Fukushima: When The Past Is Gone, The Future MUST Be Created –Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #37 ~ October 3rd

My attention continues to be drawn to Fukushima.

In many ways, Fukushima is invisible, just like the radiation which descended on it on March 11th.  In Japan, my experience has been that people’s eyes just slide over it.  As horrific as the destruction is in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures which were devastated by the tsunami, it is easier to look at than the obliteration of Fukushima.  In Fukushima, the past is gone.  There is no going back.  There is no return to an old normal.

The news stories we see both in the world and in Japan are about those who have left Fukushima.  They are about the dangers of radiation and the penultimate danger of the spent fuel rods stored in Daiichi Four with their compromised containment field.  But I have seen few stories about the people who are staying.  Those I have seen are mostly judgmental, talking about how unfortunate it is that some people are unwilling to move on.

Actually, there is an entirely different story.  And that’s the one that holds my attention.

In recent months I’ve become irritated with the caterpillar into butterfly as the dominate metaphor used to talk about transformation.  I know it is a kind of transformation, but it is not the kind of transformation occurring in human societies.  When Argentina’s economy collapsed, when Zimbabwe unraveled into chaos, and when Japan was struck by 3.11, many things changed — but that which occurs after is constructed in large part from that which is carried forward.  It is too easy, too convenient, too romantic to think of everything simply dissolving into some sort of ooze out of which the new emerges.  Things do fall apart.  They do dissolve.  But the new emerges as people come together and co-create something new.  The old dissolves into people who combine their hopes and dreams and aspirations and work with each other to begin a new chapter.

What I think I am seeing is that in Fukushima what’s happened is overwhelming in scope and has, in many ways, eliminated any possibility of returning to what was before.  Just after reading the e-mail version of this blog, my good friend Deborah Koff-Chapin sent me a note with additional confirmation of this phenomena.  She shared a story about Chernobyl where, 25  years later, the new is being created.  Here is a whole different view of Chernobyl: http://www.more.com/chernobyl-women-nuclear-holly-morris
and a film in process: http://thebabushkasofchernobyl.com/

Why are people staying in Fukushima?  Why not all leave?  Why face the dangers and burden of radiation?

Because it is, even now, entirely beautiful.  Because of their neighbors and friends and family.  Because it is home.

And, of course, there’s the question of where one might find a safe place.  Perhaps they still exist.  I don’t know.  It is certainly more dangerous to be a young black man in the United States than it is to live in Fukushima.  Because of the winds, Tokyo doesn’t have that much air pollution, but perhaps it could be that living with the air of Shanghai or Sao Paulo or Mexico City is more dangerous for one’s health that the radiation levels in different parts of Fukushima.  I don’t mean to minimize in any way the dangers which are present there — but I wonder, how much more danger is truly present.

So people are staying and they are returning.  It was almost shocking to hear people saying we can’t go back. We can only go forward.  And we can only do so together.

When I arriving in Japan last year, three weeks after 3.11, the air was thick, heavy, subdued.  Perhaps because Japan is a collective culture the grief becomes more connected at some invisible level of spirit.  Soon after arriving I was co-hosting a group of 50 or so business people in a dialog about the future.  They arrived quietly, not sure if they wanted to be there.  Three hours later, the room was filled with excitement — waku waku — in Japanese.  I sensed into the difference — it was so great.  And as I did so, the words I heard in my heartmind were WE HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM A FUTURE WE DID NOT WANT.

This sense of release from the past combined with seeking opportunities for the future is what is present here.  Their old lives are gone.  They know it.  So what do we create?

There’s a stereotype about people from Tohoku.  They are conservative, shy, closed to outsiders, and well, you know, rural people.  Stereotypes always have a basis in reality.  But I have to say, I’ve yet to meet anyone who looks like this stereotype.  I am sure they are out there.  Absolutely sure.  But that is such a small part of the overall picture.

They are ordinary people — truck drivers, laundresses, bartenders, dairy farmers, nurses aides, foresters and, yes, former workers at the nuclear plant — who are coming together to create a new future in a region they love.

It is just amazing.  We will learn much from them.  And we need to stand with them.

Many blessings,


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1 thought on “Fukushima: When The Past Is Gone, The Future MUST Be Created –Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #37 ~ October 3rd”

  1. Hi Bob,

    A year and a half after having gone through the earthquake, creating my own website to disseminate emergency/ disaster information to non-Japanese living in Japan, and going up to Tohoku to help with cleaning up the debris only two weeks after the tsunami, it is heartening and reassuring to read your articles on the reality of how people are dealing with the aftermath, especially your insistence that it is not just a problem defined by those who are not there. One of the things that bothered me the most about reporting of the disaster were the alarmist and sensationalist portraying of how the national and local governments were handling the situation, with nearly all the reports inevitably steering the conversation back to the plight of the readers of the reports themselves, rather than showing the real concern of the victims. Tokyo residents so often condemned Fukushima a somehow being responsible for what happened AMerican news made out the radiation to primarily be a threat to the States. Kyoto residents rallied to put a ban on taking in debris from Iwate because of fears of radiation contamination.

    But you just had to go up there and spend time with the people to see that the whole thing was about so much more than just the fears and the devastation. And this is what your blog addresses.

    Thank you.

    Miguel (in Tokyo, was introduced to you by Christy Lee-Engles)

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