Way back in the day, just after college, I lived in Tohoku, the northeast region of Japan of which Fukushima is a part. I lived in a town known as Shizukuishi, in Iwate Prefecture. It is a lot like what I imagine Iitate was like (before 3/11, Iitate was designated as one of the "most beautiful villages in Japan"): very rural and very beautiful, a farming community of people tied to the land they loved. They were lucky, and they knew it. Or rather, it was easy to see that they considered themselves lucky. I remember being surprised at how many people in Shizukuishi had never been to Tokyo, which is only about three hours away by train. They would mention it nonchalantly, maybe with a chuckle. It wasn't that they wanted to go but couldn't, or that they loathed the idea of such an ultra-urban existence. They just saw no reason to leave the place where they were. Why would they? They had what they wanted, and what they needed. Nothing opulent, but enough.
I've never met Hasegawa-san in person. But again, in some ways I feel like I have. When I read his book, which is full of familiar Tohoku dialect, I hear his voice and many other voices.
When Hasegawa-san talks about what he has lost, it literally is immeasurable. Unquantifiable. The first thing he talks about is his family. In Iitate, he lived in a house with his wife, his parents, his two sons, their wives, and their children. To Americans, this sense of loss is perhaps surprising, since our fantasies about ideal living situations rarely include living indefinitely with our parents or our children. But for Hasegawa-san, it is what made his life complete.
At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, when the earthquake struck, Hasegawa was preparing his fields in order to plant the grass and grains that his cows would eat following the next harvest. As soon as he could, when the ground stopped shaking, he went home to check on his family. After that, he went to check on his neighbors. The power had also gone out. As a dairy farmer, he immediately worried about how he was going to milk his cows, since he relies on electricity to do so. The cows must be milked every day or else they suffer from mastitis and pain. Thankfully, he had a generator, which he was able to use. When he finished with his own cows, he took his generator to his neighbors so that they could milk theirs. This ritual continued daily. At first, the farmers donated their milk to evacuees who had come to Iitate from coastal areas. After radioactive iodine was detected in the milk, they had no choice but to dump it into the ground, day after day. Then, on March 25, the authorities came to "dispose" of his 50 cows, animals who he also describes as part of his family.
Hasegawa-san has been in the news a lot recently. His story has been picked up by the folks at Greenpeace, who have featured him in a number of articles and videos about the Fukushima survivors of 3/11. While no one can give him old his life back, we can give him our attention. We can learn from what he has to say. We can listen to his warnings about the danger and unreliability of nuclear power, and we can, like him, demand that corporations and governments provide citizens with honest and timely information about the dangers they face. And we can choose--and demand--to actively participate in the discussions and decisions about industrial development in our communities.
Three years ago today, as I watched the waves consume the coastal Iwate towns that I had often visited, I felt many things, but powerlessness was the predominant feeling. Like many others, I struggled to find ways to meaningfully respond, but in the face of such events, there was little I could do beyond checking on old friends and donating to the Red Cross. So when Akashi-san asked me to be a part of this project earlier this year, I didn't hesitate. This is not my tragedy, but it is personal. I have been the recipient of untold kindness and care from the people of Japan, and especially, from the people of Tohoku. If this is one small way that I can attempt to repay the kindness (恩返し in Japanese) that I have received, then it is my privilege to do so. Somehow, someway, I will help to see this project through to the end.
Above all and most importantly, this is Hasegawa's story. It is not mine. It is not Greenpeace's. It does not belong to certain politics or ideologies. It belongs to no one but him, and comes from his own personal and immediate experience of a devastating sequence of events. But in his almost religious documentation of the extraordinary events and facts, he no doubt had an inkling that this story would eventually be of value to us all, and to future generations as well.