Don’t get me wrong: These women are pissed! (My word not theirs.) And they have every right to express that, even in Japan, at least according to its constitution.
I cannot leave Japan without peeling back the layer of sticky rice and sweet bean paste that keeps the victims of Tepco’s iodine, cesium and strontium on their feet.
One woman from Fukushima, who I met in Kyoto, said to me: “I am not as good as a guinea pig! They take tests from a guinea pig, but they don’t even test me.” She has thyroid cancer. There is a bias, since Chernobyl, toward focusing on thyroid cancer in children as a radiation impact. This is in part since they have less of a prior history of exposures, but in fact, radioactive iodine can cause cancer in people of any age.
This woman is asking to be studied. For me there are long and interesting questions about the moral and ethical basis of studying any victim…but this woman wants data. The post-Fukushima period is generating oceans of data, but much of it is useless, either for a study, or for the victims. This woman tells me that readings from a “full-body count” measuring Becquerels in her body, taken at an evacuation center in 2011 was destroyed after two years. She cannot get it. It is gone. She is more than pissed.
I feel (or maybe project) other women would explode if they could, but they hold it together for their children.
This is the “triple bind” created by Tepco’s allies in the Japanese federal and (most) state governments:
First: One’s entire life is disrupted by radioactive contamination; any official support comes through cooperation;
Second: One’s children (and some Mamas) are having symptoms of radiation impact but the doctors are told* not to identify radiation in any diagnosis;
Third: The official message from over 400 government-paid Post-Tepco Meltdown staff psychologists is: the only harm to the children will come from the mother’s anxiety about radiation, which is unfounded, and results in stress to her and her family. Stress is bad.
This last point we can all agree on, but the word “stress”, has been appropriated by the “There is No Problem, the Radiation is Safe” story line. Now “stress” means a mother who is no longer cooperative with a government that would require her to move home to Fukushima Prefecture and support the use of local foods in the school lunch program, or face personal condemnation. There is no one to buy her home if she chooses not to.
This makes it a quadruple bind.
I support these Mamas by carefully, and slowly, stating, at each speaking event that if I were a mother I would leave contaminated zones and take my children with me. This does not touch, however, the incredible pressure on them from all sides to conform to the official line; talk about stress!
At one last Tokyo “Mama Meeting” or “tea party” as we have called the sessions with women concerned about radiation, these Mamas are not refugees. They are women monitoring hot spots here in Tokyo.
One woman has four children who bop in and out, cared for on the side. This mom is not at all happy with me, or maybe anyone from the U.S., having anything to say about her situation. I quickly shift to listen-mode and agree with her often. Another mom is much younger. She has done quite a bit of reading and has decided that internal emitters from food contamination are her big concern. I agree with her too. Another mom is interested in learning how to clean up hot spots…and has produced detailed maps with photos of her detector reading as high as 126 millirems per hour on hot spots at a park in Tokyo. Her readings in the same area were repeated over many months.
This group seems more engaged and active than any other Mama Tea Party group I have met with. The feeling fits with the large NGO events that I am doing at the end of this trip. The same day as the Tea Party I went on to the National Diet Building to speak at a large (and lively) event hosted by the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center, which covered it here.
During this tea party it slowly begins to dawn on me that the bottom of pretty much the entire Japanese food chain is aquatic. I have a dim memory of hearing decades ago, when a U.S. fast-food chain selling fried chicken opened in Japan for the first time, it did not pass the “quality” check done by the chain’s U.S. corporate executives. The chicken tasted like fish. The eggs I have been eating for the past 2 weeks in Tokyo also taste, faintly, of fish. I share this with the Mama concerned about food. Color drains from her face. It is overwhelming to think of meats, dairy and eggs being at risk from possible radioactive sea-water contamination. She says “It makes me tired.” I say “yeah, especially when you factor in fish-fertilizer and all the soy products.”
So, in the end, we know, we all live in Fukushima…
My last day in Japan I was thinking about the old adage that Crisis = Opportunity. Years ago (1999), I traveled to Australia to help fight a global nuclear waste dump called the “Pangea Project” that was targeting Australia for all the world’s irradiated fuel rods. Over breakfast in Perth, in the home of a Green Party member of the Australian Parliament, I ventured an opinion: “The Pangea Project is an existential threat to your nation. You should work for a Constitutional Amendment to ban international waste from entering your waters or your land.” I was truly shocked, as a naive American, to hear the reply: “Australia does not have a constitution.” Unfortunately this ugly global dump threat has reared its head, targeting Australia again. (NIRS Action Alert coming soon!)
Here, now, in Japan, once again, in my view: this nation is facing an existential threat from radioactivity. So, I ask Steve Leeper, one of my hosts, “Does Japan have a constitution?” Steve explains that it does, the Peace Constitution, written post-WWII, by an American woman (under the aegis of a famous US General.). Established in 1947, under U.S. Occupation.
As I scan the Constitution of Japan, it is amazing how detailed it is in enunciating the rights of individuals…though ‘Free Speech’ appears as Article 21, not “first amendment.” I have often felt in these past weeks a common thread between my Japanese friends and my friends back home, south of the Mason/Dixon Line. It hits me: they are both warrior people who fought hard and had to accept defeat. From the same victor: Yankees.
Freedom cannot be given. It must be taken. I sincerely hope that the Mama’s rise, peacefully, to claim the provisions of this constitution (or a new one) for themselves, their children, and all of Japan.
BIG CRISIS = BIG OPPORTUNITY.
*Medical suppression: I heard first-hand accounts from three physicians. One at a prestigious clinic refused to take the “hint” that he should not mention radiation in his diagnoses of patients and had his hospital privileges revoked. Two other women doctors in private practice are persevering in their care for all their patients, including those with symptoms clearly from radiation exposure. One of them openly calls their medical association as “sell-outs” to the “nuclear mafia.” I met these doctors, but I am not “naming these names…” and that is a comment too.
April 5, 2016
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