Poetry from Fukushima on the 8th Anniversary of the Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Meltdown

March 11, 2019 is the 8th anniversary of the Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Meltdown, the first of a type of techo-natural disaster predicted in the 1990s by seismologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko. He coined the Japanese term genpatsu shinsai (原発震災, literally a nuclear power-earthquake disaster) to highlight the way a horrific natural disaster would be worsened by the co-occurrence of nuclear reactors melting down because of the earthquake.

I wasn’t physically or materially affected by the genpatsu shinsai, but it happened close enough to my home in Japan that it deeply affected me, and I was able to observe the way Japanese society reacted to it. Even at the time there was a wide range of reactions in society. Some people never thought twice about it. Others were devastated and angry, and they demanded that the national energy policy abandon nuclear energy. But this anger never transformed into a broader and more radical shift in politics. No one was connecting the issue to Japan’s attachment to the US military-economic alliance and the traditional export-driven capitalist model that requires infinite growth in a finite world.

I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for the people dislocated by the nuclear disaster, but I’ve also sensed something narrow and naïve about the way the problem is viewed. The victims should have expected a nuclear disaster, but they never should have expected anything different than the treatment they got. There are hundreds of disasters throughout the world that they could have looked to as examples of victims being abandoned. Few victims ever receive any kind of justice or a return to the life they once had. A nuclear accident is a rare and unique cause of an internal refugee crisis, but the plight of the refugees is not much different than that of others throughout the world who are uprooted because of natural disasters and war. Right after the genpatsu shinsai, large numbers of refugees began to enter Europe because of the destruction of the Libyan state and the war against Syria. Unfortunately, there was never a popular solidarity movement connecting Japan’s internal refugee crisis to the larger international crisis. In fact, during the aftermath of the genpatsu shinsai, the US government and the Japanese establishment were finishing off a soft coup against the elected Japanese government that had tried to challenge the status quo of the US-Japan alliance and the nature of the Japanese economy. No one was in the mood to keep fighting that battle.

I read and wrote about such things for five years after the disaster until I felt written out, or perhaps written into a corner. I felt trapped by the success of my self-education. If I wasn’t preaching to the converted, I was encountering people who disagreed and had a level of confidence in their opinions that was inversely proportional to their knowledge of the topic. They wanted to “debate” me for five minutes at a noisy social gathering, but they didn’t want to read a book on the topic (my reading list is at the end of this blog post) and talk to me about it afterwards. The same thing happened after I read several books on the history of the cold war and post-cold war era. Now instead of the pointless debates, people just shut me down. I have had to listen to people saying, “No, I don’t want to talk to you about Russia.” Who needs to have their views challenged when you can learn all you need to know from covers of the Economist?

I had once hoped that the genpatsu shinsai would change everything and make energy and environmental issues the top priority in politics. That’s why I made the effort to learn about it and talk about it, but the toxic legacy of the nuclear age remained on the margin of the margin of public consciousness as every nuclear state prepared to rebuild and upgrade its nuclear arsenal and nuclear energy facilities. Fukushima? You would think it never even happened.

Other blogs and news sites will be running stories about the 8th anniversary today, so I tried to think of something to discuss that wouldn’t be covered elsewhere. What follows is a short excerpt from a book of poems by a Japanese author, Kojima Chikara, who joined the anti-nuclear movement decades ago and wrote about it before and after the genpatsu shinsai. Many of his poems describe the era of nuclear expansion during which there were minor unreported accidents and radiation exposures of the invisible sub-contracted laborers. Their health problems were never tracked by regulators or the curious branch of science called “health physics.” These poems make it clear that the disaster really began when the reactors were first switched on.

This short sample has been reproduced here for the purpose of review (fair use claimed) and to help the author get some exposure for his work which is not well-known outside of Japan.
A Selection of Poetry Works: My Tears Flow Endlessly
Forced out of House and Home by the Fukushima Nuclear Power Accident
by Kojima Chikara, translated by Noda Setsuko
Tokyo, Nishidashoten Publishing, ©2017
123 pages. Excerpt from pages 42-46.
The book was published with the original Japanese poems alongside the English translation.
Kojima and Noda are surnames, listed first here as in Japanese publishing style.

1.5 µSv around the entrance of my house
Where daisy fleabanes bloom.
1.7 µSv under the trees
Covered with overgrown vines in my garden
2.45 µSv on the surface of the ground
In my backyard where wet leaves pile up.

0.6 µSv around the heated table sunken into the floor
Which is no longer in use
Except during our short visits.
0.9 µSv in the sunroom
Looking out through the pane of class
0.8 µSv in the second floor bedroom
where nobody has slept since the accident.

We cleaned our house after an absence of a year and four months.
Wiping away the rat droppings on the tatami mats
And clearing all the dust in our house that day
We didn’t manage to return to our 0.05 µSv temporary house in Tokyo.

Near the sunken heated table
We placed floor cushions, each 0.7 µSv
And took blankets of 0.6 µSv out of the closet,
Which is now difficult to open and close.
We slept somewhere between 0.6 µSv and 0.7 µSv.

We slept shuddering in fear
Of being exposed to the radiation all night.
We slept with the knowledge
That we might not live in our house and homeland again.
Worrying about our future in the dark of night,
We slept.

Kashi, kashi, kashi     Kashi, kashi, kashi  
From the very darkness at midnight
I can hear a faint sound.
It reverberates across the whole room.
Kashi, kashi, kashi     Kashi, kashi, kashi 
The sound has continued non-stop
for about an hour since I was woken up.

Kashi, kashi, kashi     Kashi, kashi, kashi  
As soon as I awoke I turned on the light
And identified the origin of the sound.
Kashi, kashi, kashi     Kashi, kashi, kashi  
It’s a little young rat, not even as big as an egg.

I came home for a short visit after two months absence
And was enraged to see droppings all over the tatami mats.
I set a trap and it worked.
The rat scratched the edge of the cardboard with its rear claws
Because it was trapped with its belly glued to duct tape.

Rat, rat,
You are not hurt at all.
Besides, “There are no immediate effects on your health.”
I don’t want to help you,
Let alone pay you compensation, or give you donations.
I only listen to you struggling, not sleeping at all.

Kashi, kashi, kashi     Kashi, kashi, kashi   
I must live in a temporary shack.
Somebody might really make a fool of me if I pity you
Snickering at me beyond the darkness.
Kashi, kashi, kashi     Kashi, kashi, kashi  
Kashi, kashi, kashi     Kashi, kashi, kashi 
Half dead, Half dead    Half dead, Half dead  
Half dead, Half dead    Half dead, Half dead  

A Selection of Poetry Works: My Tears Flow Endlessly
Forced out of House and Home by the Fukushima Nuclear Power Accident
by Kojima Chikara, translated by Noda Setsuko
Tokyo, Nishidashoten Publishing, ©2017
123 pages. Excerpt from pages 42-46.
The book was published with the original Japanese poems alongside the English translation.
Kojima and Noda are surnames, listed first here as in Japanese publishing style.

A Nuclear Age Reading List, 2011-2019.

Until now I have been too unassuming to stress all the reading and work I’ve put into learning about the nuclear age and the history of the 20th century. However, today I look back on several experiences when I had to tolerate people shutting me down or giving me their thinly supported opinions—people who were utterly uninterested in reading books on these subjects or listening to someone who does. I’ve also seen historians having similar experiences when they are interviewed on television, so I thought for once I would mention the fact that since the nuclear disaster, I’ve read the seventy books listed below cover to cover. I’m employed as an educator, so I have an advantage by having some extra time to do this research, but still I want to stress that anyone can start reading and learning again. When I was young no one thought I was special. I was a B student who struggled to get the occasional A. I kept reading because I turned off the TV and left my country. You may not be able to do both of these things, but you can at least do the former.

A.V. Yablokov, V.B. Nesterenko & A.V. Nesterenko, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment
Ace Hoffman, The Code Killers
Alla Yaroshinskaya, Chernobyl: Crime without Punishment 
Andrew Nikiforuk, The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude
Bruno Barrillot, Les irradiés de la République : Les victimes des essais nucléaires français prennent la parole
Buddy Levy, Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs
Charles Forsdick & Christian Høgsbjerg, Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions
Charles C. Mann
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
Chris Hedges, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
Christopher Boyce, Cait Boyce, Vince Font, The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman
David Graeber
The Utopia of Rules
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, The CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government
Douglas Valentine, Hotel Tacloban
Edward Herman & David Peterson, Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later
Eileen Welsome, The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War
Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy
Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
Gabrielle Hecht, Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade
Gar Smith, Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth
Gavan Daws, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands
Gavan McCormack & Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States
Gayle Greene, The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation
Gerard Prunier, Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe
Grover Furr, Blood Lies: The Evidence that Every Accusation against Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union in Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands Is False
Greg Poulgrain, Incubus of Intervention: Conflicting Indonesia Strategies of John F. Kennedy and Allen Dulles
James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters
Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Jim Albertini, Nelson Foster, Wally Inglis, Gill Roeder, The Dark Side of Paradise: Hawaii in a Nuclear World
Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins
Jim Harding, Canada's Deadly Secret: Saskatchewan Uranium and the Global Nuclear System
John Reid, Ten Days that Shook the World
Joseph Mangano, Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment
Joseph Masco, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico
Judi Rever, In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon
Kate Brown
A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland
Dispatches from Dystopia: Histories of Places Not Yet Forgotten
Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters
Kristen Iversen, Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
Leon Siu, Ke Aupuni O Hawaii, The Basis for Restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom
Matashichi Oishi, The Day the Sun Rose in the West: Bikini, the Lucky Dragon, and I
Noelani Goodyear-Ka’opua et al, A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land and Sovereignty
NHK TV, Tokaimura Criticality Accident Crew, A Slow Death: 85 Days of Radiation Sickness
Nicolas Lambert, Avenir Radieux
Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times
Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States
Penny Sanger, Blind Faith: The Nuclear Industry in One Small Town
Peter van Wyck, The Highway of the Atom
R.T. Howard, Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Anglo-America
Richard Cottrell, Gladio, NATO’s Dagger at the Heart of Europe: The Pentagon-Nazi-Mafia Terror Axis
Richard Rhodes
The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons
Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race
Robert J. Johnson, Romancing the Atom: Nuclear Infatuation from the Radium Girls to Fukushima
Robert Jacobs, The Dragon’s Tail: American’s Face the Atomic Age
Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenney, Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union
Roger Stone, The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ
Scott Straus, The Order of Genocide: Race, Power and War in Rwanda
Sheldon M. Stern, The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality
Stephanie Cook, In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age
Stephen F. Cohen, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War
Stephen Kinzer, The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of American Empire
Susan Southard, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War
Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
Takahashi Hirose, Fukushima Meltdown: The World’s First Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster
Tom Zoellner, Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World
William T. Vollman, Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan

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