As tens of thousands fled their homes in the days following the accident at the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, Takashi Sasaki, a resident of nearby Minamisoma City and a parishioner of Haramachi Catholic Church, opted to remain along with his wife Yoshiko, 69, who suffers from dementia.
Only 25 kilometers separates Minamisoma from the nuclear plant.
Formerly a professor of Spanish philosophy, Takashi, now 73, has spent these past two years since the accident writing a blog to document the many facets of this ‘man-made disaster’ and its aftermath that has since gone unnoticed by the mass media. His site has received as many as 5,000 hits per day.
The blog has gained the attention of a wide array of media outlets and, five months after the tsunami, was published in book form.
At the time of the disaster, the cities surrounding Fukushima Dai’ichi were assigned threat levels based on their distance from the plant. Minamisoma was divided into three zones. Haramachi Ward, where the Sasakis live, was designated as an “emergency evacuation preparation zone,” but the actual amount of radiation measured there was less than in some of the shelter sites, so they felt it “safer” to remain at home.
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And yet, more than half the residents there fled of their own accord, swayed by errors made by both local and national governments and the influence of mainstream news organizations, which fanned the flames of panic.
“The house shook during the earthquake, but the water and power never gave out," says Takashi. "If I had tried to move my wife, all I would have accomplished would have been to shorten her life by sapping what is left of her strength and making her illness worse. We were not going to die immediately from the radiation. I decided it was better to stay here at home instead.”
Takashi tried to encourage others to do the same. “We must not move the elderly and the sick,” he wrote in his blog. However, more than 290 sick and elderly residents were forcefully evacuated only to die in what became the cruel hardship of refugee life.
Takashi, who had taught at a university in Tokyo, moved to Minamisoma 11 years before in order to live with his elderly mother.
Born in Hokkaido, Takashi’s early years were spent in Manchuria. He returned to Hokkaido after the war and moved from there to Minamisoma for the first time before heading to Tokyo and working there. His life has been one of many changes, as constant as that in Japanese government policy.
“The Tohoku region, in particular, has a long history of having being stolen from by the central government,” Takashi says. A great number of people have moved from the area and into big cities. Even though the nuclear plant was built in Fukushima, most of its power goes to Tokyo. To make matters worse, around the time of its construction local residents were divided. Those who opposed it were branded “unpatriotic.”
It wasn’t until Takashi himself learned what it was like to have one’s home ripped away that he awoke to the sorrow of the peoples of China and Korea who lost their own homes during Japan’s colonial period.
Takashi’s book was published in Chinese last autumn, and will be published in Korean and Spanish this spring.
These days, Takashi has gained a new respect for the historical heritage of Minamisoma. He has begun taking action to ensure that this heritage is handed on to the next generation as well as to foster cultural exchanges with the peoples of East Asia.