Six Months on: People and Produce bound together?
- Japan Diary 2 by Francis Markus in Yabuki, Fukushima Prefecture -


They’re chopping leeks and ginger and bitter gourd, they’re washing noodles and deep-frying vegetables in batter to make some of the most appetising tempura I’ve seen. You wouldn’t think from the gusto with which this bunch of middle-aged women are setting about their task, that there’s a cloud of fear hanging over everything that comes out of the ground here.

We’re only about 60 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear plant and many of the residents in temporary housing in this town are evacuees from within the 20 kilometer exclusion zone.

(Photo: Japanese Red Cross Volunteers are preparing the food for an activity organised for the temporary shelter residents. The vegetables are grown in their home gardens. (c) Nobuyuki Kobayashi )

These Japanese Red Cross Society volunteers have had a busy time. For the first month after the disaster, they were cooking and serving three meals a day for the survivors in evacuation centres. Now they’re busy preparing the food for an activity organised for the temporary shelter residents.

The community they’ve been resettled in is a traditionally agriculture dominated area reputed for its peaches, that are some of the best in Japan.

But that’s not doing them much good these days.

Mr Kubo of the Fukushima Prefectural Red Cross says: “I used to send peaches to my friends in other parts of the country every year, but now I’m afraid they would not dare to eat them.”

(Photo: Mrs. Machiko Onuma (59 years old) who has been an active Red Cross volunteer for the last 20 years. She tells us that the adults do not worry about the rediation much, but her grand-daughter who is now 14 months old never goes out to play. (c) Nobuyuki Kobayashi )

Mineko Suzuki, a Red Cross volunteer who owns a farm says: “our sons and daughters living in the city tell us not to send our produce to them. It hurts us when even our children won’t eat the vegetables which we grow with such hard work.”

But this is the new reality. And while most of the volunteers we meet – who are middle aged women – say they are not worried for themselves, they and their children are concerned for their grandkids.

“My daughter-in-law doesn’t let my granddaughter play outside at all and she doesn’t hang her washing outside to dry any more,” says 59-year-old volunteer Machiko Onuma.

As we taste the tempura and the pickles the volunteers are preparing, I can’t help thinking about this bond between the people and the produce of the land and how important a part it will play as the region rebuilds its future after the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Perhaps for them, continuing to eat it feels like part of their destiny and something in which they have little practical choice. For those outside the area, perceptions are very different.

(Photo: Fun days like this aren’t officially part of the JRCS psychosocial programme, because they’re not structured or technically monitored. But they certainly serve a similar purpose – helping to improve people’s state of mind and forge closers bond among new neighbours. (c) Nobuyuki Kobayashi )