Since the disaster, 24-year-old Mizuho Sugeno has worked side-by-side with her parents on their organic farm in the tiny town of Towa in the foothills of the Abukuma Mountains.
Mizuho has founded the company Seeds of Hope, dedicated to Towa’s renewal. Seeds of Hope distributes the Sugenos’ organic produce, demonstrates successful methods to prevent crops from absorbing radiation, and hosts guests to experience the idyllic farming lifestyle.
“After 3/11, Fukushima land was contaminated,” Mizuho says. “Farms were abandoned. People were left behind. Agriculture changed. By planting seeds, the power of the soil comes back.”
2013 greetings from Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski of Homesick Blues Productions, the filmmakers behind the ongoing documentaryUncanny Terrain, about organic farmers in Fukushima, Japan fighting to hold onto their land and their livelihoods in the face of nuclear fallout.
We are well into editing footage from our first two years of production.
We are gearing up to return to Fukushima to capture the farmer’s ongoing struggle to build a healthier, more sustainable food supply, two years after the Great Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Please check out our work at these valuable conferences if you’re in the area.
Update from Fukushima
Organic farmer Seiji Sugeno is fighting to keep alive his mountain village of Towa, whose economy is ravaged by the aftermath of the nuclear disaster two years ago. Sugeno is convinced that human contact is the key to overcoming public fears of Fukushima produce, so he travels Japan explaining Fukushima farmers’ efforts to reduce radioactive contamination and sustain the land their ancestors have cultivated for generations.
Sugeno’s 24-year-old daughter Mizuho has launched the Seed of Hope Company to welcome guests from across Japan and internationally to visit their idyllic Playing-with-Clouds Farm and experience the life their family is fighting to protect.
Masami Yoshizawa, who kept his 300 cows alive inside the nuclear evacuation zone in defiance of a government kill order, despite losing many cows to an outbreak of disease, has seen his herd grow to 350 with new births and the adoption of strays from neighboring farms. Possibly in retaliation for his outspoken activism and media presence, Yoshizawa lost his permit to enter the evacuation zone. The day before Yoshizawa and his team were set to give up and release the herd, he reversed course and set out to confront the officials who had denied his permit, and demand the right to continue caring for his cows.
As new disasters turn the eyes of the world and Japan away from Fukushima, Uncanny Terrain continues our journey with Yoshizawa and the Sugenos and the other farmers who struggle every day to find a way to live in tune with a natural environment compromised by manmade catastrophe.
Kartemquin Films’ Diverse Voices in Docs
Uncanny Terrain codirector Junko Kajino has been invited to join Diverse Voices in Docs, a new program of pioneering Chicago documentary producers Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) and the Community Film Workshop of Chicago, designed to develop talent among Chicago’s minority nonfiction filmmakers. Diverse Voices in Docs is supported by the Joyce Foundation, The Academy for Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and Kat Lei Productions.
We have launched two new documentary projects. One project follows two very different high school rap groups in Chicago’s West Side Austin neighborhood.
The other project explores one Chicagoan’s efforts to replace Syria’s embattled Assad regime with a fledgling democracy.
Thank you to everyone whose contributions have allowed us to get this far. We continue to accept tax-deductible donations toward the ongoing production, post-production, and eventual release of Uncanny Terrain. Here’s how. We remain, as ever, deeply grateful for your support.
Thanks to Our Translators
We send our profound gratitude to our international team of volunteer translators, who have been invaluable to our editing process by producing English-language transcripts from hundreds of hours of Japanese-language footage.
Thank you to Meg Kajino, Eugene Kobayashi, Peter Arbaugh, Yo Shin, Noriko Hopkins, Kazari Getz Kikuchi, Hiroshi Yasuda, Alice Tallents, Ayaka Maekawa, Chris Watts, Hiroko Uenushi, Mari Kawade, Naoki Izumo, Priscilla Watson, Tomoko Nakano, and especially Miki Takada, who has translated 16 days worth of footage!
If you’re still working on a file, or I’ve left your name off this list, please let me know. There are still many files left to translate, so if you can help, or you know someone who can, please drop us a line or spread the word.
Uncanny Terrain codirector Ed M. Koziarski will screen work-in-progress footage and talk about the film with my alma mater Antioch College‘s Global Seminar on Energy, Thursday, July 19 at 1 p.m. at the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs, OH. It’s free and open to the public. RSVP here.
AH: What was the impetus for you to start the documentary, and when will it premiere
EK: We knew we wanted to tell a story about the 3/11 disaster, and in researching the situation, we were intrigued by the deep sense of connection to the land that Fukushima organic farmers expressed in the wake of the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. We plan to premiere next year…
AH: What outcome are you hoping your completed film will bring?
EK: We hope viewers will gain a better understanding of what it’s like for people in Fukushima, who are most often portrayed as merely tragic victims or intransigent. We hope some viewers will be moved to get involved, by reaching out to organizations in Fukushima, or by working for sustainable agriculture and alternative energy wherever they are.
After spending 30 of the past 55 weeks in Fukushima, Japan, living in places contaminated by nuclear fallout, visiting even more highly contaminated places, drinking the water and eating the food, we finally got an answer to the question we are most often asked about the making of our documentary Uncanny Terrain: just how contaminated had we, ourselves, become?
Just before the end of our latest Fukushima adventure, the Fukushima City NGO Citizens Radioactivity Measuring Station managed to squeeze us in during an unusual lull in the stream of locals waiting to get their bodies checked for radiation. First we watched a group of local ladies receive CRMS’s mix of examination and counseling, and heard their tearful stories of separation from their evacuated grandchildren and other stresses of life in the shadow of the nuclear meltdown. Then it was our turn.
One at a time, we changed into standard-issue robes and sat in sensor-equipped chairs built for the Chernobyl disaster, to have our bodies scanned for Cesium-137 and -134, the two most plentiful radionuclides released by the earthquake- and tsunami-triggered explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March, 2011. (Iodine-131, blamed for a rise in thyroid cancers after the Chernobyl meltdown, has a half-life of only eight days, and is not now a significant presence).
The results: Junko showed 462 Becquerels of Cs-137 with a margin of error of 185 Bq, and no detected Cs-134, with a margin of error of 159 Bq. As for me, with margins of 238 and 204 Becquerels respectively, I showed “not detected” for either radionuclide.
These results were puzzling for a few reasons. Junko and I were together constantly during our time in Fukushima, eating the same food, generally considered the main source of exposure. So why were her results higher than mine? Was it simply my greater size and correspondingly higher margin of error? Or that she went hiking each morning? Or that, like many Japanese, she could not resist wild vegetables although they are a known contamination source?
And why did Junko test positive for Cs-137 and not Cs-134? Equal amounts of the two were released by the meltdown. With a half-life of two years, Cs-134 should now be present at about 70% of the level of Cs-137, which has a half-life of 30 years.
By comparison, the cattle rancher Masami Yoshizawa, who has defied the government and kept his cows alive 14 km from the nuclear plant, last July tested at 7,000 Becquerels total. This spring, a second test showed his contamination had dropped by 90% to about 700 Becquerels, just 50% more than Junko, though he’s been living in the nuclear exclusion zone for much of the past year, working in the contaminated pasture with no protection.
As we’ve experienced throughout the production of Uncanny Terrain, it seems that the more we learn, the less we realize we really know. For reasons I still don’t entirely understand, CRMS consultant and University of Tokyo physicist Ryu Hayano says that in the not uncommon case that a subject tests positive for Cs-137 but not Cs-134, the results should be considered not detected overall. The Whole Body Counters were designed for the much higher levels of contamination commonly experienced after the Chernobyl disaster, and may not be sensitive enough to properly measure the comparatively lower levels caused by the Fukushima crisis.
But even taking the numbers at face value, how great a health concern is it to have 462 Becquerels of Cs-137 in your body? It depends on whom you ask. Reading the same data, different scientists offer opposite interpretations of the health risk of low-level, long-term radiation exposure.
CRMS co-founder Ayu Marumori told us that after the crisis, she consulted with a number of doctors about the danger posed by the nuclear fallout. The doctors would all answer with certainty, some saying the radiation was harmless, others that it was certain to be deadly. It was only when she found a doctor who confessed that he wasn’t sure, that Marumori felt she had found a prognosis she could trust. The data are plentiful from Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Manhattan Project, and other cases of exposure from nuclear weapons testing. But the interpretation is so politicized that the conclusions one draws tend to be ideologically rather than empirically driven.
Still Marumori and CRMS continue their work, providing people with data of admittedly limited value until the testing technology can be refined. In such a vacuum of understanding, a little bit of knowledge is precious—at least so the thinking goes. More importantly, they encourage their clients to be conscious about how their lifestyle impacts their health, and to take available steps to minimize their exposure. Medical statistician Yasuo Ohashi, who founded a mobile clinic in eastern Fukushima, predicts that the biggest health consequence of the nuclear disaster will be from the rise in diabetes cases, brought on by the inactivity of people living in shelters, staying indoors, eating more processed foods, and the stress of evacuation and fear.
This is how life is for the vast majority of people in Fukushima who have been unable or unwilling to evacuate. They go about their days, always under a cloud of uncertainty about what risks they face from their air, water and food. This is true to some extent wherever we live. But in Fukushima the knowledge of this uncertainty is palpable, ever-present, a fact of life for the foreseeable future.
This past January, while most participants at the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World in Yokohama were angrily demanding that the government relocate endangered Fukushima citizens to safety, a small delegation of organic farmers had a different message to share. They had no intention of leaving their family land, they said, and as long as radiation levels remained within prescribed safety limits, others were urged to continue consuming Fukushima crops in support of the prefecture’s revitalization.