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.
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.
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.
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.
"Yes we can support local produce." A rice field in Iitatemura, uncultivated by government order.
Fukushima City Lantern Festival
Fukushima City Lantern Festival
Fukushima City Lantern Festival
Sugeno's rice harvest team: Serbian volunteer Milo, daughter Mizuho, and Owada and his grandparents, evacuated from Namie.
84-year-old rice farmer Yasukawa is defying a government order to burn his rice harvest.
Yasukawa shows conflicting government orders regarding his rice.
Watanabe turns over his field in hopes of burying radioactive cesium deeper than his vegetables' roots will reach.
Mt. Azuma, Fukushima
Mt. Azuma, Fukushima
Sunset over Mt. Shinobu, Fukushima City.
Just as the U.S. State Department announces that it’s safe to be here, it’s time for us to leave. We conclude our 20 weeks living and working among the organic farmers and food producers of Fukushima, a week after the State Department narrowed its travel advisory against visiting the area around the power plant from 80 kilometers to the Japanese government’s 20-kilometer evacuation zone.
Seven months since the beginning of the crisis, Japan stumbles toward recovery. Evacuated communities are being reopened near the nuclear plant, even as many efforts to decontaminate land are proving ineffective. With a number of notable exceptions, testing of rice and vegetables is showing much less contamination than was expected based on results in Chernobyl. Researchers investigate the reasons for these levels, considering the differing composition of Japanese soil, particularly certain minerals and bacteria that may remove radioactive cesium or prevent plants from absorbing it—bacteria that may thrive in organically cultivated land.
But the food testing regime is still sporadic, and no amount of lower test results will be sufficient to convince much of the public that Fukushima food is safe to eat. The organic farmers here toil to repair their land using natural methods (land that many of their families have tilled since before the U.S. was a country), to grow their food as free as possible of radionuclides, and to accurately communicate the condition of their produce to consumers. Constantly exposed to background radiation and inhaled particles in their fields, as well as from food and water, the farmers rank with cleanup workers in the groups at greatest risk of suffering health damage.
We will edit the film in Chicago through the fall and winter, and return to Japan next March to cover how the farmers weathered the seasons and how they fare as they prepare to plant again, a year after the disaster. In the meantime, we still need your support to cover the costs of postproduction. Please spread the word and if you can please make a tax-deductible donation to the project.