Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dispersion of Radioactive Material and the Disbandment of Communities

Yesterday on NHK television, a guest on the national channel provided suggestions for avoiding radiation contamination while waving a pointer at a bulletin board: (1) Move around by car (2) Wear long sleeves (3) Wear a mask (4) Don’t get rained on. Then a television drama began to be aired—a historical drama complete with silk kimono clad women, tear-stained faces of samurai men, and cherry blossoms floating amidst a background of blue skies. The Japanese Twitterers were confounded. Surely this isn’t the time to pretend that things are back to normal by airing a television drama?

And today, it’s just been reported that precipitation is imminent in northeastern Japan today. If Fukushima sees rain, then, it’s suggested, it is best not to go out in the rain. But if you do, cover up!

And now the milk and spinach from the radiation zone is found to have enough radioactivity to stop sales. This reminds one of the Tsukiji fish market when the largest fish market in the world banned fish products from Isozu village which was across the Suzuka River from the Yokkaichi petrol chemical company. The fish from that area smelled so badly that mongers in Tokyo refused to peddle their fish and the village wilted into nothing. The milk and spinach from Fukushima are no longer being sold and people living in Fukushima are being asked not to drink or eat their own milk and spinach.

The dispersion of radioactive materials is being tracked across the seas on planes flying into Seattle and elsewhere but for now the only risk seems to regard the locals who must stop selling and eating their own locally grown produce.

Locals would like nothing more than to be able to survive on local produce and medicines. But, in fact, they have little. Minami-Souma residents are finally being bussed out of the area for lack of food and medicine. Another elderly man has died at the age of 82 for lack of care. Even with medicines in the cabinets, there are no nurses in Minami Souma to administer those medicines. So 40 busses from Minami Souma take the aged to Saitama prefecture where they will be fed and have care administered.

And yet, the elderly—a large percentage of the population in northeastern Japan—are in no hurry to leave their homes. They admit that once leaving it is unlikely that they will ever have a home to come back to. Far beyond getting food and medicine, this is their primary concern.

On the other hand, it is the aged in these communities who have brought some slight semblance of normalcy to devastated areas. In one town, an elderly man provides haircuts in the streets; in another a retired woman decides to reopen her shop to serve the locals. Out of his shop an elderly gentleman repairs bicycles—the only transportation in use for now in devastated areas—since they get frequent flats for the junk in the streets.

It is especially the elderly who cannot choose to stay who feel the pain of evacuation the most. Be a yokel, buy local . . . unless you live in Fukushima.

We’re all in this together.