Amplifying a voice displaced

Marking the eighth anniversary of the March 11th Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, UBC hosts (March 17) documentarian Hitomi Kamanaka and her newest film Little Voices from Fukushima, a film focusing on mothers and their children displaced by the disaster and subsequent clean-up efforts.

M.V. Ramana, Ph.D − Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Affairs, professor Faculty of Arts School of Public Policy and Global Affairs − will be leading the discussion and documentary viewing alongside Kamanaka and author Sarah Fox (Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West).

A home vs an attraction

M.V. Ramana, Ph.D, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Affairs, professor Faculty of Arts School of Public Policy and Global
Affairs. | Photo courtesy of M.V. Ramana

In the years following the nuclear disaster, questions were raised regarding the safety and habitability of the Fukushima Prefecture.

Little Voices of Fukushima seeks to raise questions regarding the safety and quality of life possible in Fukushima through the eyes of mothers who have fled the area and may now be considering returning home.

Fox explains that Little Voices is fundamentally a different sort of look at Fukushima compared to Netflix’s Dark Tourist series.

“[It] is after all about the people who didn’t have the option of being tourists, but are in fact living in the shadow of a disaster for many years and reckoning with the implications for their children,” she says.

Though many countries have chosen to turn past disasters into tourist hotspots (Chernobyl and the Hanford B-reactor site come to mind) this ignores a very real and hostile reality, says Fox.

“Nuclear tourism, while fascinating as a cultural phenomenon, is a distraction from the fact that people are still living with the impacts of these events. There’s some cognitive dissonance in talking about these sites as tourist destinations when they are in fact ongoing disaster areas for the people who live there, many of whom may not even fully understand how they have been put at risk,” she adds.

History’s long shadows

The Japanese population’s reactions to the Fukushima disaster and its subsequent migration, Ramana says, are that “most of the change in feeling centers on the magnitude of radioactive impact.”

Though many feelings cannot be fully understood if they are not personally felt, certain ideas and questions have begun to spread themselves throughout Japan in the aftermath of Fukushima.

“Considering the myth of safety that was propagated about nuclear facilities, and the evident inability of the government or other authorities to deal with the aftermath, coupled with the lack of trust in nuclear authorities that has grown amongst citizens, [these] are what I feel are the most important affects that have unsettled the wider population,” he says.

And when they are added to the long-held stigmas and fears often regarding the “Hibakusha” (the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings) it can add to the restrictions placed in front of those fleeing Fukushima.

“Many Hibakusha were alienated in Japanese society and that stigma still persists. It is very possible that some mothers did not want their children to become associated with that stigma,” says Fox.

Fox speculates while considering Little Voices that there might not have been a hospitable climate for Fukushima mothers to “be more vocal” or to “speak out earlier” − and that those who have tried to do so faced recrimination and other alienating forces. She continues by pointing out that frequently survivors are not believed.

“In my research on radiogenic communities in the western United States, women pointing to health concerns after perceived radiation exposure have been swiftly undermined, accused of being hysterical, told their children have growing pains when they actually have leukemia,” she adds.

Questions unheard

Though Japan is a country with rich history and a flourishing people, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has displaced thousands and raised questions that must be faced honestly. Kamata’s Little Voices of Fukushima seeks to expose audiences to those whose lives are affected by every implication of those questions.

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