JAPAN SIX MONTHS ON – DIARY 2: People and produce bound together?

Publié: 8 septembre 2011 8:00 CET

By Francis Markus in Yabuki, Fukushima Prefecture

They’re chopping leeks and ginger and bitter gourd, then 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 these 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.

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 traditional agricultural area known for its peachesreputed to be 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.”

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 the next generation.

“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 land and how important it will be 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.