- Translators’ Notes:
The article below began circulating in Japanese just a few days after we found out that Chikanobu Michiba (道場親信), a well known sociologist who wrote on Japanese social movements, had passed away. He was the partner of Mari Matsumoto, who has been a long-time inspiration for us through her work on the radiological effects of 3.11. We felt it was important to translate the article into English because it articulates a dimension of the disaster that has been difficult to put into words, but which we believe is critical to intervening in the “myth of safety” (安全神話) – a widespread discourse that attempts to mitigate the consequences of the 3.11 nuclear disaster.
The Japanese state and nuclear industry’s implementation of the “myth of safety,” which has been supported by international regulatory agencies such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and World Health Organization (WHO), has been very successful both domestically and internationally. In part, this may be due to the previous successes of similar discourses in the wake of extensive nuclear weapons testing,  nuclear war,  and other nuclear disasters such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  In the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in New Mexico, a short panel on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster reads:
“There were no deaths caused by the immediate exposure to radiation, while approximately 18,500 people died due to the earthquake and tsunami. Future cancer deaths from accumulated radiation exposures in the population living near Fukushima are predicted to be extremely low to none. In 2013 (two years after the incident), the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that the residents of the area, who were evacuated, were exposed to so little radiation that radiation induced health impacts are likely to be below detectable levels. Plant workers and emergency responders received radiation doses which increased their risk of developing cancer in the future.”
While we believe that avoiding radiation exposure should be a focus for anti-nuclear struggles, we recognize that it is, at the moment, one of the most difficult aspects to fight, especially for low-income and working class people. Invisible, odorless, and tasteless radioactive isotopes attack the human body at the cellular level, manifesting as innumerable illnesses across time. Few people, including Matsumoto and Matsudaira, who is fighting late-stage cancer, have publicly spoken out about health damage (健康被害) as everyday people living the consequences of the 3.11 disaster. It may be useful for readers to familiarize themselves with a number of state policies and state-supported public discourses that emerged in post-3.11 Japanese society:
– Support by Eating program
A state-led campaign which enlists food businesses to purchase produce from the Tohoku area (the northeastern region of Japan, including Fukushima). This is a tactic to shift responsibility for the consequences of nuclear disaster onto consumer relations: i.e. the only way to support farmers and others making their livelihoods in affected regions is to consume their products.
– Lack of financial assistance for evacuation
Tens of thousands of people who lived outside the state-mandated evacuation zone fled without much financial assistance, and continue to live away from home to this day. A mother of two shared that she decided to move from Fukushima because she witnessed her son suffering heavy nosebleeds on multiple occasions. He asked in tears if he would be okay living in Fukushima.  In March 2017, the government of Japan will be ending subsidies to support housing costs for those they call “voluntary evacuees” (自主避難者). These evacuees will ultimately be given two options: bear the financial burden of living in their new homes (many of these evacuees already face poverty and have been forced to live on welfare programs), or be forced to return to their hometowns in Fukushima contaminated by radiation still today. Because of the lack of governmental assistance, most of the population in Eastern Japan, including Tokyo, never moved out of the area.
– Recovery programs & businesses
This includes implementation of festive events on a national scale (i.e. the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo) to actively turn population’s attention toward positive activities and away from the gloomy state of affairs that has dominated the country since March of 2011. This was also the case internationally. In 2012, the Japanese National Tourist Organization began hosting an annual “Japan Week” in New York City on the anniversary of 3.11. Their 2016 exhibit was themed around the revival of Tohoku to “commemorate” the disaster. Global nuclear capitalists have begun attacking the population through rezoning and development, which also corners poor people into further marginalized positions.
It is also important to note that even liberal NGOs and civic groups have participated in government-led recovery programs and uncritically endorsed standards and information on radiation disseminated by the government and TEPCO.
In this context, Matsumoto and Matsudaira’s statements about the policing of discussions about radiation, and the difficulty of deciding whether they have experienced tangible effects/losses/damages from radiation exposure, are especially critical. Accounts that emphasize the health consequences of the disaster tend to focus on identifiable syndromes or illnesses that can be directly linked to the triple meltdown. Who should decide whether these are “real” injuries or not? Should that even be up for debate? Members of the 3.11 Health Victims Group are speaking out to us.
We’d like to thank the authors Matsudaira Kōichi, Matsumoto Mari, and the magazine Jyōkyō for letting us translate the article.
Support the activities of 3.11 Radiation Health Victims! We are running a fundraiser to support Matsudaira Kōichi’s medical expenses. You can send him food items and more through his amazon wishlist (in Japanese) or donate through our paypal (credit cards accepted):
Can 3.11 Radiation Victims Speak?
by Matsudaira Kōichi
Original text: 3.11被曝被害者は語ることができるか
English translation by Sloths Against Nuclear State & Friends
What, and who, are the “radiation  victims of 3.11?” I want to raise this question. The Fukushima nuclear accident  caused untold damage to Fukushima prefecture’s local residents and the workers at Fukushima nuclear power plant, yet we still do not understand the true extent of the disaster. The term “disaster victims”  of the Fukushima nuclear accident refers mainly to residents of the government’s mandatory evacuation zone in Fukushima prefecture. And when speaking of the “health victims” of the accident, the focus today is on laborers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and on young patients with thyroid cancer in Fukushima prefecture. However, I would like to broaden the denotation of “3.11 radiation victims” here. All beings residing in the prefectures neighboring Fukushima, or eastern Japan including even the Kantō area,  could potentially be “3.11 radiation victims.” And many people living in eastern Japan who have fallen ill could, in fact, be potential “health victims.” However, in order to argue that specific patients residing in eastern Japan could be “radiation victims” or “health victims,” epidemiological and scientific examination becomes necessary. If this is carelessly argued, one runs the chance of being denounced and criticized as having “radiation brain.” 
Radioactive contamination was observed in many areas of eastern Japan after the nuclear accident. According to the ICRP’s 2007 recommendation,  the annual radiation exposure limit was set at one millisievert (mSv) or less. However, there is a terrifying number of people who were exposed to radiation beyond this limit in eastern Japan.
If we rethink what damage from radiation exposure should really mean, we can say that people who received even a tiny amount of radioactive contamination from the nuclear accident, excepting natural radiation, should all be defined as “3.11 radiation victims.” In this sense, I can say that I, Matsudaira Kōichi, born and raised a Tokyo-ite these 38 years, am surely a 3.11 radiation victim.
And now the name Matsudaira has been added to the list of people with an illness that is unremarkable these days. And, there is a possibility that I, Matsudaira, am also a health victim of the Fukushima nuclear accident. In other words I —or we, the afflicted residing in eastern Japan— can identify ourselves as “3.11 radiation victims.” But at the same time, as for whether we can say we are “health victims of the Fukushima nuclear accident,” brute courage is sometimes necessary. In this cultural criticism column  I hope to use the imaginative potential of language to shift from the position of “3.11 radiation victims” to the position of “health victims from the nuclear accident,” and to thereby reexamine the historical role that health victims should take. In order to do so, I would like to cite the following report.
Interview with Matsumoto Mari
“Thinking About Radiation Damage Five Years After the Accident from a Feminist Perspective”
(This piece was formed by editing the comments that Matsumoto Mari delivered at the May 5, 2016 assembly of Health Victims of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident (below, Health Victims Group), Kantō Area Radiation Damage Vol. 2: Expanding Damage, Connections, the Hope of Evacuation. They were edited into the format of an interview with Matsumoto Mari.) 
The Health Victims Group was a gathering started by people who met each other through the anti-nuclear movement after 3.11, or during demonstrations in front of the Diet.  Originally, we were protesting to reveal the state and TEPCO’s responsibility for the nuclear accident, and to push for support for Fukushima children who had suffered health damages and for struggling evacuees. However, five years have passed since the accident, and it was in the fifth year after the 1986 Chernobyl accident when various types of damage to people’s health began to increase explosively. In this context, we began discussing whether we noticed various health damages appearing around us. We then realized anew that we had many friends suffering from illnesses like colon cancer, heart problems, thyroid abnormalities, the aggravation of skin diseases and allergies, exacerbated inflammation of the esophagus, and the aggravation of multiple-chemical sensitivity syndrome. We are also aware of exactly how hard it is to talk about health damage from Fukushima, or about wanting to evacuate. To change these conditions, those of us suffering health damages in Kantō, young and old, have to raise our voices. We hope to create a climate where people can openly say that anyone can suffer health damages from radiation exposure, and that the state and TEPCO must fulfill their responsibilities for this.
Today, we would like to speak with Matsumoto Mari from the Health Victims Group. Matsumoto-san was originally publishing feminist research and articles in the field of contemporary philosophy. Since the nuclear accident, she has been writing articles precisely on this problem of radiation exposure. What is necessary for us, as people who suffer from health damage and those who are concerned?
In the past I was wrote on feminism and various issues related to women. After 3.11, at first I wrote a few pieces about the nuclear disaster. However, after that, I became sick. I had argued in my writings that [protection from] radiation exposure should be our main objective, but the response from those around me was so cold and indifferent—when I reflect on why I became sick, it was because of this indifference about radiation that was normalized around me. 
There were a lot of simplistic criticisms that portrayed mothers trying to protect their children from radiation exposure as “maternalistic.” I felt it was horrible that even the left and feminists were heavily criticizing them. Looking back, given that health damages are manifesting today, these criticisms actually benefited the discourse of the “reassurance wing”  which basically ended up benefiting from insulting mothers as being “overprotective”.
This is a somewhat personal story, but in 1985 I was in Kiev for a short while, just one year before Chernobyl. Afterwards I kept in touch with some of the people who were studying Japanese there, but we slowly fell out of touch. There were issues with the postal system, but I remember being shocked, even though I was still young, when one time a young person said that she had developed cataracts. I had no idea that young people could get them. Of course now I know better. But I think I remembered it so clearly because I felt like that society, a society that had experienced a nuclear accident, was slowly beginning to crumble.
Because of this, the first thing I thought about after the nuclear meltdown on 3.11 was radiation exposure. But in the metropolis in particular—and let me say first that I don’t want to criticize this outright, and that I am certainly against restarting [the nuclear power plants]—most people at that point were still mainly talking about opposition to restarting the nuclear power plants. There were lots of protests and gatherings organized around this issue. But I felt like something was getting left behind in the midst of this, that there was something that we needed to say that was getting bottled up while people were getting involved in movements and political activities, that we were going forward while ignoring the thing that we should actually be seriously focusing on. I couldn’t talk about that thing directly, and even if I say something I can’t reject [people’s need] to say things like, “It’s fine,” or, “I just want to think positively.” I can’t deny that people want to think that it will be ok as long as they are careful.
But because I was suppressing this unease somewhere deep down in my heart, I started to be harsh to people sometimes. For five years, people around me didn’t understand what was wrong, and I also put up walls of my own.
During all of this, I kept in touch with mothers who had evacuated. There are also lots of people, probably across the entire country, who evacuated voluntarily and are now doing their best to make themselves heard, or who have started their own autonomous activities in their new homes. I do feel more connected with people who are doing work based on their experience of this diaspora. It’s like I can’t talk to those close to me, but can with those far away, which makes me feel like I’m experiencing this strange kind of recalibration of distance that’s been produced by the nuclear accident. You can’t see it, and you can’t reduce it to something economic or physical, but this breakdown of relationality is, to some degree, another injury caused by the nuclear accident, and is part of the current situation.
In the meantime, in January of this year my partner was suddenly diagnosed with an intractable form of cancer at the age of 48. There were no signs whatsoever beforehand, and it’s a difficult type to detect in the first place. He’s in treatment now, but it was already in stage four when it was discovered. This is hard to understand unless you experience it yourself, but I knew from the beginning, at least on an intellectual level, that thyroid cancer would be more common because there was a nuclear disaster. But now we’re fighting a completely different battle than something as simple as having the statistical knowledge that the number of cancer patients will increase. As someone who now provides care and nursing, I’ve realized what it means for an individual human to get cancer, and I’m in the process of learning. While I can accept that indeed statistically the number of health problems will increase, I also feel resistance to thinking about things only from a statistical perspective. I feel like I’m still not quite able to express this feeling.
Our bodies are all individual, and our illnesses and symptoms are individual. With cancer, a child’s thyroid cancer is different from a 48-year-old’s, which is different from an elderly person’s. It’s different for men and women. Each person’s treatment and the problems that they face and must overcome are all radically different. So even though it is not wrong to say things like, “The number of cancer cases increases after a nuclear accident,” or, “More people get sick,” I feel that today we need different language, a different approach, words that can help people who are sick connect with each other. We need an environment in which people who are sick, people who care for them, and people who are offering support can speak more easily.
For myself, when I speak about my partner’s cancer, it’s not that he is thinking, “This is an effect of radiation exposure.” In other words he hasn’t concluded that radiation exposure was the only influence, and there are no materials [to prove] that either. But, he and I think it is probably one cause among many; we don’t “deny” it. That is our position.
And in January 2016, when we were informed [of the cancer diagnosis] and were running around pell-mell, the 3.11 Thyroid Cancer Families’ Society was established in Fukushima. When I saw an interview with them—and let me say young children getting cancer is different from getting it one’s 40s—but I thought, on the verge of tears, “This kind of [message] is really needed.” Apparently there were extremely few cases of children’s thyroid cancer until then. Rare cases.
Now there are self-help groups and organizations for patients at hospitals and other places. That is something that’s really great. But there have been few cases of rare cancers, rare cases until now, so it is difficult [for people] to connect. I was impressed by people’s efforts to get on their feet by at least connecting at first, to do necessary mutual aid kinds of things, in such circumstances.
At the same time, reading articles on blogs like “Health Victims’ Group,” I was also moved by passages like, “Instead of the rallies, now our own bodies and hospitals are becoming the site of struggle.” It made me realize that this is a crucial awareness to have in a society in which a nuclear accident, with its irreversible impact, has occurred.
This is what I wanted to say right after the accident. Until now radioactive material has been falling on the metropolis, which is both a political issue and simultaneously a problem that individuals must face. At the same time, voluntary evacuation and relocation are problems that are being “individualized.” While these issues must be fought on the individual level, we should also hold on to their political and social aspects. And although damage to health is something that affects people of all genders, it’s also true that care and nursing generally end up being women’s issues.
Right after the nuclear accident, I wrote about mothers’ care for their children from the perspective of “reproductive labor” and “care work” within the context of capitalism. The issue is who has to bear the liability for massive environmental disasters. This is also a sphere that can’t be converted into currency. Some feminists said that this was “simple maternalism” or that it would “strengthen familism,” but they are missing the point. These days such people have stopped saying anything at all, maybe because their initial stance is inconvenient for them now. They offer no helping hand regarding the outbreak of pediatric thyroid cancer in Fukushima, and offer no support for the single-mother households of voluntary evacuees. At some point they need to seriously consider their criticism of people tied to the accident, and the incorrect assessments of the situation they made initially.
Thinking back on it now, right after the accident there was a massive surge of both accurate and inaccurate information about the damage to health caused by radiation exposure. Honestly it was a difficult mix of good and bad, a kind of informational anarchy.
Even so, people wisely chose from among the available information, and eventually formed and attained a certain kind of literacy and understanding of the situation. And yet slowly there developed a very clear sense of “moment” or “instance” that silenced this kind of understanding, and which functioned more strongly than the visible forms of systemic censorship. It’s impossible to determinedly say that this sense was manufactured by the media or the government or the Ministry of the Environment. It was an unintended outcome, but it did create a climate in which people hesitate to talk about damage to health.
For instance, you might have heard of the “Oishimbo nosebleed incident.”  What I find problematic about this whole fuss—although some might find this sort of expression itself problematic—is that a town in Fukushima went and made a complaint against the comic series, which led to an additional complaint from Fukushima prefecture, which finally led to the Ministry of Environment officially making a conclusive statement that “there is no such thing” as increased nosebleeds in Fukushima.
Since I have grown quite familiar with feminism, I know that historically the repressive authority of dominant discourses has prohibited us from speaking about our own bodies. For example, menstruation has been regarded as an unclean or private matter in different historical periods. Even so, there have been efforts by women to speak up about topics that are difficult to talk about and to gain social recognition on such topics. One such effort was the fight for menstrual sick days, or to gain recognition that symptoms can be unique for different individuals.
As for health concerns and everyday concerns after 3.11, even in political spaces we’ve been coerced to be silent about these concerns and made to accept that even speaking about them is taboo. It isn’t that there is visible censorship or regulations, but there is censorship that arises from people’s own minds; we are all are expected to perform self-censorship. People around you say “That is a very complicated thing to talk about,” or, “Are you still afraid of radiation?” This kind of thing can even make you feel like your worth as a human is being judged.
It is precisely because we are obstructed from each other in this society that we need to speak up about radiation issues. To people who react to me by saying, “Still talking about it?” or, “Still worrying about it?” I’d like to respond immediately and ask, “Have we ever seen any policy or system developed or improved regarding measures against radiation exposure? For compensation for evacuees? There hasn’t been anything, has there?”
Philosopher Paul Virilio has called Chernobyl a “time accident”, meaning that it is one that will last for generations. In this climate too in Japan, we need to carefully watch and observe our society as it is being destroyed over a long time span.
Ryo Omatsu, a scholar of Russia, has studied the Chernobyl [nuclear disaster] and has published work introducing social movements ignited by residents and nuclear cleanup workers at the Chernobyl site. Similarly, we are familiar with a number of movements led by people with illnesses and people who became ill due to different types of industrial contamination.
There have been many lawsuits against nuclear power plants in the past 70 plus years since the end of WWII, and there are still many today. With these facts in mind, we need to carefully create environments and discursive spaces where people who feel that they have been affected are comfortable speaking up and where they can connect. When we refer to post-Chernobyl support systems, we are immediately met with the argument that we can’t replicate them because we have a different social system in Japan. However, I believe that Chernobyl must be studied as a historical reference regarding social support systems for nuclear disasters.
Those who are pro-nuclear can use as their strength the uncertain nature of how radioactive exposure manifests as illness. It is tricky that experiencing a nuclear accident and becoming ill are not in a direct one-to-one relationship. Nevertheless I think people need to not only keep the nuclear accident in their minds but also make some kind of record of their experiences.
The fact that those who suffered damages need to prove the damage is absurd in itself. Nevertheless, you can create records of what you were doing before and after 3.11; where you were; if you are in the Kantō region, then what the radiation levels are in the soil around your home. For instance I participated in a project where I wore a film badge dosimeter  to study my radioactive doses for a week (although the dosimeter is only capable of measuring doses on the external surface of your body, not total contamination levels). We could start something like this even now. An accumulation [of this data] could be our strength in the future.
I want to remind everyone that people with cancer and other intractable illnesses have always organized themselves to share their experiences, offer mutual aid, and share information. It is very necessary for people to have this kind of space today. While we hear “radiation exposure is scary” and “radiation exposure is terrible” these phrases are often used as vague images without the concreteness of illness [as it manifests in our bodies].
It has been five years since the accident; we are past the point of arguing about what is right and what is wrong. It is not a question of that. Instead we need to share concrete knowledge about how to protect our bodies, and how to act if we become sick. We need to communicate with, not isolate, each other as much as possible. It should be something like a self-support group. While being a self-support group, it should not settle itself as a closed group—its members should take political stances and open themselves to the wider society. That’s the kind of organization we need.
Regarding the Oishimbo incident and other issues, I feel that there is an implicit network of physicists and scientists of all sorts who suppress any statements by those who oppose nuclear energy. What do you think about this?
Here we’re talking about where the discourse known as “radiation exposure crushing” (hibaku tsubushi)  emerges from. We can consider three possibilities: whether this discourse originates in economic concerns, is linked to power relations, or if it is solely an internal issue. There are many uncertainties on these points, but I think if we look into it deeply enough, we will find some definite conclusions. What I’m concerned about, though, is the the third possibility I raised, that hibaku tsubushi discourse is coming from self-censorship. There are many people who are self-censoring and actively adopting the myth of radiation safety. I am terrified of the power that these acts have on people.
In thinking about who is producing this discourse in an organized way, it’s possible to build a solid argument by finding where exactly the money is coming from. We have seen this in the work of Ryu Honma who investigates public relations in the nuclear industry. Somewhat differently, Takashi Soeda has demonstrated the falsity of the phrase “this accident was unforeseeable” (sōteigai), which is often used by nuclear apologists when describing the nature of the 2011 disaster. There have been many investigative journalists making enormous efforts to bust those myths. Kosuke Hino’s work has also been an indispensable contribution.
We must use these exceptional reports as a guide to fully investigate discourses that have underemphasized radiation exposure post-3.11. Another troubling aspect of this discourse lies within our everyday life; what ruptures our human relations is self-censorship and willing acceptance [of safety myths]. I’d like to suggest that we constantly take note of why we actively participate in reinforcing the discourse of the ruling class.
It’s difficult for nuclear victims to connect and act in solidarity due to the fact that damage can manifest in a wide range of forms both spatially and temporally, which is one characteristic of nuclear disasters. This is especially true in today’s society where, thanks to neoliberalism, we are expected to act at our own risk and work out our own salvation.
This accident was also the first since the development of social networking. In the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC/Euratom), the ways in which social networking performs during a nuclear disaster has already become a research theme and subject of analysis.
In the first two or three years after the accident, I saw my friends and acquaintances start to actively believe in the myth of radiation safety and wondered to myself, “Why are they turning against themselves like that.” But thinking these kinds of thoughts too much just tires me out, and now I catch myself observing them as subjects who are mobilized in the creation of public consensus, when clearly the discourse of hibaku tsubushi actively minimizes the damage of the incident. I observe them to try and understand why people decide to actively conform to such discourse. This is a different case, but I’m sure similar things probably happened with Minamata disease  or the atomic bomb. I believe it is necessary to look at these cases and compare them to what is happening today.
It is the sixth year since the accident now. Forces that divide people, along with both tangible and intangible damage—including actualized health damages—will continue to become stronger. In March 2017, the government will terminate financial assistance for voluntary evacuees. More recently, the government began speaking about ending restrictions to the entire “difficult-to-return”  zone in 2021. The government of Japan is desperately fabricating the final end of the nuclear disaster, with the help of events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. People say that it is wrong to diminish memories because they are personal, while the social phenomenon of “structural diminishment” is getting stronger and stronger. This phenomenon obscures responsibility for the accident and for the management of its aftermath.
In this context, there is an urgent need to create concrete spaces of mutual aid and rebuild relationality, which includes modifying our own language and thought.
Testimony: Matsudaira Kōichi’s colon cancer—radiation damage and cancer patients
Matsumoto went to Kiev right after the Chernobyl accident, and she became concerned about the issue of radiation damage in the Kantō area very early on. I think she has spoken candidly about her very incisive hesitations regarding those who were indifferent about radiation damage from the Fukushima nuclear accident. Matsumoto says that it is important to document, and the Health Victims Group has argued since its founding that it is important to leave “testimonies as victims.” Members of the Health Victims Group and I tentatively created the following questionnaire to collect testimonies:
1. Name, age, gender
2. Where did you live until 3.11? (Please include your prefecture and municipality.)
3. If your residence changed after 3.11, please tell us the new place and when you moved.
4. What symptoms do you have, or what is the condition of your health now?
5. Did you have any symptoms of illnesses listed above before 3.11? If so, were there any differences before and after 3.11?
6. Please describe your everyday habits.
7. Were you getting regular health check-ups?
8. Do you think [your condition] is related to the nuclear accident?
9. What do you find most difficult since you became ill?
10. What are your current hopes?
In the Health Victims Group, we are seeking people who would like to share their experiences of health damage with each other.”
I responded to these items in the following way. This is my simple self-introduction concerning my condition as a radiation victim, and it is also the health record of one patient. Below is my testimony (taken May 8, 2016) as a member of the Health Victims Group.
How is the condition of your health now?
My name is Matsudaira Kōichi and I’m a cancer patient. I am 38 years old. I was diagnosed with colon cancer in November of last year (2015). It has been almost half a year since I learned that I have cancer. When they found it, it was already stage four and had spread to my liver. I was told that my five-year survival rate is 18%. The cancer has spread widely throughout my body, and surgical resection was not possible. I am receiving chemotherapy, but there has not been much change since the diagnosis. Chemotherapy apparently helps to prolong one’s life, but I understand that it eventually stops working.
Right now, because of the side effects, I always feel unwell, and I often end up sleeping the entire day. I keep going back to the hospital for stomach pain and constipation. My colon is not functioning, so I have a stoma (colostomy). I feel miserable since my problems are related to fecal matter.
How was your health until your illness was discovered?
In November, I was attacked by horrible stomach pain and went to the hospital, where I learned that I had cancer. Until it was discovered, for about a year, there were many times I felt unwell, like having diarrhea. I would have diarrhea 6 or 7 times a day. I thought it was psychological. I felt anxious leaving for work every day. In October and November, I became unable to stand in front of the toilet. It was so painful I stayed curled up on the floor, wondering if I should call an ambulance.
Please describe your everyday habits.
Where do you live? Where do you work?
I have mostly lived in Fuchū city in Tokyo since I was born. Around the time the nuclear accident occurred, I would stand in the street in Ginza (Chūō ward) every day for work. I worked there from March 2011 to February 2012. From April to June 2012, I worked in Tameikesannō (Chiyoda ward); from November 2012 to October 2015 in Ariake in Kōtō ward. Although I didn’t want to drink the water around there, I drank the tap water. I also tended to drink a good amount of alcohol. When my cancer symptoms became worse, there was one time I felt so sick the day after I went out drinking that I couldn’t get up for the entire day.
Were you getting health checkups?
I got a health check-up once a year. Besides having a low pulse, I didn’t have any abnormalities. In 2015 alone, I had a routine check-up through my job in the summer. Then in October I worked for a clinical trial of new drug and was briefly hospitalized. During the checkup for the drug trial, they did not find any abnormalities. I assume that there must have been a pretty significant cancerous tumor in my body around that time. In May and September, I had two instances of pain below my right chest area, which I had assumed was caused by falling off my bike and bumping my chest.
I felt sick for about 25 days [in May ’15], and about 14 days [in September ’15]. I saw an orthopedist for this pain but they didn’t find anything wrong. Had I received a thorough examination at that time, I think they would have found the cancer. I think my internal organs were probably inflamed from the cancer.
Do you think [your illness] is related to radiation from the nuclear accident?
In my case, I think the causes of cancer were too much intake of beef and food additives, a lifestyle lacking in vegetables, and everyday stress.
But, it is also rare to get cancer at my age, and I think it may be related to the nuclear accident. Yoshinoya and Saizeriya are both “support by eating”  companies, so it is possible that radiation from the accident increased my chances of cancer. Right after 3.11 happened, I thought that I would become sick if I did not evacuate, but I didn’t dare evacuate. I think it makes sense that I would get a major life-threatening illness living in Tokyo, where it is possible to be affected by exposure to radiation.
What is the hardest thing about being sick?
I used to like cross-dressing as a woman. I am sad that I can’t anymore because having a stoma and being constantly ill prevents me from doing what I want to do. My hair has fallen out and become thin. I was also interested in marriage and raising children, but sadly I realize that it is probably no longer possible. Lately, I have started watching the anime Assassination Classroom—I cry thinking about the relationality of fate between the students who have to kill their teacher, and the teacher who has been mentoring the students yet becomes their target of assassination.
What are your current hopes?
To destroy TEPCO and Japan.
I’ve been hearing a lot about the Minamata disease these days as it’s approaching the 60th year since the disease was officially recognized by the state as an illness caused by industrial pollution. I think the movement led by Minamata disease victims was a really long struggle. But if it is going to take over 10,000 years before radioactive waste is no longer toxic, then for health victims of nuclear power plants, it may take us a “hundred thousand years of war.” We are being shot from somewhere by an invisible gun called radiation, and those who have been hit are dying one by one. We must resist this. We should carry on the ambition of past anti-nuclear movements and of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and have a “hundred thousand year war” with Japan and with “worldwide nuclear empire.”  I will participate in this war, and my hope is that even if I am defeated, I can entrust the spirit of struggle to the future generation.
That is the extent of my testimony. However, I have an unresolved question I must continue to investigate: whether I am a “true” “health victim” “of the Fukushima nuclear accident.” To begin with, historically, the number of cancer patients in Japan has been increasing since before the nuclear accident.
In July 2016, the National Cancer Center of Japan reported its estimates of the number of new cancer diagnoses and the number of people who will die from cancer. The number of diagnoses was 1,010,200 and the number of deaths was 374,000. A tremendous number of Japanese have cancer and are dying. And there certainly isn’t one uniform cause for developing cancer.
Furthermore, although I’ll leave out the full explanation of the evidence here, even if we use a very conservative estimate employing the ICRP model, we can estimate the impact on humans of the radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear disaster will likely lead to thousands of additional deaths from cancer in the Tokyo metropolitan area alone. We should recognize this.
One thing I want to stress in this discussion is that even if “over a million cancer cases emerge” and “thousands end up dying of cancer in Tokyo,” you are talking only in terms of a statistical figure. But each and every cancer patient in that figure struggles in their own different way in their sickbed.
By the way, I did not know this because I hate television and do not watch it, but while I was penning this article, I heard about a person named Shuntaro Torigoe who ran in the Tokyo gubernatorial election. Like me, he had colon cancer which had spread to his liver. I received encouragement from people who would say that mine “hadn’t spread yet,” and, “Torigoe had cancer even in his lungs but he’s better now and running in the gubernatorial election, so you should keep at it too.” I understand that these people acted with good intentions to help me stay optimistic. But, just because someone else recovered from late-stage colon cancer does not mean that I will too.
After being a cancer patient for a while, I feel that at times there is a kind of “cancer harassment” that happens. It doesn’t matter if someone “has the same colon cancer” or “there are other people with stage four cancer who have survived.” The fate that awaits each person is never bound to be the same.
This is completely irrelevant, but Torigoe was involved in a sex scandal, alleged to have seduced a university student, and I think that he is innocent of this. Anyhow, I got a hernia when I recently had sex for the first time in a while. A slight amount of pressure on my abdomen will cause my intestine to protrude out of the colostomy site on my abdomen. By now, stoma prolapsing is normal, and whenever I raise my body, or have some kind of emotional stress, or after I eat, my intestines spill out like a samurai who has committed harakiri. It will keep spilling out unless I hold it in with my hand. Apparently this is because my intestines are loose inside of my body. My doctor tells me that it may be the side effect of the cancer medicine working, or it could be that my cancer is becoming worse.
In this condition, it scares me to be alone with a woman. My mind goes completely blank whenever I imagine it being like this until I die. I remembered feeling frustrated at my parents who, a few days earlier, told me they “would like to see [their] grandchild’s face.” The symptoms of the hernia get better if I stay laying down, but in that case, I will have to live sideways forever. The struggle against an illness varies from person to person, even among people with colon cancer like me.
Someone compared nuclear power plants to cancer. A malignant tumor pretends that it is a companion to a human and avoids being attacked by immune cells. Malignant tumors then send their own cancerous cells to healthy organs, infect them, spread all over the body, and continue to grow more tumors. One by one, these tumors destroy major organs in the body until the body dies. For the earth, nuclear power plants are a cancer. Pro-nuclear people use flowery words to convince others of the necessity of nuclear power plants and dupe people into the idea of “energy for our bright future.” They rooted the power plants deeply into Japanese society.
The disease of pro-nuclear forces in the world is a serious problem.
I don’t know if I am a “victim of a nuclear accident,” but as a “3.11 radiation victim” there is one thing I want to say: nuclear power can never be forgiven, because it continues to increase the number of people that must die terrible deaths due to cancer.
Cancer irreversibly damages organs one by one in people, causing painful death. Cancer patients who die each have their own life, full of poetry. We cannot allow even one more person to die of cancer because of nuclear policies propelling this old and futureless technology. Enough is enough.
Support Matsudaira Kōichi’s medical expenses:
1. See Barker and Johnston 2008, The Rongelap Report: Consequential Damages of Nuclear War for a thorough review of research on the effects of American nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands and the systematic censorship of evidence pointing to American culpability for health damages suffered by the Marshallese.
2. See Lindee 1994, Suffering Made Real: American Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima.
3. See Stephens 2002, “Bounding Uncertainty: The Post-Chernobyl Culture of Radiation Protection Experts,” in Catastrophe and Culture: the Anthropology of Disaster; Petryna 2006, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens After Chernobyl.
4. See discussions of the “Oishimbo incident” for more information on these politics and the success of the myth of safety, such as Ochiai 2013, “The Manga ‘Oishinbo’ Controversy: Radiation and Nose Bleeding in the Wake of 3.11”.
5. “Radiation exposure” (hibaku) is expressed as one word in Japanese, with the characters for “suffer/receive” (被) and either “bomb” (爆) when referring to exposure from nuclear weapons, or “expose” (曝) when referring to exposure from other sources. Here, the term used is hibaku higaisha (被曝被害者).
6. The official Japanese term uses the word “accident” (事故) rather than “disaster” (災害).
7. The term used here, hisaisha (被災者), can be translated as “victim,” but refers primarily to victims of natural disasters, as opposed to higaisha (被害者), which refers mainly to the victims of accidents. Except for this first instance, higaisha is used throughout this article. In the context of the Chernobyl disaster, the Ukrainian state introduced the legal category of “sufferer” in 1991 to recognize those affected. We have chosen to translate the term higaisha as “victim” to convey the sense in Japanese that harm has been wrongfully caused. For more on Chernobyl “sufferers,” see Petryna 2013 , Life Exposed: Biological Citizens After Chernobyl and Alexievich 2006, Voices From Chernobyl: the Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.
8. The Kantō region comprises the Greater Tokyo Area and the prefectures of Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa.
9. This is a reference to the way that concerns about the effects of radiation, or discussion of actual injuries from radiation exposure, have been stigmatized as a psychological or emotional hypersensitivity to (fear of, or anxieties about) radiation. This is conveyed through a play on the word for radiation, hōshanō (放射能), where the last character has been replaced with the character for “brain” or “mind” (脳), which is also read “nō”. C.f. Kimura 2016, Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: the Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima. There have also been many cases where those who discuss concerns about “low-level” radiation exposure have been described as “hysterical,” “irrational,” divisive, and unpatriotic. This is similar to attributions of “radiophobia” directed at victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. C.f. Petryna 2013 .
10. See ICRP, The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
11. The author writes a cultural criticism column for the magazine, Jōkyō (情況).
12. This text is based on the transcription of a speech by Matsumoto Mari. A recording of the event can be found here: https://youtu.be/pU4mjehgcaA
13. The National Diet is Japan’s legislature.
14. Translation adapted to reflect past conversations with the author.
15. Those who endorse the safety of radiation exposure, mostly standardized by the state and nuclear industry interests.
16. The popular comic series Oishimbo ran episodes about Fukushima in which the author portrayed residents in Fukushima claiming that they experienced frequent nosebleeds due to radiation exposure. The series immediately came under fire upon publication, criticized by media and government offices.
17. Referred to as a “glass badge” in Japanese (garasu bajji; ガラスバッジ).
18. Discourses that suppress or “crush” (tsubusu; 潰す) any talk about radiation exposure and its effects, effectively censoring dissident voices post-3.11. Such voices are usually labeled as overly radiophobic, or afraid of radiation.
19. Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by mercury poisoning. It received national attention in Japan when the wastewater of a chemical factory in a small fishing village in southern Japan became contaminated with mercury. The disease began to appear first in 1953, and although the government officially recognized it in 1956, it took the factory owner years to acknowledge its liability. The victims’ families have fought for decades, and still continue to fight for recognition and compensation.
20. The official designation of the most contaminated zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, with an annual exposure dose exceeding 50 mSv/year. This zone includes areas from seven municipalities declared “difficult to return to” by the Japanese government.
21. Yoshinoya is a Japanese fast food chain serving gyūdon (beef over rice). In 2013 the company established joint venture, Yoshinoya Farm Fukushima Co. in Shirakawa City, 40 miles west of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, to grow rice and vegetables for their restaurants.
22. Another chain, referred to as “family restaurants” in Japanese. Comparable to Applebee’s in the U.S.
23. State-led campaign which enlists food businesses to purchase produce from the Tohoku area (around Fukushima). This is a tactic to shift responsibility for the consequences of nuclear disaster onto consumer relations: i.e. the only way to support farmers and others making their livelihoods in affected regions is to consume their products.
24. In Japanese, quotation marks are often used to distinguish a concept. Here, Matsudaira advocates fighting against both actual countries with nuclear power, and with an imperialist system of nation-states/the system that produces them.
Photo: Children’s drawings on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, NM. Photo by Lita Hakoda