Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.10 Rev. Akira SATO

Ambiguous Loss

 Through this cataclysm, I learned a couple phrases that I previously did not know. The one is “borderline disparities.” There was little damage beyond that bypass, and the residents lived a normal life. We have the same street address, and still, our side is in complete ruins. What are these disparities? Another is “Scissors-like disparities.” It describes the situational disparities of the disaster-struck areas that keep on widening just like scissors. Even within the same disaster-struck area, a certain area has a recovery boom, where a good amount of cars sell because many cars were destroyed or lost by the tsunami. On the other hand, there are towns like ours which were closed and fell to utter ruin rapidly. What is this gap?  Right now, trees and weeds are growing and wild boars and robbers break into our houses. It is even impossible to go home without a permit or wearing hazmat suits. Our newly built church has rat droppings all over the floor. Another house apparently had a wild boar break into their house and breed her babies there.

I could not do anything but watch my beloved house of twenty years decay into ruins. There is a woman who was so surprised at the decaying sights of the hometown and the house of her own  went home crying helplessly. The situation has gotten progressively worse since March 11 five years ago. It’s over. People call Fukushima in such a situation “an ambiguous loss.” One can’t even live or go back to one’s own home. Isn’t it the same as not having a home? No, it is worse than that. It is keeping us in suspense! Children who were young at the time of the disaster won’t be to return home until they become 15 years old.

For children who were afflicted with the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accident when they were five years old, it will be a return after ten years. These kids will lose the roots of growing up and playing with friends in the fields and hills near their homes. I wonder how much of the memory of their childhood will remain with them. It is an ambiguous loss: they may lose their roots, or they may not. Since its memory exists in oneself, one cannot move forward. It is an ambiguous loss that is very hard to settle within one’s heart.


A Nightmarish Sight

On March 11, I was in Chiba prefecture. Therefore, I learned about what had happened in my hometown from our assistant pastor. He told me that the townspeople were crying. Okuma-machi (that’s our hometown) had a population of about 10,000.  There weren’t many drivers in the town, but every single driver was crying on that day, especially women. They were all worried sick about their husbands and children. “Is he still alive?” Or, “Is my daughter at nursery school alive?” Every single one of these drivers took the wheel with tears in her eyes.

After the disaster, many couples cancelled their weddings. However, there was a woman who had to get married for various reasons. During the wedding ceremony, we heard a shocking word which we could not imagine to hear from a bride. She said “If it is possible, I want to change my white wedding dress into mourning.” Why did she say such a thing? On that day, she saw from the window of the room on the second floor of her house on the coast a huge tsunami swirling the mud around, dancing and crossing over the windbreak like a blackish monster. She was frozen on the spot. Then she saw the tsunami easily pick up the tetrapod made of reinforced concrete and sweep away her neighbor’s houses. “A sight worse than my nightmare,” she explained.

That reminded me of our experiences on the road which drained of color. The news by email said that robbers broke into our houses and did whatever they liked in our hometown, which   became a ghost town. We left our church unlocked so it could be used as one of the shelters. As everyone believed that we would be able to go back home soon, we left our hometown with the pets still on a leash, and our dogs and cats as dear as our family members died of gruesome starvation. In any case, leaving our bankbook at home we froze our bank account. Although I was hoping that no one would be so insensible that they would steal from suffering families, regrettably, it happened. One lady who was a regular of our church returned home to find her house completely empty. The thief stole everything from her daily necessaries like electrical appliances a set of drawing room furniture. I heard that she lost all faith and trust in people and couldn’t eat or drink for a while and lost weight rapidly.

There were a lot of misunderstandings about the effect of radiation as well. For example, some people were prohibited from using a bathroom immediately after the earthquake. People who had escaped from areas nearby the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were told to use a separate bathroom. They felt sad as if they were being segregated. There was a member of our church who evacuated to the coastal town on the Sea of Japan. She was utterly exhausted from the extensive journey. She became ill, but was even refused to enter the hospital. Thinking that the residents who lived near the Nuclear Power Plant might be exposed to radiation, they told her to wait outside. Maybe the medical staff was also confused at that time.

Losing our beloved old homes was a cruel experience. We felt deraciné as if we floated in the air. It was an experience beyond description that made me lose my own identity and connections with others. What was the idea that these mentally and physically worn-out people were told they couldn’t enter the hospital and wait outside in the freezing cold of the night? In the end, the son of the church member who was rejected by the hospital snapped back furiously “Why? Isn’t my mother seriously ill?” And holding her hand, he forced his way into the hospital. “Why should we be treated like this only because we’ve lived in that area?” “Are we so filthy and loathsome?” All of these broke my heart.

Another one of our church members had lived only 2 km away from the Nuclear Power Plant. Two-kilometer radius is a dangerous zone. Therefore, all three generations of the family escaped together to the Kanto region. When they went to the municipal office of the town where they escaped to register their new address, the staff at the city hall refused to receive that registration. Indeed, he even asked them, “What are you here for? Do you want some goods?” The family was deeply hurt. “We are not beggars. We are ordinary Japanese.” It is quite natural if they wondered why they should be treated like that only because they came from “that area.”