Fukushima Uplifting Community Keeps United
By Susanne Tabata
During my recent trip to Japan in support of the theatrical exhibition of the Vancouver punk film Bloodied But Unbowed—sponsored by Base Records in Tokyo and Nippan Co. theatre in Shibuya—I travelled throughout the country meeting with a diverse but grass-roots group of friends. Ordinary folks with day-jobs, some are music fans, others are moonlighting as musicians. They range from tradespeople to artisans, teachers to skateboarders to techies. Our common ground is a love of music, creativity and community.
We didn’t need to speak to communicate but when it was time for an in depth conversation about an issue we met in the middle with broken Japanese and English, pen, paper and dictionaries. We would often discuss 311. There were varying degrees of separation but everyone was affected by the earthquake, the tsunami, or the nuclear accident. Within our group, no one felt this more than manga artist Tomokazu Katahira.
Tomokazu Katahira is a 37 year old professional manga illustrator living in Tokyo. His 31 year old wife Mikiko is a salesperson. They are both from Fukushima. Tomo is also a musician and a skateboarder. We met at a screening of the film and have many mutual friends. He showed me an illustration he had done before the disaster, a premonition that the Fukushima plant was not safe.
We arranged to meet at an izakaya to talk about Fukushima and creative projects. Our conversation on the topic was short and serious.
Susanne Tabata How did you react to the disaster in Fukushima?
Tomokazu Katahira Fukushima is my country and my home is 30km away from the power plant.
I was in Osaka working on a contract when the tsunami occurred.
I immediately left work and drove to the countryside directly from Osaka to bring relief supplies. There was a lot of confusion. When I made it to my home the tsunami had come within 200 metres of my house. My house was normally four kilometres from the sea. Before this day I never saw the sea because there was a forest near my home. When I arrived, as far as I could see were blackened houses, cars, boats, and garbage. Fuel and chemicals were everywhere. Fortunately my immediate family was safe, but my friends and their families could not be found. I started to look for them. When I was looking for them, the power plant exploded.
ST What happened after you heard the plant explode?
TK Immediately authorities created off-limits areas because of the power plant explosion. But I had relatives in those areas so my father and I received permission to enter the area with raincoats and gas masks. My relatives greeted us with the usual appearance, not wearing any protective gear and they were not aware of what was going on. Of course there had just been the tsunami. We took them to the shelter which was set up for those being evacuated because of the power plant explosion.
We ALL changed our clothing and still the sensors (radiation detectors) kept ringing. It was one disaster on top of another.”
ST What about your missing friends?
TK Many of my friends lived in the area that was now off-limits because of the nuclear accident but also off-limits because of the tsunami. They have not yet been found. It’s been over a year.
ST Has anything changed in the last year and one half?
TK Nothing has changed. I do not know where my missing friends and their families are. We have support within our own community. My friends (& I) are part of the Fukushima Uplifting Community Keeps United. We are still proud to be from Fukushima. That is my home, our home.
ST What about alternative sources of energy? After all, 80% of the country is in favour of alternative energy. Solar, wind, ocean & tidal current power. Are these options you feel the country is embracing?
TK We have talked about alternative energy for a long time. Every time it runs into problems at the political and business levels. I believe we have the will to have alternative energy at the community level. But there are many examples of it not getting passed. For now I just work and support my community.
Tomo blames no one and explains that this situation is ??? (difficult). An independent commission NAIIC released – July 2012 – a scathing report citing inadequate safeguards and that there was a collusion of mismanagement at the nuclear plant, within the Japanese government, and TEPCO. But he’s right, there is no quick fix.
At this point we’ve been joined by Toshio Iijima (Base Records) and Go Shibata (film director Osoi Hito and Doman Seman) and the conversation politely shifts to music and film.
Susanne Tabata is a documentarian, digital media producer, instructional designer and researcher. She recently designed, wrote, produced and directed the 10 part ethnography series for the Japanese Canadian National Museum called Ohanashi: Stories of Our Elders – a detailed examination of the experiences of Japanese Canadians who were interned during World War II – a story familiar to her father whose experiences are shared in the series.
Most recently Tabata created Bloodied But Unbowed and thepunkmovie.com – the documentary film and on-line site which chronicle the Vancouver punk scene of the late 1970s (Knowledge Network, TVOntario, Superchannel and SCN broadcasters). Under the company moniker of Tabata Productions, this project is the third in a series of films which explore worlds on the edge of mainstream culture. Skategirl is a film about the parallel journeys of professional women’s skateboarders (FOXFuel LosAngeles) and 49Degrees is the west coast surfing subculture film (CBC/FOXFuel LosAngeles).