Leaving Tokyo


Leaving Tokyo
Shiro Yabu
(Translation by Max Black)

After the rain I go to a city park with my elementary-school age daughter. She jumps onto the chin-up bar. I notice that it is dripping wet. Lazily swinging back and forth on the bar, she starts to lick the rainwater off the bar. When I scold her, ‘don’t do that!’ she says, ‘but it’s yummy.’ She gets tired of licking the chin-up bar and now she picks a little flower out of the weeds and pretends to suck the nectar out of it. When I say, “I don’t think that kind of flower has nectar in it,’ she says, ‘yes it does.’ She gets tired of picking flowers and now she picks up the twigs around her and starts drawing a line on the ground. She draws train tracks on the ground and pretends to ride the train. The moment I look away, she puts the mud-stained four fingers of her drawing hand in her mouth. I say, ‘that’s dirty,’ but she isn’t listening. She is busy thinking of other ways to play. This one instance is enough to show everything: a girl or girls will pick things up and eat them even if they’ve fallen on the ground and are covered with dust. And the moment that adults look away, they will drop things, pick them up, and put them in their mouth.

The principal reason that I have decided to move from Tokyo to Aichi Prefecture is that children are like this. It is not possible to raise a child in Kanto, which has become a low-level radiation exposure zone. Maybe some people will take this as an overreaction. So I want them to really, really, imagine the situation that children are living in. When you were a child, what kinds of games did you play? Did you ever used to stop the raindrops dripping down off of the roof with your mouth? We were brought up playing dirty games, as much as we wanted, that make adults wrinkle up their faces — this is what I want you not to forget. Children have a right to these dirty games. So if they want to fool around with the rainwater, they have the right to fool around with the rainwater as much as they want.

Massive urban disaster

On March 17th there was an article by Uchida Tatsuru in the Asahi Shimbun, entitled “A message from Hanshin-for an evacuation to West Japan.”

When the Hanshin Earthquake happened, I lived in an apartment building in Ashiya with my middle-school age daughter. She was awakened by a drawer from the wardrobe falling on her face. She broke a tooth. The wooden buildings in the area were mostly leveled and smoke was rising from the streets of Kobe. Our apartment was half-wrecked and we lived as evacuees for three weeks in the local elementary school gymnasium.

The difficulty this time with responding to the East Japan Earthquake is that the disaster is not yet over. The Fukushima reactor is in a crisis situation. What bothers me is that the information from the government and TEPCO is slow in coming, and the way the commentary continues to play down the damage. There are experts who dismiss the necessity of evacuating the metropolitan area. But if the next thing is a release of a large amount of radioactive material, in what way are these people going to take responsibility?

In a crisis situation, an excessive appraisal of risk is more effective than playing things down, in order to survive. Nobody will blame you if it turns out to have been a waste of time to flee. It is good to be able to say, ‘thank god nothing happened.’ If you are led to assume ‘well, it’s safe,’ and then told, “okay, run for it!” — this is what leads to panic. I get the feeling that statements by the experts who say that ‘the people who can evacuate, should’ are being suppressed in the media.

Since there’s nothing I can do about that, on the Internet I called for an ‘evacuation’ to West Japan, which is safe. For the time being, it would be better for pregnant women, infants, the infirm, and young children to evacuate from the urban areas that are the disaster areas and the focus of rescue operations if they don’t have a reason to stay.

Perhaps the government ought to ask the people who are able to, to evacuate. If the population of Tohoku and Kanto decreased by one or two million people this would decrease the strain on resources and the transfer of personnel and material aid would go more smoothly.

West Japan should take in the evacuees
What is required of us now in West Japan is to prepare to receive evacuees. Because we are safe here in West Japan we should be debating the right relief policies. The mayor of Osaka has said that he will contribute 500 units of public housing, and I think this kind of ‘welcome policy’ is necessary.
At my university, we have decided to take in evacuated students from universities that are not going to meet their target dates for the resumption of classes. I think every university should consider taking in students to the extent that its size allows.

West Japan’s role should be to send people East to give aid and take in people who need aid. We will also need to move some of the functions of the capital, which are concentrated at the opposite end of the country, to Osaka. We need to set up the aid labor that is appropriate to either side’s respective role.

Speaking from my own experience of disaster, the things the victims of disaster have lost are uncountable. You have your life, and the things you have at hand. You have hope. A human being with hope can make it. And finally, you rely on human feeling, Sixteen years ago, I felt people’s feelings all around me.”(Interviewed by Namakmura Masanori)

What Uchida Tatsuru points out is true. There is some circumlocution in his writing so as not to incite too much of a sense of crisis, but the metropolitan area is a disaster area. Most people are trying not to face this since the scale of it is far too large, but since March 11, the entire pacific coast of Tohoku and the entire Kanto Plain have become disaster areas. What I mean by disaster area here is not the damage from the earthquake and tsunami (which was substantial by itself). The problem is the nuclear disaster, that Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has released a large amount of nuclear material.

In order to understand the general outline of the nuclear catastrophe that has now occurred, first we need to think about the size of the population that was affected. The area where nuclear material has been dispersed covers the Tokyo metropolis and eight prefectures. Fukushima Prefecture is one million people, Miyagi Prefecture is 2.3 million people, Tochigi Prefecture is 2 million people, Gunma Prefecture is 2 million people, Ibaraki Prefecture is 3 million people, Chiba Prefecture is 6 million people, Saitama Prefecture is 7 million people, Tokyo is 8 million people, and Kanagawa Prefecture is 9 million people. In the Tokyo metropolis and eight prefectures, there are a total of 45.3 million people. This is about one third of the total population of Japan.

Out of this, we can think of the Tokyo metropolitan area, which is made up of 38 million people, as the center of the disaster and the biggest obstacle to recovery. About 30 percent of the population of Japan is concentrated in just this area. If just one lifeline to this megalopolis is lost, it will produce large-scale chaos enveloping other areas.

Right now, radioactive material is entering the water supply that comes from the Arakawa and Tonegawa rivers. And so the people of the metropolis are buying up bottled water. The Tonegawa is a massive water vessel that supports the metropolitan area. If radioactive material enters the Tonegawa upstream in Gunma and Ibaraki, about half of the metropolitan area will be affected several days later. This area includes Saitama, Ibaraki, and Chiba Prefectures and Tokyo. By rough and simple calculations, twenty million people would lose their drinking water, and would have to be supplied with bottled water. If one person consumes two liters of water a day, this is 40 million liters or 40 kilotons of water. Carried in four-ton trucks, this comes out to about ten thousand trucks. If we factor in the quantity of labor power required to just to carry this water from West Japan or the Koshin-Echigo area is the scale of the operation is too great and unimaginable.

Right now the government is making an appeal against hoarding water, but this is not the problem. This is not something that can be fixed by appealing to individuals’ prudence or notions of their spirit or whatever. We need to face the fact that the water vessel which supports the 38 million people of the metropolitan area has ceased to function and there is an unprecedented damage to city functions. This should be faced directly.

There are two special characteristics of nuclear disaster. The first is that nuclear material is invisible. The second is that the problems in question are too large and one falls into a blockage of thought.

The Problems are Too Big to Think About

As for the first characteristic, radioactive material is invisible. It has no smell or taste, and cannot be perceived by the five human senses. And because small amounts of radiation largely do not affect one’s health immediately, it is difficult to be aware of it.

Still, this does not mean that nothing can be done. The presence and concentration of radiation can be known by using measurement devices. So we should now measure for the radioactive material with these specialized measuring devices in the same way that we have checked for viruses and bacteria up to now. This is not a difficult point. We should expand the role of hospitals and clinics to radioactive material, so that they can perform decontamination and disposal. If more measures are needed, we should introduce general principles and techniques so that individuals can confirm that they are safe. The government is currently panicking and cannot respond, but as far as how to think about this, a very conventional and simple notion of hygiene is enough. There should be mass distribution of devices for measuring radiation and there should be daily lectures from managers to listen to. And in specific areas, there should be restrictions on fishing work, agriculture, and industrial production.

The second problem with radioactive disaster is that the problems are too big to think about calmly. The area formed by part of Tohoku and the Kanto Plain is not large compared to the entire world, but if one thinks within the framework of Japan it is all too large. As with the scale of population, the area of this nuclear disaster contains about a third of Japan’s population, and if we consider the flow of food and industrial products, its influence will extend to the entire Japanese archipelago. The attitudes that are available to people in this situation are either to not think about the problem seriously or, failing that, not to think about it at all.

During the lawsuit to stop operation of the Hamaoka Nuclear Plant, Haruki Madarame, the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, when asked to respond to the possibility of multiple failures of emergency systems, responded that “we do not anticipate a situation like that.” And when pursued on this issue in the Diet, he further responded that ‘what we have to be practical about is the fact that this can’t be planned for.’ What ‘practicality’ means in this case is treating anticipatable dangers as if they don’t exist. A situation where the entire electrical generation system was lost was treated a situation which will not happen, and an earthquake and tsunami which exceeded predictions were treated as a situation which will not happen, and the question of what would happen in those situations was deflected with the response that the person asking was perhaps thinking too much. The reason for this was that correctly estimating the possible dangers and the amount of labor power that would have to be expended on them would render it impossible to continue with the irrational enterprise of nuclear power generation. One does not think about a situation so serious that it cannot take place. One does not think about plan B. One does not think about a possible situation of catastrophe. This kind of sanctioned occlusion of recklessness and this kind of anti-scientific posture is a pillar of nuclear policy.

45.3 million people total are enveloped in the recklessness of said nuclear power policy. In most domestic reporting there has been a leap to play down the issue of radiation exposure and push forward a kind of spirit-first ideology whereby if everybody does their best everything will be all right. For the residents of the area also, it is impossible to stay rational. Even if they are told that the Kanto Plain is now a low-level radiation exposure zone, a young couple that has a contract on a condominium and is stuck with a loan on it is not in a position to take that kind of obnoxious assertion seriously. Even if they were to demand compensation from the government or TEPCO, the possibility of damages being recognized is desperately low. And this being the case, the only thing to do is to close their eyes. Radiation is invisible and everybody is saying that things are okay anyway. It happens that in order to decrease the damage to the lowest possible degree, one perseveres and puts up with things on the premise that no problem of radiation exposure exists. The standards of the nuclear industry–namely not anticipating serious situations–are gradually taking hold as the general standard of the residents of the disaster area.

‘Production’ and Reproduction

But no, it is not necessarily the case that all residents of the disaster area have fallen into a stoppage of thought. There are people who are calmly responding to this imagination-exhausting nuclear disaster. Residents who are really aware of the disaster are treating moving out of Eastern Japan as a real possibility. What they are being threatened with is the partial relinquishing of many of their rights. These lost rights can be divided into two kinds.

a.)        All rights associated with the realm of production. Land, productive apparatus, financial assets such as their homes, common rights, customer-client relations, their participation in trade and their rights to employment.

b.)        All rights associated with the realm of reproduction. Health, childbirth, child rearing, education, leisure.

These rights are to be partially and selectively relinquished.

If rights in the realm of production are relinquished (or transferred) a healthy lifestyle may still be possible, and if rights in the realm of reproduction are relinquished or transferred, it is still possible to maintain a degree of income and assets — this kind of thing.

The government has repeatedly announced that the damage in the low-level radiation areas in Tohoku and Kanto will ‘have no immediate impact upon health,’ which we can understand to mean that they are leaving the judgment about withdrawal and transfer to the ‘independence’ of residents. In other words the conventional legal notion of  ‘preservation of life and property’ has here been given up in advance, and they are telling people to choose between life and property on their own. This is the same situation as the areas near to the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The government’s evacuation order was issued long after the residents had independently evacuated themselves, with the timing indicating that they were indeed pursuing confirmation of an independent evacuation. It might be the case that a cash problem of monetary compensation is involved here, and the government is pouring its energy into avoiding responsibility for the safety of the residents–rather than responsibility to the residents. A kind of notion of primary responsibility for oneself, or self-determination, is emerging which tries to transfer the share of the burden for the policies onto the masses.

In the irradiated zones, the residents who are being forced into the independent relinquishing of their rights are being torn apart. A family is torn apart in the question of whether to move, how to find a job from now on, and what to do about child support. If the accident at Fukushima Daiichi is resolved in the next few days, a temporary ‘evacuation’ is enough. But the Fukushima Daiichi Reactors will be releasing radioactive material for the next few months or years. The people who evacuated only temporarily, now weigh moving.

We must consider what ‘reality’ is, in the space between the preexisting reality that we lived in and the reality that has newly appeared. The philosophy that exists in circumstances where one can believe that a given reality is reality itself, or, in other words ideology in the strict sense of the term, is now in question. Do we believe that childbirth, child care, education and play are realities which should be considered above all others, or do we believe that the realm of reproduction is a subordinate or supplemental reality? How is the crisis which is now unfolding a crisis and for whom? To whom, and towards whose reality, were those who only yesterday were announcing the realization of a safe and secure society making their appeal? The ideology that appears in times when reality can be recognized as itself is being brought to light and reexamined.

The government is scrambling for a system of control over this outbreak. It is labeling legitimate suggestions based on evidence as rumors and hearsay, and reputation damage, and trying to carry itself as if Tokyo were certainly not a disaster area. Its two watchwords are ‘prevent panic’ and ‘stay calm.’ But the government are the ones who are really losing their calm and panicking, as if they were reviving an anti-communist campaign from the cold war era with its accompanying absurdities.

In actuality, the main problem for the government, along with extinguishing a meltdown and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, is extinguishing a meltdown in the metropolitan area.

Since 3.11, many young mothers are leaving the metropolitan area with their children in tow. Their movement may expand and extend itself. Whatever manipulations of perspective one attempts, the fact that radioactive cesium has been dumped into the sandboxes cannot be altered. It has become clear from paying attention to television that the government’s nuclear policy has been born and nurtured based on lies, secrecy, and image manipulation. However one thinks about it, the exhortation to believe the words of the experts after having been showered from head to toe in radioactive material by the same people who were using the phrase ‘100% safe’ is not going to work. Women have begun to disperse not because they lost their calm and panicked, but for the opposite reason.

The insulated pipes of the corporate society and the family are beginning to break. One cannot predict the scale of the population that will leak out here. And this leak carries with it a rage and estrangement towards the ideology that has supported society up to this point.

Not only women are leaking out. Over the long term the universities concentrated in the metropolitan area and University towns will collapse. Students, caregivers, young instructors and researchers, foreign students and foreign researchers will flee east Japan and leak out into West Japan and abroad. A brain drain will begin, starting from Tokyo. The reality of the sphere of reproduction is silently issuing its sentence against the ideology of the sphere of ‘production.’

The rehabilitation of the private

About ten days after we evacuated, my daughter asked me a question. “Why am I the only one evacuating?”

Is it okay for her friends Akane and Shizuka and Akiyo not to evacuate? She asks her father what he thinks about the fact that her friends are in Tokyo, if he shouldn’t say that everybody should evacuate together if Tokyo is dangerous, and why she’s alone here with all of her friends left back in Tokyo.

I could not answer this. I couldn’t even say ‘I understand’ or ‘it’s not like that.’

I still cannot explain this to a child. I don’t want to come back at a child’s concerns about her friends with a bunch of verbiage. Even my feelings, at leaving the town I live in and am used to, at leaving most of my friends, are high. But I hold the conviction that in fleeing from Tokyo just by myself and with my child, without consulting anybody, I did things in the right way.

I understand the feeling that when people are faced with a difficult situation the best thing to do is put peoples’ wisdom together and face things collectively. But in the case of disaster this kind of accustomed attitude is not necessarily the right way to do things. Disasters happen once and sometimes they exceed the bounds of human knowledge. When an overwhelming violence that exceeds received knowledge is about to invade one’s own life, what can be gained from consulting with other people? Are they going to take over my responsibility for me? Am I going to tell them to take my responsibility? When I am trying to live life, should I seek to live it based on confirmation from someone else?

Before the overwhelming power of disaster people become alone. The things of state, society, and public lose their power and human life and death are governed by private concerns. In effect this is not just something that happens, but something that follows from being faithful to that violence, something that should be done. In the place where disaster occurs the rehabilitation of the personal occurs on a large scale. And this gives society a new motive force after the disaster.

My daughter goes to school in her new hat. In Tokyo the hats were fire engine red, but here they are yellow. She wasn’t on time for the opening ceremony, but she changed schools without a problem. After fleeing on the 12th of March, she is in school for the first time in a month. That boring life in evacuation is finished, and now she is in high spirits.

Having been separated from the soil where she grew up, and living on new soil, maybe my daughter will forget things. While I keep in touch with Tokyo and try various things out, my daughter will forget. She will forget that there is such a place called Tokyo, and we will live in a different future from the ones that the adults imagined. This innocent, brazen, and divine violence will prepare a new situation after Fukushima. The struggle is recomposed in a way different from what our generation has thought of.





巨大な都市災害:3月17日、朝日新聞は、「〈伝えたい―阪神から〉 西日本へ「疎開」を」と題して、内田樹氏の提言を掲載した。














a) 生産領域の諸権利。土地、生産設備、住宅等の財産権、入会権、顧客、事業取引と雇用関係。
b) 再生産領域の諸権利。健康、出産、育児、教育、遊び。



















One thought on “Leaving Tokyo”

  1. Hi there, I really want to follow what you are posting but please consider changing your blog to black type on white background. It is generally agreed that it strains the eyes to make out white letter on black. I think the information you are posting is interesting and important so it would be better if it were easily readable. Thank you for your post and keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.