A pair of Chicago indie filmmakers captures farmers in the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear disaster

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cows2By Jake Malooley
TimeOut Chicago

Jan. 25, 2012

One steamy day last July, Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski found themselves in Fukushima, Japan, hiding beneath a tarp in the back of a pickup truck full of cow feed. The farmer behind the wheel smuggled the filmmakers into a government-mandated 20-kilometer evacuation zone that became highly contaminated with radioactive cesium after a massive earthquake 43 miles off the city’s coast in March. The quake triggered tsunami waves that smashed into the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing meltdowns of three reactors.

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Sugeno fights for his Fukushima farm

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Seiju Sugeno is an organic farmer in Towa, Nihonmatsu, 50 km from the failed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The Abukuma Mountains partly shielded his rice fields from contamination, but runoff is an ongoing threat. Chairman of the Fukushima Organic Farmers Network, Sugeno works aggressively to clean his land and prevent his crops from absorbing radioactive cesium. He will work to reduce the contamination year by year, rigorously testing his yield and reporting any contamination he finds. His 23-year-old daughter Mizuho works with him. He hopes she can build a sustainable life for herself here.

Uncanny Terrain is a documentary about organic farmers facing Japan’s nuclear crisis, and an online community fostering dialogue on food safety, sustainable agriculture, alternative energy and disaster response. Please keep the conversation going by making a tax-deductible donation.

The Harvest Approaches

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Carry On Fukushima

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This video was presented at the Institute for Strategic Leadership‘s “Carry On Fukushima” program in Tokyo on 7/21/11. It includes voices from food producers in the area around the still-leaking Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant:

  • Ohashi may need to look outside Fukushima now for organic suppliers for his bread. He says we need to learn to coexist with radiation.
  • Suzuki and Fukumoto are leaving the idyllic farming community of Kaidomari to live in balance with nature elsewhere.
  • Hongo won’t sell his potentially contaminated rice this year, but he’s eating it himself.
  • Yoshizawa wants to save his 300 irradiated dairy cows from a death sentence.
  • Yamamoto was a farming intern when the disaster struck. She decided to stay and volunteer at an evacuation center.
  • Yoshida is committed to stay and continue farming on the land his family has cultivated for 200 years.

“Don’t forget us,” cry Fukushima nuclear evacuees

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Tens of thousands of people evacuated due to radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are living in shelters and storage unit-style temporary housing. Nearly 100 have committed suicide. Many relocation centers are in highly radioactive areas—sometimes higher than the towns that were evacuated.

On July 12, the evacuees held their first protest in Tokyo, marching from Hibiya Park to parliament, calling for their land to be decontaminated, and for better resettlement conditions. “Don’t forget us” was their rallying cry.

Into the evacuation zone

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Evacuated farmer Yoshizawa wants to stand up to Japanese government and nuclear power company

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After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Yoshizawa cared for his 300 dairy cows without water or electricity. He could hear the explosions as the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, 14 km away.

After days of heavy radiation exposure, Yoshizawa was evacuated with the rest of Namie on March 17. He spraypainted “save them or die trying” on the roof of the barn, and went to Tokyo. He talked his way in to see the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company. Both men cried as Yoshizawa begged the chairman to do something to stop the disaster.

Yoshizawa slept outside in Tokyo for a week, keeping vigil and waiting to see government ministers, calling on them for action. Now he travels Japan in his speaker van, proclaiming his refusal of a government order to kill his 300 cows.

Uncanny Terrain is a documentary about organic farmers facing Japan’s nuclear crisis, and an online community fostering dialogue on food safety, sustainable agriculture, alternative energy and disaster response. Please keep the conversation going by making a donation.

Junko Kajino on Yoshizawa's ranch inside the evacuation zone.

Fukushima City Nuclear Protest Video

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People from across Japan gather in Fukushima City on 6/26/11 to protest the ongoing danger of nuclear power and to call for accountability in the nuclear disaster.

Ruiko Mutou of the Fukushima Network Against Nuclear Power has been opposing the plants since the Chernobyl disaster.

Sachiko Soto of the Fukushima Network to Protect Children From Radiation says that families need support to evacuate children, who are most at risk from radiation.

A representative of the Tokyo Association to Protect the Victims of TEPCO says that Tokyo must take responsibility for the nuclear crisis.

One woman calls on the skeptical crowd to trust their fate to God.

And a 25-year old farmer in western Fukushima chooses to stay and do what she can to help rather than return home to Nagano.

Uncanny Terrain is a documentary about organic farmers facing Japan’s nuclear crisis, and an online community fostering dialogue on food safety, sustainable agriculture, alternative energy and disaster response. Please keep the conversation going by making a donation.

Fukushima City Nuclear Protest Photo Gallery

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Grandma Yoshida instructs the young men’s farm work

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