I visited Issei and Yuuko’s Infinity Farm in Fukushima in June 2013. A couple who continue to inspire me, this was a laid back interview I did with them regarding the Tohoku Earthquake and the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear plant on their lives since.
Infinity Farm lies around 50km from the infamous nuclear plant. Before March 2011, Fukushima was barely known by those outside of Japan, but since the devastating earthquake Fukushima has become synonymous with radiation and its negative consequences. In Japan, people frequently refer to life changes staring with, ‘after March 11th…’.
Where were you when the earthquake occurred?
Y: I was in Thailand completing a massage course.
I: I was in the greenhouse planting lettuce. I remember stepping outside and waiting for it to stop. It felt like the shaking went for a long time, probably around three minutes.
When did you first become aware of the radiation leaks at Fukushima?
I: I first heard on the 12th that there had been radiation leaks from the Fukushima power plant. All my information was from the Internet. By the 13th, 14th I basically understood what had happened. On the 15th, rain was forecast, which was bad, very bad. So I evacuated and went to meet Yuuko, who was arriving back from Thailand. We then stayed at Yuuko’s mothers house in Kitakata, (also Fukushima, but further inland). I wanted to cover our fields with plastic but it was too late. I returned after a week as I wanted to water the seedlings. I wore rainwear, mask and glasses. (Yuuko giggles at how funny he looked then.)
So when did you know it was safe?
Y: We were never really told when it was safe. We didn’t think it was safe but also not as dangerous. When we did come back, we didn’t drink the water or eat our vegetables. We ate previously farmed potatoes and friends gave us water. But on the 28th March, we checked our water and it was safe from radiation. It was quite expensive to get it checked but from last year, we can now check things for free.
Was it difficult to start farming again?
I and Y: We never really stopped farming for very long. The government did say stop at first and everyone waited but after a while, the long term farmers said just try. One farmer said, if no one bought his vegetables, he would sell his house. He said just try. The results were never really clear from the government on whether it was ok to farm or not. Since though, we have found out that our vegetables are radiation free.
Was it harder to sell your produce after the earthquake?
I and Y: Before, we sold most of our produce (through direct sales) to people in Tokyo. We thought that would stop and that local Fukushima residents would help support us and buy our vegetables. However, they were already worried about air radiation and therefore only wanted to eat things which had been grown far away from the nuclear plant. In the end it was a mix of locals and people in Tokyo.
You must have been worried about your vegetables in the beginning?
I and Y: Of course, we were worried and we would not have sold any if we did not think they were safe for ourselves. Also, here everything was still living, insects, birds, grasses. Nature continued. We were lucky though, that mountains prevented our land from being exposed as well as the wind which blew the opposite direction. So while we are only 50km away from the nuclear plant, we were not as exposed as others.
Are you still concerned about living here?
I and Y: Some people say here is also dangerous. Many people have left. We had to decide for ourselves, for our child. We want to live in nature. Although, now we cannot use firewood for cooking as the ash and coal is highly radioactive. (Yuuko wants to eventually start a bakery, and now must think of other means than wood to bake bread). One friend did leave due to not being able to use firewood. It depends on the family and lifestyle.
The Fukushima plant has again been recently in the news regarding the removal of fuel rods and radiation leaks into the water. Issei and Yuuko are always aware of the dangers and in a recent email Yuuko writes;
Y: We are concerned about removing fuel rods (it takes many years) and contaminated water from the nuclear plants. I’m checking the news and if the worst should happen, we will decide to leave here. We live here positively and cheerfully, but never forget to keep watching if something dangerous should happen.
Do you think that farmers in Fukushima are still having a hard time?
I and Y: It is still very hard to sell vegetables here and to find buyers. Only a few direct sales are left and last year we sold a lot to a company making packed curries. They wanted to help us, it was not a great price but we sold our vegetables. Normal vegetables are sold for cheaper, while organic vegetables still take a lot more work and need to fetch a higher price. We are thinking of ways to help our sales and also ways to prevent vegetables going to waste. For example, we might start drying our vegetables so that they can last longer.
Yuuko, when you realised you were pregnant was there any fear to bring up a child in this area? (Issei and Yuuko have a very happy little girl called Tsugumi.)
Y: I had already decided that it was safe for me, by the time I found out (about Tsugumi). So therefore my child would be safe too. Results have revealed that the ground soil has a bit of radiation. Which worries me a little bit, especially if Tsugumi plays in the dirt.
Many people in Japan wish to stop using nuclear power but there is a problem in that so much of Japan’s power comes from these nuclear stations that stopping them sometimes feels a bit difficult. What do you think?
I: I think that after one more disaster they will stop. Fukushima has now completely stopped and I don’t think it will ever go again. I think there should be more new technology, like free energy. For example a car moved by pressed air or magnets. I believe that if we don’t use nuclear plants there will be enough energy, but the government says we still need it.
Fukushima is now famous across the world for the nuclear disaster and many people are fearful of any food that comes from nearby. What do you think about this?
Y and I: Our vegetables have been tested as safe, as have many others and we would not sell otherwise. But if people are mentally sensitive and scared of radiation they should avoid it. The physical closely represents the thoughts of the mental. We would buy directly from other known farmers from anywhere in Fukushima (the red zone has nothing producing now).
The Government keeps changing the level of radiation considered safe and there is still a lot unknown about the effects of radiation. Many people are worried about future side effects from the Fukushima plant, what do you think?
Y: It’s up to each person to decide. But we have decided for ourselves that its ok and I do not worry at this time. But there are many other dangerous things, not only radiation. China pollution, bad foods with chemicals added etc. People here, try to stay healthy like many others. Maybe some people will get sick in the future but whether it can be traced back to radiation or not, we will have to wait and see. I believe there is a way to stay here and live healthily. Also, the nuclear plant is man made, not of nature. Nature did nothing but suffer at the hands of humans. But even now, nature continues living, telling us what we need. I want to learn from nature and continue living as it does.
Because of March 11th what has changed in your life?
Y and I: The use of firewood and of course many friends have left the area. Also, we had our wedding planned for April 23rd but only a few people were still here and many were away helping others. So we still got married but cancelled the party. Sadly, there were also many differences in opinions about the radiation which caused disagreements between friends and neighbours. However, now everyone is trying to accept each other again.
Future hopes for Fukushima?
I: Hopefully, more people come who want to do something good here. There are many difficulties but people who want to solve them will hopefully come.
Infinity farm website: //www14.plala.or.jp/infi