Sunday, August 6, 2017

Wars and disasters: Never Forget the Victims

Today – August 6th – is the anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. I pray for the souls of those who lost their lives and for the families they left behind. I pray for the health and wellness of those who even today are suffering from the after-effects of the bombing and pray for their health and recovery. I plan to spend this time in prayer, opening my heart to their suffering.

 In Japan, August is a time for remembering relatives that are no longer living, and for being thankful for their watchful protection. We also pray for their happiness in the world beyond. The fact that you and I are alive and able to live in peace is a testament to the efforts and struggles of our ancestors, and so I think sometimes we need to remember the long history of those who came before us, who protected our lives and made them possible. When I think about my own existence, I remember my parent’s lives and their love. When I think about all the people that cared for me since I was little, I realize that I could never have made it on my own. Behind every individual, there are many people acting as back-up and support, almost like loving guardian angels.  Dear readers, I suspect that all of you have someone who loved, protected and supported you as well. I believe that those who protected and helped me, but are no longer with us,  are still protecting me from heaven.
 After all, what is a memorial service for the dead, if not a time to think about those who helped you, reflect on your thankfulness, and ask for their continued protection. In my opinion, that is what they are for.

【Hoping for the abolition of nuclear weapons】

 Many people lost their lives in the war. The number of victims in the war was enormous. March 23rd  is Okinawa Memorial Day. Over 180,000 lives were lost there during the war. August 6th is the anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima, and August 9th is the anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki. Even now, many people are still suffering. I firmly believe that we must not forget these victims. One year ago, former president Obama offered flowers at the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Memorial, then closed his eyes and paused for a moment of silence. Afterwards, he gave a 17-minute speech.
 “Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become… our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction. …  
To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy but by what we build. And perhaps, above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race… Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it… That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” (May 28th, 2016, The Asahi Shimbun)
 On May 27th, 2016, the day before he visited the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Memorial, former president Obama visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There, he said “I made these, with a little help,” and presented two paper cranes (made of beautiful Japanese paper with patterns of plum blossoms and cherry blossoms). When we saw this on TV, we were deeply moved and filled with conviction, deciding to make a promise of peace and start a movement for the abolishment of nuclear weapons that would start in Hiroshima and spread out to the whole rest of the world.
 But what happened to that passion and conviction? I think the world was also expecting a strong conviction from Japan for the abolishment of nuclear weapons as well. Aren’t the aspirations of former president Obama, the expectations of the citizens of Japan, the wishes of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the suffering and sacrifices of those affected by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster all being ignored? Japan is unique in the world – it is the only place where an atomic attack has taken place. If this movement doesn’t start in Japan, then where will it start?   

【Voices of those affected by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster】

 <Okuma Town, a letter from a 79-year-old man>
“The evacuees are at their limit. We had been supporting each other and trying to be patient, but recently many people have reached their limit and passed away.  Over the past 6 years, my wife has lost 4 siblings and I lost my older sister. Everyone is under a lot of stress. It seems as if they have just evacuated to a different place to die. My friend had hoped to go back home to Okuma, but ended up dying without being able to go back. Lately, many people are dying. It seems like someone is dying every day. On top of that, many of the deaths are sudden – from things such as strokes and heart attacks. It’s because everyone is under so much stress. Most of my friends have died this past year. Even my closest friends have died. Just today I received news that my best friend passed away. It’s just so horrible! I’m lonely. All my friends are gone and it’s just me left. It makes me wonder if tomorrow it’ll be me next, and then I feel even lonelier. At night, sometimes I remember: even if I  keep living, there’s not a single good thing left in my life. I can’t live in Okuma because of the radiation, but once a month I go home to straighten things up at my house there. The trip to Okuma takes 4 hours roundtrip. It’s difficult for someone elderly like me, but what do I have to worry about anyway? That’s what I tell myself. When I look at my surroundings there, I remember the old times. I look forward to this and it’s why I go out there. Many wild boars, pheasants and monkeys live out there now. The thing I look forward to the most is that I can occasionally meet various people from back home.”

 <A 58-year-old housewife, from Namie>
“I haven’t visited the family graves even once since the earthquake. The reason why is that the gravestones are broken and I can’t even get into the cemetery because of the radiation. This year, we left our temporary housing unit and moved into recovery housing, but unlike in the temporary housing, we no longer have the chance to meet other people. There’s nobody to talk to and it’s lonely. You end up shut up inside. It’s lonesome. Also, my knees have become swollen since I don’t walk around as much.”

 <An 81-year-old couple, from Okuma>
“As our home is located only 6 kilometers from the nuclear reactor, it’s practically right in front of our eyes. As the radiation level is quite high, we can’t take anything out of our house. We were told it won’t be possible to move back to Okuma for 40 years! We were told to take pictures of our house for the TEPCO reparation money application, but we are unable to go take pictures since the radiation level is so high. Nowadays there are wild boars around there and it’s scary. We have a pear orchard as well as land around our house, so we would like to submit an application to TEPCO. However, neither TEPCO nor the town office have done anything to help us. It seems we have to do it all by ourselves. No matter how many times we ask, nothing happens, so we decided to give up on our reparation money application. The reason for this is that we are both elderly. My husband’s lungs are failing him, and both of us have leg and hip problems and can’t walk! We can’t do any of it on our own! They even told us to find a house on our own. Okuma doesn’t do anything for us!”   

 <60-year-old man, from Katsurao Village>
“Recently, I’ve had an ulcer in my mouth that has lasted 2 months. I haven’t been able to talk or eat. I feel that my immune system has been weaker since the disaster. I think it’s because of the radiation. At the time of the accident, some of my hair fell out, and more hair came off in the bathtub and floated on the top of the water. I’ve had a harder time recovering from colds and have suffered from nosebleeds. I have friends who have developed thyroid problems. Mrs. Fukuoka, do you think that you might have been affected by the radiation as well? Back at the time of the accident, there were radiation hotspots, and the wind blew the radiation all over Japan.”

【Don’t just follow your own selfish desires; be considerate】

 Dear readers, the people of Tohoku value their ancestors, families and friends. And so -especially during the season of O-bon, which is a celebration to honor one’s ancestors - they return to their hometowns to be with their friends and family. They gather together and invite a Buddhist priest to their home to pray with them. They visit family graves and sit around the dinner table sharing memories of family members who have passed on. They ask after each other’s health and share stories and information with each other. They have always had these traditions as a way to strengthen family bonds and wish happiness for each other. That was how O-bon used to be celebrated in the Tohoku region. However, the nuclear accident has broken some of the bonds that held these families together, physically keeping them apart from each other and separating them from that happiness. As long as nuclear reactors are allowed to exist, this same sort of misfortune will keep repeating. And perhaps next time it will happen where we live.

 Japan has many volcanoes. There are also many unexpected heavy rains, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and waterspouts, as well as rising temperatures and other significant environmental fluctuations. Progress and convenience are important to us, but we should strive to live a simple and peaceful life. Also, we shouldn’t only think about what we want for ourselves, but should also try to live with a caring heart full of consideration for others. Why don’t we get together and think about how we should live in this world?  We should talk about this face-to-face with our friends as well as with those on social media.
  I ask you to please extend a helping hand to those suffering as a result of  destruction caused by typhoons and heavy rains, and also to those lonely individuals affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

[Contant information]
Momoko Fukuoka
Fax:  047-346-8675
(I would like to request that calls be made between 11:00 AM 5:00 PM local time in Japan.  Depending on my health, it may take some time for me to respond. If this happens, please try calling back again.)
Translation: Karen Rogers
Editing: Rachel Clark

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