Today I went to the awards ceremony for the essay competition 'Message from Fukushima' organised by the Fukushima Minpo newspaper. I translated the three winning essays into English as best I could and the text is below. The experiences of these three young people are very moving. What shines through is a love of Fukushima and a determination to see the recovery through. They get to visit London from 23 July where they'll plant rhododendrons (the prefecture's flower) in the Japanese garden in Holland Park and take part in some Japan related events around the Olympics. If you get a chance to join in any of the events, please do support them.
The Oi nuclear plant began operation tonight. The words of these three young people is a stark reminder of what is at stake.
Anyway, here are the essays.
Junior High School Category – First Prize
Title: Grandad’s Peaches
Written by: Miyu MATSUBARA
Me, my family, and Grandad always work hard picking peaches in the bright summer sun. Peaches are very delicate. You pick them off the branches carefully and you have to be so gentle, like touching a baby’s cheek. There’s a lovely sweet smell of peaches in the air – but you get drenched in sweat.
It’s like that every year. But last year was a bit different. After the nuclear accident following the Great East Japan Earthquake, we were afraid that peaches might not go on sale. My first thought, amongst all the talk after the accident about the effects of radiation and damage to consumer confidence, was, ‘Would Grandad’s peaches be alright?’.
Grandad grows peaches and apples on his own. Even after the accident he quietly got on with his work as usual. His peaches are like children to him. I’d been watching him all the while but one day as we were working together in the orchard, I came out with it, ‘Grandad, what about the radiation?’.
‘What? The council’s done tests and they’re fine! Don’t you worry!’ Grandad retorted in a loud voice, as if to dispel my fears.
But I heard on the news that some weren’t selling simply because they came from Fukushima. I was sad and frustrated when I thought of all the work Grandad put into growing his peaches.
But then I heard that some people were buying produce from Fukushima on purpose. This filled my heart with a warm glow. When Grandad’s peaches did go to market I hoped someone would buy them.
This year Grandad’s peach orchards are covered in a carpet of pink blossom. And, in their midst, Grandad carefully, and lovingly, pollinates each flower – just as he always does.
‘Peaches this year gonna be nice an’ sweet.’ Grandad says this every year and I’m sure he’ll say it again this year as we work. I’m going to try extra hard to help him.
High School Category – First Prize
Title: To me, when I’m grown up
Written by: Kanami AJIMA
To me, when I’m grown up
Hello, grown up me! Where are you now? What are you doing? Do you have a smile on your face every day? I hope so.
March 11th, 2:46 in the afternoon. The events of that day will have faded with time but somewhere in an unseen part of your heart I bet they’ve left a deep scar.
I know it’s frightening to recall the events of that day. If you hadn’t gone shopping then… If you hadn’t met your relatives then… Just thinking about it sends a shiver down your spine. You would certainly have been caught up in the tsunami. Only because so many chance events coincided, can you get on with your life today.
For about a week after the earthquake you took shelter in the gymnasium. Do you remember? It was cold at night and every time there was an aftershock, everyone would wake up and there would be a communal murmur of fear. Do you remember when we first went back to the house? It wasn’t where it was supposed to be. It was so sad. Your friend’s house was full of mud, the windows and everything gone. The place we’d all lived was changed out of all recognition.
The day the house was demolished, you noticed Mum was crying as she videoed the scene and that made you cry too. It was hard, wasn’t it, watching the house we’d grown up in, being pulled down piece by piece. If only this had never happened … How many times did that thought run through your head?
Even after you went back to school, you were still anxious and you’d be overwhelmed with sadness and burst into tears. Every time that happened, your teachers and friends would listen to you. People went to a lot of trouble over you, you know. Hope you’ve paid them back.
Never forget that on March 11th a lot of people who wanted to live lost their lives. I want you to live for them, every day, with a smile. I know it's hard remembering, but don't let memories of that day fade away. Pass it on to the next generation. Please.
Open Category – First Prize
Title: I’ll farm in Fukushima
Written by: Koshi FUJITA
I’ll farm in Fukushima.
‘Murderer!’ In all my thirty odd years, never did I think anyone would call me that. I’m a farmer, eighth generation. No one actually said that to my face but that’s what certain individuals called farmers in Fukushima.
The earthquake and tsunami were a nightmare. Then the nuclear accident. That first week was utter chaos: we didn’t know whether we would be able to stay in our homes, let alone whether we’d be able to go on farming. Then just when it looked as if we could carry on with the farm and just as I’d made the decision that it would be better to make a go of it rather than do nothing and regret it later, my world turned upside down when I saw those words on the internet. That first month I was under a lot of pressure.
But some people had kind things to say. ‘We like the rice and vegetables you grow and we’ll keep eating them.’ ‘We’ll do anything we can to help.’ Things like that really cheered me up. And one person made the comment: ‘Seven billion people in the world – can’t please everyone.’
One thing I do know. Radioactive materials rained down on Fukushima. That’s a fact and we can’t change it. But what we see in that, what we make of that – well, the possibilities are infinite.
To those who say farm produce from Fukushima is too dangerous to eat, I say Fukushima should aim to have the best safety certification of any agricultural produce in the world.
To those who say they won’t let their children live in such a place, I say I’ll make my family a happy one so my kids will be glad they were born in Fukushima.
Some may stigmatize ‘Fukushima’ and look on us with anger, pity or despair. But to me, Fukushima is beautiful, and I look on it with thanks, joy and hope.
Who’s going to get Fukushima farming back on its feet? The government? The local authorities? No. It’s up to us, the farmers of Fukushima.
Are we to pass on this image of ‘Fukushima’ the tragic victim? You must be joking. No way. I want people to admire the way Fukushima, which suffered so much as a result of the nuclear accident, became an even better place. We have the chance to participate in such a project. Surely this is something worth spending your life on?
Leave Fukushima and break new ground? That would be such a waste. Me, I’ll farm in Fukushima.