A Body in Fukushima
photo by William Johnston

A Body in Fukushima

Eiko writes after her and Johnston's first trip together to Fukushima for A Body in Fukushima:

Bill and I traveled to Fukushima into the areas where visiting has only recently been allowed. Since 2006 we have often co-taught an interdisciplinary course, in which students through movement study and other creative works explore and digest "hard to swallow" knowledge. Students also experience movement both as an expression and investigation through which they build their own aesthetic and voice. One of our courses is about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We examine the historical records of those two world-altering events and human experiences of massive violence.

In March 2011, the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plants suffered massive damage after an earthquake and tsunami hit them, releasing a high volume of radiation into the surrounding area and beyond. The explosions caused a wide swath of the countryside and communities to be evacuated. Because the plants continue to emit radiation and the cleaning process is slow and difficult, tens of thousands of people still live in temporary housing.

We followed the path of a train line in the places where the service has been abandoned. Many of the stations were partially or completely destroyed or contaminated by radiation, the buildings crumbled and the tracks overgrown with dried ivies and weeds. This journey up the train line towards the reactor site had to be stopped due to the fact the train line passes very close to the Daiichi reactors and thus access is forbidden except for the special workers at the site. We then drove around 6 hours to reach northern area where Bill also took pictures at several abandoned or disappeared stations and surrounding areas. The results are a series of photos, some with me and some without me at stations of no-man's land. By walking into each station and placing my body within, we wanted to remember there were people and day-to-day lives at stations and in towns before the disaster. My aging body can take in a small amount of radiation though no one is allowed to live there. Because of the quarantine, many of these areas have not been touched for three years and remains of the tsunami and earthquake are readily observed. Surprisingly some new roads were built as tracks and buses have to run transporting rescue workers and material to and from nuclear plants, tsunami damaged area, and other related industries. We observed plants continue to grow, nature returns to reclaim areas it had been excluded from. It was particularly striking to see hundreds of thousands of vinyl bags full of radiation contaminated soil. Though scraping a few inches of surface soil significantly lowers the radiation counts, no one knows to where and when these bags will be transported. They just sit everywhere.

As we got closer and closer to the reactor site, I got sadder and sadder. I wailed and lamented not only for the people, particularly children, who were affected by the radiation in addition to the natural disaster but also for the naked earth and sea that were irradiated, contaminated, and stained. In the north when we went further away from the nuclear plants, though "high contamination spots" exist here and there leaving ghost towns, the tsunami destroyed places were more cleared up in past three years leaving large space unseen before. We had stayed at the hotel the people who commute to the destroyed and tremendously radiation ridden nuclear plants stay. They work their near impossible tasks: to stop the continuing contamination and to work towards stopping the reactor altogether in 40-50 years. Their shocking stories and awful predictions have piled into our bodies.  My agitated mind had a way to look for movement at these more open spaces. Bill shifted the frame of the camera so it shows me sometimes as a part of the landscape, sometimes more closely. Combined, I find the emotions and tensions of my body are surprisingly visible.

At each moment I continued to realize that nuclear matters and radiation are the gravest threat and humiliation to all lives. Yet, time and wind continue to move/blow. Even in abandoned places weeds grow and in broken windows of uninhabited houses curtains bellow. These places are damaged. Wounded.  But they are alive and real.