2011.07.02 update 2011.05 May 2011, from Tabito-machi, Iwaki
We would like to put our cattle out into the pasture, to let them graze and grow up comfortably.
We want to make cheese from their fresh milk and food that our family likes to eat. We want the local people to enjoy the food we make. We want to see their smile, we want to communicate with them. We want to live among the local people while keeping good relationship with them and making a living from locally produced products.
Having a dream like that, Mr. and Mrs. Fukumoto looked for land and finally found it in Kaidomari, Tabito-machi. It was three years ago. The pastureland had been abandoned for more than 15 years, now covered with bushes. It was the new world of hope for them. They named the place "Fuku-Fuku Farm", and stepped on the soil of Kaidomari with full of hope.
First, they needed a house to live. They converted an office cabin into a house by their hands. They removed some parts of the wall to make windows and boarded the concrete floor. They put heat insulation on the outer wall and then warmed themselves up with a wood-burning stove. They got some big stones from a construction site and smashed them into pieces by hammers to make gravel to cover the rough path. A neighbor brought them an old bathtub, so that they could take a bath with hot water heated by kerosene. Next, they started preparing grazing land to keep cattle. Clearing thickets, cutting off branches of trees, they made grazing land and a plot for vegetables. To make their living, Norio Fukumoto got some jobs in the mountain, worked as a construction laborer and delivered newspapers while his wife, Natsu, who had teaching experience found a post as a substitute for a teacher who was on maternity or childcare leave, and then became a part-time teacher at a primary school. While they did those jobs, they kept clearing the land.
A year past in a flash. In August next year their long-awaited cattle came to the farm. The opening of "Fuku-Fuku Farm". Cattle walked around the pasture, their dung returned to the soil, and the soil grew grass for the cattle to eat. Sometimes children came and played on the farm, other times Norio and Natsu enjoyed the peacefulness outside. They grew vegetables and grass for winter, and when autumn came, they mowed the grass with a mowing machine and made hay in a vinyl greenhouse.
Next year they started producing cheese on a full scale. In autumn 2010, the third year since they moved in Kaidomari, they started selling their handmade cheese. Their dreams came true. The next dream of Natsu was to open a cafe´ in Fuku-Fuku Farm. Their handmade cheese came to be known more and more, visitors to the farm increased little by little.
It was the day of the primary school graduation. When Natsu got home after the ceremony at school, she found Norio taking a break after being interviewed for a TV program. Then the ground shook. They turned on TV and watched a visual record of tsunami striking the northern area. It looked just like a spectacle from a movie. The earthquake didn't do much damage to their farm, so they didn't realize what actually happened on that day. They worried about the nuclear power plant, but TV news said, "There would be no problem."
After the next day, they got to realize how serious the situation was. When they visited a friend in the neighborhood, they found him preparing for evacuation. When they called a shop where they were going to deliver cheese, they were told that it was impossible to open shops in town. TV news was still repeating, "There would be no problem." But Norio's brother called from Tokyo and told him, "You'd better leave as soon as possible." Norio started thinking about evacuation and asked a local government
office how to evacuate the area. "We haven't considered any plan of evacuation at this stage. We're afraid that it may be impossible." That was the answer. "How come the government doesn't care much about protecting the lives of the citizens of the town, of the prefecture, of the nation?" Norio was astonished. "If something happens, we have to protect ourselves," he decided. "Cattle can survive at least half a year in the pasture. I have to think about my family's safety first." In the morning of March 16, they left the farm and went to a hotel in Tokyo.
"Maybe we cannot come back." A thought arose in their minds even though they couldn't express it.
While In Tokyo they couldn't think about anything but the people in Kaidomari. They wanted to help those who stayed. Both of them were too restless to sleep. They got some information about Iwaki from Twitter and sent it to the people in Kaidomari. They made phone calls and were told, "We can't get neither petrol nor kerosene." That piece of information made them decide to go back. "Let's go back and see the situation." Three days after they moved to their friend's house, they bought petrol and kerosene as much as they could carry in the car and went back to Kaidomari.
When they returned, they unexpectedly found that things had been almost back to normal in Kaidomari. They felt so relieved and started their ordinary days in the farm again.
In spring, came the planting season. The farmers in Kaidomari started planting as soon as they got approval from JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives). According to news, the radiation dose in this area was higher than other areas in Iwaki City. But the farmers said, "Compared to the place where the dose is the highest, it's much lower here."
Not every vegetable was tested. There was not enough information what kinds of vegetables were not allowed to ship. They didn't know how to test their products at home. It would cost too much anyway. Elderly farmers smiled and said, "That's OK with us," or "We don't know if we can sell our rice or not, but we need rice for ourselves to eat anyway." And they kept working in the fields. In the season of edible wild plants, they had a festival of hunting edible wild plants. While Norio and Natsu felt a doubt creeping into their minds little by little, they helped organize the festival and talked with other people how to liven up the spirits of the people in Kaidomari.
Then happened a big aftershock. The ground shook more violently than the quake in March. An earthquake directly below the area. In Kaidomari, spring water was gone, mountain streams dried up. Landslides killed some people. Boom! Boom! Since 11 March, there was the sound of explosions day and night as if somebody was launching fireworks between the mountains. Now they knew that it was an advance warning of an earthquake. After the aftershock, Norio and Natsu began to think again of what to do.
"Don't just compare to other places. We have to know exactly about radiation, about the state of contamination of this land. We must look at the reality."
Farmers have to touch the soil and inhale dust every day. They also have to work in the rain. The reference value of radiation dose is set without considering such case of radiation exposure dose. The government announces the measured value of radiation dose of water-washed vegetables. The radiation dose of grass in pasture is much higher than other vegetables. And cattle eat it without washing. Naturally the radiation dose of milk becomes high. Contamination is more and more concentrated in the pasture and radioactive substances remain ever since. A recycling-oriented farming causes a vicious circle like that.
"In the environment like this, we cannot produce anything we can sell with confidence. I don't want anybody who lives in the area full of danger of external exposure to eat food which may cause internal exposure as well. Some of our customers tried to encourage us and asked us when we are going to start our business again. But we don't want sell. We are now in the unusual environment. In the unusual environment, we cannot do usual business. If it is possible to change the soil or perfectly remove radioactive substances, we want to stay. But we have learned how and it is difficult to decontaminate pasture. Also we cannot expect any help for the decontamination. We have to do it by ourselves for decades, for all our life. That means we have to give up producing cheese. We also cannot invite children to our farm. Every day we wear masks, and run into a house when it rains. We have to live like that all the time. If we stay here, the life like that would be a burden on our next generation. If we choose to stay here, some people might think this land is OK. But actually it is not OK. It would be better to move somewhere else and produce cheese again. During summer holidays, we invite the children in this area to our farm. We grow vegetables safe to eat and send them to the children here. It's much more like a positive way of living, we've come to think that way."
For the people who have no choice other than to stay here, their way of thinking might not be quite welcome. A lot of agricultural producers in Fukushima are afraid of raising their voices. Even though they think in that way, they don't dare to speak openly. Everybody thinks "We have to keep going." But how many of them can actually keep going forward? Even each specialist in radiation effect might have a different opinion about such a matter. But if the people who live here don't speak up about the danger of internal exposure, they might dig their own graves in the end. It is the reality.
Whichever they choose, it would be a bitter choice. It is painful to choose. No one knows which choice is the right one until the end. Still, they have to choose.
After grappling to find an answer, they decided to leave Kaidomari.
"Until now I thought if we have hope and make our effort, we will be rewarded in some way. But now I've learned even though while we are having a happy life, we can drown into trouble like this and lose everything at any moment. To protect ourselves, we have to take part in the society even though it's bothersome. We have to speak up, we have to state what we think. It's very important. It may be a small matter, but everything will start from it, I think. I want to keep cattle. We've already started producing cheese. To be honest, I want to keep going in this place. But, for me, it is the most important that my family can have a healthy life."
Going into the mountain and taking some berries to make jam. Enjoying the beauty of the nature and the changes of the seasons.
Seeing calves were born, milking cows, staying outside without doing anything, watching the stars.
In winter, being warmed up beside a wood-burning stove.
After getting up in the morning, going to see the nest of the hens. "Hey, we've got eggs again!"
Such joys of ordinary days.
The days in Kaidomari.
(Translated by Ribeka Ota)