Soil and Farmers


Photo: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

More than a hundred days have passed since the accident. Thanks to the autonomous investigative actions of the people, the radiation situations within Fukushima Prefecture as well as in the Tokyo metropolitan area are, if gradually, being revealed day by day. Considering the need of measuring radioactivity in every corner of individual lives, this movement still needs to grow further. It is certain, however, that more and more individuals will begin to acquire and use their own Geiger counters. Though far from sufficient, local governments have reluctantly begun to measure radioactivity. The doses of radiation in all districts are publicized in local blogs, becoming guidelines for our everyday activity. We are progressing in this sense.

But this is only the story of external exposure. We are facing  another, more serious threats of radiation: the internal exposure. Everyday we are breathing and eating as life activity; by so doing we are introducing radioactive substances into our bodies. The radiation of food products is in a very knotty condition. Calling it a temporary measure, the state allows circulation of them, especially vegetables, that are contaminated by 10~20 times higher radiation than the international standard. It is totally unclear as to how long the temporary measure will be in effect. The cruelty of this standard is proven by the fact that one would accordingly receive a total of 50 millisievert of radiation annually by eating the vegetables and breathing the air, by both internal and external exposure.

We cannot continue to purchase such vegetables for our food. We can only try to be extremely careful in buying them. But since each product does not show its own radiation level, we have to judge by the indication of the producing areas. By visiting the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries < >, we can learn sample data of day-to-day radiation of vegetables from different prefectures. But these offer only standards and are totally insufficient. Therefore, buying vegetables plays a deadly role in our everyday struggles.

The state not only refuses to alter the lax standard of radiation, but also follows the strategy of morally accusing those consumers who would not purchase the food products from radiated areas. To thwart this boycott, the state even schemes to blur the indications of the producing areas as much as possible. There is also a serious problem with manure processing. Radioactive substances accumulate by being washed by water and becoming part of the mud in ditches. Mud has been used as manure for agriculture, and even after the current accident, the contaminated mud has been processed as manure and is about to be distributed across the nation. So it is inevitable that all the soil of Japan will be contaminated by radiation.

Why on earth does the state dare to moralistically judge these consumers in its strategy? It is in a consideration of the farmers’ existence. In other words, the state is behaving as if it were a representative of morality, as if it were a guardian of farmers’ interest. In this scheme, the farmers appear to be protected at a glance. But are they really? We don’t hear much of farmer’s voices any more, while we were shortly after the accident. What are they thinking at the moment?

In the wake of the accident, radioactive substances emitted from the nuclear reactors poured over the entire Kanto Region; the farmland was polluted instantaneously. The soil was affected by radiation. But it took a while until the public recognized the fact, only after radioactive substances such as iodine and cesium came to be detected in vegetables. Farmers were dumbfounded while looking at their polluted land, and then mourned unable to ship the vegetables they produced with their heart and soul. For the farmers, the earth is the most important thing, the basis of their living and the ground of their existence. They can no longer rely on this resource of all. Thereafter their mourning and rage against the nuclear power plant were repeatedly reported in the news media. But now it is necessary for us to share and ponder their chagrin time and time again.

We must not forget the fact that the farmers are next to the plant workers in terms of the amount of radiation they are exposed to. They work closely with soil which tends to accumulate radioactive substances more than anything else. Thus the farmers are likely to be exposed to tens of times more radiation than urban dwellers. Therefore it may be they who have to evacuate first.

There has been no official report of death directly by radiation since the accident. But at least several farmers have killed themselves. This is because their future was completely blocked by soil contamination and the impossibility of continuing their subsistence as a farmer. In recent years only in the historical imagination have we encountered miseries and famines of farmers caused by draught and other natural disasters. But now such tragedies are unfolding in front of our eyes.

On April 26th, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, a farmers’ protest took place in front of the headquarters of TEPCO in Marunouchi Tokyo. They carried with them the vegetables they produced but cannot ship to markets. What impressed us most was a cow they brought with them. The presence of the creature was stunning amidst the high-tech mega-city Tokyo. Cattle are more than friends for farmers; living together and mourning together, they are like their own children. Marching with a flag made of a straw mat, the cow revived the scenery of the mediaeval in our minds. Listening to the moo echoing over the metropolitan skyline, we were inside the history of hundreds of years past. In this sense, the accident shook and dug out the old layers of our memories.

But again, the voices of the farmers we heard in the beginning are no longer. In the shadow of the argumentation about the right or wrong of selling the farm products, the existence of farmers themselves is again about to be sealed off. It is becoming harder and harder to find out what really is going on in the entire scheme of facts. As far as the accelerating action of measuring radioactivity is concerned, it has so far been an urban-based movement. But it is necessary to have that practice on the farmland, in order to understand the situation of radiation on the soil. All sorts of support must be guaranteed for the farmers. No matter how extensive the areas are, soil replacement will be necessary. And of course, further evacuation must be planned for certain areas.

We cannot simply accept the situation. The silencing of the nuclear colonial regime must be broken. Shiro Yabu has called the measuring movement a new public hygiene, a new meteorology. And I would say: a new stratigraphy must be initiated – before the new harvest season of autumn arrives.

PDF (English)









そのような中、チェルノブイリ事故の25周年である4月26日、東京の丸の内にある東京電力本社前で、農民による抗議デモが行われた。彼らは自分たちが作ったしかし市場に出すことができない野菜を持ってきていた。そして何よりも私たちが感動したのは、牛を連れてきていたことである。ハイテク設備を誇る世界有数のメガシティである東京のど真ん中に、 牛が出現したのである。牛は農民にとって友達以上の存在である。それは我が子と同様であって、共に暮らし、共に嘆く存在であるのだ。ムシロ旗とともにグローバルシティの中心を練り歩くその姿は、教科書でしか知らない中世以来のの姿がそのまま蘇ったようであった。牛の嘆くような鳴き声が東京の空に響を聴きながら、私たちは数百年の歴史のなかにいた。今回の事故は我々の歴史の古層を揺り動かし、掘り返したのだ。


PDF (日本語)

One thought on “Soil and Farmers”

  1. descriptions such as yours of this farmers’ protest are essential: please do not shy away from detail. reports of protests are spotty at best.

    thank you for this, and strength and health to us all in these uncertain times…

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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.