To Be Afraid or Not to Be Afraid….


In this blog series, JET Programme alumnus Audrey Shiomi heads back to Sendai City to visit friends and hear stories about the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

At Yamadera in Yamagata Prefecture circa 2001 (Northern Japan)


I’ve been telling friends about my upcoming trip and the response I get  the most is, “You’d better be careful. It’s dangerous over there!” Being raised in L.A., my idea of dangerous is driving through Compton at 2 a.m. My idea of dangerous is something immediate and visible, not something that may or may not kill me in ten years. In other words, no, I’m not afraid.

A Japanese reporter friend recently visited Sendai with a dosimeter and found that she was exposed to more radiation on the plane trip back to Los Angeles than when she was in Sendai.** When I told that to my worried friend, he shook his head and explained it’s not radiation we should be afraid of but hot particles, which can apparently be swallowed or inhaled and cause cancer over time.

I’d never heard of hot particles, so suddenly I became frightened by the thought of this mysterious, foreign object lodging itself into my lungs. But as I learned from nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen on CNN, the average person already breathes in about 10 cubic meters a day, so this isn’t something new to our bodies. I figure I’ll succumb to (L.A. smog / cellphone radiation / E. coli in spinach / pork rinds) faster than to a week’s worth of Sendai’s hot particles.

The other thing that keeps me from being afraid is knowing all my friends in Sendai are doing their best to move on from March 11. Being afraid would be like saying to them, “Your life is over. Just give up already.” I’m not naive to the fact that my friends are only 65 miles away from Fukushima’s loathed nuclear reactor — the distance from L.A. to Ventura County — but more than being afraid, it saddens me to think those on the outside would rather forget that Tohoku people ever existed.

Take for example this story of the lone resident in a Fukushima town of 16,000. Soon after March 11, 53-year-old Naoto Matsumura fled his home like everyone else. But when he tried staying at a relative’s house, he was turned away because they didn’t want to pick up his radiation. He tried going to a shelter but it was overpacked. Later, when he went to talk to Tokyo politicians, they turned a blind eye to him. So he went back to his farmhouse, where he remains today with his dog and a paltry $13,000 settlement check. They’ve stopped his electricity and running water, so he subsists on fish, canned goods and well-drawn water. He says he was lonely at first but that he’s gotten used to it.

You never know — being away from civilization, he might outlive us all.

**UPDATE (9/2/11): I spoke to my colleague about this today. She spent one week in Miyagi Prefecture and her dosimeter measured a total of 9 microsieverts. She tested herself again for one week in Los Angeles and got a total of 13 microsieverts. On a round-trip flight from Tokyo to New York, passengers will absorb about 200 microsieverts.  Note: The dosimeter used for each test were from different manufacturers so this could account for any sort of meter-reading discrepancy.


Read my previous entry, “Homecoming.”


Views expressed in this blog series are not necessarily those of Rafu Shimpo.


1 Comment

  1. Anides Antrobus on

    Great article. I lived in the LA area, but I have lived in Japan for many many years now. In fact, I live in Sendai. What Audrey describes is exactly the situation here.

    I have no fear of the “radiation” that people are convinced is going to kill me. If I say that, people will assume it is some form of denial, all plausible science to the contrary. The evidence gathered by thousands of scientists in this region shows that there are some bad areas, with varying levels of hazard, but those areas are few and not large. There is one zone of about 5 x 10 miles pointed in my direction like a dagger, but other areas are unlikely to ever kill anyone.

    But the pall of fear and what it is doing to these people is deplorable. I blame Tokyo and the foreign press and people who have an antinuclear agenda. They want to keep people interested by frightening them. It is that simple. Even the Hiroshima people want to tie people’s consciousness about nuclear weapons to the use of nuclear energy. It is the same thing, right? The buzzwords of fear find their way into every conversation.

    I grew up in an area of the US where I am sure that the background radiation level is higher than it is here now. I choose not to be afraid because I have looked very very hard, and I see no evidence that could make me fearful.

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