'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Black Rain 

UPDATE 1: Having grown up among Japanese Americans in Northern California, I find these stories to be especially heartwrending:

The devastating impact of the Japanese earthquake on the country's ageing population was exposed on Thursday as dozens of elderly people were confirmed dead in hospitals and residential homes as heating fuel and medicine ran out.

In one particularly shocking incident, Japan's self-defence force discovered 128 elderly people abandoned by medical staff at a hospital six miles from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Most of them were comatose and 14 died shortly afterwards. Eleven others were reported dead at a retirement home in Kesennuma because of freezing temperatures, six days after 47 of their fellow residents were killed in the tsunami. The surviving residents of the retirement home in Kesennuma were described by its owner, Morimitsu Inawashida, as alone and under high stress. He said fuel for their kerosene heaters was running out.

And, it's not much better for children, either:

The very young too were suffering. Save the Children on Thursday reached Ishinomaki, Nobiru and Onagawa, north of Sendai, and reported children living in miserable conditions. There were some terrible scenes, in some places like Onagawa there was nothing left, said Ian Woolverton, who led the mission. In other places like Ishinomaki we found children in evacuation centres huddled around kerosene lamps.

The charity said they met Kazuki Seto, eight, at an evacuation centre not far from Sendai. He told them: We are really worried about the nuclear power plants. We are very afraid of nuclear radiation. That's why we don't play outside. Another, Yasu Hiro, 10, added: We know about the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we are very scared. It makes us really worry. If it explodes it is going to be terrible.

INITIAL POST: Beyond the refusal of people to make deliveries to areas adjancent to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, there is the tragic possibility of social ostracism for a new generation of people exposed to radiation:

For Japanese, the desperation has an added dimension: Already the name Fukushima is laden with something beyond the fear of damaged health.

The Japanese survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lived the rest of their lives with the stigma of having been exposed to radiation, a stain that years never erased. Known as Hibakushas, they are formally recognized by the government if they lived within proximity of the blasts, and receive a special medical allowance.

But the designation also led to them being ostracized by other Japanese, who feared wrongly that the contamination was contagious or could be hereditary. The result was that many survivors of the bombings, and even their children, lived ghettoized lives because of their exposure to radiation.

The prospect of a similar stigma now worries some of those in and around the Fukushima plant.

I am worried about the future, said a 65-year-old retired engineer from Sugagawa City, 30 miles from the plant, who was interviewed by phone and didn't want his name used.

There could be some rumors that the people from this area are contaminated by radiation, and that people should not get close to us.

Masuji Ibuse fictionalized the experience of the people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his acclaimed novel, Black Rain, and the great, folkloric Japanese director, Shohei Imamura, subsequently made a film based upon it. I recommend both highly. They are discomforting for both American and Japanese audiences, as they reveal not only the horrors of the bomb, but the everyday fascism embedded within the treatment of the surviving victims by many Japanese. Hopefully, the people of Japan have learned from the past, and will treat the victims of Fukushima disaster with respect and compassion.

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