Yamamoto Keisuke, Jesuit Social Center Staff, Tokyo
From the 27th of May to the 29th､ on a study tour around the city of South Soma in Fukushima Prefecture, I visited the Tohoku disaster region, including the Fukushima nuclear accident site. The visit enabled us to see the actual situation of the disaster area and forced us to confront the issues resulting from such a disaster.
The main objective of our tour was to observe the Dokei Temple of the Odaka region of South Soma City, located in the disaster area, within forty kilometers from the nuclear plant and the town of Namie, and to visit the people living in temporary shelters in the Kashima region of South Soma City, and meet with the victims at the Ma Kokoro Coffee Shop. There is not enough space here to report on everything we observed on our tour, so I will limit my-self to reporting about what I experienced the second day of our tour, when we visited the disaster area of Namie.
Until shortly before our tour, Namie had been a sealed-off area in which visitors were not allowed to enter. So we were indeed fortunate to be able to observe such an untouched disaster area. From our hotel in the Hara ward of South Soma City we went by car to the town of Namie. Along the way we could get a good view of the natural setting of the town. On one side, as far as the eye could see, was grassland, while on the other side could be seen tall mountains. Much of the grassland was land that had flowed in with the tsunami, together with much debris. Previous to the disaster, this grassland had undoubtedly been peaceful rice paddies. I was put to mind of a famous haiku of Basho: “The summer grasses of brave soldiers’ dreams, and now the aftermath.” But the grasses differ greatly from those observed by Basho: they are now contaminated by radiation. I wondered how long it would be before human beings could walk through them again without feeling anxiety.
In the mountains on the other side of us, too, there remain many radioactive substances, which must also be removed. But, noting the vast extension of the mountain area, I could not but realize how difficult it would be to remove all the radioactive substances, and how costly. The landscape changed completely as soon as we entered the town of Namie. Mountains of debris were to be seen everywhere. We even saw boats and cars that been deposited there by the tsunami. When we got out of the car, I had the feeling that we were walking on soil that had been disturbed by the great earthquake. I still remember the feeling I had when I picked up a clod of dirt and examined its texture and found it to be a strange combination of earth and debris.
A school in the town that we then visited had been half destroyed. The windows of the gymnasium were broken and the doors were off their hinges, while the floor looked as if it had been hollowed. A school banner still hung high above the platform for addressing the students. I wondered if they may not have been practicing for the graduation ceremony at the time of the disaster.
All that I had already seen was enough to make me realize the tremendous damage caused by the big tsunami. But what impressed me even more was the fact that because of the radioactive contamination the devastated land had been left unused for over two years. I reflected on the cold heartedness of nuclear plant accidents. It is probably only now that the reconstruction of the town of Namie can really begin.
At the end of our exposure tour, I thought about the problem of reconstructing the areas that had been damaged in the disaster, and came to the following conclusions.
The physical reconstruction of the damaged area must come first. It is necessary to provide the necessary conditions for people to once again live a normal life in the area. The debris must be removed and disposed of, and the infrastructure repaired.
Even more important perhaps than the physical reconstruction is the human reconstruction．The earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear plant failures have made the people of the area experience great losses and inflicted on them deep spiritual wounds. The impatience that results from an unclear vision of the future and the long time they have had to spent in temporary living quarters worsens the psychological condition of people in disaster areas. It seems to me that they must first accept the cruel reality of their situation, forgive those who they think have some responsibility for what happened to them, and determine to start a new life with the strong hope that it will be a better life. This is what I would call a human spiritual reconstruction. The two reconstructions, the physical and the spiritual, should go together, neither being given priority over the other, but one influencing the other. People will come alive again and engage in the normal activities of social life once the physical environment has been restored and the local culture has begun to function again.
The big problem, however, is that no matter how willing the people may be to recover the land, they cannot do so, since it is considered to be radioactive and they are barred from entering it. Normally, the land and the people would work in tandem for reconstruction, but, since they are now cut off from each other, the way to recovery is difficult for both.
Despite this severe reality, or perhaps because of it, we should all keep up our interest in what goes on in post-disaster Tohoku. We must not forget the plight of our neighbors to the north, who have already suffered so much and now slowly make their slow and painful way to reconstruction.
We pray that those still living their lives in temporary shelters will find comfort and hope in the midst of their hardships.