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Byron Shire
December 4, 2023

Fukushima remembered in Mullumbimby

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Many of Byron Shire's Japanese residents took part in a memorial on the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster at Mullumbimby Farmers Market on Friday, March 11. Photo Harsha Prabhu
Many of Byron Shire’s Japanese residents took part in a memorial on the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster at Mullumbimby Farmers Market on Friday, March 11. Photo Harsha Prabhu

A people’s gathering to mark the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster  at the Mullumbimby Farmer’s Market on Friday heard that ‘the Japanese people and the international community want answers and solutions to the ongoing Fukushima crisis and want them now.’

The gathering included members of the rainbow region’s Japanese community with babies in tow. The oldest was 80-year ‘young’ Zen master Hougen San.

Speaking at the gathering activist Harsha Prabhu said that ‘five years on the Japanese people and the international community are still waiting for the situation to be stabilised.’

‘Five years on, there’s more than 1000 tanks containing radioactive water, some of them leaking; radioactive strontium is still leaking into the Pacific Ocean; there’s millions of bags of contaminated soil awaiting safe disposal.

‘Five years on more than 1000 sq kilometres of villages, mountains and forests remain out of bounds and the Japanese people will be involved in the clean up for god knows how many years,’ he said.

Harsha added that while the Japanese government is keen for survivors to return, ‘there’s a lot of misinformation about safe levels of radiation, safe water, safe food, safe zones.’

‘To complicate matters, the Japanese government has unilaterally raised what nuclear radiation experts consider to be “safe” levels of radiation. There’s disturbing evidence of an increase in thyroid problems among children, including – according to some studies – a 30-fold increase in thyroid cancers.

There were also mutations observed in flora and fauna – including butterflies and firs – he said, as well as on marine systems.’

Homes lost, families split

‘Thousands of people will never be able to return to their homes and farms due to the radiation risks, becoming permanent “nuclear exiles: in their own land,’ Harsha said.

Activist Saya Minami said many people had lost their homes and jobs as a result of the disaster.

Many families were divided, she added.

‘Allegedly some 170,000 people have been evacuated since the disaster. There are still so many people wanting to be evacuated, or those who have been evacuated but must return to Fukushima because of financial problems and a lack of support from the Japanese government,’ she said.

‘Recently the government decided to stop supporting and compensating the evacuees and cancelled the evacuation instruction, and forcing evacuees to return to the contaminated area.’

‘The subject of ‘radiation’ is culturally very sensitive in Japan, she said.

‘Many people have decided to live “normally” and not worry about radiation. And because of the overwhelming amount of information others are not able to form an opinion and trust the government when it says Fukushima is safe.

‘Everyone should have the right to live healthily and safely on this earth. And it’s a basic right as a human to protect our children. Nuclear power destroys our basic right to life.

Saya spoke of her friend Taeko in Fukushima, who has been bussing preschool children two hours every day from a highly contaminated area so they can play outside.

Taeko is facing financial difficulty and has turned to crowd funding to help her continue.

Zen master’s words of wisdom

Silent witness: Master Hougen San conducts a Zen meditation session under the trees at Mullumbimby Farmers market on March 11 in memory of the Fukushima disaster. Photo Harsha Prabhu
Silent witness: Master Hougen San conducts a Zen meditation session under the trees at Mullumbimby Farmers market on March 11 in memory of the Fukushima disaster. Photo Harsha Prabhu

Zen master Hougen San said he had ‘escaped from Japan 20 years before the Fukushima disaster. I predicted [it] and warned many friends and family but they didn’t listen to me. So I escaped alone and built a small house in Sunrise Beach. I have many friends who come and sit in Zazen meditation every morning. Now I’ve retired.’

Master Hougen San then proceed to turn the gathering into a Zazen session by asking, ‘What do you call this “now”, this encounter?’

He answered, ‘We call it a miracle. In the midst of such a huge disaster we meet face to face. Why don’t you discover this as the real miracle? This is my question.’

He said we don’t need just information.

‘We need direct experience, discovery of this miracle of “now”. Otherwise we go on habitually and senselessly till the end. Without the discovery of this miracle of ‘now’ all life is meaningless, just habits, which also produce disaster in our daily lives.

‘It’s not just Fukushima.’

Activists thanked Hougen San for reminding everyone that life is a miracle, every moment is precious and we need to be grateful for being on this planet and to protect it.

The gathering was followed by a meditation circle under a tree. Hougen San posed participants some homework,  ‘Why are we not making this moment the real miracle to wake up?’


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