Doves are released to mark the exact time when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. At left is emcee Tsukuru Fors, at center is Fukushima evacuee Michiko Kato, and at right is musician George Abe. (Photo by Jeff Chop)
By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
A commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings on Aug. 5 in Little Tokyo also focused on a more recent catastrophe — the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima — and those still living with the after-effects.
The gathering in Frances Hashimoto Plaza included the ringing of a “peace bell” and the release of doves at 4:15 p.m., timed to coincide with the annual observance in Hiroshima, where it was 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6 — the moment when the A-bomb was dropped in 1945. George Abe played the flute.
Rev. Peter Hata of Higashi Honganji explained that the bell came from Bishop Noriaki Ito’s cousin, whose temple is on the outskirts of Hiroshima. “Somehow this bell survived the atomic bomb, so I think it’s particularly significant today.”
Rev. Peter Hata rings the Hiroshima Bell.
Tsukuru Fors of the Fukushima Support Committee noted, “People in Hiroshima and all over Japan, and as a matter of fact all over the world, are offering prayers.”
Chanting was also conducted by Rev. Ryuzen Hayashi of Koyasan Buddhist Temple, who stressed, “When we remember anything [about]the deceased, our ancestors, they’re still living in our heart.”
Michiko Kato was living in Fukushima with her 2-year, 9-month-old son when the earthquake and tsunami damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on March 11, 2011. While staying at a shelter, she and others heard about the radiation but weren’t given all the details. She told her story, with Fors providing English translation:
“The level of radiation in the area at the time was 50 microsieverts per hour. Later I found out that with that level of radiation, the entire population of 300,000 in Fukushima city should have been evacuated. The mayor fled the area, leaving the uninformed citizens behind.
“On March 15, the water came back … But we didn’t know that the water was contaminated. Without knowing, we were bathing, washing clothes and cooking with radioactive water … I was drinking water from the faucet and having my son drink from it too … Many people lined up outside for many hours at the time to get drinking water, gasoline and food … A mother who lived at the same apartment complex called the city and was told that there was nothing to worry about since we lived 37 miles away from the nuclear power plant …
“The U.S. government had chartered a plane to evacuate American citizens who lived within a 50-mile radius of the nuclear power plant. My estranged husband is American and my son is a U.S. citizen, so I inquired at the embassy right away, but the charter plane had left already and I was told that I had to pay my own way …
“One month after the quake, my father-in-law sent us some money so my son and I could be evacuated to the States, just for three months on a tourist visa. Three months later when we got back to Fukushima, the radiation level was still high. We were told not to go outside, nor were we allowed to eat any food crops grown in the area. In the summer heat, children were going to school with long-sleeved shirts, long pants and masks.”
Fukushima evacuee Michiko Kato
Rather than prioritizing decontamination, she said, the government should have been evacuating children from the area, where the incidence of child thyroid cancer is higher than normal. “People were begging the government to evacuate children, but their pleas were ignored. If children were to leave the area, their mothers go with them. If they find work where they relocate, they’ll never come back to Fukushima. With less people living in Fukushima, the government would have less tax income. It’s as if children were being held hostage.”
She moved back to the U.S. and became a permanent resident, then was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “I underwent surgery to have both my ovaries and uterus removed. When I woke up from the surgery, the world felt like hell. For the first time in my life I came face to face with death.”
The excruciating pain made her despondent, “but I was a mother of 5-year-old son. I could not leave him alone in this world … I was thrust into early menopause. Cold sweat was one of the symptoms. Everything I saw, everything I touched made me cry. But that was not the end … The doctor told me I needed to undergo chemo just in case.”
Kato was in no condition to take care of her son, “but many people supported me. I’ve never felt so deeply and profoundly touched by people’s kindness. Every day, friends sent me words of encouragement by phone and email. Some friends took turns delivering meals. I even found a babysitter for free … I am filled with gratitude for all who helped our family in our darkest days.”
She is worried about those who remain in Fukushima. “I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like to live every day with constant fear. Is it okay to drink this water? Is this food safe? We are haunted by this man-made monster.”
Kato concluded, “I would like to ask people here in the U.S. to help us raise awareness of the situation in Fukushima.