naoto Matsumura is currently fighting to either convince the Japanese government not to kill these pet animals, or at least to keep the internal organs and to provide them to international scientific labs or universities in order to study them and collect useful data.
This is Mr. Naoto Matsumura’s private bank account:
東邦銀行 安積支店 普通 NO６３６７８９ 松村直登
Toho Ginko (bank), Asaka Shiten (branch), No 636789 , Matsumura Naoto
Saturday, October 15th, Occupy Wall Street went global. Around 300 people around Tokyo came out to march in 2 separate locations. Japan Subculture went to check out what was happening at Hibiya Park, where 100 protestors marched through the Roppongi district.
How did Occupy Tokyo come about? The story is another testimony to the efficiency of social networking in organizing demonstrations. According to participants, just a few days prior to the event, “meetup” group members on the forum Occupy Together were testing out interest in Tokyo. Michele from California, one of the first to post on the Tokyo thread, tells about how she and many others decided to participate; “It started off with the post ‘What’s going on in Tokyo? I’m ready if you are’, and picked up from there”. It moved from the forum to Twitter, and then Facebook; and on Saturday about 150 people showed up at Hibiya Park to march in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests.
While many of the demonstrators carried signs in step with the New York City movement, many were not related to income inequality at all. Several people were out protesting against nuclear power, TEPCO, and the government, and there was also a small cohort carrying signs that said, “Free Tibet”.
A large and diverse crowd, constituting of citizens from all over Japan as well as a large number of foreigners, assembled in Central Tokyo yesterday for the “Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants” rally.
Several anti-nuclear power celebrities, including Nobel laureate and author Kenzaburo Oe, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, freelance journalist Satoshi Kamata, and author Keiko Ochiai were in attendance. The latter three, according to the Japan Times coverage, participated as architects of the event.
The number in attendance was, predictably, debated; according to an article in Seattle PI, “Police estimated the crowd at 20,000 people, while organizers said there were three times that many people.” The Japan Times also reported the 60,000 estimate.
The reported number of attendees marked a fairly dramatic increase from the supposed turnouts of prior events, including the April 10th protest in Koenji (the first major anti-nuclear protest that was held in Tokyo after the 3/11 earthquake), and the May and June protests – all of which were considerably smaller (though no less passionate).
The photos below were taken by Onnie Koski at the June 11th protest in Shinjuku, which various sources estimated had a turnout of ~10,000 people.
Amy Seaman contributed to this article.
Note: As mentioned above, these photos were taken from the June 11th protest and are posted to give a sense of what the protests have been like up to now. If you have any photos of the most recent protests, submissions are highly welcome.
Those of us living far away from our parents dread the thought. A call in the middle of the night asking you to book a flight – ASAP.
“Dad is not well.” March 2nd.
The next day I got the first possible flight out of Narita to Florida but did not make it in time to say good-bye to my 84-year old Papi. RIP.
Within 9 days I would get another middle-of-the-night call, this time from Tokyo asking me to get the first flight back to Japan.
“Japan is not well”. March 11th.
So starts my March to remember.
After quickly returning to Japan on the 13th of March, and making sure family, clients and work were fine, the decision to volunteer in Ibaraki was a simple one. 27 years ago I first came to Japan to work as a Monbusho (Ministry of Education) English Fellow, the precursor program to today’s JET program. I was assigned to Ibaraki and lived in what was then a beautiful scenic capital – Mito. After two years helping in Ibaraki schools, I then accepted a government scholarship to attend graduate school at Tsukuba University – also in Ibaraki. So those first five years in Japan rooted me deeply to the Prefecture.
When I was watching the news of the devastation from outside of Japan, the focus was on Miyagi and Fukushima – but I knew that Ibaraki had also been hard hit, especially along the coast, and especially on the northern tip near the Fukushima border. No one was telling the Ibaraki story. I felt I owed so much to the people of Ibaraki who had given me so much. It wasn’t enough to just send money or make calls. I had to do something.
I was also seeing news of foreigners “fleeing” Japan – the now infamous flyjin. I was amazed upon my return to see Narita airport full of foreigners leaving the country. The only large group of incoming foreigners to catch my attention was the Mongolian emergency rescue team!
I could not fathom leaving Japan at this time. I had to go up to Ibaraki to help.
I started making calls and seeing how I could help. All the public volunteer announcements were asking for only locals. Apparently the civil servants did not want to worry about housing or feeding volunteers. “Don’t come unless you can fend for yourself – there are no trains, few buses and long lines for gas,” I was warned. I had prepared for this and had bought plenty of camping gear and goods from the US to both hold me for at least 10 days and to bring on my trip to Northern Ibaraki.
When I arrived to the Kita Ibaraki City Offices looking like a back packer, the head coordinator smiled like he knew me, “So you are Mr. Camargo. We were told you would likely arrive. Welcome”. I had been tweeting and talking to many people in the Prefecture before my departure so apparently news of my possible arrival had already reached them.
As you can guess I was the only foreigner in our group of volunteers. No one would have cared if I had come from Mars. There was work to do. For the next week I would carry boxes of water, bags of rice and bundles of futon with about 40 other volunteers. We would also travel to either the coast or inland to help clear out debris from damaged homes. We would also visit the community centers and deliver goods.
There is where my March moment would come.
It was when I saw so many elderly alone and unattended.
The shelters have and will get plenty of relief aid. They can always use more money but that too will come. But what I saw in athletic gyms turned community centers were elderly folks sleeping on cardboard boxes near kerosene stoves. Many were alone and disoriented. Yes, they still had their lives, but many had lost their homes and some, even their loved ones.
As I watch my the 27th season of cherry blossoms twitter in the spring outside my Tokyo window, I ask myself, “what do the people in the Ibaraki shelters need most?”
Maybe what they need most is what I could not give my Dad enough of –
…..a warm hand and more time to share the blossoms.
Orlando Camargo has worked for the Japanese government, for a Wall Street Investment bank and has headed a global public relations company in Tokyo. When he is not volunteering in Ibaraki (http://orlandojpn.posterous.com/) , he can also be spotted around Tokyo’s rustic neighborhoods taking photos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurokoshiroko/) in search of the perfect yakitori.
After the earthquake, documentary photographer Max Hodges felt that it was important to document the event to raise awareness of the devastation and needs of thousands of displaced people. He headed up to some hard-hit areas, hitchhiking from city-to-city. These photos were taken on his trip there and capture some of the immense loss and devastation the earthquake caused.
Richard Orange,noted foreign correspondent and Ikuru Kuwajima, a photojournalist in Central Asia and long-time contributor to Japan Subculture Research Center, worked to put together this this fascinating piece about one Japanese POW trapped in the Soviet Union after the end of the Second World War. It differs slightly from our usual subject matter but it’s a fascinating story that we hope you’ll enjoy. ●Marina Gorobevskaya also greatly contributed to this article.
By Richard Orange and Ikuru Kuwajima, photos by Ikuru Kuwajima
Tetsuro Ahiko has his eyes closed now. The vodka has begun to affect him, and he rocks a little towards the battered cassette player from where the music―a shrill chorus of young girls’ voices―is coming. He starts to sing along under his breath: “Shoulder to shoulder, I walk to school with my brother, thanks to the soldiers… thanks to the soldiers that died for the nation, for the dear nation.” As the last voices die away, the room, in a cramped Soviet flat in a crumbling block in a impoverised town in the middle of the icy, windswept steppes of Kazakhstan, comes back into focus. “I forgot Japanese,” he says. “But I didn’t forget the songs that I listened to in my childhood.”
This cassette of World War II military songs, long since forgotten as part of a shameful past back in Japan, is one of the handful of tokens he keeps of a life that was snatched away from him one day in 1948, when, instead of repatriating him from his military school on Sakhalin Island, Soviet troops put Mr Ahiko on a train to the Gulag work camps. More than 60 years later, Mr Ahiko is still here.
“Now I’m the same as all the people here,” he says. “I’ve got used to it.”
Tetsuro is the last Japanese man still remaining in Kazakhstan out of the hundreds of thousands Stalin shipped to the most desolate parts of the Soviet Union, putting them to work in mines, in construction, and in factories. More than a tenth of them died due to the brutal working conditions.
“I think all the Japanese have gone back apart from me,” he says. “There was one from Lake Balkhash, who went to Japan because his wife was ill, and there was also one in Almaty. I think there are no other Japanese here now.”
Since the tightening of regulations against fuuzoku sex industry businesses in Shinjuku’s Kabuki-cho last year, there have been voices of concern about whether or not the neighborhood will lose its character along with its seedy image.
And it now may have a new competitor. Adult-themed businesses have been sprouting up in the Shibuya area over the past few years as the ever-changing cityscape has begun to take on a pink glow from these:
Once known as the teen-fashion capital of Asia, Shibuya is being slowly overrun by muryo annai-sho, or “information centers” that are the new gateways to adult entertainment. While the Tokyo Police Metropolitan Police Department has focused its efforts on Shinjuku ward, the Shibuya flesh merchants have taken up residence in this relatively overlooked area–just as they have done in Akihabara and Uguisuidani. Shibuya, because of its reputation as a teen mecca, also tends to attract a certain type of Japanese man with a fetish for young, and even underage women–so called loli-con or “lolita complex bearing men.”