Sunday 5th October 2014
Late start (9am !), for a short trip to the Green Cross Family Club in Koriyama, called the “3A” club, the “A”s being “safety, security, action” (in Japanese, of course).
Before the Fukushima accident, Koriyama had a population of 40,000; now it is 20,000, we were told by Tokiko Noguchi, the only remaining founder member (out of 6) of the 3A club, the others having literally moved on. The radioactive fallout from Fukushima fell as (with ?) snow on Koriyama, but there was no compulsory evacuation of the town. Whilst she talked to us, one of her assistants chopped up a locally grown onion, and put it in their food-testing machine. Half an hour later, the results showed much lower levels of Caesium than 3 years ago, when they started food-testing – but still too high for me to fancy eating ! They also gave us examples of school and nursery school pamphlets about radiation which were highly misleading and very selective (“everyone is going to die sometime, and about one in three people got cancer before the Fukushima accident …”, just what your average infant or nursery pupil wants to be told).
Yokei Suzuki then spoke about his experience and the radiation monitoring that he does using a Geiger counter with GPS location, and the decontamination that he (and other volunteers) do. It sounds crazy – but given that areas that have apparently been decontaminated still register above the official “safe” level, and given how contaminated soil is “decontaminated” under the official process, maybe it’s not so crazy after all.
We left the 3A centre and went to La Cucina Italian restaurant, where I had a salad, a vegetable spaghetti dish, some slices of a vegetarian pizza, and Italian ice-cream – a nice change from Japanese cuisine ! We were joined at the meal by the 3 people that we’d met at the 3A club, and by Ikuko Hebiishi, the Green Party councillor, which allowed for further discussion whilst eating.
After lunch we drove to Fukushima City, 90km from the reactor site, where we visited a second Green Cross initiated Family Club, which allowed mothers (almost exclusively) to bring their children to a safe indoor play area. After a brief welcome by the manager of several such clubs, we just had a fairly low-key question and answer session with three mothers who were present with their four children. A lot of equipment – including a minibus – had been donated by Credit Swiss, but there was also a strong emphasis on using natural, recycled items: building blocks, balls, and some equipment made from wood off-cuts, making bags out of old newspaper, and of handicrafts in general (including origami).
They had also, for the first time, taken part in a Green Cross Children’s Summer Camp over the summer, in a part of Japan that wasn’t contaminated by radioactive fallout from Fukushima, to allow the children to play outdoors. The children enjoyed, and the mothers enjoyed watching the children enjoy, simple things like handling soil, rocks, plants, insects, and playing in streams, all things that they couldn’t do at home but to the radiation levels.
They asked us whether we were scared to visit Fukushima, and what would we tell people when we go back home ? We emphasised the difference between a week’s visit and living here permanently like them, and they were left in no doubt that we’d say that nuclear power is a bad idea, and that more needs to be done in the area, and for the people living in the area, affected by the accident.
By now the rain – the advanced guard of a typhoon – was fairly settled in, as we went to our third stop of the day, a council run indoor play centre. This was on a lavish scale, top quality equipment, in what had obviously been an indoor sports hall (which did raise the question of what the people who used to use the sports facilities now do ?). As well as a large soft lay area, there was an inflated cylinder roll, a bouncy castle, a huge ball pool, and a very large indoor sand pit. There was also a large collage, of different coloured handprints of all the children who use the centre, in the shape of a tree, with the (larger) older children’s handprints forming the trunk of the tree, as older children have to support the younger children.
The centre’s director, Michicko Kumada, told us that there had been a huge demand for indoor play facilities as soon as people heard about the (outdoor) danger of radioactivity, which caused the authorities to close outdoor play areas. Initially housed in unused warehouses, once one more permanent indoor play centre was set up, it led to competition between municipalities, each trying to outdo the next by providing better facilities. This one opened in September 2012. However there was something of the politician / council spokesperson about her, a feeling that we were getting the official slant on the situation rather than the truth warts and all. She explained in detail how there were public radiation monitoring posts at all leisure facilities, and the results were printed in the newspapers and available on the council website; people could (and did) hire radiation detectors from the council, and when they found that their readings were the same as the council’s, they gained trust in the official figures. Now in Fukushima city the radiation levels had fallen to (post-accident) safe levels, 0.230 microseiverts per hour, a quarter of what it used to be, but fear of radiation varies from family to family.
She had some doubts about the facility’s future: demand might fall now that the radiation levels were “safe”, although some parents might wait until the level is under 0.04 microseiverts per hour, the pre-accident safe level.
By contrast, the other speaker, Yokiko Shida, a former day-care worker who now has responsibility for children’s healthy development from the nutrition to the healthy vision with a program from healthyusa, seemed to speak from the heart with scant regard for any official line.
Back to the hotel, in the rain, for dinner – fairly standard vegetarian fair: rice, salad, soup, tempura vegetables; it seems like the hotels think “well we only need to create one vegetarian meal, and then we can use it over and over” (although, to be fair, some of the meat / fish eaters were also beginning to find their meals predictable and uninspired).
We then had to pack carefully for the morning – our suitcases were travelling separately from us (too big to go on the bullet train), so our day bags had to contain everything that we would need for two days and one night. I packed the iPad lead in the suitcase, which of course meant that when the iPad ran out of charge …