August 1, 2014
Dear Family and Friends,
Recently one of my students told me about her friend who came from Fukushima. She told me her friend’s brother had developed a cyst on his thyroid gland. He was age 9 when the abnormality was found. He is now 12 and it is still there. She reassured me it was not malignant – yet – but they were keeping a close watch on it. I had not heard about this development before. I was concerned, of course, but not really surprised that it had not been reported.
However, a friend recently sent me an e-mail about Naoto Matusmura, the gentleman who stayed in the “No Go Zone” around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in order to care for the animals left behind. She said, “I googled Naoto Matsumura and got caught up on some of the latest news about him lately. Just a couple weeks ago, he transported a sick cow (with spots all over its hide) to Tokyo and demanded that it be seen by some officials . . . and this drew a crowd including the police. Naturally I am sure he expected this, and I believe he is doing all he can to keep the energy going for ‘his’ animals . . . He is a dedicated soul, and does all he can to bring awareness to the problems the people face, as well as the plight of the animals still left behind.”
Something that has also been reported is that since 03/11 more people have died from disaster-related causes than from the earthquake and tsunami themselves. Over half of the cases are in Fukushima Prefecture.
A few days ago an adult student of mine told me her seven year old daughter was refusing to go to school. She found the classes boring and felt her teacher did not understand her. This mother went on to say that many children had become very fragile since the 03/11 disaster. And she added, so had the teachers. “There is a great emotional vulnerability now that we never had before. I myself am OK because I am tough. But I can’t push my child or her teachers because I have the feeling that they might break. It is a very delicate situation. And I am not sure what to do.” The suicide rate is up, so her concerns are very genuine.
As in other parts of the world, young people in general are disillusioned and lost. With the terrible economy, this generation has little sense of a future. “They have no dream,” as many people say. “And how can you live without a dream?”
Despite these dark undercurrents, there are other things happening that are solid and sure. Things are changing. At first the concerns were overwhelmingly physical. How to clean up the mess the tsunami left, how to find a place to live, how to start work again. But now people everywhere are now asking, “How can we build up our emotional fortitude in the face of impending disasters?”
A few steps are appearing that begin to address this challenging necessity. One example is that over the past months Family Support Centers have started to boldly present their services. In the past, having emotional trouble was taboo and something to hide. But now it is openly recognized, so people are able to find help more easily and without shame. Likewise, there are seminars on Loneliness and Post Traumatic Stress. And university programs in counseling are now being advertised in public places, such as on buses or trains.
There are also hundreds of NPOs that are diligently offering their services, often behind the scenes. In Sendai most of the signs saying, “Gambatte Tohoku, Gambatte Miyagi!” have been removed. But as soon as you get outside the city, they are everywhere. Progress is much slower the further you go from the metropolitan area, so that kind of overt encouragement and support are still very needed.
In addition, in Japan even short term emotional reassurance is considered essential for dealing with stress. So we here in Tohoku feel great appreciation when people from other places show that they still care about us. Some of these lighter gestures of kindness include special art exhibits that have come, and are still coming to this area. Recently there was a show on of “the God of Manga” and “The King of Manga”. They are Tezuka Osama and Shotaro Ishinomori respectively. The exhibition was wonderful in that it started with them as small boys making marvelous drawings and then continued through their long, productive, and very successful careers up to the current times.
Another show with the theme of “Van Gogh’s Flowers” has also come. And a Buddhist National Treasures from the Muroji Temple in Nara is also part of this encouraging picture. There are also many street concerts and special food fairs held frequently in various parts of the city and around the prefecture.
The ups and downs of what is happening here are part of the fabric of life. The constant changes reflect both the fragility and determination of Tohoku citizens now. In a way, the balance of the two seems to be summed up in a poem that a friend wrote. The poet, Nancy Greenaway, composed this piece for the graduating class on Block Island in Rhode Island, USA. It was written for those students, of course, but maybe also for everyone facing life with all its terrible beauty and potentially strengthening challenges.
Think rubber bands, leotards,
trampolines, elastic waistbands,
yoga masters, Scrunchies.
Visualize the rebound of young skin
touched, the springiness of muffins
fresh from the oven.
Listen to tragedies’ survivors say,
“Yes, I lost everything. Everything.
But I still have my life.”
Ever-vulnerable human beings
somehow bounce back,
some times even thrive.
my word for you.