Dream Island

"I was a bit surprised to find there are adults who don't hide things and who share their honest feelings." - A junior high school student's reaction to a speech by Matashichi Oishi, survivor of fallout from the Bravo hydrogen bomb test. From: The Day the Sun Rose in the West, p. 146.

(this article was slightly revised on 2014/03/01)

A few weeks ago I wrote about Matashichi Oishi, the last survivor of the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru (translated into English as Lucky Dragon #5) that was showered with radioactive fallout after an American hydrogen bomb test in 1954. After learning about his suffering and the heroic efforts he has made to educate people about the significance of his experiences, I knew I had to take my children to the museum that houses the historic tuna boat. At the end of this post there are some photos and a description of our day at the museum on Tokyo’s Dream Island (Yumenoshima).
A map in the museum: Red dots show the position of Japanese fishing boats on March 1, 1954. Many of them returned to port with contaminated tuna that couldn't be sold. Monitoring stopped at the end of 1954, but the contamination did not magically disappear.
Mr. Oishi’s story should be of interest to foreigners in Japan who want to speak out on nuclear issues. I’ve noticed that such people face two problems. Some of us hesitate to criticize our host country, out of politeness, while others fear consequences for their work or visa status. Mr. Oishi’s experience and views on such concerns can do something to lessen these fears.
First, Mr. Oishi states repeatedly in his book that it is a mistake to rely on any government, anywhere, to do the right thing. He speaks as a citizen of the world, and I suspect he would encourage foreigners in Japan to take the same attitude. There is no need to hold back criticism out of politeness to the host country. If you’re here breathing the air and eating the food, your voice is as legitimate as anyone’s.
The other lesson of Mr. Oishi’s life is that he represents the views of millions of Japanese citizens who have spent decades voicing opposition to Japanese energy and foreign policy. He was denied justice by his government, and he had to fight for everything, but he had millions of supporters and numerous ways to tell the world his story. Every year he speaks to thousands of school children, and he teaches them the blunt truth that people must fight to make governments do the right thing.
Meanwhile, there are many foreigners who believe that Japan is a monolithic police state, where the media is censored and controlled, and the people are brainwashed sheeple going along with the big lie. Yet here is Mr. Oishi who has been speaking freely and writing books for many years, invited by school principals (servants of the state, no less) to speak to students. In the 1950s, his experience inspired 30 million of his fellow citizens to sign a petition to ban the bomb. In the 1970s, the mayor of Tokyo backed citizens groups that wanted to build the museum to preserve the Lucky Dragon #5.
Mr. Oishi’s courage stands in stark contrast to both foreigners and Japanese who are now afraid to speak out. Although some people do have good reasons to remain anonymous and are able to share valuable information by doing so, there are many people who are staying anonymous out of convenience and a lack of awareness of what is lost by anonymity. What shape would the world be in if Voltaire to Nelson Mandela had merely been anonymous pamphleteers?
So for other foreigners who are having trouble reading the tea leaves in Japan and wondering about what is safe to say, I can point out a few signs.
  1. The farmers, fishermen and mothers are mad as hell. What they are going through doesn’t compare to the dilemmas of people who have a passport out to their home country. 
  2. The Japanese mass media has a lot of failings, but still I have the impression the North American media would have been worse in the same circumstances. There has been a wide range of opinions and good critical reporting in the mainstream. In fact, the mainstream media is a principle source of information for bloggers who are quick to disparage the lamestream media. 
  3. One morning TV variety show recently aired a very frank and chilling report about the apocalyptic end of Japan that will come if the Reactor 4 spent fuel pool collapses. You can hardly accuse them of worrying too much about scaring away sponsors.
  4. The local bookstores are carrying numerous recently published anti-nuclear manifestos.
  5. Large business interests, like Softbank, are fighting to shift energy policy away from nuclear. 
  6. Local communities are opposing the re-opening of nuclear plants. 
  7. Grocery store chain AEON is doing its own food monitoring because they know the public mistrusts the government program.
  8. Local governments in Fukushima are attempting to launch criminal charges against TEPCO officials.
  9. 10,000 people attended an anti-nuclear conference at Yokohama’s premiere convention center in January 2012, an event which required serious financial backing and organization.
Some people have suggested that I should be careful about what I write, but all I can say in response is that my views have become fairly conventional. While there is freedom of speech here, those in power also have the freedom to completely ignore what is spoken. Many Japanese may seem to be oblivious, but when you look below the surface you can see that many people know the ugly truth so well that they are beyond wanting to talk about it. But Mr. Oishi is still making his speeches to junior high school students, in spite of his advancing years. If you’re afraid to speak out on Japan’s nuclear industry and its future energy policy, you’re missing the boat. If you want to catch it, get down to the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall this spring.

Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall
3-2 Yume no Shima, Tokyo, Japan
Tues-Sun 9:00 am to 4:00 pm (closed Tuesdays if the previous Monday is a public holiday), admission free, 10 minutes walk from Shinkiba station (Tozai line)
Access Map, historical background and other info

Related: a blog post written in 2013 citing Mr. Oishi's description of the Matsuhiro General Imperial Headquarters, Japan's futile attempt to build a shelter for the Emperor in the last year of WWII.
About the treatment of Marshall Islanders over the last 60 years:
Beverly Deepe Keever. “Six Decades of H-Bomb Cover-ups.” Consortiumnews. February 24, 2014.

The air quality in Tokyo on March 28, 2012, was horrible. Several garbage incinerators are in the area of Dream Island (the park is a reclaimed garbage dump), and everybody knows they have begun burning "low level" radioactive waste from Northern Japan. In addition, this is the time of year when dust from Central Asia blows eastward over the Pacific, and it's laden with various pollutants picked up over China. Nowadays there is also extra pollution in the air because almost all the electricity is generated from carbon. Finally, the air is full of cedar pollen in March, and this year it is tainted with cesium at a level that is either dangerous, or negligible, depending on which "expert" you want to believe.
After seeing the Lucky Dragon 5, and seeing the view above, it was another ominous sign to see the Tokyo riot police doing drills in this out-of-the-way locale. They were hollering, marching to martial music, launching dummy tear gas shells, and charging into crowds of protesters (role played by fellow officers.) As there was more bad news coming out about the instability of Fukushima Daiichi, this scene reminded me that the authorities must be contemplating worsening scenarios for public order.

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