Participants at Dokei-ji Temple with Abbot Toku-un Tanaka inside the evacuation zone

JNEB Energy Tour April 22-25: Participant Report

Posted on Posted in featured

 main text by
Ratawit Ouaprachanon
Myanmar Program Manager
Spirit in Education Movement (SEM), Thailand

We are now transcribing numerous interviews and talks from this tour for a more comprehensive presentation of the realities in Fukushima and grassroots initiatives in renewable energy. Check back again in a month or two.

Even Faith Can Be Wiped Out by Belief in Nuclear Power
(Asahi Shinbun October 14, 2015) by tour participant Michiko Yoshii

Participants at Dokei-ji Temple with Abbot Toku-un Tanaka inside the evacuation zone
Participants at Dokei-ji Temple with Abbot Toku-un Tanaka inside the evacuation zone

Background and Introduction

In conjunction with the 2nd International Conference of Inter-Religious Climate and Ecology (ICE) Network in Seoul, the Japanese Network of Engaged Buddhists (JNEB) organized and sponsored a group of 9 civil society actors in South and Southeast Asian countries including Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam and Korea to participate in a study tour to:

  • Expose foreign Buddhists, other religious professionals, activists, and media to: a) the realities of life in Fukushima, b) the dislocations caused by nuclear energy in wide sectors of society, c) community support and activism by Japanese Buddhists and other religious professionals throughout Japan, d) renewable energy initiatives by Japanese Buddhist groups and other religious organizations.
  • Share through experiential workshops the perspectives and skills of: a) South and Southeast Asian Buddhists in community development and b) Japanese Buddhists and other religious professionals in anti-nuclear activism and renewable energy.
  • Create an international network for sharing best practices on building “green temples” and “green temple communities”

The main organizer for this event was the Japan Network of Engaged Buddhists (JNEB), which provides an informal network and umbrella for a wide range of Buddhist social activists to engage in social activities. The Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, the AYUS International Buddhist Cooperation Network, and the International Buddhist Exchange Center (IBEC) of the Kodo Kyodan Buddhist Fellowship provided support to the organization of the project. Within Fukushima, these 3 organizations above work with a wide range of civic and religious groups who supported this project, such as Dokei-ji Temple, the JIPPO Rape Seed Project, and the 3A children’s safety CSO. The project also collaborated with Juko-in Temple, the Edogawa Citizen’s Network for Thinking about Global Warming (ECNG), the Tochigi Young Buddhist Association, and the Religious and Scholarly Eco Initiative (RSE).

Activity Description of Trip in Japan

Visiting Eco-Temple and Sustainable Energy Initiatives in Tokyo

Rev. Okochi at his Juko-in Solar Temple
Rev. Okochi at his Juko-in Solar Temple

On the first day in Tokyo, Rev. Hidehito Okochi, one of the main organizers and the abbot of Kenju-in Eco Temple, provided an overview situation of the Japanese energy issue and nuclear energy, highlighting the structural problems in the support of the nuclear industry involving construction industries and large corporations in Japan. He also explained the impacts of nuclear energy on local communities as well as how religious leaders and CSOs respond with anti-nuclear activities.

The group also visited Kenju-in Eco Temple and Juko-in Solar Temple to learn about how Rev. Okochi, a Japanese Buddhist priest, organizes eco community housing with chemical free and local timber products and organizes community cooperatives for local sustainable energy. We also met with Mr. Motohiro Yamazaki, the Director of the Edogawa Citizen’s Network for Climate Change, an NPO promoting sustainable energy and local resilience, to learn about their initiatives for supporting solar energy as an alternative to nuclear energy. During this time, we discussed about the energy situation in Japan by comparing it with other countries. Later, a journalist who covers the nuclear issue came to share with the group on the role of the media in this Fukushima incident and how mainstream media has been influenced by corporations and has failed to expose the reality of the Fukushima incident.

Visiting Fukushima

A 2-day visit to Fukushima was organized for us to learn the on-the-ground situation of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Though the tsunami and nuclear fall-out incident happened four years ago, several problems and issues still exist. We had a chance to visit Namie-cho, located 9 kms from the Fukushima #1 nuclear complex where we learned the stories of a deserted school and an area affected by both the tsunami and nuclear contamination. We also learned from Rev. Toku-un Tanaka, a Japanese priest who is an abbot of a monastery in that area, about the situation and his involvement after the incident. It was inspiring to learn that he came back to the village after his family’s evacuation to bring gasoline and supplies to local villagers. He has continued to give moral support to local people, especially the elders who do not want to move out from their ancestral lands. He and one local villager also expressed the lack of trust in the government and how the government has tried to cover up the situation despite problems. TEPCO (the Tokyo Electric Power Company), which is the key responsible agency for this nuclear disaster, is now reporting an annual profit though numerous court cases are pending for them to take more complete responsibility for the livehoods of people in Fukushima ruined by the incident. It was also tragic to learn that many of the large construction firms involved in the building and maintenance of the Fukushima reactors are now gaining huge profits from various radiation decontamination projects. One example of the ongoing corruption in the region is how the government rejected idea from the local community to grow mangrove forests on the coast to prevent another tsunami disaster in the future, instead choosing to benefit these construction companies by building a big wall on the coast.

The barren tsunami ravaged plain of Namie with the reactors in the distance
The barren tsunami ravaged plain of Namie with the reactors in the distance
Namie school abandoned before the tsunami while practicing graduation ceremony
Namie school abandoned before the tsunami while practicing graduation ceremony
hundreds of bags of radioactive topsoil with no place for disposal
hundreds of bags of radioactive topsoil with no place for disposal

On the evening of 1st day, we met with Mr. Takumi Aizawa, a local school administrator from the town of Itate which is located in the mountains to northwest of Fukushima #1 and was affected heavily with nuclear radiation. He explained how some academics have exploited this opportunity to get funding for their research, especially research called “Risk Communication” which has been used by the government propaganda to suppress concerns of local people and convince everyone that these regions are safe to live in.  On the second day, the group visited the Nano-Hana Rapeseed Decontamination project in Minama Soma city which JIPPO, a Japanese NGO, has helped to promote among local farmers to decontaminate the soil using the unique properties of rapeseed. This is in contrast to another huge government decontamination project benefitting the construction firms by scraping away the contaminated but nutritious top soil from the area and then recovered the land with soil taken from small mountain tops that are being excavated. In the afternoon, we also met a mother’s group called “3A” trying to monitor and protect their children from high radiation areas in Koriyama City by using radiation equipment to track and creating a mapping system.

Networking Seminar on Nuclear Energy and Sustainable Energy issue

Prof. Hisashi Nakamura of Ryukoku University and the JIPPO Rapeseed Project gives concluding remarks
Prof. Hisashi Nakamura of Ryukoku University and the JIPPO Rapeseed Project gives concluding remarks

On 25 April, the group participated in a networking seminar on nuclear energy and sustainable energy at Toyo University in Tokyo. 15 other Japanese participants joined the seminar from CSOs, media, and a number of high level universities such as Waseda and Sophia universities, and including the host Prof. Makio Takemura, President of Toyo University. Two of the participants from India and Korea spoke in the situation of nuclear power in their respective countries. This was followed by a two hour session of 4 groups discussing these issues based around the Buddhist concept of the Four Noble Truths: 1) Human Rights of Citizens and Laborers in Localized Nuclear Power Plant Areas (dukkha-suffering); 2) Export of Nuclear Technology from North to South and the Structures and Culture of Building a National Nuclear Industry (samudaya-causes); 3) Value & Lifestyle Change and the Role of Buddhism (nirvana-vision); 4) Localized Energy Generation & Consumption and Community Development (magga-path). The seminar concluded with reflections on collaborative international action on these issues as the participants headed to South Korea the next day for the international ICE conference.

Participant Reflections

Mr. Harn Zaai Leng Wang

I was most inspired by the compassion and action of Rev. Tanaka from whom I learnt the positive and aspiring qualities in a human being, a leader, and a Buddhist in times of crisis. Actions on the parts of individuals or communities, no matter how small and simple, can be a meaningful and powerful way to address the common challenges. In this way, I realized how important it is for the people/communities to get accurate information and right understanding to make appropriate plans for their safety and for their lives amid the cover-up by corporate and the government bodies.

One practical follow up plan I have is to work with relevant Japanese and Korean friends (like from the ‘eco-temple working group’) on developing a ‘sustainable energy project’ for ‘renewable energy’ at my Bodhi Hill center. Such a project has the potential of acting as ‘entry point’ in working with a larger network of 400 temples and communities in Myanmar. It would be ideal if the organizers could arrange practical, hands-on workshops on alternative solutions—like the practical steps on installing, maintaining, and producing solar energy as well as the latest available alternative technologies in the field which would immediately be relevant for the participants countries’ conditions and situations.

Ms. Kanchana Weerakoon from Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V), Sri Lanka 

As an environmentalist, my heart still aches when I realize the way Mother Nature is suffering in Fukushima. Three basic reflections that come from the tour for me are: 1) man-made disasters are worse than natural disasters. In Sri Lanka, we have our own experience of a great tsunami in 2004. However, we could overcome it as we did not have any man-made disasters like the nuclear power plant in Fukushima; 2) humans make more mistakes in trying to fix the problem. Specifically, it is really heart breaking to see the way they are trying to decontaminate the area by scraping away the top soil, packing it in plastic, and destroying other forested areas to get replacement soil. This new soil will have less nutrients, and it will be challenging to grow things in it later. Furthermore, where can they dispose the plastic bags and how long they can store them for?; 3) Politicians, businessmen, and other vested interests never learn lessons from past. The government is going to say that it is safe to live there after this year, but who will take responsibility for these people in the long term since nuclear radiation is a long term problem?

In following up on my experience, I have already met the power and energy minister of Sri Lanka and discussed about our country’s policy regarding nuclear energy. I have also met with a prominent Buddhist monk, who is an environmental activist, to understand how Buddhist monks feel about nuclear energy and unsustainable energy sources. Both of them responded positively and have expressed their views against nuclear energy and coal power. I am designing a public awareness campaign for September on unsustainable energy sources and how we can protect ourselves from them. My experience on this tour gave me many insights for organizing this campaign.

Mr. Thant Zin from the Dawei Development Association, Myanmar

On the trip to Japan, I learned that social mobilization in Japan is more difficult than in Myanmar due to the social structure and political culture. The impacts from nuclear radiation will last longer than 30 years. Every government tries to neglect these kinds of problems, including the case of Japan in Fukushima. I got more knowledge and ideas about the role of religious leaders. This conference provoked me to think that we need to mobilize more with religious leaders, especially organizing exposure visits for monks to learn about renewable energy and sustainable practices organized by religious leaders in other countries like Thailand. It seems that among the many people whom I met in the conference and trip in Japan, they are not involved in such large scale activities but are trying their best in what they can do.

We might assume that climate change is scientific, but I found at the conference in Korea that there are moral aspects for people concerning climate change. To make things different, we should focus on the moral aspects of people to promote the climate change issue. I plan to share idea with the monks in Dawei and communities I work with to initiate the “Green Temple community” concept. The temple should be a model for the community. As many villagers become more consumeristic and consume more junk food, including offering this to monks, monks need help to raise the awareness of local people for sustainable living and less consumption.

Mr. Ratawit Ouaprachanon from the Spirit in Education Movement (SEM), Thailand

The most important knowledge I learned is in the JNEB trip about nuclear disasters and how religious leaders are responding to this issue. The active roles of Rev. Tanaka in Fukushima and Rev. Okochi to organize anti-nuclear awareness activities is very inspiring. At the ICE conference, I also learned more about the role of religious leaders in sustainability, especially from Rev. Okochi’s plenary presentation. After I return to Thailand and Myanmar, I would like to share this knowledge as much as I can with Buddhist monks in Myanmar in our training programs, especially on the role of religious leaders in Japan.

I would like to explore the possibility of connecting our work with SEMS and CPME on monastic schools with Harn’s network. I learned more about Harn’s network on microfinance. It is growing very fast, and they are now in the level of forming cooperatives. I think it would be good for monastic schools in SEMS and CPME network in learn from Harn’s network in Shan state. I will also explore how to bring in the topics around climate change and sustainable issues to integrate in different trainings we organize in the near future as well as sharing the experiences from Japan and Korea. For our work on Dawei, I want to keep connections with the Japanese people whom we met at both the conference and the JNEB trip to explore the possibility of their support on raising awareness of Japanese investment in Myanmar and in Dawei.

Mr. Sanat Barua from the Atish Dipankar Society (ADS), Bangladesh:

The JNEB energy tour was most helpful to learn sustainable and unsustainable energy issues in Japanese society. I think Japan is one of the most orderly countries in the world. The people are very polite, gentle, and dedicated to the country. However, in the consumer society everyone is running after capitalism. No one has time for the society and religious activities. I think the Japanese government and most consumer oriented people hardly practice religious values, or apply them to their national life and modern issues. It seems the Fukushima nuclear disaster is a failure of humanity and the ultimate result of running after capitalism. However, it is a great sign that Buddhist monks and faith based NGOs are closely involved in trying to develop socio-cultural ethics and morality in Japanese society.

The eco-temple community development project is a sustainable community oriented program, which means the followers and the members of the temple are involved in a faith based environmental conversation as well as alternative energy and ecological construction. This is a new idea for the Bangladesh Buddhist community, even though Buddhist communities in Bangladesh are eco-friendly. Our temples have traditionally been completely natural and eco-friendly made of wood, bounded with green trees and earth. We already run in my community a consciousness based project on Buddhist ethics and morality to conserve our forests and nature. Every year we conduct a green plantation project in the temple and nearby communities for the conservation of nature and the environment. Alternative energy like solar energy is now popular in the community as well. We are interested to expand this work and launch an eco-temple community development project in Bangladesh in the near future.

Ms. Mina JangKim from the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM), South Korea

The three most valuable lessons for me from the JNEB energy tour were how they use rape flower cultivation to detox the soil; how some Buddhist monks work actively on this issue; and the bonding and developing of close relationships among the participants. I have started to lecture at universities to share my experiences visiting Fukushima to let people know in Korea how dangerous nuclear power plants really are. It would be nice to create a global nuclear issue power point and invite each of us to lecture together. I also want to share further how we what tactics we use to fight with the “nuclear mafia” in Korea so that other countries can find useful tips.

Ms. Michiko Yoshii from Okinawa University, Japan/Vietnam

Since my attendance to the tour is considered as representation of absent Vietnamese participant, I sent as many information as possible to Vietnamese activists against nuclear power project in their country. In coming July 2015, I will attend an international academic meeting of Vietnamese people called “Hoi thao mua he” (Summer Seminar) in Berlin, Germany, and I will make my presentation entitled “The Role of the Vietnamese Government in Child Protection – Defoliants and Radiation Compared”. At this occasion, I will explain my experiences during the tour in Fukushima and Tokyo to other Vietnamese participants. This seminar is held every year in summer, with the official language being only Vietnamese.

The visit to the Edogawa Citizen’s Network for Climate Change in Tokyo was quite impressive to me. The information I got there helped me to make contact with other CSOs, like JIENEGUMI(自エネ組)which tries to develop houses without electric connection in all over Japan. I myself will try to build one small house in Okinawa, which will serve as a model house, and then, I will try to make an advertisement within Vietnam to develop the same kind of activities there. I personally am a Catholic, and the networking event at Toyo University on the last day gave me a nice occasion to meet a Japanese Catholic priest and an activist against nuclear energy. Through this opportunity, I will try to communicate my activities and thinking to Catholic people in Japan.

Mr. Gauthama Nagappan from the Foundation of His Sacred Majesty, India

The most valuable lessons from my participation in this tour were seeing how strengthening democracy and effective participation among all individuals is quintessential; developing alternative sources of energy that are feasible and viable for all communities; such energy tours for youths and activists should be organized for more local people; and networking with environmental movements and social movements is critical for sensitizing to the effects of nuclear energy.

As a follow-up to the tour, I plan to first and foremost constructing the first Eco-Buddhist Temple in Tamil Nadu, India. At present, there is no Buddhist temple that can shelter the thousands of people who have recently embraced Buddhism from formerly untouchable backgrounds. We will launch our campaign to develop the first Buddhist temple with environment friendly construction and which can be replicated in other parts of the country. I also plan to developing training modules and curriculum on nuclear disasters and training programs and business ventures for youths from Dalit and Tribal communities. Finally, I wish to further network with organizations in India and overseas for developing solar based energy systems.

Ms. Emilie Parry from Oxford University, U.K. & U.S.A.

Perhaps the biggest take-away for me from the JNEB Energy Tour had to do with the challenges in mobilizing community action for urgent safety and wellbeing concerns of people within the Fukushima sector and across Japan (including Tokyo), given a context of political, corporate, and social-cultural ‘silencing’ accompanied by a sense of voicelessness and powerlessness, along with the frustration or despair/fear expressed by many we encountered. I was moved by those individuals and groups who have chosen to go against deeply embedded social enculturation in order to speak for their families, neighbors, themselves, or to be in solidarity with their communities. There is hope within these groups who are pushing against the tide; there is power, and this is a possibility of platforms to lend voice to needs, concerns and conditions. I would like to help bridge these folks to other people who are coping with or have coped with similar circumstances, or to see and learn about other projects and efforts that might seed solutions adapted to circumstances in Japan.

I was deeply moved by the efforts of Rev. Tanaka, Rev. Okochi, and other faith and spiritual/community leaders to be with people in solidarity, through such a process that they are risking their health and wellbeing and challenging their own personal lives. This is awesome, vitally important, and there is much here to celebrate, support, disseminate, and to learn from in other communities across the INEB and ICE Network. I will continue to work with organizers for ICE network, and within the newly formed working groups to identify ways in which I may be of support, while also documenting the efforts for self-reflective learning and for broader learning in the practice and scientific communities, perhaps including a paper to counter or bring another frame to light on “Risk Communication”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *