I’ve just spent an incredible day in Fukushima province. People everywhere are leading the way. My last of four gatherings was just a little while ago. I was in Tamura City near Koriyama with a smal group of local people. One, displaced from a town evacuated near the reactors has found land on which to start a farming cooperative. Another, our host, will turn the extensive property she owns after the death of her artist husband into a learning center for life. A couple who produce a nutritious vegetable oil will redouble their efforts to help people realize it is unharmed by radiation. Together they all say the same thing: a new future is being born here. We have begun a new restoration of Japan. Ordinary people, sweet people, determined and committed people.
Driving through much of Fukushima today with my friend and host Junya Sano, we passed through the town of Itakemura. It used to be a town of around 6000. Now all its buildings, homes, shops and fields are vacant. Before 3.11 it was becoming a model of sustainability with clean water and air and fertile soil. It was leading a slow town movement, using ancient ways. The radiation stole it all, and now the former residents say, it is stealing their minds. Invisible pollution makes their future invisible. Driving through it, in its bleak silence was hard on the heart. All along the roadways we traveled we would dip into areas smaller than Itakemura where everyone was evacuated and then dip into areas still occupied.
People are learning how to co-exist, and more, with the radiation. One story I heard was about a town that wanted to have a festival with an outside play area for their children. Playing on the ground has become prohibited. They spent days and days cleaning one park so that it was radiation free — now, one morning — so the children could play. Tomorrow will be a different story. I thought of a learning center in south Texas that partnered with Berkana for a time – Llano Grande. When I visited there once I listened with interest as teachers organized a trip. One of the things they took into account in their planning was who was an illegal alien and who wasn’t. Special arrangements had to be made for the illegals. That was just the way it was. Others somewhere might be arguing about immigration policy, but at the community level you just work with what you have. So it is in Fukushima. You work with what you have.
My most amazing session of the day was in the town of Minamisoma. It was a community of 70,000 people. As the radiation settled more than 50,000 were forced to leave. Gradually people have been allowed to return and now the population is around 50,000. Part of Minamisoma is costal and there the tsunami damage has been untouched since 3.11 because of the radiation — it still looks exactly like the costal areas in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures did in the weeks after 3.11. But people have returned because it is their home. They have returned to build something new together.
Early in 2012 some friends got together and decided to hold a future festival. More than 1000 people from the community participated. Music performances, presentations, dialogs — many different activities to engage people and invite them to think about their future together. At the end of the day one of the organizers, a woman who runs a local laundry offered a toast: before 3.11 we had a reputation for being quiet and just waiting for the government to do what they wanted. Now we know we must do it ourselves. We cannot wait for government. We must join hands and create a future together. And that’s what they are doing.
In June the opened a Future Center on a corner of a neighborhood. People started to use it immediately. Those who organized it said we don’t actually know what a Future Center is, but we know we need a place to create a future together — so we started.
The leadership circle is a delight — a truck driver, a laundress, a dairy farmer, a nurse’s aid, a bartender — ordinary people who have come together because something had to be done. One had been evacuated from Minamisoma to a town several hours to the north. It took her more than a year to be able to make her way home. Another spoke of how his family has been torn apart — he and his wife want to stay here, in their home with their children. His parents accuse him of killing his children and have moved north into Miyagi. He thinks they will never speak again. But these people have stepped forward because they must. This is home. There are dangers — but there are dangers everywhere and this is home.
They know this is long term work. One person spoke of how we hold individual future sessions and that is good. Things happen in them, but what we are really doing is working to gradually change the mindset of the community. We are helping ourselves realize that we can and will create a future together.
They are just ordinary people who are working together to create a life. With each other. Now.
Any person, any where in the world who promotes nuclear energy should be required to come and spend a week in Fukushima. They should be required to walk through Itakemura and experience its silent desolation. They should be required to talk with the parents who take days to make a playground radiation free for a few hours so their children can play outside again. They should be made to look at a future made invisible and then explain to people what they will do differently and how they will solve the problems of the soft underbelly of nuclear energy — dealing with the waste.
These people are strong. They will figure out how to live in a healthy and resilient way here in Fukushima. They will not be swayed by people who they think know what’s best for people who live here. It is their own future. They know they will make it together, working with what they have. They are amazing.