It’s the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Through many TV programs I have learned the history of the war: the lives of the Japanese suicide attackers, the tragedy of the atomic bombing, and the anguish of people in Okinawa. I have come to realize that today’s Japan was built upon so many sacrifices, and I pray for the victims as well as their families.
Former prime ministers, mayors, and many others have given us their pledge that these historic atrocities will not be repeated. I have seen and heard this same scene play out year after year. But why haven’t any of these life-threatening issues been resolved yet? I haven’t seen any indication of movement toward solutions and many people’s lives are being neglected. I feel as if not only Japan, but the entire world is slowly headed on a downward spiral, as if being dragged down by evil forces. I would like us all to wake up to this reality.
The power of each individual might be insignificant, but when people join hands, they can form a large circle. What started out as “a tiny spark” turns into a big movement. I would like you to join me in making the earth a peaceful place where each life is respected and well-nourished, without suffering.
My mentor recently gave me a book, titled The Dwellers of Arayashiki. It’s a photo essay by photographer/movie director Seiichi Motohashi that introduces the people living in the Maki settlement in Kotani village, deep in the mountains of the Japanese Alps of Nagano prefecture. The Maki settlement’s history goes back to the Edo period (1603-1868 CE), but it was abandoned in 1972. There are still five old thatched-roofed houses which can only be accessed by mountain trail and not by car. Mr. Shin Miyashima of “Jiyu Gakuen” has a community there, where ordinary people live side by side with the physically and mentally handicapped. Jiyu Gakuen is a school that was established by Motoko Hani, and its motto is: “Living is education”. The photo essay is filled with pictures of this community.
Kawauchi village, Miyakoji, Katsurao, and Tsushima villages are all located at altitudes between 670 to 800 meters (2,198 to 2,625 feet). Once snow falls in December, it is considered dangerous to descend from the villages until it melts in the spring. The inhabitants of these villages were caring and patient. They lived there in harmony with nature and families worked together to create communities committed to serving others. Since there is no public water supply, people drank natural spring water. The river water was crystal clear, and had plenty of fish in it. The villagers used to make a living by raising silkworms, making wood charcoal, growing Shiitake mushrooms and flowers, and cattle farming. One of the evacuees told me that though there weren’t many stores and hospitals nearby, he still thought it was the best place to live.
Then the nuclear accident changed everything, robbing the inhabitants of these villages of their happiness. They lost their villages and some evacuees will never be able to step foot back into their own homes ever again. The once peaceful villages now look like a battlefield after World War II. Some houses are in ruins, covered over with weeds. The nuclear accident separated families and friends who used to support each other, and the villagers have lost their livelihoods.
But, no one has taken responsibility for the accident. The national government set March of 2017 as a goal for the declaration allowing the evacuees to return to their homes. However, it is not actively working on compensation for the evacuees to help them cover living expenses, nor paying to move forward the radiation decontamination effort. The national government has left these issues up to local governments and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), and the Ministry of the Environment has been left in charge of regulating the disaster-stricken areas. I heard that if local governments don’t comply with the policies set forth by the national government, they will receive reduced subsidies. The local governments thus have no choice but to follow national government decisions because of their tight financial situation. I feel sorry for the workers at local government offices. They ended up serving the Japanese government, instead of their own local citizens, struggling under a situation which gives them no opportunity to discuss local issues. Under these circumstances, who can help the evacuees in Fukushima? Who can stand up to the many obstacles that are making it difficult to truly change their situation? Isn’t it sad to think that many people may just dismiss this situation, thinking that eventually time will heal everything or that the evacuees should help themselves?
Their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan visited Japan from November 15th to 20th, 2011. They were the first state guests to visit Japan after the earthquake and tsunami. I am personally fond of Bhutan for its national philosophy, founded on the idea of valuing GNH (Gross National Happiness) over GNP (Gross National Product). 97% of its population of 700,000 say that they are happy. Here are a few quotes from his Majesty: “Let’s begin by taking care of each other. We must respect the fundamental values of humanity: empathy, nobility and a sense of justice.” “I want you all to study hard, but even more than that I want for you to be good human beings.” (from a speech given at Keio University in Tokyo) “A dragon called “character” lives inside each of our hearts. Feed your dragon. Take good care of it.” (at Sakuragaoka Elementary School, Soma city, Fukushima) His Majesty visited the Haragama region, which was devastated by the tsunami and said, addressing himself to those victims who were not physically present, “We offer our sincere condolences. Our hearts and thoughts will always be with you.”
It has been four and a half years since the huge earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and the evacuees are more psychologically distressed than ever. They have been abandoned by the national government they once trusted, have received no support, are still separated from family members, and are still without permanent homes to live in. They have become extremely mentally and physically distressed, which has in turn negatively affected their health and wellbeing. The king of Bhutan was quoted as saying about the evacuees, “Our hearts and thoughts will always be with you.” I hope that all of you would have a heart like the king of Bhutan and reach out to offer your continued support for them.
If you have any questions about the evacuees or would like to offer help, I would be more than glad to introduce them to you. Please contact me. Thank you.
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