To my San Francisco Bay Area Family and Friends:
Words alone cannot express how much your e-mails and good thoughts have meant to me. I received messages from all of you throughout the entire day and night when the quake hit, and I think that kept me going in mind and spirit, and helped to prepare me for what to expect.
I recently completed my doctorate work at Tohoku University in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture last year, so when I learned of the earthquake and tsunami, the deep pain in my heart started to hurt more and more as I continued to witness from a distance what was happening. I immediately worried whether my friends, teachers, neighbors and colleagues that I had spent so much time with were safe. But before I had time to digest the devastation, the news kept getting worse. The world was then told that there was a fear of radiation leaking from the nuclear plant located in Fukushima Prefecture.
Iwaki City, my hometown where I spent 10 years before going to college, is about 40 kilometers (24.9 miles) from the nuclear plant. The City of Iwaki, once the largest geographical municipality in Japan, is 1,231.34 square kilometers (475.4 square miles) with more than 340,000 residents.
Although the government only declared a narrow area of Northern Iwaki City as an area to “stay inside,” the media reporting has created such a frenzy that the entire city is now considered “dangerous” and not to be entered.
Iwaki was a relatively unknown spot on the map until the movie “Hula Girls” debuted a few years ago. People in Iwaki have always had to struggle to make ends meet through tourism, agriculture and the fishing industry.
Now, things have changed. While I am very grateful that my family is safe, my family’s home was severely damaged. But more important than the physical damage is the damage done to us by people who shun us, fearing that all of Iwaki is “contaminated” because of the radioactive leakage. It has gotten to a point where some residents were forced to leave the town because food or water is no longer transported, due to a fear of it being infected.
My uncle, a very proud and strong man who decided to stay in the southern part of Iwaki, cried to me over the phone and told me “kanzen ni koritsu saserareteru” [we have been totally left to live in isolation]. Apparently, cries for help to those who have survived the devastation but are not located in the immediate sight of damage are put on hold.
People who lost their homes, family and their whole life history now face another challenge of being treated as someone from the “polluted area.”
I understand the fear, but it is completely biased and not based on true documented facts. These assumptions are being formed without people really knowing where the plants are actually located.
What is a fact is that it is going to take not months but years for life to return to “normal,” if it ever will. The rebuilding process for any community is slow, but particularly for rural, less populated areas like Fukushima Prefecture.
So friends, I have a favor. Please do not forget about us even after the news have stopped covering our lives and have moved on to other things. We need you to remember that our communities will require time, support and love to restart. While some Fukushima products are temporarily restricted, there are many other products that are very safe to purchase and consume. Please reach out to buy Fukushima’s safe products and welcome Fukushima people into your lives to let them know you care. You have and continue to do that for me, and now, more than ever, I know what real friends are, no matter where they are located.
Takashi Oda was advisor for community affairs to the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco from 2005-2008. From 2008-2009, he returned to the Bay Area as a Fulbright Scholar to study the Japanese American community and urban policies in San Francisco at UC Berkeley. Currently, Oda is a postdoctoral research fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and teaches human geography at Ochanomizu University, in Tokyo.