JAPAN BLOG PART II: PRESS CONFERENCE, PROTESTS AND PEACE

Posted: October 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

Most of what I’ve seen of Japan during my first week was through windows:  of the daily trains my fellow speakers and I were on from one city to the next, or from cabs that thankfully carried us and our luggage away or to the labyrinthine train stations, or through the clean windows in the many hotel rooms I was grateful to sleep in, or from the windows of the several community centers where we were invited to talk about Chornobyl and other nuclear related issues to the Japanese public—many of whom were evacuees from Fukushima.

Kazko Kawai, director of the Japanese advocacy organization, Voices of Lively Spring (and our intrepid and brilliant translator) coordinated our trip and led us on an intensive many-city sojourn. Our core group consisted of two medical doctors (one from America, the other from Germany), and myself, the lone writer and filmmaker on an intensive journey visiting several cities to present talks about the after-effects of a nuclear catastrophe. The topic was of enormous interest to the Japanese people who were still alarmed over the radiation meltdown that occurred in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, after the twin calamities of the earthquake and tsunami. (See my previous post below).

Our last event was in the lovely city of Kitakyushu which was considered less contaminated then the other cities we visited (including Tokyo). After our talk, the coordinator of our event there, Satoko Murakami (who is also known as the “Joan of Arc” in her grassroots eco-organization, the Kyushu Sunflower Project), invited all the speakers to an amazing Japanese style dinner at a traditional restaurant which consisted of many, many delicately arranged courses offered to us by kimono-robed women as we sat on tatami mats. We had an enjoyable time conversing and toasting one another despite the language limitations and the sometimes undetectable and highly nuanced cultural cues I’m sure I missed.

Among the speakers that I had the honor to meet was Seito-san, a highly respected lawyer originally from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture who left with his family after the radiation meltdown and settled in Kitakyushu. He is currently involved in a lawsuit with the Mayor of Kitakyushu to halt the burning of “disaster debris,” the highly toxic post-tsunami and earthquake waste that was slated to be burned in Kitakyushu on September 17. Apparently, the Mayor made a back-alley and lucrative deal with a contractor to burn the trash causing tremendous pollution and harm to its local inhabitants and throughout the country.

Murakami-san was also involved by organizing protests and bringing attention to the controversy. She called a press conference at city hall on September 3 which I was planning on filming, when she asked me to participate as part of their panel! Imagine my surprise when I walked into the room and confronted by a bevy of silent stone-faced journalists and videographers:

 

Here we are answering questions and presenting our opinions about the damage that will be caused by the toxic waste burning:

Left to right: Aoki-san (Activist/Journalist from Tokyo), Seito-san (Activist/Lawyer), Murkami-San (Activist/Coordinator), myself, Kazko Kawai (Activist/Translator) and unidentified activist.

 

 

Here is a link of the press conference which is in Japanese, except for the few short statements I made in English and Kawai-san translated: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25156906

Afterwards, we attempted to go to the Mayor’s office where many people had already gathered in front of the doors. He apparently wasn’t there, but two policemen stood sentry at the door to his office. A petition in opposition to the illegal waste burning was handed to one of the Mayor’s aides who quietly took it and promised to deliver it to him. Meanwhile, the police barricade mushroomed from two to five policemen.

Kawai-san told me how unusual it was to see police guarding the doors. In the past, protests were not the norm in Japan. I thought how amazing this type of protest was for the Japanese people who are not known to be publicly vocal against their elected officials. This was a cultural shift that reverberated throughout the country as protests were being formed over illegal disaster debris burnings and other related issues such as contaminated schools, safe food and water, and the evident lack of transparency by the government.

Alas, the Mayor did not back down nor back out of the contract to burn the waste. The evil deed was done on September 17. Even so, the protests continue against the callous authority figures who seem to have little regard for the fate of their people who experienced the most traumatic and devastating disasters—the tsunami, earthquake and then the radiation meltdown at Fukushima followed by continuous government cover-ups.

The people must be heard whether or not their officials choose to listen.

***

I had a free day, and decided to visit Hiroshima along with one of the translators I met in Kitakyushu, a wonderful young woman named Chika who as it turned out, learned English in Florida at one of the ESL (English as a Second Language) centers where I once taught. She is originally from Hiroshima and was gracious enough to accompany me on this somber excursion.

Throughout the Zen-like grounds of the Peace Memorial Park there are many monuments and they seem to be an almost gentle and serene counterbalance to the prominent almost intact brick building with a naked dome. This is the only building that withstood the nuclear bombs dropped by the Americans on August 6, 1945. Before the bombs, the stoic building was once an exhibition hall, but now is famously known as the Genbaku Dome or the Atomic Bomb Dome building because of its skeletal carapace:

Nearby is the The Peace Memorial Museum which is especially haunting to visit. The most excruciating exhibits are the remnants of clothing parents saved from their dying children: snatches of school uniforms, a cloth thong from a sandal that was made from an old kimono, charred books and glasses. It is heartbreaking to witness and absolutely vital to remember whenever the idea of nuclear proliferation is held to be the only solution to any crisis.

Peace Memorial Museum Exhibit: Photo of the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

Photo credits: Dr. Masataka Sugiyama, Irene Zabytko

NEXT POST: FUKUSHIMA

© 2012 by Wheat Street Productions, Inc.

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