The Wind from Okinawa to Fukushima: a Conversation with Yuichi Kamoshita and Sarasa Aihara, London, February 2016
I met Yuichi and Sarasa while they were in London during their 2016 The Wind From Okinawa speaking tour of Europe. Just before our conversation they had participated in the weekly Friday morning Remember Fukushima vigil outside the Japanese Embassy in London.
The start of Inochinokoshin – the Peace Walk
Lis: Can you talk about the Peace Walk you’re going to do along the east coast of Japan?
Yuichi: Yes, this walk is called Inochinokoshin. It was started in 2007 by a Japanese Buddhist monk who was living in Nepal. He saw Japan from the outside and he felt something happening inside of the peoples’ minds and he also felt like Japan was covered by something like a dark cloud. He wanted to help the people of Japan, so he started the walk, in Akita prefecture, were he was born. He walked from Akita to Tokyo in 2007.
At that time ourfocus was Article 9 because in 2007 there was a big Article 9 world conference – so we walked to Tokyo. That was the start of the peace walks. In 2011 the Fukushima nuclear reactor exploded then naturally our focus went to nuclear issues. So the monks of the Nipponzan Myhoji started to walk around all the nuclear reactors in Japan. It took almost 6 months to cover all the nuclear power stations, learning the history of the local people’s struggle and talking about the future. We also visited City offices to speak about nuclear power. Nuclear power uses Uranium which we don’t have in Japan: it comes from Australia or Canada. And people in Australia, in Canada, or the United States are sacrificed by the mining of Uranium.
Because of this nuclear chain “all living beings have to suffer”
Y: So this is another reason we have to stop nuclear power: because of this nuclear chain, all processes, all living beings have to suffer.
L: Not just humans but animals, plants – every living thing suffers.
Y: Yes. This is the point of view of our Buddhist teachings. We tell this truth to the City Office people, or to the nuclear power companies on the walk.
L: Are you planning a walk in 2016, going through Fukushima?
Y: Yes, I will join it for maybe two weeks, or at the most, for a month. This walk will go for two months. A Japanese Nun, Yako San, is going lead the whole walk. And we have guests from Australia, Iran and also Taiwan.
L: So it’s very international. And these are all nations who are involved with nuclear power.
L: Are you concerned about the genetic damage that radioactivity causes to all living things?
Y: Oh yah, yah!
L: The genetic damage actually poses a risk to all living things in the future as well, because it’s heritable.
Y: Umhum, sure.
L: I understand that after Nagasaki and Hiroshima the genetic damage sometimes skipped a generation – if not the children, then often it was the grandchildren of the survivors who were sick due to inherited genetic damage from the radioactivity from the bombs.
Y: Yes. And in Fukushima there are many cases which are not reported by the mass media, there are many people already suffering although it has only been five years.
Intestinal bleeding from eating radiocontaminated vegetables
Y: I have a friend who ate vegetables in 2011, right after the Fukushima reactor exploded. The vegetables were so contaminated that her intestine became full of blood, so she had to go to hospital. She stayed in hospital for a week
L: How is she now?
Y: She’s ok now. But it was not only her, it was maybe one hundred people, maybe one thousand people who had the same reaction by eating contaminated food…
L: Intestinal bleeding?
Y: Yes, that’s what I heard from her. But this is only one case, among maybe thousands.
L: I’ve also heard about many cases of cataracts, because radiation can cause cataracts – on the eyes. And we are hearing in the west, through various channels, about the nearly 120 thyroid cancers in children already, in just 5 years. Those are cancers, they’re not just nodules, they’re actual cancers.
Y: But the scientists say it’s not connected to the nuclear accident.
L: It’s often very hard to connect it and to prove it – the exposure to an invisible, tasteless, odourless material and the harm it causes. Because the time from exposure to the time of the illness can be long, years or decades, so it can be hard to trace back. It’s terrible. But there are lots of studies now from Chernobyl which are coming out and painting a not very good picture. Are you aware of these studies? From Belarus and Ukraine?
K: Chernobyl, yes.
L: Many studies were published a few years ago in a book which was translated into English. ‘Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and The Environment’. It’s a very powerful book.
Connecting the protest in Okinawa with the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe
Yuichi and I had previously talked about the connection between the US military base on Okinawa, nuclear weapons and ‘civil’ nuclear power plants. Yuichi had said that the nuclear power plants of Japan have the potential to generate more than just electricity: they could be rapidly converted to create material for nuclear weapons.
L: Can you talk about the connection between what you’re doing at Okinawa and the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe?
Y: Yes, I was very aware of the nuclear issue especially after the Fukushima accident. We are doing the peace walk to stop nuclear power in Japan.
In 2011 our order was involved with the 3rd Asia Inter-religious conference on Article 9 in Okinawa. This symposium was called “Okinawa, Fukushima, Article 9”.  I knew about Okinawa’s problem with US military bases so I was very interested and so I went to help and support the symposium. That was my first visit to Okinawa. Then I met people who were protesting in front of the US military bases and their energy and their strong determination and also their music, Okinawan songs and dancing, were just beautiful.
Y: Yes, inspiring. Last time I compared the Fukushima and Okinawa struggles. When I walked in Fukushima, people were so depressed, no energy , looking down, unable to speak up strongly. But in Okinawa they speak up very much: to the government, the US military -they even face the soldiers of the US military.
L: Do you think that comes because of the history, the many years of protest?
Y: Yes, that’s right.
L: So the new generations learn from the older generations. Whereas the Fukushima catastrophe is relatively new – 2011 – so perhaps the people there have not yet found their voice in such a big way? I do know of a lot of people who are speaking up against the government and nuclear power, but are you saying that many are not doing so in such a big, obvious way?
Y: Yah, you are right. The civilians in Okinawa are very strong, they just go to the military in front of the military base and they sit in. But in Fukushima’s case, because of the history, they haven’t struggled against the government. The Japanese people don’t know how to negotiate, or how to fight against a big power. So now they didn’t know how to deal with this issue.
L: I heard the saying ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’.
Y: Aaaah! (laughs).
L: Do you think that idea has bearing on the fact that many people just want peace – they don’t want to cause trouble?
L: Not all people, but many people, maybe those in the mainstream? I wonder if the Fukushima catastrophe is so awful, it’s too painful to think about and so some people turn away and stop thinking about it and just want to get on with other parts of their lives. It’s too much pain to carry.
Y: Yes, you’re right. You can hear Sarasa’s story. She used to live in Tokyo when Fukushima happened. She was working in an office. At that time she was kind of an ordinary lady but she “woke up”. Maybe she can explain the people’s feeling about nuclear power. I will translate:
311 in Tokyo: fear, confusion, contamination and denial
S/Y: She was in Tokyo when Fukushima exploded. She was watching unbelievable scenes on the TV screen – the tsunami but also the explosion of the reactor. The first Monday after the Fukushima disaster or explosion, she was so scared, so afraid to go out that she couldn’t go to the office.
L: Was she scared of the radioactivity in the air?
S/Y: She was scared, not only of the radiation, but of the situation that was so – it felt like the end of the world. Watching it on TV, the disaster just kept going on.
L: Was it very chaotic in Tokyo – were lots of people scared?
S/Y: For the first few days people were so confused. But when she went to the office on Tuesday people just behaved normally, in an ordinary way. When they heard news on the internet or TV about the radioactive materials coming through Tokyo, of course people thought about wearing a mask. So she was wearing a mask and her office friends asked her “why are you wearing a mask?” When she answered “because of the radiation” her office friends just laughed. And her boss told her that in this critical situation in Japan “we have to work much harder so Japan can get back to ordinary days.
L: To ‘recover’?
L: What kind of company were you working for?
S/Y: She was a housing agent for students.
L: So you think a lot of people felt they had to be brave and strong?
S/Y: It’s not that people are strong, they just try to forget the Fukushima or try to forget the radiation, and get back to their normal everyday lives.
L: Pretend it didn’t happen?
L: And there’s another word we use – denial. You deny the reality in order to be able to survive. It’s a huge psychological burden.
S/Y: Even the TV companies were showing variety shows, comedies, nothing serious …
L: … to cheer people up, to distract them?
Power cut, traffic jams, “river of people”
L: Did you have a power cut in Tokyo after the accident?
S/Y: Electricity was only cut for 24 hours.
L: that must have been frightening by itself, and stressful.
S/Y: Yah, especially in Tokyo. She was working outdoors on March 11. The train stopped running after the earthquake so she couldn’t get back home. There were thousands of people who were working outdoors who couldn’t get back to their home or office and all the cars had stopped.
L: Traffic jams?
S/Y: Yes, traffic jams. And just people, people everywhere, coming outside of the buildings or trains or cars. So like a carpet, a river of people.
L: Did the food run out – in the stores? Did people ‘panic-buy?’.
S/Y: Yes even in the convenience stores all the food ran out.
L: Were you told not to drink Tokyo tap water for a while?
S/Y: No, she was not told that.
Radiation ‘hotspot’ in north east Tokyo
L: Which part of Tokyo did you live in then?
S/Y: The north east Tokyo. There’s a high level of radiation there.
L: There’s a hotspot?
S/Y: Yes, there was a hotspot where she was living.
L: I read that they warned mothers not to feed their babies tap water. But they didn’t tell everyone else?
S/Y: No. Her mother was pretty much aware of the nuclear issue before Fukushima happened so she told Sarasa about nuclear, about radiation. At that time Sarasa san was not aware of nuclear power or radiation so she does not remember what her mother told her
L: Well it’s complicated and hard to understand at first. It takes a while.
S/Y: Yes. When she started to research nuclear radiation, she understood the danger of radiation so she decided to move out of Tokyo and told to her friends ‘its dangerous’. But her friends denied it. They didn’t want to hear.
L: Well it’s very difficult to leave your life, your friends, your home, your job because of something that’s invisible that may or may not hurt you.
S/Y: If the people, her friends, don’t understand or know about this reality, then they can live a happy life.
L: Yes, but there will be something, a little knowledge because you told them, a little bit pushed away somewhere.
L: When did you leave Tokyo?
S: January 2012, to my hometown of Ogasarawa.
Y: She was born in Ogasarawa Island – it’s like Okinawa, it’s very far away.
L: And you have family there?
L: So you had somewhere to go, some connection.
Health problems after 311
S/Y: After the accident she had a tumour. Inside the chest.
S: no, no, no. …
S/Y: Breast. And in the Uterus.
L: Was the tumour in your breast a cancerous tumor or benign?
L: And not spreading – just staying there?
S/Y: It got bigger – bigger and bigger. So when the tumor got bigger and bigger, the pressure on her lung was a danger to her body so she had a surgery to take it out.
L: And the tumour in your uterus? Is it still there?
L: But not cancer?
S/Y: Not cancer
L: Fibroid maybe?
L: Do you think your health condition – in your breast and uterus – was to do with the Fukushima radioactivity?
S/Y: I cannot say for sure that it’s connected. But just after the Fukushima accident, March 11, I was also trying not to think about the radiation. So I was living my usual lifestyle and maybe during that time I was exposed to the radiation, so now I think it’s connected.
L: If you already had a tumor before the Fukushima catastrophe then perhaps your exposure to radiation made it worse?
Happy now – it’s easier living with the truth
L: Are you still in touch with your friends in Tokyo?
L: And you talk about Fukushima and radiation with them?
S/Y: Laughs – No
L: No point?
S/Y: Because she’s very cheerful compared to her Tokyo life, and she looks happy, the people are very interested – why are you so happy?
L: Because you feel safe — and strong?
L: And is your lifestyle better now?
S/Y: Since I started living with watching the truth of what’s happening in the world, it’s much better, much easier to live.
The government is the ‘dog’ of the nuclear corporations
L: Why do you think the government wants to tell everyone it’s ok and safe? And you (Yamoshita) can tell me what you think about this too!
S/Y: She says there was like a turning point for Japan, for the Japanese government. The truth of the power, the truth of the government, could be seen at that time. Then the government tried to hide it by telling lies, that everything is ok. But nuclear power and radiation is so dangerous to the environment and the people, and if people knew this reality they will maybe speak up and stand up against the government. So they try to hide it.
L: What do you think about the government’s relationship with the corporate or should I say the nuclear industry – do you think they work together?
S/Y: The government is the dog of kaiisha (corporation).
K: Dog – woof-woof – of the corporation.
L: Yes, the ‘lapdog’. That’s what some of us here think as well. Not just with nuclear but with fracking, with oil, and gas and the war machine too.
L: … GMO & big pharmaceutical companies.
S: Mmm, mmm!
S/Y: How do you call it – ‘lap dog?’
L: We say ‘lapdog’ , a little dog that does what it’s told, an obedient little dog like a little pet, not a guard dog, but a passive dog.
S/Y: Many government officials after they retire from government jobs they go to (work for) the companies.
L: Same here. There’s a very close relationship between government and the corporations.
S/Y: In the case of Henoko also – they give construction work to the corporations (with executives) who used to be inside of the government.
L: Yes. Which is very unhealthy.
Y: Oh yeah!
L: It’s not democratic …
L: … the way the government is influenced so heavily by the corporations.
L: But this is a worldwide problem, I think.
L: And there are the two other parts – the military, and the banking – they’re part of the same, uh, ‘mess’. Would you agree with that?
Y/S: Um, I think so!
L: If we had world peace, we wouldn’t need military, we wouldn’t then need nuclear power.
Y: I have one question. Do you know about Iceland? They have been, the people in Iceland have chosen a more directly democratic society. I just watched this DVD it was so really amazing, inspired. So, do you know about this struggle?
L: Not very much, but I do know that they ‘said no’ to the banking system.
Y: Yes, that’s a good example.
L: It’s amazing. And I understand that they have recovered economically despite saying ‘no’.
Y: And they arrested the bankers.
L: Yes, yes, and prosecuted them.
Y: Yah, yah yah!
L: And I also understand the current government has many women in it, so it’s more egalitarian, more balanced.
L: So very inspiring.
L: I think we need to learn from each other.
Y: Yeah, that’s right.
L: And look at the positive actions people are doing around the world.
Y: Umhum, sharing the good information.
L: Personally I’m very grateful for the internet – it’s very easy to ‘speak’ to people all around the world.
S/Y: It is a good power for the demystification of the world.
L: We hope it continues to be open and democratic on the internet.
L: Thank you very much, both of you – this was really wonderful. It’s inspiring to hear what you say and to hear about what you’re doing.
K: Thank you.
KAMOSHITA SHONIN is 32 years old. He has been involved with the 530 days sit-in since it started in Henoko. He visits Camp Schwab 6 days a week where he participates with sit-ins at the front gate to stop construction, and raise awareness around the power of non-violent protest. He is inspired by the elders of Okinawa, especially the ones who survived the 1945 battle. Since the Fukushima accident he has also been a campaigner against nuclear. He feels kindness is important because the world has been covered with violence, especially in Japan, but in Okinawa they are discovering the power of non-violent action, and people are starting to take notice.
SARASA AIHARA is 29 years old, she lives in Ginoza, Okinawa where she has been involved in the Henoko protests for the last 2 years.
She visits the gate everyday and is part of the sit-in with chanting. She is inspired by hope for the world, and the strength of Okinawan people who have endured many decades of struggle. Her main focus on the campaign is the preservation of animals, such as the dugong, and many of the unique jungle wildlife. The new construction at Henoko plans to landfill 120 hectare of Oura Bay, destroying unique coral. Sarasa’s local environmental campaigning is a reflection of her concern for the world’s environment, endangered animals and climate change.
2007 Russian publication by Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko, edited by Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger, and originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 in their Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences series.
More information about Chernobyl can be found in the TORCH 2016 report, published in March 2016: TORCH 2016: An independent scientific evaluation of the health-related effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by Dr. Ian Fairlie, commissioned by Global 2000/Friends of the Earth Austria and funded by the Vienna City Council Environmental Ombuds Office.
 “The Wind from Okinawa”, talk at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), London, part of a European tour in February 2016
 Further reading re the connection between the US military base on Okinawa and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe:
“It is important to acknowledge that nuclear issues exist at the core of the problematic of Okinawan contemporary history, and therefore it is crucial to reexamine it through the experience of 3/11 and Fukushima as a moment.”
CHIYO WAKABAYASHI, 2011, “Atoms For Peace Is Dead – Reexamining Okinawan Contemporary History Through Post-311 Fukushima”.
 Map from 2012 which gives an indication of the extent of the radioactive contamination by gamma-emitting materials such as Cesium-137 and Cesium-134 at that time:
However, this map does not show the spread of other radionuclides which emit alpha radiation, such as Plutonium-239, and beta radiation such as Strontium-90, which are particularly hazardous when lodged inside the body when inhaled or ingested.
Nor does this map accurately represent the contamination today, in March 2016, as radioactive materials continue to be emitted by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant via air and water, while winds, rain, snow, ocean waves, rivers, animals, vehicles, ‘decontamintation’ and incineration of radioactive waste will continue to re-distribute and spread it further, as discussed by ROBERT JACOBS in “The Broken Maps of Fukushima”:
LIS FIELDS is a member of Kick Nuclear London, CND (Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament), SOAS CND Society and she works with JAN UK (Japanese Against Nuclear).
post script: at the beginning of March 2016, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, agreed to suspend the construction work at Henoko bay in Okinawa.