New landmarks

A new way of selecting food, of raising children, of producing and marketing products, of appreciating culture… Living in a land contaminated by radioactive fallout does not mean saying goodbye to life, nor does it mean turning a blind eye to the accident in an attempt to return to earlier times. Rather, it means following a new map to regain control over day-to-day life, to make and share calm decisions. Without a doubt, it is challenging to get to this point, but the experience of the men and women who took part in the Dialogue seminars on the rehabilitation of living conditions after the Fukushima accident shows that a path exists.
The starting point on this path is measurement.

A turning point

You can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you can’t feel it, but it’s there! Day and night, all around, inside and outside, taking command of your life, dictating the rules of a game you don’t want to play but are compelled to. How does one battle this sneaky, faceless enemy? How does one tame this invisible force? How does one beat it into submission? First and foremost, by giving it a face. And this is possible by measuring everything, everywhere. Measurement is not just an option, it is an absolute necessity. It is the starting point for tackling the situation, filling in the gap between perception and reality, making radioactivity tangible. Measurement allows the cause of exposure to be identified and the situation to be dealt with, leading to relief. Self-measurement is a must for everyone, individually, as there is no such thing as an “average person”. Measurement makes it possible to build an individual data repository day by day, to track changes in radioactivity levels and to discuss the results with relatives, neighbors and experts, thereby restoring dialogue within the community.

“Radiation is invisible, but we can make it visible
by measuring it and talking together about it.”
— Ryoko Ando

The whys and hows of measuring

Day after day, recording measurement results became an integral part of life for motivated people, just like reading the “best before” date on food and drink packaging. From infants to seniors, from kitchens to bedrooms, from rice to fish, everything has to be measured: mountains, fields, gardens, roads, parking lots, houses, school yards, kindergartens, tap water, meals… Gradually, the Fukushima residents got acquainted with different measurement techniques and equipment.

They learned
to measure radioactivity
in their environment
click to find out more

Residents used two different types of sensors to display radiation intensity, expressed in microsieverts per hour. Portable sensors were used to detect radioactivity in their immediate environment (houses, gardens, school yards, forest paths, etc.).
An extensive network of fixed sensors was also deployed throughout Fukushima Prefecture to measure radioactivity in the atmosphere.

An extensive network of fixed sensors used to measure radioactivity in the environment is now part of the landscape in several urban and rural areas of the Fukushima Prefecture such as Fukushima City, Date City, IItate City, Tamura City, etc.

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They learned
to measure their
radiation exposure
click to find out more

External exposure to radiation can be measured with a common personal dosimeter called a “glass badge”, which is worn all day long for a couple of months to calculate cumulative exposure. For instance, the municipality of Date distributed such devices to city residents. Radiation can also be measured wearing an electronic dosimeter called a “D-shuttle”, which records cumulative as well as hourly exposure. Almost every family in Suetsugi has a D-shuttle which shows when and where exposures to ionizing radiation are received.

Designed to measure individual exposure to gamma-ray on a hourly basis, the D-shuttle dosimeter is powered with a 1-year-life battery. It provides easy reading of the total dose integrated and allows issuing reports.

In connecting the doses displayed by the D-shuttle throughout the day with the bearer’s corresponding activities, such graphs allow individuals managing their activities from a radiological perspective.

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They learned
to measure how much
they are contaminated
by radioactivity
click to find out more

The uptake of radioactivity from breathing and ingesting food and drink can be measured using a device called “whole-body counter” (WBC). A large number of such equipment was progressively deployed in the Fukushima Prefecture, enabling a total of 270,000 adults to be measured between 2011 and 2015.

Ryugo Hayano,
Professor, Department of Physics, University of Tokyo

Was it really necessary to measure infants? From a mere radiation protection perspective, it wasn’t. Nevertheless, many mothers told me they would like their children to be measured, but available devices didn’t make it possible. Therefore, in 2012, we started developing a custom-built whole-body counter for children.”

The initial purpose of whole-body counters (WBCs) was to measure the contamination of workers in nuclear facilities, i.e. of adults, This type of device was used to measure the contamination of Fukushima residents. However, families persistently expressed concern about the potential contamination of small children. Alerted by worried parents, Professor Ryugo Hayano requested cooperation from Shunji Yamanaka, an engineer specializing in industrial design, to develop BABYSCAN, the world’s first whole-body counter capable of accurately measuring internal radiation exposure in babies and children. This infant-friendly device detects very low levels of internal contamination. Three devices of this type are now used in Fukushima Prefecture. Of the 2,700 babies and small children measured until 2015, none had detectable exposure.

Becquerels of naturally occurring potassium-40 or ingested cesium-137 per body is the detection limit of BABYSCAN. A particularly low threshold to be compared with whole body counters for adults with detection limits of 250 Becquerels per body.

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They learned
to measure
click to find out more

Easy-to-use equipment was made available in Fukushima communities to measure samples of foods such as fruits, vegetables and meat. It allowed individuals to measure products from their garden, wild mountain vegetables, etc.

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From data collection to citizen-expert dialogue

Measurements are one thing; interpretation of the results is another. Aside from learning how to use measurement equipment correctly, people needed a minimum of knowledge about a few measurement units, the concept of detection level, as well as a few mechanisms for radioactivity transfer to the environment. Measurement results should be dealt with carefully as they are context-specific and there is no threshold between safe and hazardous. However, the development of a radiation protection culture which allows each individual to know where, when and how he/she is exposed and to act accordingly to control his/her exposure is not just a matter of knowledge; it also concerns the balancing of lifestyle considerations to make sound decisions with regard to daily exposures and to take control over one’s own life.
Answering a seemingly simple question such as “What shall I do now to protect myself and my family?” thus requires thought and sometimes guidance. In this respect, discussions among residents – inside families, with neighbors, etc. – with support from experts is an obvious part of the process. Beyond providing results, whole-body counting and food measurement offer opportunities for interpersonal dialogue, to listen to people’s concerns, to provide advice to parents on their children’s health, etc. Concerning the WBC scans for instance, experts Makoto Miyazaki, a Fukushima Medical University radiologist, and Masaharu Tsubokura, a medical doctor at Minamisoma Hospital, use the measurement appointments to talk about the results with residents.

This graph allows visualizing the exposure of the whole community to ionizing radiation.

With the assistance of Ryoko Ando, Makoto Miyazaki, radiologist at Fukushima Medical University, designed didactic graphic representations aimed at facilitating exchange among community members about their external exposure. On this graph, each of the curves with different colors represents the radiological profile of one person.

A new-found freedom

The experience of people who are taking measurements shows that radioactivity levels are usually lower than predicted, to the great relief of those concerned. Although measurement results do not totally eliminate doubts and worries, they help to decrease them. They will not make people forget the accident at the nuclear power plant, but they will allow them to turn their sights to the future again by enabling them to choose between good and bad products from a radiological perspective, independently of binary commands issued by the authorities: “Below this level, you can; above this level, you cannot”. A few people taking measurements have reached the point where they can say: why be concerned about eating something above the prescribed limit, if it is only two or three times a year?
For instance, radioactivity measurements allow the elderly to give themselves a treat by selecting the least contaminated wild vegetables from the mountain – their beloved sansai. They encourage discussion, comparisons, new relationships and a positive-minded, people-oriented approach to recover freedom of decision regarding self-protection in their daily life.

Bitter crop

In a country where agriculture is elevated to the level of a fine art, where unsurpassed care is paid to growing, selecting, packaging, shipping and selling fruits and vegetables, being a farmer in arguably the most renowned region for the quality of its farm products is both a relentless commitment and an age-old matter of pride.
Hisao Tsuboi (60-year-old at the time of the accident), a farmer in Miyakoji – Tamura, an evacuated area, expresses this dedication with a hint of nostalgia in his voice: “At that time, I was growing rice on roughly 4 hectares of land; I also grew some vegetables and worked part time in a nearby cattle farm. I was very careful to use as little agrochemicals as possible to grow my vegetables. I shipped my products to Tokyo and the Kanto area using a home delivery service. I thus talked regularly with some 30 customers… That is how I used to live.”
For Fukushima growers and herders like Mr. Tsuboi who have dedicated their lives to honing their craft, the radioactive contamination that crept into every last corner of their rice paddies and orchards and poisoned their cattle after the nuclear power plant accident was far more than just a raw deal, it was a sacrilege, the devastating sight of ancestral lands suddenly becoming soiled, tainted, impure. The general ban on agricultural shipments from the Fukushima prefecture added to the deep sense of shame, leading some growers and herders to leave their farms. Nevertheless, some decided to stay or return and to fight it out.

Rowing upstream

… Muneo Kanno (60-year-old at the time of the accident), a farmer in Iitate, is among them. The early stages of the period after the accident were traumatizing to him, too. Rice paddies and vegetable fields had to be abandoned; whole herds of contaminated cattle had to be slaughtered. It was a doomsday scenario.
“Iitate, my village, is located 30 to 50 kilometers from the nuclear power plant, and the wind often blows from that direction. That is why my village was declared a mandatory evacuation area one month after the accident, and I was compelled to leave. Shortly after the accident, the recorded dose rate was around 44 microsieverts per hour. We were told not to go out, but if we had to do so, to avoid contact with the soil. But March is the period of time when many agricultural activities have to be started,” remembers Muneo Kanno. It is a lot for a man to take: losing the product of years of hard work overnight and having to start all over. When, after a short period of hesitation, Muneo Kanno decided to try recovering his farm, he had to bounce back nearly from scratch. Taking the bull by the horns, he started by decontaminating his land with support from the “Resurrection of Fukushima” NPO , an absolute prerequisite to any further operation. “As regards full-scale decontamination, it is necessary to the revitalization of this area. That is why I started decontaminating the surroundings of my house last year. This year, I’m tackling the decontamination of my farmland, and I expect to work on it for two years, including the decontamination of vital links such as the road serving my farm,” Muneo Kanno goes on.

“of course the vegetables we grow must be safe,
but they must also be delicious.”

Presentation of local organic farming products
at the 7th Dialogue seminar.

In addition to decontamination, Fukushima farmers have performed original experiments with the support of scientists such as Keisuke Nemoto and Masaru Mizoguchi, both Professors at the University of Tokyo, to significantly reduce cesium transfer to rice.
Month after month of persistent efforts are beginning to bear fruit. The radiological quality of rice and vegetables grown in a cleaner environment improved substantially, reaching values far below the 100 becquerel per kilogram threshold set by the government.

When customers mobilize

Worried by the risks associated with ingesting contaminated products, most consumers across Japan simply eliminated food produced in Fukushima from their diet. But some militant consumers took the trouble to gain the knowledge they needed to make informed decisions, without prejudice.
Among them was Shima Yamamoto, age 36 at the moment of the accident, the mother of three who lives in Yokohama. To find answers to questions on what to eat, she organized a small study group on radioactivity, where she got basic knowledge on types of radiation, radioelements, radioactive decay, the concept of exposure, contamination, health impacts… Slowly but surely, helped by scientists, she developed the ability to distinguish between what is safe and what is not in various aspects of life, starting with cooking. She challenged her husband’s and relatives’ preconceived notions, cooking mushrooms for instance and promising that everything she gives her family to eat is far below recommended thresholds in terms of radioactivity, while being top quality in terms of taste!
Together with Tazuko Arai, another consumer from Tokyo, Shima Yamamoto was contacted via Twitter to participate in the 3rd Dialogue held in July 2012 to tackle the contaminated food issue. Quite impressed by the farmers’ efforts, they were mobilized in their respective regions to vouch for the quality improvements achieved month after month by Fukushima producers.

Linking producers to consumers

Acting on their own, these strong-willed producers and consumers strove to bring the healthiness of Fukushima food products and their image back to the quality podium. Systematic measurement of every single rice bag, every single vegetable serves little purpose if consumer confidence in the “Made in Fukushima” label is not regained. It was a long and difficult battle, a daily struggle engaged in with the support of valuable allies, starting with JA Shin-Fukushima and JA Date Mirai, two affiliates of the Fukushima Japan Agricultural Cooperatives Group (JA). Animated by the spirit of mutual aid, JA has cooperative businesses in each region, providing its members with services such as insurance, advice, credit, marketing, purchasing and welfare.

Systematic radiation measurement of each single rice bag is performed before shipment to prove the non-contamination of the rice produced in Fukushima Prefecture. This policy aims at restoring progressively consumer confidence in the “Made in Fukushima” branding.

Another strong ally is Coop, a marketplace of producers and consumers. Sunkichi Nonaka, managing director of Coop Fukushima, explains the power of this consumer association in the distribution arena. Since the accident, the association has been innovating to support the “Made in Fukushima” label in different ways: making measurement equipment available to the consumers, explaining how it operates and helping them to interpret the results, issuing periodic information sheets for consumers that report on the decreased levels of recorded contamination, promoting Fukushima products outside the Prefecture through its nationwide retail network, etc. Coop Fukushima is thus a strong partner to both producers and consumers, helping to restore the image of food produced in Fukushima through transparent and trustworthy information.

A sheltered environment

Who has never got up at night to check his or her child’s fever? Who has never felt a shiver upon looking at his or her first attempt to ride a bicycle? All parents across the globe share a primary concern: ensuring that their children grow up in a clean and safe environment. For those living in a contaminated area, this concern translates into a daily headache of nightmarish proportions, as every single decision is made with anxiety about having made the wrong choice… Am I harming my son if I let him walk to school? My daughter if she eats fruits from the family garden? Don’t I put them at risk without even being aware? How can I protect their physical and mental development? How can I keep them healthy? Decisions made in a context of constant uncertainty often turn into subjects of contention within the family, between parents and children, between parents and grandparents, as judgments differ on everything: food, school, games…
In the absence of a clear sign of whether it is safe to live in the affected areas, parents developed a sense of guilt which slowly evolved into depression.
Recalling this situation, the first day of the 9th Dialogue was very focused on questions from parents about the future of their children and their difficulties in finding an appropriate place to live for the family. Here again, the dilemma of staying or leaving was at the heart of the discussions.
Tetsuya Ishikawa, age 40 at the time of the accident, is the father of two boys, then aged 5 and 3. An engineer specializing in the development of computer systems, he lives with his family in Date city. He clearly remembers the first months after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant: his stress, his anxiety, the relentless inner conflicts which tore him between the desire to leave with his family and the need to continue working to provide for it. Mr. Ishikawa quickly understood the value of measuring radioactivity to make sound decisions, but suitable equipment was not immediately available: “Perform measurements? Sure! But at that time, it was not possible to get hold of any measurement equipment… I had to wait until May before I could buy one device. Only then was I able to know the real radiation levels inside our house and surroundings.” Two never-ending months of uncertainty…

The dark side of protecting

The situation is not always easy for children. This is particularly true when it comes to keeping them confined at home to protect them from radiation. Not only are they most often silent witnesses to the concerns, questions and hesitations of their parents and other family members, but they must also obey the instructions of their parents and teachers who, with the best of intentions, tend to multiply prohibitions and constraints, particularly restrictions on outdoor activities. This puts the children’s social life in jeopardy as they struggle to maintain the link with their schoolmates but can no longer play freely outside. Aside from the impacts on their autonomy and personal development, this situation is conducive to a significant decrease in physical activity. This trend existed before the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and resulted in an increasing number of children being overweight or obese. It was accelerated by the prohibition of playing outside, threatening the children’s fitness. Health professionals participating in the 9th Dialogue therefore stressed the importance of creating a mechanism for monitoring the health of children that deals with their health in a holistic manner, and not only the radioactivity-related aspects.
Another adverse effect of locking children indoors is the risk of making them appear unhealthy, like persons to be avoided, thus contributing to the discrimination of those who live in Fukushima. “I don’t want my child to be ashamed of having grown up in Fukushima,” a mother said.

Radiation protection from school age

If parents need to develop a practical radiation protection culture to live their lives, why not children, too? For parents and teachers, this means being in a position to pass on knowledge and know-how they had never learned before… A fairly difficult task! And all the more so considering the lack of suitable official teaching materials and the need for more realistic and practical materials reflecting real-life situations. On this point, participants in the 9th Dialogue stressed the importance of developing programs and educational tools for the schools that are based on a practical and participatory approach specific to each age group. They also recognized that children have their own vision and understanding of the situation and that it was appropriate for them to have places to express their feelings and talk about their experiences. 

Misses Kanno, Ogawa and Onodera presenting the results of their investigations at the 11th Dialogue as well as to all their classmates gathered in the school gymnasium.

When the young generation mobilizes

The Misses Shoka Kanno (2nd year), Aoi Ogawa (3rd year) and Haruka Onodera (3rd year), students at Fukushima High School, were still elementary school students when the accident occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and had absolutely no idea of the radiological risk associated with such an accident or how to protect themselves from it. Since then, they decided to learn more about radioactivity, the measurement of ionizing radiation, the interpretation of results, etc. with a view to comparing their own exposure, measured using their D-Shuttle, with those of other high-school students in Japan and abroad. They received support from Japanese experts such as Ryugo Hayano, Professor at the Department of Physics of the University of Tokyo, and from French experts.
The three young girls participated in the High School Student Workshop on Radiation Protection in March 2015, a one-week high school student rally held yearly in France, and presented their works there. They also participated in the drafting of an article which compiled measurement results in various places, published in English, French, Japanese, Polish and Russian.

From roots to dreams

Probably few things tie people to each other or to their past and future as much as culture, wherever they live, and few things express their spirit better than festivals. Seeing men and women working hard to rehabilitate historic districts, to rebuild places of worship, museums and theatres destroyed by man or nature, and to revive theatrical and musical performances is ample proof of this.
The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which resulted in the cancellation of cultural events starting with festivals, ripped the community fabric apart, disrupting the link between its members and between generations. For instance, the cancellation of most of the local festivals in 2011 interrupted the transmission of a centuries-old legacy, the sense of belonging to a community and the identification as such. For people who had already lost most of their points of reference, this was viewed as a real tragedy, according to Mrs. Amari, a participant in the 10th Dialogue seminar held in Date City on December 6-7, 2014, entitled The Value of Tradition and Culture in Fukushima.
“After the accident, we were so focused on safety and security that we were not able to speak about the future. Now we are addressing the future! There are still some challenges, but by supporting each other, we can live. And it is great to see how things change when people are involved in festivals again,” she said.
Nearly four years after the accident, most festivals have resumed, helping to reconnect people and generations, allowing everyone to take inspiration from the heritage of the past in order to project oneself into the future. “People enjoy festivals, which is why so many attend them. Festivals are the essence of culture,” notes Natsumi Katahira, a Fukushima High School student. This sentiment is echoed by Kanna Shishido, another Fukushima High School student, who stresses “The art of dancing must be passed on from generation to generation, as it is a real connection between people.”

Major festivals
in Fukushima Prefecture

July 23 to 25
Sōma Nomaoi Festival:
race and contest among horse riders dressed in samurai attire.

1st weekend of August
Fukushima Waraji Festival: 
a 12-meter long, 2-ton heavy straw sandal built by locals is dedicated to a shrine.

Kōriyama Uneme Festival:
Dancing parade

late September 
Aizu Festival:
sword dancing and fighting followed by a procession of some 500 people carrying feudal flags.

Iizaka Fighting Festival.

October 1 to November 2
Nihonmatsu Chrysanthemum doll exhibition.

October 4 to 6
Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival.

November (2nd Saturday)
Taimatsu Akashi Fire Festival:
torchbearers accompanied by drummers reach the top of Mount Gorozan and light a wooden frame representing an old castle and the samurai who lived there.

Reviving the tradition,
the resumption of the Soma
Nomaoi Festival in July 2012
was an important landmark
in the cultural life
of Fukushima Prefecture.
That year, 11 horses from the no-go zone
participated in the races, parades and contests
throughout the three days of this event.

The pervasiveness of culture and tradition
was obvious during the Fukushima Dialogue seminars,
with several drum and dance performances.

Restoring conviviality

While festivals exemplify the role of culture as a vital bridge between people, local products such as sansai – the wild vegetables cherished by countryside inhabitants – also contribute to sharing special moments with relatives or neighbors. Here too, the March 2011 catastrophe disrupted this link by turning forests that were previously familiar places into threatening places besieged by radioactive contamination.
The introduction of food measurements is changing this situation by allowing people to collect and enjoy wild vegetables once again.

Reasons for living

An accomplished saxophonist, Makoto Oomori, Head of the News Program Division at TV-U Fukushima, Inc., talks about the healing power of music: “At the end of 2011, I thought there was no major problem with exposure to radioactivity in Fukushima City, but I still felt anxious, not because of exposure but because of the anxiety displayed by most other people. Through music, I found a way to overcome, I found enjoyment to go on living, a reason for living.” This is a view shared by numerous participants in the 10th Dialogue meeting, who emphasized the power of tradition and culture to bring people together, to connect the present generation to the past and future, to offer solace in difficult times and to help people reconstruct their lives. Some participants who had left for exile recalled their sadness living away from their culture, their shrines, the graves of their forefathers… Reacting to an exchange of views on the economic consequences of the accident, one of them declared: “Many things are more important than money, including tradition and culture. Culture is not only about the past, it is also about the present and the future,” urging the elderly to pass traditions on to the young generation. “A new culture blossomed after the accident,” stated another, sensing that something new was emerging in the Prefecture.


thinking about
the future again