Focusing on Fukushima is a hipocrisy

Matthew Ward

Matthew Ward


It's that time again. You know, the time every year or so when we get a bit of genuine (but not actually very significant) bad news about the interminable Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, and the tinfoil hat clickbait industry goes wild with totally wild, bogus, unsupported claims of impending nuclear holocaust or Japan declaring a state of emergency (that no-one living in Japan has actually heard of). And we get a lot of hand-wringing from people who should be paying attention to the numerous verifiable threats facing our world.

"But Fukushima is a big problem!" you say. Yes, you're right. It is a BIG problem... for the people of Fukushima prefecture, especially people who still can't go home due to the meltdown and agonizingly slow cleanup. For those people, it's a tragedy. So far, aside from the evacuation effort, it hasn't turned out to be a verifiably deadly tragedy, especially compared to the earthquake and tsunami that brought it on, but definitely a tragedy that has left tens of thousands of people homeless and fields fallow and a once-proud prefectural fishing industry decimated.

But you know what, freaked-out Western people? It's not. Your. Tragedy. It belongs to the people of Fukushima prefecture. Not you. It never belonged to you. Yes, the oceans are screwed up in myriad ways, but it's primarily due to climate change and ocean acidification and conventional pollution--compared to those, Fukushima is a literal drop in the ocean. How convenient to have something to blame everything on.

You whine and moan about Fukushima, and render the real people affected by the reactor invisible. On top of that: you have taken the name of a large and beautiful prefecture of Japan, a place with its own cuisine and history and local culture, and you have made it into a dirty word in the English language, despite the fact that much of it was never directly affected by the reactor meltdown in the first place. Fukushima, 福島, the Island of Fortune--you have appropriated the name, you've taken other people's tragedy and appropriated that, and you've made it into a fantasy that explains that screwed-up oceans that people from rich Western countries disproportionately contribute to in the first place.

And you think you're progressive? Here's what progressive people in Japan do: they don't boycott seafood because of Fukushima, they go to Fukushima Prefecture and do volunteer work. They form citizen radiation monitoring teams so that people in Fukushima prefecture don't have to rely on the government and Tepco to tell them about radioactivity levels. They promote Fukushima produce (the vast majority that isn't any more radioactive than food grown in California or Australia or France) in the rest of Japan, so that Fukushima farmers can survive. They start organic cafes with Fukushima produce. They embrace and support Fukushima Prefecture, and try to restore its good name, rather than making it into an international dirty word.

Oh yeah, and here's a special shoutout to people from Washington State. If you're wigging out about Fukushima, but you aren't paying attention to the fact that you live much nearer to the most polluted nuclear site in the Western Hemisphere than most of Japan is to Fukushima, then you're an ignorant hypocrite. No, I'm not actually saying that you should be all that freaked out about Hanford--things like coal trains or the massive overdue PNW earthquake are actually a whole lot scarier. But don't you dare fetishize a disaster affecting people living 7000 miles away and make their home's name into a dirty word, while ignoring a similar mess in your own backyard. Dammit.

Matthew Ward was born and raised in the 40th District on Lopez Island. He currently lives with his wife and two children in Osaka, Japan, where he works as an English instructor.