Threat of Invisible Radioactivity Breeds Isolation and Panic

by Kataoka Terumi, member Wakamatsu Sakaemachi Church Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, Tohoku District

 

March 11 was a very important day for my husband and me. It was our wedding anniversary as well as our fourth son’s junior high school graduation day. Being the chairperson of the PTA, I gave an address at the graduation ceremony in the morning and was on my way to Nishinomiya in Hyogo Prefecture, where our second and third sons awaited me. Our second son was also graduating from university.

 

I got on the 2:14 p.m. train and after about 30 minutes, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred.  Fortunately, since the train had not gotten very far, I was able to get back home around 8 p.m., after having been stranded on the train for about 3.5 hours. In the midst of continuing aftershocks, my mother called me in the middle of the night, saying “Get ready, Ms. Uno Akiko is coming to church to seek shelter.”

 

Uno is the chairperson of the committee for Decommissioning of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. This committee was planning to hold events around the entire prefecture throughout the year from the end of March, in order to call for the decommissioning of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, which was approaching its 40th year of operation, and to fulfill energy needs without nuclear power plants while focusing on the local community.

 

Uno, who has been tackling the problem of nuclear power plant for many years, judged the seriousness of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant caused by the earthquake and the tsunami, and she took her little daughter with her friend and her children to seek shelter from Fukushima city.  It was about 3 a.m. on March 12, 12 hours after the earthquake.

 

After that, about 30 other people followed after Uno and came to take shelter. All the children were wearing raincoats and masks. Needless to say, they were for protection from exposure to radioactivity. But Aizu Wakamatsu was not safe enough for them, and so after getting their families together, they evacuated to places further away.  Our fourth son who experienced such a state of emergency complained, “Mom, I think I’m going out of my mind.”  I thought I stayed calm, but come to think of it, I was beginning to quietly panic on the inside.

 

The Decision to Evacuate

 

The word that Uno left me was “We must evacuate in order to change the sense of crisis around us.  However, I felt I couldn’t do that myself. This was perhaps because my impression of Ms Uno, the leader of a movement against dependence on nuclear power, running away from Aizu Wakamatsu just after meeting her husband who had been away on a business trip, was not very positive. She seemed callous, as she left her friends and their children, who had evacuated together with her to Aizu Wakamastu, behind.

 

*{The ability to clearly perceive a crisis and come to a common understanding

 

When I saw Uno and her family evacuating, I certainly did sense “human callousness” at that time.  But now, some 10 months later, I have come to understand that I was in error.  The reason that she took that action was, in fact, based on her “ability to clearly perceive a crisis,” and that itself was grounded in her long involvement in the anti-nuclear power movement.  Likewise, whichever Uno or her friend  had evacuated first, they could respect each other’s decision because they had a “common understanding of the crisis.”  Thus, I now understand that it was because of that that they took different courses of action in fleeing the situation.}

 

My parents, the former pastors of this church, urged us to evacuate again and again, since they were ready to stay behind in church instead. But I had already decided that I would never leave the congregation and our precious friends behind. I would never be able to do that.

 

My husband headed for Sendai and its turmoil right after the service on March 13.  I sent all the evacuees, along with our fourth son and niece, to my brother-in-law’s house in Mie Prefecture, and I endeavored to remain calm while all alone at home. The following day, March 14, was Monday. It was a practice day for Aizu Mass Choir, a gospel choir that used the church as its base, and the members who had gasoline for their cars gathered together. They discussed volunteer work and how to receive the victims from that time on.

 

But early morning on Tuesday, I saw subtitles on the TV indicating that express buses to Niigata from Aizu Wakamatsu had resumed operation. I had assumed that I could not run away because I could not drive myself.  But there was a way to do it! I called my husband right away and said, “Sorry, I want to get away after all.”

 

If he had responded, “No, you are supposed to protect the church; you cannot leave,” I don’t know whether I’d be here today. But he concurred that I should leave. So together with my nephew, who resisted because he did not want to miss his elementary school graduation ceremony, we left Aizu two hours later. Together with two other friends who had come to discuss evacuating, we went via Niigata and Tokyo to take shelter at my brother-in-law’s house in Suzuka, Mie (about 500 km from Fukushima), where my sons and niece were waiting.

 

Days of agony

 

As soon as I arrived in Suzuka, I called my fourth son’s junior high school and the Aizu Wakamatsu city board of education to entreat them to work out countermeasures against children’s exposure to radiation. However, neither the school nor the board of education took any action, as no evidence of danger was apparent.  (Later, the city made an announcement that there were 2.57 and 2.22 microsieverts of radiation per hour on March 15 and 16.)

 

On March 17, I began to panic. Images of having “left the congregation behind while I ran away” and “locking up the church door as I ran away” welled up within me one after another. I cried and cried and kept on blaming myself. Somehow I saw the disciple who betrayed Jesus on the cross in me.

My first and second sons came to visit me when they sensed something was happening to me. I thought they just did not want to see their mother crying, but they said to me, “It’s okay, Mom.  Your decision was right because you are the only one who can protect the life of Kibou (my fourth son).”

 

Although it took a long time for my tears to dry, I was certainly beginning to be able gradually to bounce back.  I was given strength by the hugs and words my husband’s parents, my sister-in-law, the family of my brother-in-law, my sons, and Pastor Kawakami Jun, his family, and the church members at Higashi Kobe Church when we visited for the service on March 27, together with our friends from the Kobe Mass Choir. Through crying together and sharing meals around the table, a sense of normality returned, which gave me strength.

 

At the same time, I began to sense “colors” again. I came to feel that everyday life was filled with colors.  What I saw from the train as I was stranded on March 11, and then from the bus when I was evacuating to Niigata, was only gray skies and blowing snow. That image was seared in my eyes, which may have made me insensitive to any colors.

 

 

Solidarity with people who were isolated and misunderstood

 

About that time I was informed by my colleagues in the “Kenpo Kyujo-no-kai” (an association supporting continuation of Article 9 of Japan’s “Peace” Constitution, the article renouncing war in the Japanese Constitution) in Aizu that a petition drive to demand the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant had begun.

 

Even though I was far away, I found something I could get involved in. I contacted the Kyujo-no-kai in Suzuka and began a petition drive. I kept sending emails to my friends in and out of Japan to ask for their signatures.

 

Then, on March 29, I went back to Aizu Wakamatsu. I expected to hear comments like: “You obviously evacuated; do you have any idea what has been said about the church?” But the friends came to greet me were gratifying figures indeed. “Was it easy to be away from here?” When I said honestly, “No, far from it; I cannot tell you how much I blamed myself for doing that,” my friends, who had wanted to evacuate but could not, forgave me saying, “That’s what I assumed.”

 

 

The death of one Russian couples’ child and its relation to Fukushima now

 

My evacuation was a struggle with my own thoughts. I am the only one who can protect my children’s lives, but how will I be viewed by the surrounding people? Am I, being 100 kilometers away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, making the right decision?

 

When I returned to Aizu, there were mothers who were experiencing the same bitterness I was. These mothers, are frightened by radiation they cannot see or feel, but other people tell them bluntly that they are worrying too much. The bonds of families and neighborhoods were beginning to fall apart. Thus, we formed the Aizu Association For Protecting Children’s Lives From Radiation in order to help such isolated people connect with each other.

 

About 15 years ago, a Russian baby in our church’s baby home suddenly died after several months in our care, due to a rare disease. I was shocked when I saw the body, because it had the same purplish face as the children who had died from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which I had seen in a photographic collection. When I was reminded of this incident, after the Fukushima nuclear accident, someone who had been with the deceased baby contacted me. Apparently, the cause of death was exposure to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In fact, the area where the baby’s mother was brought up had been contaminated with radioactivity. This tragedy struck ten years after the Chernobyl disaster. I never want the parents in Fukushima in ten years time to shed the tears of that young couple.

 

Thinking about the pain of pastors and their families and all the church members, who live in the area being exposed to radiation, makes my heart ache. I have been put in a difficult situation for these past five months, filled with the anxiety of continuing to stay on versus the emotional turmoil of whether I would be able to live with myself and maintain my Christian faith if I ran away.

 

We Japanese committed a serious sin against our Creator and our children’s future. Our not being able to prevent this nuclear disaster from happening is regretful beyond words. But we do not have the luxury of a reprieve anymore. We need to take action, while praying and raising our voices of anger, in order to protect lives of our children. (Tr. SM)

 

_______________

From “The 3/11 Great East Japan Earthquake: A Briefing Session in the Field,” compiled under the joint sponsorship of the Nippon Christian Academy, the Kanto Activity Center, and the North Subdistrict of Tokyo District, as reported in Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)

 

*The section in brackets was added to the KNL translation for clarification.

 

日本クリスチャン・アカデミー関東活動センター、東京教区北支区共 催

「3.11東日本大震災 現地報告会」より

 

見えない放射能の脅威の中で孤立する人々と手をつなぐ

 

片岡輝美

かたおか てるみ/福島・若松栄町教会員

 

原発事故でパニック一歩手前

 

三月十一日は私たち夫婦にとって大切な日でした。結婚記念日であり、四男の中学卒業式の日でもありました。PTA会長だった私は午前中の卒業式で式辞を述べ、次男 と三男の待つ兵庫の西宮へ。次男もまた大学卒業だったからです。

午後二時十四分発の電車に乗り込み、その約三〇分後、東日本大震災が起こりました。幸い、電車はまだ猪苗代湖付近でしたから、三時間半ほど閉じ込められただけで夜八時頃には家に戻ることができました。真夜中、余震が続くとき、母から電話がきました。「宇野朗子さんが教会に避難してくるから準備して」と。

宇野さんは「ハイロアクション福島原発40年」の実行委員長です。この会は稼働四〇年を迎える福島原発を廃炉にし、その後の原発のないエネルギーと地域社会 を実現させるため、三月末から一年間をかけて全県でのイベントを行う予定でした。

長年、原発問題に取り組んできた宇野さんは、地震と津波による福島原発の深刻さを即座に判断し、福島市から幼い娘さんと友人、その子どもを連れて避難して来たのです。地震発生の一二時間後、十二日 夜中の三時頃でした。

その後、宇野さんを追って三〇人近い人が避難してきました。子どもは皆、雨合羽とマスクという姿。言うまでもなく放射能被曝の予防でした。しかし、彼らにとってここ(会津若松)も安全な地ではな く、家族が揃い次第、さらに遠くを目指して避難して行きました。そのような緊急事態を身近で経験した四男が、「おかあさん、僕、どうにかなりそうだよ」と訴えました。私は冷静でいたつもりでしたが、今思えば、密かにパニックが始まっていたようです。

 

避難の決断

 

避難する宇野さんが私に残した言葉は「まわりの危機意識を変えるためにも、逃げなくてはいけない」でした。ですが、その時は、自分は 逃げることはできないし、するつもりもないと感じていたのです。それは、脱原発運動のリーダーである宇野さんが、一緒に逃げてきた友 人親子を残して、出張中だった夫と再会した直後に会津若松から逃れる姿に、人間の非情さのようなものを感じたからかもしれません。

 

{危機を見抜く力と共通理解  避難する宇野さんご家族を見て、その時は確かに「人間の非情さ」を感じ ました。しかし、10ヶ月立った現在は私のその時の認識が誤ったものである ことを感じています。つまり、宇野さんも一緒に避難してきた友人も長らく 脱原発運動に携わり原子力に危険さについて学ぶ中で「危機的状況を見抜く 力」を持っていたからこそ、避難という行動が取れた。さらに、ふたりには どちらが先に避難することになったとしても、その行動を尊重する「危機に対する共通理解」を持っていたから別々に逃げることができたのだと、今は 理解するようになりました。}

前任の牧師で近くに住む私の両親からは、自分たちが教会に留まるからと、再三避難を促されました。しかし、どれほどの緊急事態でも、私は教会員のみなさんや大切な友人たちを残しはしない、それはできない……と決めていました。

夫は十三日礼拝直後に混乱の仙台へ。すべての避難者、そして息子や姪を三重県の義弟宅へ送りだし、自宅に一人になった私は、とても冷静でした。翌十四日は月曜日。教会を拠点に活動しているゴスペルグループ「会津マスクワイア」の練習日でもあり、ガソリンがあるメンバーが集合。今後の被災者受け入れのボランティア活動を話し合いました。

ところが、火曜日早朝、テレビには、会津若松から新潟まで高速バスが開通したとのテロップが……。運転ができない私は逃げたくてもできないと思い込んでいたのです。でも、逃げる方法があった! すぐに夫に電話しました。「ごめん、私、やっぱり逃げたい」。

もしその時「お前は教会を守る身だから駄目だ」と言われたら、今の私ではなかったかもしれません。でも夫は「逃げていいよ」と言ってくれました。小学校卒業式があるから絶対に避難しないと言い張って泣く甥を無理矢理に引っ張り出し、避難の相談をしてきた友人二人と共に二時間後には会津を離れ、新潟~東京経由で息子と姪が待つ鈴鹿市の義弟宅に避難しました。

 

苦悩の日々

 

鈴鹿に着いた私はすぐに四男の中学校と会津若松市教育委員会に電話をし、子どもたちの被曝対策をするように懇願しました。しかし学校も教育委員会も目に見える被害がないとのことで何の対応も取りませんでした(後日、十五、十六日は二・五七~二・二二マイクロシーベルト/時であったことを市が発表)。

十七日。私はパニックになり始めました。「教会員を置いて逃げてきた」「教会の扉を閉めて逃げてきた」との思いが次々に溢れました。泣いて泣いて自分を責め続けました。どうしても自分が十字架のイエスを見捨てて逃げた弟子に重なってしまうのです。

私の異変を察した長男と次男が駆けつけました。子どもは泣いている母なんか見たくないと思うのです。でも、息子たちは言ってくれました。「お母さん大丈夫だよ。お母さんの判断は正しかったと思うよ。だって希望(四男)の命を守れるのはお母さんしかいないんだから……」。

なかなか枯れない涙でしたが、確かに次第に立ち上がれるようになっていきました。それは、片岡の両親、義妹・義弟家族、息子たち、そして、二十三日の礼拝にうかがった東神戸教会の川上盾牧師ご一家、教会のみなさん、神戸マス・クワイアの仲間たちに抱きしめられ、声をかけられ、ともに泣き、そして、食卓を囲む中で力を与えられていったのです。一緒に座し食し語らうという日常を取り戻すことが、私に力を与えてくれたのです。

それとともに、不思議なことに、私の目に「色」が戻ってきました。生活に溢れている色を感じるようになったのです。三月十一日、閉じ込められた電車と新潟に避難する車から見たのは、灰色の空と吹雪でした。その時のイメージが目に焼き付き、色を感じさせなくしていたのかもしれません。

 

孤立し、理解されない人々との連帯

 

会津の「九条の会」の仲間から福島原発の廃炉を求める署名活動が始まったとの連絡を受けたのもそのころです。離れていても私にできることが見つかりました。鈴鹿「九条の会」と連絡を取り署名活動を開始。国内外の友人たちには署名要請のメールを送り続けました。

そして二十九日。会津若松に帰りました。「やっぱり逃げていたのね」。「教会がなんて言われているか、わかる?」覚悟していた言葉でした。

でも、直接そのことを言いに来てくれた友だちはうれしい存在でした。「逃げてて楽だった?」「そんなことない。逃げて、どれほど自分を責めたことか」と正直に話すと、「やっぱりそうだったのね」 と、逃げたくても逃げられなかった友人たちが許してくれました。

 

あるロシア人夫妻の子どもの死と福島の今

 

私の避難は自分との闘いでした。子どもの命を守るのは私しかいない、でも周囲の目にどう映るか、福島原発から百キロ離れている自分は正しい判断をしているのか、と。

会津に帰ってみると、私と同じ辛さを味わっているお母さんたちがいました。目に見えず、皮膚に感じもしない放射能を恐れる母親たちと、それを心配しすぎだと言い放つ人びと。家族、地域の絆が壊れ始 めていました。そのような孤立している人びとをつなげるために立ち上げたのが「放射能から子どものいのちを守る会・会津」です。

十五年前、教会のベビーホームで預かったロシア人の赤ちゃんがいました。数カ月後、突然その赤ちゃんが亡くなったのです。非常にめずらしい病名がつきましたが、私は遺体を見て衝撃を受けました。写 真集で見たチェルノブイリで亡くなった子どもたちと同じ紫色の顔をしていたからです。

今度の福島原発事故で、そのことが思い出されていたとき、亡くなったその子に付き添っていた方から連絡がありました。やはり死因はチェルノブイリ原発事故の被曝であった、と。実は、あの若い夫婦 は自分の子どもの死を覚悟していたのです。なぜなら母親が育った地域が放射能に汚染されていたからでした。この悲しい出来事はチェルノブイリ原発事故の一〇年後に起きたのです。私はあの若い夫婦の涙を、一〇年後の福島の親たちに決して流させたくはないのです。

放射線被曝に晒されている地域の牧師ご家族、教会員のみなさんの辛さを思うと、胸が痛み呼吸も苦しくなります。住み続けることの不安、しかしそこから逃れた後、自分は信仰者として生きていけるのか との葛藤の中に、この五カ月間置かれているのです。

私たちは創造主と子どもたちの未来に大きな過ちを犯しました。阻止できなかったことが悔やまれてなりません。しかし、もはや猶予はありま せん。小さな命を救うために、祈り、怒りの声をあげつつ行動することが求められているのです。  (信徒の友)

 

 

*{}この箇所は、「信徒の友」発行後、KNLの記事の為に付け加えられました。