[Speech Video&Script] Beyond Labels, Into Yourself (CJR symposium on 9th March 2014 in New York)


Video and script of my speech at the Consortium for Japan Relief March 2014 symposium, Fukushima Three Years Later: Staying Behind and Moving Forward.

This is a photo taken at a street Yonomori in Tomioka-machi, one of my close friend’s home town. Here’s about 10km from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, I cannot go beyond this street. Here’s famous for beautiful cherry blossom in spring, which I’ve never seen. I stayed in Fukushima prefecture about a month last summer, and I’ll talk stories with my friends in those days.
I spoke at the last year symposium about my one-year stay and days in Ishinomaki Miyagi at the north of Fukushima from 2011-2012, looks younger isn’t it? Who came to the last symposium? Oh, thanks, so I shouldn’t use the same joke. But it’s fine, today I’ll talk different stories and different situations in Fukushima.
Now, depending on several standards such as the distance from the power plant, and radiation level, some of the towns, including here Tomioka, are divided by the administrative line. Even within the same community, same town, some can re-enter their home during the day time, others cannot.
Anyway people in Tomioka and other several towns were forced to evacuate and resettle in other areas in-&outside Fukushima prefecture. There are lots of problems after that, for example, tensions between evacuees and hosts. Increased population in host towns led to shortage of service and land, and mingled communities. Especially Iwaki received many evacuees from the evacuation zone, and now there appeared tensions between Iwaki & Tomioka residents. To deal with this problem, people in Iwaki started dialogue event, called “Iwaki Future Meeting” between people in and outside of Iwaki. From this project, one of the residents from Tomioka, started to guide to his home town to mitigate the tensions. He took me there too.
Here’s another story between evacuees and host people in Aizu, west mountain side of Fukushima. Aize was west at mountain side of Fukushima, and many evacuees from the towns near the power plant at seashore area came there. But they don’t have connection and jobs there, it’s new place for evacuees. So, one of my friend’s designed this product, to make new jobs for evacuee women. She’s Megumi Hiroshima, one of the participant mothers. She told me that “I want to give back to love I received, because many Aizu people supported me after evacuation.
Like these projects, people are take their hands together despite different conditions, and gradually make changes in communities. Yes, sounds good. “Let’s take actions, we can make change?” Is it really?
Let me tell you another episode. I met an old woman in Kawauchi Village. Kawauchi village is a small village, about half of which is within 20km from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Residents of Kawauchi once all evacuated, but about 40% of residents have been back after radiation level decreased to relatively lower. They restarted cropping rice after confirming radiation level of rice was much low and safe. However people’s mind is not simple. An old woman I met in Kawauchi Village last summer told me she quit her life-work agriculture, because her son told her not to eat Fukushima foods cos he thought Fukushima foods are not safe. Wiping her eyes, she asked me which is truth. I had no way to give a “good” answer.
Making plum wine was also her hobby but she quit it too. When I said “I wish I could taste it,” her face immediately brightened, and “Oh really!?, I keep one at home. Wait a minute!” And then she gave me it. It was so delicious. But practically, I could do nothing for her. I could do nothing for communication between her and her son. There is no answer whether she restart agriculture or not. It is even not a question to choose one answer, which is important for her, agriculture or son? Impossible to choose. In that case, any scientific knowledge was helpless.
So, yes, we may make actions on some social issues and make changes, but if we see each individual’s life, it’s not so simple. It’s more complicated and ambivalent. Here’s words from my friend in Fukushima. She’s originally from Fukushima, but went to Tokyo to work, and then come back to Fukushima after the disaster. While we were driving by car, she said to me, “I love and hate Fukushima, cos it’s my hometown. Sometimes, I almost escape from Fukushima and go far away, but I can’t. I’m bound with Fukushima.” Her complex feeling is not only caused by the nuclear disaster. It’s combined with more common phenomenon for those youth who left rural home once and went to metropolitan city. She’s just a young normal girl.
But since she’s dedicated to herself to several activities for recovery, people put simplified labels on her such these capital words “Fukushima leaders taking social actions for recovery from the nuclear disaster.” Yes, it may be true, but just one aspect of her life. But it happens in the context of disaster, or other lots of social issues.

I also felt some times that simple labels put on me when I talk about Tohoku and my activity in Miyagi and Fukushima. People asked me “Are you originally from Tohoku?” No, I’m not, I answered. Then they asked me “Why are you so passionate about helping people in Tohoku?” No, I don’t think I’m ‘helping’ people. If I told them I’m originally from Kobe, another disaster area 19 years ago in Japan, then they asked me “Did your disaster experience in Kobe influence your commitment to Tohoku?” But I didn’t think that, nor even didn’t like such labeling.

But ironically, that led me racing my own personal memories in Kobe, and led me finding a hidden memory. I’ve just remembered that this week. My housing was safe at the earthquake in Kobe, when I was 7 years old. Two friends’ families evacuated to my home, and lived together. Although it was inconvenient situation, I didn’t thought my experience was severe, and I didn’t regard me as a “victim.” But, this time, tracing back my memory, now I find I did also get hurt.
So, now I accept, though not all, but my experience of the earthquake in Kobe did affect me today. But it took 19 years to accept. It’s not a short and straightforward process. It cannot easily realized by putting simple labels.
Each person, including me, my friends and all of you here has different pain, suffering, and sorrow.
Each person goes different path to accept own destiny and find own story.

Each individual lives in loneliness, which cannot be shared.

But still, we care with each other and stand by together.

So my message is, you don’t need to hurry. You don’t need to necessarily take actions everyday. You can sit down sometimes, and take a rest. Look around your neighborhood, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens. And cherish your small ordinary days, which must be larger than simple labels. Embrace yourself, embrace your loneliness. That’s enough to love others.


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