The Next Step
Dear Family and Friends,
There is an interesting new development happening now. Recently foreigners are coming to this area to report on the progress being made. Of course, professional newscasters have been here since the disaster, but now ordinary foreign citizens are coming armored with cameras and microphones. They are conducting interviews, mostly about how people are getting on in their daily lives. In Sendai these interested individuals can be found near the main train station or in areas with a lot of human activity.
Others go further afield. One man, Austin Auger II from California, for example, went to the coastal areas of Miyagi Prefecture. He interviewed locals to find out about their lives now. The survivors talked about the “before, during, and after” of their lives. Austin wants to stress the positive, so is focusing on what was bringing people happiness and meaning as they work to reestablish themselves. His documentary should come out within a year.
Another Californian, a fourth generation Japanese American named Nana Kaneko, is here to do research on “Music Activities in Tsunami-Hit Places.” This, of course, explores the emotional well being of survivors and ways they are using to uplift their spirits. Nana herself is an ethnomusicologist, currently spending a year in Japan doing research for her PhD.
Thinking of the arts, ever since the earthquake, a local man here in Sendai, Hiroshige Kagawa, has been painting enormous pieces depicting devastated buildings. His works are so large and impressive that some of them have been used as backdrops for dance performances.
These kinds of research and recordings are very helpful. They shed light on people’s determination to create meaningful lives, peppered with activities that alleviate stress and bring joy.
There are other dimensions to the picture, too, of course. The other day, for example, I had the privilege of going to Koriyama to interview a nursing student. Koriyama is an hour south of Fukushima City by bus and 50 kilometers from the nuclear power station. It is in Fukushima Prefecture, but is not on the coast.
This young nursing-hopeful, Hikaru, has lived in Koriyama all her life. Her home collapsed from the violence of the earthquake, so her family lived in evacuation centers for five weeks. They were very fortunate to be able to move directly from there to an empty house in their old neighborhood. Compared to people in other areas, five weeks is record time. “There weren’t so many damaged houses in Koriyama,” Hikaru explained to me. “And there were a lot fewer people in evacuation sites as well.”
Hikaru is the one whose brother, now age 12, developed a cyst on his thyroid gland soon after the nuclear problem began. This sort of trouble has not been reported openly. Since no official statement has been made public, no one knows who has these unseen troubles or how extensive they are. However, since she works in hospitals, both in Koriyama and Fukushima, Hikaru has learned a lot about what is going on.
For example, there has been an increase in thyroid cysts. In fact, her brother has developed a second one. Neither is cancerous so far, but he is being closely watched. Hikaru explained that immediately after the meltdown, winds brought radiation into the Koriyama area. People were not aware of the danger, so lots of kids played outside everyday. Her brother was one of them. The government has cleared off the top levels of the earth in all open spaces. And since then, toxicity has gone down to safe levels. Koriyama is doing better than Fukushima City because it is basically an industrial city, whereas Fukushima is more agricultural. Plus it does not carry its companion city’s infamous name.
On the surface people in Koriyama seem to be living normal lives. The streets are clean and attractive. They have many busy shops. There is no sign of rebuilding. In fact, there is no hint of even needing to rebuild.
Next to the station is the “Tallest Planetarium in the World”, written up in the Guinness Book of World Records to prove it. We went to the top of the building to have a look across the city. It was much more spread out than I had expected. Behind the railway station was the industrial zone. In front was the area for with offices and shops. Even though few builds collapsed in the earthquake, we did see two vacant ones. They had been hospitals. New ones have been built nearby.