Most Japanese people return to their hometowns and
pray for their ancestors before their tombs every summer.
This Buddhist tradition is called " Obon " in Japanese.
Following the tradition, I went back to my hometown,
Fukushima, to pray for my late parents last summer. But
this time in 2011, I hesitated to return due to the
contamination caused by the nuclear leak at Fukushima
Atomic Power Plant on March 11, 2011. The wind has spread
cesium from the plant all across the prefecture. It is said to
be a cause of cancer for children and babies in the future.
After hesitating for a few days, I decided to go back there
in spite of this, for I believed I was too old to contract
cancer from the fall-out.
I went there by express bus in August. When I got off,
the fields spread out before me as far as the eye could see.
I can't believe
They have been contaminated
By cesium winds,
Standing before the green, green,
Brilliant rice fields.
I stayed at my brother's house and took a walk with my
nephews the next day. One of them said, "Oh, I’ve
forgotten to take a dosimeter with me. " He immediately
went back home and brought it back with him. Children
in Fukushima always hang dosimeters around their necks
whenever they go out so that their teachers can check
their radiation levels later. We walked to a park by a river.
But there were no other children playing there except
my nephews. Maybe the others were home playing
computer games or watching TV to avoid the cesium wind, for teachers at schools advised them to stay at home and play indoors as much as possible.
Hanging from their necks
Even when the children
Play tag with me
In the green park.
One afternoon it began to rain suddenly. Our cat
dashed into my brother's house from the rain and sat
under the eaves.
As it licks
From its wet fur.
Not only cats but larks, trout, trees, peaches, all the
living in Fukushima, were being contaminated by the
All residents living near the Plant fled away after the
leak. In particular, some young parents with children
or babies sought safe shelter very far away from the
area. But most of the residents far from the plant
remained in Fukushima prefecture.
Some residents want to flee,
They can't move anywhere,
Having no jobs, no houses
Except in Fukushima.
But some old farmers near the plant did not wish to
seek refuge elsewhere, whether they were wealthy or
not. They neither wanted to learn new dialects, new
customs nor leave their neighbors and friends. They
remained to live out their last years.
Though officials say
"Flee from your village!",
Old farmers refuse
as they want to stay calmly
In their hometown, Fukushima.
But the old farmers
Have thick roots
Deep in the earth
The old farmers
Want to return
To their true hometown:
The Earth itself.
The Earth is
A dark womb
Where they revive
In the future :
Their next stages.
One night when we watched a soccer game on TV
together in the living room, I ate the pink peach. Though very delicious, a trace of cesium has just entered my body. I can’t see cesium, nor hear it, nor feel it, it’s an invisible enemy. However, honestly speaking, I don't know whether the trace of cesium is my enemy or not. Some experts say that it may be good for the health as long as it's just a trace. Others say it is very dangerous. I don't know which is true. Strictly speaking, even experts don't know the truth. In the future，we'll be able to see what effect cesium will have, good or bad. But I want to know now whether or not I will contract cancer. Nevertheless, I can't know my future now. God knows it. But if he doesn't exist, no one can know it in the vast universe.
A trace of cesium
Without any smell
Without any taste
In my dark cells.
At late night, I talked of the radioactive contamination
with my brother. What he told about a dairy farmer was a
great shock to me. I examined the details by reading lots
of articles about him in some magazines. The summary was
as follows :
A dairy farmer lived in a small village near
the Fukushima Plant with his Philippine wife and
two sons. His family was happy as he kept about
40 cows and worked very hard with his wife
together every day. He built a new workshop to
earn more money because his sons were still young.
He prepared a new satchel for his elder son
and expected that the entrance ceremony at
the elementary school would be held in April when
the cherry blossoms were in full bloom around
the school ground.
But the Fukushima Plant exploded after a huge
tsunami on March 11. The wind from the plant
spread the cesium all over the fields, mountains
and houses of his village. The cesium stuck all
the grass of his village without being seen, being
heard and being smelled. The milk from his cows
contained lots of cesium because he fed them
grass which he had mowed there every morning.
He had to throw out all the milk contaminated by
the cesium every day.
Because of concern for the health of his sons,
he made his family evacuate the village and go
to the Philippines in the middle of April. It was
before the entrance ceremony at the elementary
school. As a result, the explosion of the plant
prevented him from participating in the ceremony.
The farmer remained by himself and kept
working in the village for a while. Though he worked
very hard, the level of the cesium was high. At last he
gave up milking the cows and joined
his family in The Philippines in late April.
However, he was able to understand neither
English nor the Philippine language : Tagalog. So
he could not get a job there and returned to Japan
alone in May. But he had neither cows nor his
family in the village. He was like a tree without
The dairy farmer left this message
On a wallboard of his new workshop,
" If the Plant hadn't exploded,
I wouldn't have killed myself. "
Then he was 54 years old.
One day I went sightseeing to a famous tourist
attraction by a large lake with my brother’s family,
but there were few visitors due to concerns about
cesium contamination. A bored looking salesclerk
was standing in front of the souvenirs shop. I
“Hey, looks like you have few visitors here.”
“Yeah ! Almost everyone’s keeping away because of
cesium pollution. This is just damage caused by rumor,
isn’t it ? ”
“Well, but I don’t know exactly whether low levels of
cesium are alright or not. But even a small trace of
cesium may cause babies and children to get cancer
in the future.”
Suddenly he just knitted his brows in sullenness and said aloud.
“ No, the government said it’s alright !”
I sat on the bench and kept talking to him calmly.
“ You are a nice guy. But you trust the government too much. Don’t blindly trust its information, you should protect your children ! It’s too late to pay attention to your children after they show cancer symptoms. Many parents are avoiding Fukushima as they want to protect their children.”
“Oh, no, damn ! If that’s true then, what about children in Fukushima ? They eat vegetables containing a trace of cesium every day. If my children contract cancer, I’ll be agonized over it ! ”
I was silenced by his strong words.
“ Hey, you’re a big city man ! You can choose the best of many vegetables. But we , the locals can’t. We can eat
only foods containing a trace of cesium, vegetables, fish and meat from Fukushima. As a result, children in Fukushima will take the worst of it ! ”
Although I was stressed by his serious words, I dared to answer.
"Yes, that’s right ! So we must find the best way to help all children including Fukushima’s ones ! We must not sacrifice children in Fukushima at any cost. ”
Just then, the middle-aged man replied with a happy look.
“Oh, damn right, alright ! ”
But in a moment he asked me with a suspicious look.
“ Hey, you ! Which side are you on ? Fukushima’s or the big cities ? ”
I answered quietly.
“ Both. I was born in Fukushima and lived here for 18 years until I graduated from high school.
But now I have lived in some big cities for 20 years, though I sometimes return to my hometown, Fukushima. So I can understand both sides.”
He was surprised at my dialect and smiled at me.
“ Alright, alright. We must not sacrifice them!
Absolutely not ! But I don’t know how to stop this. I know they eat vegetables containing cesium. But I can’t do anything but hope they won’t get cancer in the future. I can only pray ! ”
Then the blue surface of the lake was as brilliant as that of a usual summer. The breeze from the lake was very cool. The voices of the inhabitants were very calm. Almost everything looked the same as in any other summer. But there were no children swimming in the lake or screaming on the beach.
Give it back,
Give it back,
Our former Fukushima
Where children once played
Outside with their parents.
The salesclerk turned his eyes back from the lake to me
“ It’s true praying is good, but it’s not enough just to pray for the future health of our children. If I have enough time to pray for them, I should earn more money and give them food without cesium so that they don’t get cancer. If I can’t eat something now, I won’t even live long enough to be able to get cancer in the future.”
He burst into laughter, bending himself backward. I gave a bitter smile at his joke and made my point once more.
“ But you should give your children food with low levels of cesium, if you can.”
“ Yes, of course ! But they will have to spend unhappy lives being afraid of cancer and have cancer checks from their childhood to their death and if they get cancer, they will suffer even more. I was given a healthy body by my parents and ancestors. But if my children get cancer because of cesium, I will have to apologize to all my ancestors.”
He gazed at the earth lit by the midsummer sunset for a
while. He lifted his face and said to me while looking
toward the brilliant surface of the lake.
“ Well, I will do it at any rate. I will do for my children rather than for myself. I will earn money and I will buy food without cesium for my children. Moreover, I will grow vegetables without cesium by myself. It’s very, very
difficult. But I must do it ! ”
“ Oh, good ! You won’t have to apologize to all your ancestors and descendants, if you can protect your children. ” I said happily.
“Yes, that’s right ! I have a responsibility for both my ancestors and descendants .”
“ Oh, sorry ! I have to go home with my relatives. They are waiting for me. ”
He replied with a smile.
“ OK, thank you ! I enjoyed chatting with you very much. ”
“ Me, too. See you here next summer ! ”
“ Really? Next summer ? ”
“ Yes, of course. I’ll come home here for my ancestors at Obon （お盆）every year. See you next summer then ! ”
“ See you next summer ! ”
I waved him goodbye.
My genetic heritage
Not contaminated by cesium
A precious gift
To my descendants
In my dark cells.
After the explosions, many parents and public servants began to clean cesium from the grounds of all preschools, primary schools, and high schools in Fukushima. The residents cleaned their gardens and even their trees. Farmers swept away the cesium from vegetable fields, rice fields and forests. Lots of inhabitants tried to clean all of Fukushima. But after that, new cesium just drained down to the fields in runoff from near-by mountains. They had to clean the cesium again and again. In addition, they didn’t know when they could return to their hometown or get new jobs in other towns. Lots of the nuclear disaster problems have not been solved yet. Nevertheless, many people from not only Japan but the world came to Fukushima as volunteers to help evacuated people. A huge amount of donations, different medicine and even various artworks such as songs, pictures were sent to Fukushima from countries all over the world. The people in Fukushima were not alone but had bonds with the Globe. The kindnesses from the world were lights in their darkest despairs.
Rice and vegetables,
Pears and peaches,
Cats and humans,
May all beings
Revive in Fukushima.
I make a habit of visiting Miharu near the nuclear plant to see the beautiful cherry blossoms every spring. The famous tree there is about 1,000 years old. It's not a regular tree but a large, tall cherry. The residents call it "Takizakura". "taki" means waterfall and "zakura" means cherry blossoms in Japanese. The blossoms look like pink waterfalls cascading from the azure sky, streaming gently in the warm breezes of spring. The blooms are not only gorgeous but look fresh against the blue sky. Looking up at them, my friends and I snack
on Japanese cakes, and beer, then take a nap for a few hours. This was my custom every spring.
But I didn't visit Miharu this year. I was very worried about the cesium there. The explosion at the Fukushima plant last March stopped me from going there in April.
However, I will go there again. I’ll return to Miharu next April to be revitalized by the cherry blossoms. I'll have my yearly date with Takizakura as usual. To be sure, the nuclear disaster problems have not been solved yet. It may take dozens or hundreds of years to solve them completely. But Takizakura will be living a healthy life with the residents as a symbol of restoration during this long span. If we look after it carefully, it will live for 1,000 years. And Takizakura will bloom fresh and gorgeous against the blue sky every spring after the radioactive contamination is solved completely.
We'll sing a song
And dance again
Around the tall, cascading cherry
In our hometown,
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Our hometown, Fukushima 1. Most Japanese people return to their hometowns and pray for their ancestors before their tombs every summer. This Buddhist tradition is called " Obon " in Japanese. Following the tradition, I went back to my hometown, Fuku