An Expat’s Perspective on Fukushima in Tokyo

So, what’s it like living roughly 260 km from a disabled nuclear power plant? That’s the question I often get from family and friends back home in the States. They are often surprised when I respond that it’s not much different than when I was in Tokyo before the disaster. To quote the British term, people just seem to carry on.

But, that’s not entirely true. Yesterday was the Great East Japan Earthquake anniversary. And, it was different. My Japanese colleagues specifically asked me what Americans thought about the Fukushima nuclear accident. That was a first. And, when I attended a talk on US-Japan Relations, I watched a former Japanese ambassador struggle to find his words in addressing the disaster. It says something when a seasoned diplomat appears visibly shaken.

Yet, the Fukushima nuclear crisis is not a cloud hanging over people’s routine lives here in Tokyo. Gone are the days when you saw Geiger Counters outside the immediate vicinity of the disaster. At this point, it is rare to even hear the disaster brought up in ordinary conversation. As one Japanese colleague told me, “We leave it up to the government now. We trust them. There’s not much any of us can do about it anyway.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that people don’t care about what is happening in Fukushima – they clearly do. It’s more that Fukushima is not something that average Japanese people regularly confront in their daily lives. As a result, Fukushima is somewhere else. It’s not in Tokyo; it’s not in Chiba; it’s not in Takasaki. It’s far away in Okuma, Futaba District, Fukushima. It has moved from the foreground to the background. Fukushima is there and people are somewhat aware of it. But, it’s not headline news – at least on most days. So, aside from the occasional protest, it’s not a dominant issue living in Tokyo. At least that has been my experience in the few months that I have been here.

Michael Edward Walsh is an Adjunct Fellow for Emerging Technologies. He currently lives in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where he is conducting academic research on the social construction of Japanese security laws. The views expressed are his own. They are not intended to be interpreted as objective research findings but rather as an on-the-ground first hand perspective.

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