Protecting Community and Sentient Life

Japan’s Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy
Holds Fukushima National Meeting

The Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy convened the 2012 Fukushima National Meeting held at Corasse Fukushima in Fukushima City from April 17 to 19, 2012. 80 religious professionals and citizens from both Fukushima and other prefectures participated and jointly addressed the issues of how the nuclear incident has divided communities, citizens, and those contaminated by nuclear radiation as well as how to protect the lives of children in the region.

Rev. Hiroaki Osada, the Director of the Forum and a priest of the Jodo Shin Pure Land Otani Denomination, opened the meeting by explaining the meaning of holding the conference. In looking back on the Forum’s activities up to this point, he expressed his apologies by noting that, “I recognize that this incident took place due to the extent that we could not stop nuclear power in this country. We continued to warn people, yet the crime of those who were aware of the issue is greater than of those who were not. Our effort was not enough.” In this way, he explained the significance of the conference being held in Fukushima was “to listen deeply to the real situation of the suffering of the many people living right in the midst of comprehensive radioactive contamination and the anger expressed in their voices.”

At this conference, the participants came together to turn their ear towards the voices of the citizens and religious leaders of Fukushima while learning about the history and ideological background of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP)’s justification for its “safety campaign” that claims “there is no immediate effect (from the radiation)”. “Every day brings both hope and despair, but while feeling bewildered we cannot proceed as before,” said Ms. Ruiko Moto of the town of Miharu who spoke in front of 50,000 people at last September’s mass anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo. She has begun activities to bring criminal charges against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) with the cooperation of inhabitants who have been contaminated since the nuclear accident. She implored the audience to “let us citizens of the prefecture who have been divided face the situation with a single purpose.”

Hiroyuki Yoshioka of the Fukushima Network for Protecting Children from Radiation gave a report from the view of the citizens and called on aid for sustainable activities to deal with the health and evacuation of children. He reported that mothers and children are living apart from their father’s, while elderly grandparents who have remained living inside the prefecture have no choice but to say, “You kids shouldn’t come here”. Children cannot freely play in the dirt or pick leaves. Yoshioka exclaimed that, “They are being deprived of their freedom and of the experience of growing up.” Every area now has “health preservation” programs for children to spend weekends and holidays in regions where the radiation is low. Yoshioka related that, “When they get off the bus, they ask, ‘Is it OK to touch the ground here?’ And it’s surprising to see how hard they run around and play.”

There were also reports and presentations from religious leaders in Fukushima, such as:

  • Rev. Munenori Yoshioka is a Soto Zen priest from Fukushima City who produced “If Only the Nuclear Accident Hadn’t Occurred Report” explaining the situation in Fukushima. He runs a kindergarten and child care facilities. He explained how amidst a marked decline in the number of children at such facilities, the Fukushima City Association of Kindergartens and Day Care Centers “did not say anything about the nuclear accident” in their 2012 Program Guide for Basic Child Care and Education. The Fukushima City Association of Kindergartens and Day Care Centers have shown the highest concern for the health damages to children and installed monitoring posts at every kindergarten. The citizens have done decontamination work, given dosimeters for every child to wear, and put restrictions on their outdoor activities. However, despite everyone trying hard to figure out how to provide children safety and security, the person in charge at the Fukushima City Association of Kindergartens and Day Care Centers responded that, “These matters are separate from the view of child care and education.” Rev. Yoshioka also described the present circumstances of the dire situation of the farming and tourist economies and the flight of children from Fukushima Prefecture, which from the outside can seem like “life is normal”. The reverend could not hide his resentment, saying, “The great fear is forgetting. The aim of the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is for the issue to fade away.”
  • Rev. Michinori Sasaki, a Jodo Shin Pure Land Otani minister from Nihonmatsu City, has established a non-profit called Team Nihonmatsu in order to examine radiation levels in food, temporarily evacuate young children, and engage in decontamination work. Acting as the community’s spokesman, he said, “Those who have evacuated and those who have remained are both suffering and living their lives while enduring this crime. It has been now one full year, and parents have become exhausted protecting their children.” Rev. Sasaki also runs a kindergarten within his temple grounds, where in order to decontaminate the premises he had to cut down a 100 year old cherry tree located on the playground. He is continuing to hold meetings in Nihonmatsu for making a temporary storage site for materials that have been contaminated by nuclear radiation, yet still no place has been found. He says, “People want to put dangerous materials far away, and this way of thinking is what created the problem of nuclear power. There is no place in the world you can find that is good for such pollution,” so he has buried contaminated materials in one place within the temple grounds and the kindergarten’s playground. Rev. Sasaki is a father with 5 children and reflected, “I cannot forgive the government and TEPCO. I was angry inside. But the children saved me from my anger. Seeing these children who can’t play outside made me feel as if they were saying, ‘You did this to us.’ I thought nuclear power had become the norm and was safe. I was indifferent to the Chernobyl and Tokaimura nuclear accidents. Having no feeling for the preciousness of life, I was living as a priest only when convenient for me. I lived like this for 39 years, and in the end it brought suffering to the children. Once I realized that, my mind got clear. I felt relieved and was able to get back on my feet.”
  • Rev. Toku-un Tanaka is the abbot of Dokei-ji located 17 kilometers from the Fukushima #1 nuclear facility. Shortly after the earthquake on March 11, he with his wife and 3 children evacuated from the prefecture. However, after March 20 he resolved to return. “I suppose this is an exaggeration, but when I decided to return to Fukushima, I died once. Then I was able to overcome my fear and ready myself.” The day before the conference began the town of Minami Soma’s restricted access status was lifted. It has been one year since the incident, and the citizens have seen their lives completely change and devastated. Rev. Tanaka notes, “In order to have no regrets, I wanted to do something, so I started to communicate that I will devote my life to this community.” A half a year ago, he order a becquerel monitor and established a place for taking measurements. “Gradually, I began to be able to say of my parishioners ‘What is our duty here?’”
  • Rev. Shinjo Mimura, a Soto Zen priest from Koriyama and the Head of the Fukushima Prefecture Buddhist Association, noted that, “amidst this incredible sacrifice, a reconsideration of nuclear power has begun all over Japan and in every region of the world. Now we see the result of the causes and conditions of an indifference to nuclear power and the natural environment. However, it will take a completely different causes and conditions, to change the result,” concluded Rev. Mimura with energy.
  • Rev. Tetsuen Nakajima, a Shingon Omuro priest who comes from Fukui Prefecture, which is presently being rocked by the problem of the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, spoke that on May 5th the one and only nuclear reactor on line in Japan will be turned off for scheduled inspections and that “this day of zero nuclear energy in our country is a gift we offer to the children.” He then read aloud a poem by Shinmin Sakamura called “For Those Who Will Come After Us”

For Those Who Will Come After Us

We till the field

We prepare the seedlings

To the mountains

To the rivers

To the sea

Making things proper

Aaahh

For Those Who Will Come After Us

We undergo hardships

We endure

Every one of us devotes ourselves in our own way

After them, after them, continuing on

For those beloved people

Everyone doing what they can in their own way

What is it that passes on?

From The Collected Poems of Shinmin Sakamura Vol. 8 (Daito Shuppan)

On the last day, the conference submitted an appeal letter and list of demands to the offices of the Fukushima Prefectural Government. To the prefectural government itself, it gave the following appeal: “The matter of supporting a policy for the protection of the health of children, which includes evacuation, should not only be addressed within the prefecture but be extended to other prefectures through using The Supplementary Reader on Nuclear Radiation. To agencies connected with the prefectural government, it gave this appeal: “The government should apologize to its citizens for promoting the concealment of the danger of nuclear power” and “no nuclear reactors should be restarted anywhere in the country.”

From The Bukkyo Times, April 26, 2012

Translated by Jonathan Watts

with Rev. Jin Sakai

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