Deja-vu that Started in Iidate Village (Collection of Thoughts)


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Deja-vu that Started in Iidate Village (Collection of Thoughts)

July 3, 2011


1. Sensation all too familiar for people with disabilities

The first time I visited Iidate Village in Fukushima Prefecture was back in April, the day before the village was to become part of the evacuation zone.  I saw elementary school children walking back from school with their yellow school caps and school bags with no masks or other forms of protection.  There was something disturbingly wrong with this scene, and I immediately thought “What are the adults thinking?”  Then, almost at the same time a strange sensation, an eerie, uncomfortable sensation came over me.  It was a familiar sensation but unexpected.  This sensation never left me since.  It was recently in the news that we asked France to diagnose 15 children from Date City and Fukushima City for internal exposure and all of the 15 children were found to have suffered internal exposure.  I felt the same strange sensation when I heard this news.  No one really said it, but wasn’t this all “expected” from very early on in the nuclear power plant accident?  I started thinking about this recently, and realized that the sensation that came over me in Iidate Village back in April was deja-vu.  This was a sensation all too familiar for people with disabilities but may be completely unknown to others.  This is the sensation you feel when you are fed “impossible hopes” towards “unrealistic goals”, when all your questions are just left there unanswered, and you eventually end up even losing sight of who you are.  This is the sensation only familiar to people who have experienced this kind of treatment.


2.Recollection: unrealistic goals

I have a friend who sustained a spinal cord injury in a traffic accident when she was 21 years old.  After the accident, she asked the doctors at the hospital “What will happen to my legs?”, but no one attempts to explain to her that spinal cords do not grow back.  To the contrary, they try to mislead her into believing there was “hope”.  They pointed out the clonus in her ankle, an involuntary reflex in a paralyzed limb that caused muscular spasm creating small movements in the joints, and said “look your leg is moving!”  She finds out much later on that clonus is actually as clear sign that the central nervous system has been damaged, but none of this was explained to her at the time.  This was all done to trick her into believing that she was somehow recovering and that one day she will be back to the way she was.  This is the escapism mentality common among Japanese which try to lead people to believe “inconvenient things never happened.”  What this actually does is leave people in a state of uncertainty until they eventually find out for themselves, making them waste large portions of their life, making them search all over the place, and then hitting them with the disappointment.

owever much you put off, there are certain realities you must face.  You cannot use your one-sided values to label a situation as “hopeless” or “tragic”.  In Japan, trying to assist someone in making a “fresh start” from the onset is often seen as “heartless” and “cruel” because this notion is so alien to the Japanese people.  However, in other countries, this is working very well.  There is a famous medical center for spinal cord injuries in Atlanta, Georgia, the Shepherd Center.  Director of Advocacy, Mark Johnson who is also a sufferer of a spinal cord injury himself says as follows:

“We call in the families before discharge and tell them that the families must first accept that “this is a creation of a new life with a new body” and to “not be obsessed with what was.”  To get the hang of this, we get the families to rent an accessible apartment near the medical center and live there with the patients so that both the patients and the families have a change to try out this new lifestyle and to build confidence.  This trial period builds up the power the patients need to enjoy their new life with pride as people with disabilities so that they can continue to do this even when they go back to where they use to live before the accident.  Many people with spinal cord injuries have gone on to have families, and enjoy paragliding and scuba diving.”  These people do not spend their lives tormented with gloomy rejections of their disabilities.  People go back to their old jobs and go on living a fulfilling and happy life.  At the end of their satisfying lives, many people decide to leave all their estate to the center as donations.  Receiving these donations is also the responsibility of the Advocacy Department.

After the disaster, people with disabilities in the affected areas of Fukushima Prefecture were all sent to institutions.  Many chances of creating a fulfilling and successful life have been taken away.


3.Recollection: assistive technology before loss of ability

You will be left with regret if you do not calmly consider how you are going to be and create a realist image of your future self.  Many people with cerebral palsy in Japan have been trained to “walk, just try to walk” so much so that it is embedded within our mentality to “try to keep walking until you just can’t anymore.”  The system also only allows us to have mobility tools only if we’ve “lost the ability” to do so.  For this reason, in Japan, many people in their adult years and middle age develop secondary disabilities such as damage to the nerves in the neck (cervical spondylosis).  In the United States, however, people use powered mobility tools such as electric scooters from an early age before they lose their ability to walk.  This is why secondary disability such as cervical spondylosis is not common among people with cerebral palsy in the United States and therefore not a major issue to be debated.

The Center for Assistive Technology (CAT) at the University of Pittsburgh provided me with a state of the art powered wheelchair even though I was foreigner staying there for just a few years.  Physical Therapist Rosemarie Cooper (current Director of CAT) wrote in my prescription that “her condition is likely to deteriorate if nothing is done which will cause excessive strain on her muscles requiring her to undergo spastic alleviation treatment” and that “as a housewife it will be difficult for her to conduct housework if she cannot reach for dishes in the cupboard so she will need an elevating function.”  Based on this logical recommendation, I received a customized powered wheelchair with powered adjustable seating.  In the United States, powered wheelchairs are called assistive technology not welfare products.  The society’s responsibility to make necessary accommodations is no considered “welfare” but “rights” protected under equality.  Before I started using this powered wheelchair, I was having difficulty even going to the bathroom because of cervical spondylosis.  This powered wheelchair stopped the progression of cervical spondylosis, and I am able to function even now without an operation.

The situation in the United States is the complete opposite of the Japanese way of making it all about individual “effort” leading people to feel powerless.  People in Tohoku (North Eastern area of Japan) are especially known for their “endurance” and “persistence.”  We need to make sure that their “endurance” does not corner them into powerlessness and that their “rights” are protected under equality.


4.Between gut feel and lip service

These thoughts lead me to think about the people in Tokyo who took it upon themselves to distribute bottled water when the radiation level in the water supply became questionable soon after the explosion in March, and measured the level of radiation in the soil around their house and the sandboxes children play in.

Politicians may play the game of “nothing really happened”, but the majority of the population is not fooled.  People’s gut feel points to a “terrible future.”  No one really believes the lip service the politicians are repeatedly feeding us over and over about the state of the radiation contamination being “safe.”  In fact, it is breeding social unrest underneath the surface, deepening mistrust and indignation.  It is understandable if the indignation surfaces as attacks towards the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) or the nuclear power plant, but sadly it is not turning to these mighty giants, but is being directed into attacks towards anything that is “Fukushima” including the people who are the real victims.  The two episodes I wrote about in “May 30: Masayo’s Diary Part 2” are manifestations of how the dishonest treatment of the nuclear power plant situation has amplified social unrest causing people to take out their frustrations in a twisted way as discrimination towards “Fukushima.”

Immediately after the nuclear power plant accident, various counties evacuated their nationals from Japan.  The Japanese politicians called this an overreaction based on rumor, a very awkward excuse.  Local governments such as that of Koriyama City and Fukushima City quickly called in “specialists” on radiation to go around to each area to give talks assuring and reassuring local residents that they are “safe.”  This was very successful, and many people opted against evacuation and relocation.  Now the local residents are paying the price for this decision.  (They are actually the only ones paying the price because I hear that many of the families of the politicians, being that they are economically well off, escaped.)


5.Evacuation zone and internal exposure

How many people really believe that the 20 kilometer evacuation zone is adequate?  The UK, the United States, and Korea said 80 kilometers.  The Singaporean government said the danger zone was within a 100 kilometer radius and asked their nationals not to enter this zone.  (

A young couple, with a 4 year old child and another on its way in August, lives near Koriyama City.  Except for the very wealthy, it is a major decision to leave your home town, especially if this has nothing to do with what you had planned or hoped to do.  You need to think about where you are going to live, how you are going to make a living.  There is no assurance of stability.  You are cutting yourself off from the relationships you have built up all these years, the social support network that is both tangible and intangible.  There is so much uncertainty.  However, this couple, after a lot of thinking, decided to leave the house they had just built to give their children a chance at a safe future.  They would move away from Fukushima Prefecture.  This was a very tough choice.  They asked around, and found out that Nishinomiya City had 50 public housing units available to the victims of the disaster.  They applied but were rejected because “victims were people whose houses were destroyed or people within the evacuation zone.”

Radiation exposure is not just about the radiation you receive from the atmosphere or ground.  Radioactive particles that we breathe in or ingest build up inside our bodies causing internal exposure.  This internal exposure is seen as the more serious when we look at the long term effects.  I heard this in a talk by Professor Katsuma Yagasaki, an honorable professor of the University of the Ryukyus, on “How to Prevent Internal Exposure” given on May 17 in Koriyama City  (  He said “Radiation exposure is an attack on the DNA, and small children and expecting mothers are most vulnerable because they are experiencing rapid cell growths.  I believe children should be able to grow up in a place with as little radiation exposure as possible.  This is the right of the young people and should be protected without discrimination.”  And yet, the government put together a “safety” standard that was easily brought up 10 folds when setting up the evacuation zone.  A safety standard thought to be absurd outside of Japan.  The government uses the evacuation zone as a basis to deny relocation of families with small children, preventing them from getting to safety even if the families decided that this is the right thing to do.  This is unacceptable.  This is not the attitude of people who believe that this is an issue we need to tackle together.

If we include radiation exposure coming from the water and food, in addition to radiation and radioactive particles in the atmosphere, we are not just talking about the immediate area, or not even just about the Tokyo area, we find that very few places in Japan are actually “safe”.  Radiation contamination is spreading into seafood and vegetables.  (  In July, it was brought to our attention that beef from cattle that ate grass from pastures 60 kilometers from the nuclear power plants contained radiation due to internal exposure of the cattle.  The beef had been distributed and sold all across Japan.  What about the rice that will be harvested this fall?  Is it reasonable to believe that the rice for some reason is unaffected?  In Fukushima Prefecture, except for the evacuation zone, rice has been planted as usual.  The politicians were so busy shushing the truth that they could not begin to imagine how the farmers will feel come harvest season after having planted the crops and tended to them, possibly being exposed to radiation in the process, and not having been told anything about the truth.


Now the fisherman who lost their livelihood in the tsunami have worked to rebuild and to start fishing again.  This is the time when we need to be courageous and tell people of the reality they must face and then assist them in making a fresh start based on it.  We need to be careful not to be fooled by the politicians who are trying to hide the “inconvenient truths.”


この投稿文は次の言語で読めます: Japanese

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