Asami’s Tokyo volunteers

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Tokyo volunteers make their annual weekend trip to Kitakata in western Fukushima to help Asami clear debris from the village’s 200-year-old irrigation canal.

Sugeno soil test

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Niigata University researchers test the effect of various combinations of soil additives on the absorption of radioactive cesium by Sugeno’s rice.

Saitos spread zeolite

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Father and son Saito powder their rice field with government-mandated zeolite. It’s intended to fix cesium in the soil to reduce absorption by crops, but some question its effectiveness and health impact. Fields across Fukushima are dotted with the white bags, and the white dust is everywhere.

Organic farmer father, nuclear engineer son

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Would You Stay?

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We were prepared to talk our way past a police checkpoint—or play dumb, in my case.  But we drove right over the border unaccosted.  13 months after the tsunami, the fields remain strewn with twisted cars and the insides of ravaged houses.  Cracked and roofless buildings stand untouched since the earthquake.

12 km up the Pacific coast from the still-smoldering Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Minami-Soma was cleaved in two.  The north side of the city remains populated, while the south end was abandoned to the nuclear exclusion zone.  That is, until April 16, when, for the first time, evacuees were allowed to return home without a special permit, though they still can’t spend the night.

The Nemotos had an organic farm here for 12 years, spreading sustainable practices to their neighbors.  Mrs. Nemoto lost cousins in the tsunami.  They evacuated first to Fukushima City, where radiation is twice as high as it is here, and later to adjacent Soma, where they live with their son’s family.  The trauma of relocation has left their teenage granddaughter suffering sleepwalking and seizures.

Koichi Nemoto is determined to resume farming his evacuated land.  He’s working with a team of researchers to test various experimental methods of preventing crops from absorbing radioactive cesium.  He can grow anything, he says proudly.

It’s the complete opposite for their next-door neighbors, also named Nemoto (the name of the neighborhood, too).  The neighbor Nemotos have no desire to move back, they tell us as they revisit their abandoned home, and they consider cultivating their fields a lost cause.  They just want the government, or the power company, anybody, to buy their property, so they can move on.

If you were a Fukushima farmer, would you stay?

This was just one of the provocative questions students asked us, often in eloquent English, after we screened preview footage of our documentary Uncanny Terrain at Junko’s high school alma mater Inakita in Nagano in central Japan.

I answered that in the U.S., it’s relatively easy for us to pick up and go at the first sign of crisis or opportunity.  I’m a proud Chicagoan, sure, but the sense of identification the people in Fukushima feel for the land is on a whole other level.  One of my personal goals for this project is to better understand that sense of attachment.

I only learned later when she translated her answer for me that Junko said she would probably stay.

What makes a person decide whether to move on or stick out a disaster whose repercussions won’t be fully understood for decades?

How can these two families of Nemotos, living side by side, have such contradictory responses to the disaster?

Among the dozens of farmers we’ve met in the past year, we have seen a particular commitment by organic growers to stay and cultivate.  This is counterintuitive on its face.  These farmers, who have worked hardest to keep their crops free of contamination, are now the most perseverant in the face of the most insidious contamination they’ve ever encountered.  But on another level it makes perfect sense.  The commitment they have made to protect and perfect their land is not something they can walk away from, no matter the odds.

Please make a tax-deductible contribution to help us cover the cost of capturing and sharing this unfolding story.  And please spread the word.  Thank you!

Return to Shikisaisai

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Our second year with Fukushima farmers fighting for their land

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Organic farmer Akihiro Asami's wife and daughters evacuated in March 2011 from Aizu, 130 km west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The girls only saw their father a few times last year. In the winter, the family reunited in Aizu.

The organic farmers of Fukushima have spent the past year coping not only with the contamination of their ancestral land with radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, but also bureaucratic barriers to compensation, inconsistent guidelines from a government scurrying to project an illusion of normality, scarcity of accurate information and equipment to understand the contamination, hostility from a frightened public, and a steep drop in sales that threatens to undermine the regional economy and shatter their way of life.

23-year-old Mizuho Sugeno spends the growing season working on her family's Playing-With-Clouds-Land organic farm in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. But in the winter she competes internationally in the Southeast Asian sport Sepak Takraw.

The farmers have steadily educated themselves about the threat of radiation and how to cope with it, adapting traditional methods, acquiring testing equipment and incorporating experimental techniques to prevent their crops from absorbing cesium and try to decontaminate the land with minimum loss of its fertility. But will their efforts be enough to keep organic farming alive in northeast Japan?

After spending five months in 2011 following the farmers through the growing season, filmmakers Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski are back in Japan to capture the second year of the nuclear crisis for our documentary Uncanny Terrain. We thank you for joining us on this journey. And we hope that you will continue to support us by spreading the word about this project, and making a tax-deductible contribution to our IndieGoGo campaign, which runs through May 1.

In March we held a series of preview screenings in New Jersey and Massachusetts, with lively and thoughtful audience discussions after each screening.  We can provide preview footage for your school, organization, or venue, and either travel there or join you via teleconference.  Please write us to inquire.

Michigan screening, save the date: we will screen preview footage at an exhibition of photography from the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, April 20 at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Details TBA.

One Year After the Meltdown

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Please join our IndieGoGo campaign to help Uncanny Terrain return to Fukushima.

Uncanny Terrain in the Chicago Reader

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Rice Harvest

by Sam Worley
Chicago Reader

Along with Junko Kajino, occasional Reader contributor Ed M. Koziarski is codirector of Uncanny Terrain, a documentary about effects from last year’s tsunami and nuclear crisis on Japan’s rice farmers. This preview screening event includes music by Tatsu Aoki and his band the Miyumi Project, and David Tanimura shows digital collages about the nuclear threat. RSVP required; e-mail uncannyterrain@gmail.com.

Eating Fukushima

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Some floating lantern ceremony

by Ed M. Koziarski
North Avenue Magazine
Jan. 28, 2012

When does a victim become a perpetrator? That’s the question that kept coming up as we made our way across the irradiated landscape.

Many foreigners fled Japan after the tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last March. My wife Junko Kajino and I went the opposite way, spending five months inside the U.S.-declared 50-mile no-go radius for our in-progress documentary Uncanny Terrain.

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