Report Number 3 from Su Grierson in Kitakata, Fukushima Province Japan.
Slowly, as we move around engaging with the locality and people and negotiate the difficulty of translation, we are gaining more insight into the aftermath of the Tsunami two years ago.
All the displaced and dispossessed people from the coastal disaster area are referred to as Refugees.
This term is general and has value in identifying them, but covers many differences that exist within that community. I have had no sense that the term is disparaging, but we were told that the initial intense sympathy that people held for them has been diminished as certain tensions have arisen.
There are Refugee camps in many areas in order to scatter the load on existing communities. The Refugees are housed in temporary purpose-built wooden houses (un-insulated as is common here) which they can occupy for up to 3 years. This deadline was put in place to discourage permanent ghetto-like clusters simply continuing indefinitely and to put pressure on the dispossessed to try and rebuild their lives. Many previous community groups are actually wanting to be resettled together in the areas they came from but this is mainly not possible as the land is not safe for re-building and there are insufficient large areas of free land to build new houses in any quantity. The issue seems to be unresolved.
We were told a little about the tensions that exist, and predictably money seems to be a major factor both between the Refugees themselves and between them and the rest of the community. As far as I can ascertain there were two types of compensation. Those living within the Nuclear disaster zones were paid compensation directly from the Nuclear industry and it was generally much higher than the Government payout to those who were affected only by the Tsunami. In addition, the nuclear payment was zoned by the proximity to the fallout area. Even though those living further away also lost everything and cannot return to their homes they received less. No one mentions whether exposure to the radiation is a factor or not. Likewise those who lost everything from the tsunami are receiving much less than those in the nuclear payout zone. It is not hard to see how tensions arise.
It seems this has been exacerbated by the fact that some of those receiving large payouts, who have never had so much money before, are not managing it wisely and some are buying fancy cars and living extravagantly and again that does not impress the local people and tests their degree of sympathy and support. It is human nature playing out predictably I think.
I am now on my third experience of Japanese traditional style accommodation – and yes, I can actually see the snow through the cracks in the single plank wooden wall! This is a large traditional house run by the owner as a B&B type accommodation. She and her elderly mother live in the (newer) building built alongside. This seems to be a common arrangement. As well as Yoshiko and myself there are also a Refugee couple staying here. He is very talkative but I am dependent on Yoshiko’s interpretation which she find quite challenging so I hope to piece together more of the story slowly as the days go by.
So far I have gathered that there has been a problem with the Government payout because the system is extremely bureaucratic and that many of the less educated or able people deal with the form filling. A system has been put in place to give individual interviews to help those with problems but some people even then cannot answer the complex questions about their history, income and lifestyle so they simply give up.
As for this couple they have moved 8 times in the 2 years, looking for a place to settle. He says he is looking for good water. When I asked why that was so important, thinking it might be something to do with rice growing or fishing, he explained that it was because good water was the source of life. In order to get good human life, good soil and a full eco-system (my word not his) there must be good life-giving water. The area we are in now Kitakata, he says has lots of bears which is good, but lower down the chain of animal and plant life it is missing many things. So it seems they will be off to location number 9 at some stage. At least he managed to get a job here doing night shift at a compost factory. I think he is 68 and took to farming when he retired as a plasterer and before that he worked in the nuclear plant. It would be good to chat with his wife when her talkative husband is not around but she does seem very shy at the moment. Who knows what effect such uncertainty and constant moving around, on top of the catastrophe itself might have had on her.
It is snowing hard again today and I must tell you about the way in which they clear the main roads. Down the centre of the roads where we might have ‘cats eyes’ there are little holes through which at appointed times little fountains of warm water (at least I was told they were warm but haven’t tested it) spray out onto the road. It washes away the snow most effectively without any need for the unpleasant salt that we spread with less efficiency. At our first accommodation the same system was used on the outside paths simply using hoses with holes. The country and side roads are partly cleared with snow ploughs and then every car uses winter tyres and everyone just drives on the packed snow base as normal.
Because the houses are largely un-insulated and without central heating, and anyway many people are giving up using electricity, the rooms, including our new studio spaces, are heated with ‘paraffin’ heaters (well I am not sure exactly what form of oil it is but it smells like that). Most of them are also plugged into the power supply for control. They do heat up very quickly but cut out when they reach temperature and then the cold comes back all to rapidly so it is difficult to get a comfortable even temperature.
The artists on the project with me, in addition to Yoshiko Maruyama, who is an installation artist and the originator of this project, are a sculptor, Vigdis Haugtroe, and Margrethe Aas, an architect/landscape architect working on City Planning, both from Norway. You can see more images of the project from our various Facebook pages and about us from our websites:
Until next time from snowy Kitakata. Su