The Hydrangea Revolution and Japan’s Unheard Voices

This article is now available in German.

“The splitting of the atom has changed everything, except man’s way of thinking, and so we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.” – Albert Einstein

 By Akio Matsumura

Who is leading us toward nuclear catastrophe? Government and political leaders, profit-minded business leaders, and paid nuclear scientists. Yes, it is difficult to change their thinking.


However, those of us in Japan and the United States live in democracies. Government derives its power from the people through laws that guarantee our freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. And our history shows that people under oppression will eventually stand up. In recent memory, the Arab Spring shook the Middle East free from the grip of several dictators, and although much of the movement erupted in violence, real change has come. This past Friday Mohammed Mursi became Egypt’s first civilian, democratically elected president.


Since the Fukushima accident a popular movement has grown in Japan as well. Also on Friday, tens of thousands of people protested the government’s decision to restart two reactors this month at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. People chanted “No More Fukushima,” and called for nuclear energy to remain off in Japan. They want accountability and responsibility by the Japanese government and TEPCO. (It is notable that many young mothers joined the demonstration to call for their children’s safety).


These tens of thousands are the Hydrangea Revolution.  Hydrangea flowers are composed of many small flowers and are resilient in the face of strong winds and storms. The flower is a symbol of unity and individual commitment.  I praise their courageous actions.


However, the Hydrangea Revolution is not the Arab Spring; the Japanese are not fighting to oust a dictator like former President Hosni Mubarak. Prime Minister Noda has the reputation for being a consensus builder, not a risk taker and especially not a dictator. What then, does the Hydrangea Revolution want to change?


People are demonstrating against the system of secrecy and back room influence that steers Tokyo and the rest of the country. TEPCO has influence over policy makers, media circles, and elite scientists. Together these three groups hold enough power, influence, and expertise to say what goes for truth in Japan, even if it is not what is correct. Because of this collusion, freedom of speech has waned in Japan. We Japanese traditionally hope more to save face than speak out against an issue. But now we are seeing that inaction begets oppression. And thus people are speaking out.



"Unheard Voices"


Last week I watched a recording of a play entitled ‘Unheard Voices,” which was performed on March 11, 2012 in Tokyo by three girls from Soma High School in Fukushima Prefecture.  I was moved by their courage but find myself in despair over their grief and worries.  We have made an irreversible mistake that will affect their future. It is our moral obligation to listen to them. This is even more necessary after learning that the video has become controversial in Japan.

I would like to introduce an excerpt that shows the deep lamentation expressed by the three young actresses in the drama.


Maki:  “In the future, if we get married to people outside of the region and have children, what if they say something about the Fukushima radiation? In the future, when we have children, if that child has any sort of disability, we’ll be blamed for everything.”

Sakura: “But it’s not our fault! … I think that the surrounding areas only grew thanks to the power plant. In exchange for all the risk, of course. But, those risks aren’t something our generation agreed to!

Maki:  “Don’t you see? We’ve been robbed of our freedom. I mean, what is freedom anyway? The food is contaminated! So is the soil! As is the water and the ocean! Can we even say that we’re ‘free’ when we have to live in fear of the radiation? We live so close to the nuclear power plant, but just because we’re outside of the warning zone, we’ve been given no guarantees. I want them to guarantee our future.”

Nozomi (committed suicide): 455… 456…457…458…In Soma, this many people have died because of the disaster.  Will I be counted as the 459th?  Why don’t people understand?  Did I say something wrong?  Like how beautiful the stars in the night sky are, or how green and beautiful Soma becomes after the winter.     What do you know? You don’t know anything!


These short lines leave a clear message of what sort of ill life we are passing on to younger generations.

If Fukushima reactor unit 4 collapses, the catastrophe would degrade the lives of our descendants for hundreds or thousands of years. If we have nothing to explain to these girls now, how will we explain an the cause and effects of an even larger catastrophe later?


The girls’ perspective of life and nature has changed.  “Mountain, Forest, River, Sea…” these words now bring to mind radiation, not the dwelling place of any spirit or God. We live on a world of water. From space, our planet is blue with the oceans that cover 70 percent of its surface.  As life on our planet comes from water, we too are formed from a single cell in the small sea of our mother’s womb.  Like the earth, we are 70 percent water.  But something is terribly wrong when water, the worldwide symbol of purity, becomes polluted. The natural order is upside down when a drink of water brings disease instead of relief.  When a heavy rain kills trees and lakes. When the source of life is poisoned as it flows from the ground. We are a tenant of the planet.  We have no right to change the planet.


I like to suggest that our policy makers, nuclear power plant companies and nuclear scientists step back   for a moment and think over as an individual, not an associate of any group, what our responsibility is for our children, grand children and our descendants for years to come.  The Hydrangea Revolution is a push for true democracy in Japan. A free press is a critical pillar of any democracy. It is a time for each member of the media to ask basic questions of the Japanese government and its companies and shed light on the true situation there.


Still, it may be too late to do anything now unless the wisdom of the international community and the military step in.


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