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Fukushima Trip

Author: Hans Jesper Del Mundo

Editors: Motoi Miura, Moe Hirohara

Before leaving Japan to return to the Philippines, I accompanied Ms. Yuki Senoo to Iwaki city, which is located southeast of Fukushima. This trip was organized and made possible by Ms. Asaka Higuchi, Ms. Izumi Yoshida and their colleagues at the Tokiwa Foundation, which is based in Fukushima.

Following the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, which followed the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, radiation exposure was one of the primary concerns for the residents of said prefecture because of the possible radiation-related health threats. We Filipinos do not have this kind of problem or worry in the Philippines because, even though the country is prone to earthquakes like Japan, we do not have an active nuclear power plant. Before this trip, I had the opportunity to read the brochure for the international symposium on disaster management and recovery for children and communities, which was held in Soma city, Fukushima, in 2016. It indicates that, after the disaster, temporary housing for many, the psychological impacts on the residents, elder care, and insufficient health workers were problems that many parts of Fukushima faced. It cannot be avoided that many local residents, nursing homes, and other facilities evacuated to a location further from the nuclear power plant. Children are believed to be at a greater risk for radiation exposure than adults, so residents limited their outdoor exposure to 30 minutes soon after the incident. After learning all these facts, I was curious to see what is happening in Fukushima after more than 6 years since the disaster.

When we arrived at Yumoto Station in Iwaki city, we received a warm welcome from Mr. Takemoto, and he brought us to Tokiwa Children’s Club where we also met Mr. Yoshida and the other teachers. I learned that the children here are mostly sons and daughters of the employees of the Tokiwa Foundation, wherein they can leave their children for recreation and learning while they are working. I spent the whole day sitting in on the kids’ classes and playing with them. It was so refreshing and fun to take part in sports and games such as tag, basketball, and soccer, especially for a medical student like me who barely gets any physical activity. It was certainly a unique and amazing experience that made me feel like a kid again. At the club, I also presented on the Philippines’ culture and other fun facts with the help of Ms. Senoo’s translation into Japanese.

We met Mr. Sugiyama, who brought us to Tokiwas-Sou to stay for one night. He picked us up the next morning and then brought us to the Jyoban Hospital of the Tokiwa Foundation for a short tour. We were introduced to Dr. Hiroaki Shimura, who is one of the best urologists in the area. It was nice knowing that he makes an effort to visit patients’ homes once a month while dressing as a samurai. Then we met Mr. Kambara, who showed us the whole-body counter at the Iwaki Hinyokika Hospital. There is a fast scan and baby scan, in which you lie down or stand still for 2 minutes while the internal exposure is measured. According to the hospital, although more than 10,000 people have been scanned, the main problem is that people will not return for a second screening after learning their first assessment was normal. Continuous monitoring is very important to ensure people’s safety from radiologic health effects. The hospital makes efforts by offering incentives and innovative methods to encourage people to receive a screening on the whole-body counter, including babies and children. Additionally, some people have become hesitant to eat vegetables after the nuclear power plant incident because they believe the vegetables are contaminated with radiation. This tendency may cause further health problems due to malnutrition. However, now that the vegetables from the area are widely known to be safe, this issue will hopefully be resolved soon. Then we went to see Naraha Tokiwaen, a well-equipped shelter and catering facility for the elderly, and Shiko Gakuen, a daycare center where children can run and play, even indoors.

With all the problems Fukushima has faced after the disaster, it is notable that an organization like Tokiwa Foundation has initiated the abovementioned efforts for recovery with the support and approval of the government. The group provides a wide range of services to the residents, such as constant monitoring of internal radiation for the residents to ensure their health and safety, shelters/nursing homes for the elderly, and daycare centers for children to increase their physical activities in hopes of preventing obesity. Furthermore, it is important to empower the residents of Fukushima by encouraging them to understand the situation related to radiation.

Lastly, at least for the residents of Iwaki city, I can see they are really moving forward after the disaster. From what I have read, internal exposures are now negligibly low in Fukushima and external exposures are not higher than other parts of the world. The radiation dosage is decreasing, industries are experiencing revival, and the people are doing their utmost to continue their lives. Based on my experience and observations, Fukushima is a very safe and good place to live and a breath of fresh air compared to the very crowded and busy Tokyo, where I stayed the longest. This Fukushima trip was a nice and relaxing way to end my 40-day Japan trip, and I am really hoping to return in the future.

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