Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.2 Mr. Tokuun TANAKA

Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.2 Mr. Tokuun TANAKA
Lecture by Mr. Tokuun Tanaka
13 September 2013
Yotsuya, Tokyo
I grew up in an ordinary Japanese family. When I was in high school, I played baseball but I wasn’t very good so I had to practice a lot. I practiced too much though, and was hospitalized due to an injury. It was then that my teacher recommended the book, “Miyamoto Musashi” by Eiji Yoshikawa. I read the book and was extremely attracted to Takuan Osho (a high priest), which is why I decided to become a Buddhist priest.
Beginning in 1997, I practiced asceticism for five years at Eihei-ji* in Fukui prefecture. After that, I was welcomed to Doukei-ji located in Odaka ward in Minamisoma city as an assistant chief priest. Seven years ago, the chief priest suddenly passed away, and since then I have carried on his role. I was also the chief priest at a small temple called Chuzen-ji eight or nine years ago. Chuzen-ji is a branch of Doukei-ji located in Futabamachi. I am married and have four children, aged 9, 7, 5, and 1. This is what my life was like when the earthquake struck.   (Note: “-ji” indicates a Buddhist temple)
First, I would like to talk about the history of this temple. It was built in 1213, and this year is exactly the 800th year. In 1394 during the 13th Soma domain, the temple changed from Tendai sect to Shingon sect and was renamed Doukei-ji. The Soma domain, or estate, has continued since the Kamakura period (the period of Japanese history when it was built), and was known for its high religious consciousness. There are only 3 domains including the Soma who have continued since this period until the Meiji period (1868-1912), when prefectures were established to replace feudal domains. These domains were the Nambu domain in Iwaki, the Shimazu domain in Kyushu, and the Soma domain in Fukushima. Soma was a small domain of 60,000 koku (approximately 10,823 cubic meters of crop yield), though the size may be an exaggeration, with some estimating it to actually be about 30,000 koku. The feudal lords, the lords, and the people were all so close that they would at times drink together, which is one good aspect of a small domain.
As you know, “Nomaoi”, traditional performing arts of this region, has continued for more than 1000 years. The ancestor of Soma is said to be Taira no Masakado and once a year, there is this festival called “Nomaoi” which is done by gathering in horses which have been put out to pasture in nature.  (Note: Nomaoi includes a variety of competitions among samurai horsemen.)
Until the day of the earthquake, we all lived peaceful lives. Every time there was an earthquake though, we were worried about the nuclear power plants. Right after 3/11, we knew by instinct there would definitely be a problem. The temple collapsed, too. When the shaking settled, I went to the school right away, gathered the children, and after consulting with everyone in the region, started to evacuate. I drove 60 kilometers to Fukushima, driving some followers who were at the temple at the time of the earthquake home on the way.


In the car, the children became emotionally unstable. They started to cry every time the wind blew. We made a stop at “Fukuro association”, and then went to Sakaemachi church in Aizuwakamatsu. We settled there for a while and then drove all night towards Nagano. The next day, we moved towards Fukui, and my family settled there.
However, I was terribly anxious about the people of Fukushima so I returned from Fukui alone and after that, I was constantly moving between Fukushima and Fukui. Fukushima and Fukui are 800 kilometers away, and I travelled between the two prefectures probably every 5 days for 2 years, about 140 times in total. This was a hard time for my family. Before the earthquake, we were all living together, but all of a sudden I wasn’t there. My family couldn’t do it any longer, so in April of 2013, we decided we would move back to Iwaki city, which is where my wife’s parents’ house is.
I’m jumping about a bit in time but, after the earthquake, around June, I got a permit to go into the temple that was off limits. I took photos of the devastated temple, negotiated with the JAIF International Cooperation Center to do the first cleanup activity in October, and started it with the followers. Until the day before the cleaning, I was still making negotiations to enter the prohibited areas. There were many inconveniences. There was no water or electricity. We brought our lunch and cleaning tools and cleaned as we carried out our thoughts of revival. Since then, we have been continuing the cleaning on the 1st and 15th every month. After each cleaning we take a photo, and eat lunch and drink tea together. With all of this going on, my 5-year-old child who I left in Fukui wrote his wish on the Star Festival paper strip in July, “I want to go back to Fukushima”.
My wife and I didn’t know what to say. Our children never said anything like that to us. They were revealing their concerns to us parents. We all wish to live together. Our grandfather, grandmother, friends, all of us suddenly lost our usual lives, were separated, and we have not gotten our normal lives back yet. There have been regular activities creating opportunities to get together with friends during long breaks such as summer holidays. We hope these activities continue annually. The children, seeing each other after a long time, at first feel a little nervous and awkward; however, they soon open up and get along well. We are the victims of the earthquake, but at the same time are the supporters, and the religious people who give mental care. “Shukyou” is the Japanese word for religion, but it originally is about life.
Folding one’s hands every morning and evening, saying one’s prayers, is life in Japan. The people who are actually in the region are the ones to become the supporters.
Humans are animals who make fire and that is the process of evolution. However, here, in the situation now, we cannot make fire. If we do, we would get reported. Maybe this is symbolizing this present age, where we humans have made a mistake in the use of fire. We are now evacuating from the fire of the power plants.
Though there is a reduction in size, the tradition of “maoi” has continued even after March 11, 2011. This is a strong appeal from the local people that they do not want something that has been celebrated for 1000 years to end.
During “Obon” (Buddhist holiday to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors, around July 15th in eastern Japan including the Tohoku region) of 2012, countless numbers of people came for memorial services. What was terrible was the number of rats in the kitchen. Nothing had been restored yet in the temple. There were too many rats after 2 years of no one living there. On a night of a full moon, you could even feel the house shaking because of them. The first thing I did when I returned to the temple was to notify the rats that I was back by blowing whistles and beating the drums.
The issue around this region is the safety standards. Standards for water and food also apply. If it is 100 Becquerel then it should be waste, but they say it is safe. They say it is safe because if they regulate, it will cause panic. It is an issue now to rectify these laws.
Both evacuating and staying are tough. What I experienced was my family separated between Fukui and Fukushima. Returning home knowing the risk of radioactive exposure to our children was painful. Not being able to have our ordinary lives left us in a state of madness. My wife was crying. My children were crying. They didn’t want to move, they didn’t want to change schools, but after 2 years in Fukui, my children could speak the Fukui dialect. Then again, leaving Fukui gave the children another hard time. Many children are experiencing this. This is the situation now.
Another problem is compensation. I have sent an application for the expense of evacuation after talking so many times to the people of Tokyo Electric Power Company through my lawyer. However, it has always been turned down. I sent the relevant documents four times within a year and a half, and it has never gone through. For everything, they say to show circumstantial evidence… I think that is something that they should be doing, not us. They have standards for radiation protection. The ones who force us to be exposed to radiation are making the safety standards. What we do is just accept these standards made by these people who force us. IAEA and ICRP are both organizations made to protect nuclear industries. Even WHO lies under them and we cannot say that they are a fair academic institution. Please do not forget that they all promote nuclear power plants. We all have the right to not be exposed to radiation. We do not need nuclear power plants. We should have the right to live in a world without nuclear power plants. We should have the freedom. Nevertheless, Fukushima is starting to be restored now. Volunteers are reconstructing the destroyed houses. We are now wearing working clothes, but we are the young who ride horses fully dressed up as samurai during “maoi”.


There are some elderly women in the seaside of Murakami, who have inherited the dance for “taue” or rice planting. The area used to be a village of seventy-five households. Sixty-two people died from the tsunami, and the village is gone now. Even so, the people from the village are trying to succeed in holding this festival. It is their hope that the villagers will take this opportunity to gather. Especially now, people want the festival to create an atmosphere where everyone can laugh, sing, and dance like in heaven or paradise.
When you look down, you see abnormal traits of grasses and flowers. Three or four dandelion flowers are twisted on one stem. Some have about ten of them tangled up. This is a problem I want the Ministry of the Environment to know. Some say it is due to excess fertilizer, but there are white clovers that look like golf balls, and malformation seen in tadpoles. Today, we deeply understand what is important. It is nothing special. It is our normal, daily lives. Living together with your family, saying hi to each other like you always do every day, having the familiar faces right by you, spending an ordinary day with the usual people. For two years and a half, I have felt deeply how much this means to me. At the same time, though, I feel we need to keep moving forward, for the children, for the future generations, and for all who live five or ten years from now. I do not want to leave a negative legacy because what has happened cannot be helped. Before moving on though, we need to reflect our past. Everyone is a victim.
I measured radiation in several places. Not only did I measure in this area, I measured in Tokyo as well. No matter where I measured, radiation levels did not significantly change. Fukushima was certainly high; it was 800 Becquerel at my temple and underneath the rain gutter was 100,000 Becquerel. Even in Tokyo, there were places with 300-400 Becquerel, and places with rainwater had even higher levels of radioactive contamination. These levels of radioactivity were recorded last year, yet it shows no matter where we were, we are all victims and there is no safe environment good for raising our children. At the same time though, we cannot deny that we also are perpetrators, as we have desired and enjoyed our convenient lives. How should we move on from here? We should change our lives, reflecting on and considering the stable and convenient lives we had in the past.
Recently, there have been many abnormal climate behaviors observed all around the world. This is due to excessive consumption of fossil fuel, our underground resource. Earth has reached its limit. We Japanese are Japanese, but at the same time want to be people of the Earth. Japan is one united country, but during the Edo period, none of the domains thought we would unite as a country. If you see the Earth from space, there are no national borders. The children now think of Earth as a beautiful blue planet. This might change in the next generation though. Abnormal climate occurrences such as tornadoes and torrential rains of over 100 milliliters caused by the continuous consumption of underground resources are all because of us. It is our fault that Earth is suffering. We need to become aware of this and think of using resources that are above ground rather than underground.
In Minamisoma city, there was a tree-planting ceremony for recovery and repose of souls on October 6, 2013. The concept of this was to build a great forest wall as a seawall. The concept is not new; Japanese red pines and black pines were considered disaster prevention forests though they did not function and most of them were swept away. In Miyagi prefecture, a great forest wall was planned with everyone’s consent but the legal system of the country put a brake on our plans. Industrial waste is not to be burned; hence, tide embankments are to be made of cement. The type of tree to use was also a problem. From an early stage, it was planned that everyone gather on the mountain of rubble and plant trees, specifically to make a forest of broad-leaf trees for the future generation. In Minamisoma city, we were able to do this with the former Prime Minister, Mr. Hosokawa, as the head of the committee. 3000 citizens and volunteers gathered and planted 20,000 trees. I hope these projects will be done as a government project.
The nuclear accident was collateral damage to our demands for a more convenient life. Filled with a civilization of material consumption, we were thinking only about profits and not about the sea, the mountains, the future generations forty or fifty years from now, and were dependent only on economic considerations. There is a word in Buddhism, “punitive justice”. If you do something bad, it will always come back to you. If we ruin nature, it will always come back to us. You all know this law, the law of Karma. This nuclear accident is the last chance for Earth. It is also the last chance for us survivors. Whether we can reduce what is to come back from all of our self-centered actions is dependent upon how we live our lives and behaviors from now on. The Earth is giving out signs, screaming from everything humans have done these forty years filled with endless greed. There are predictions that a Nankai** Earthquake will come soon. Nuclear power plants are in Fukui, Hamaoka, and in a lot of other places. When we start to get our lives back, we easily get used to it and start forgetting what has happened. I sometimes go to look at the sea and remember what happened two years ago. Two years and a half have passed and I am now getting used to the situation. This reveals our ability to adapt, but I still remember the fear I felt from the nuclear power plants.
We should not forget that, for either good or ill, the signs are clear. I remember I thought, “it has come” at the time of 3/11, when the earthquake struck and I felt numb. Sooner or later, the time will definitely come. I think it would be good to have forest barriers to prevent disasters caused by earthquakes and big tsunamis. These will be very strong. The laws that humans made can be changed. We want and should start from what we can do; as the government officials do what they can as government officials, we do what we can, each one of us does what we can, we need to keep moving forward. It is important that we move forward, even by small steps. Let’s begin with what we can do.
Translation by Aiko Kumamoto
* Eihei-ji is the head temple of the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism. It was founded in 1244 by Dogen Zenji, the Buddhist scholar who introduced Soto Zen to Japan in 1228, after studying in China for several years.
**Nankai literally means South Sea. It is predicted that this large earthquake, about an hour south of Tokyo, would kill thousands in the Shizuoka and surrounding areas, with tsunamis as high as 112 feet killing thousands more and completely destroying several large cities.  The Hamaoka power plant lies directly above a projected epicenter.
(from Asahi Shimbun newspaper article, February 15, 2014, “INTERVIEW: Kan blasts plan to restart Hamaoka nuclear plant”, and Wikipedia, “Tokai earthquakes”)