Category Archives: Comment

Inside Fukushima – Part 1

Friday, 04.03.2016

We start the trip at 9:40am and leave Tokyo headed in north-westward direction. We drive along the highway through Chiba Prefecture and towards Ibaraki Prefecture. After shortly stopping in Iwaki City, we continue to follow the Joban Expressway up North. This highway which spans around 300km in its entirety had been closed off in a 20km radius between Hirono and Tomioka after the Fukushima disaster and was only accessible with an official exemption certificate issued by the government authorities. However, it was reopened to the public on the 22nd of February 2014.[1] Shortly after, the construction of the route Namie to Minamisoma was continued and finished on the 6th of December 2014.[2] The last part, a 14.3 km long stretch between Namie and Jobantomioka was finally opened on the 1st of March 2015. Radiation exposure is displayed at 6 points on this route.

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A plate along the Joban Highway showing the outside radiation in micro Sievert per hour. Taken Friday, 04.03.2016, 16:36:08.

Driving along the highway, overhead plates show the current radiation exposure in micro Sievert per hour. Somewhere close to the town of Tomioka (Futaba district) the measurement increases to as high as 5 μSv/h (micro Sievert per hour). To put these numbers in perspective, whereby 10 μSv/h translates to immediate physical danger and an urgent requirement to relocate at once, 5 μSv/h presents a high risk of harm and requires you to relocate as soon as possible; even as low as a number as 2 μSv/h presents an elevated risk and the need to take safety precautions. At the moment of the highest outside radiation the Geiger counter does indeed show the value measured inside of the car as 2 μSv/h. Not only the urgent piercing beep of the counter makes this experience a stressful one, but also knowing that even inside the car, whose metal plates act as a shield from radiation exposure, the radiation is so strong as to pose an immediate threat to human health made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Never having been knowingly exposed to such an amount of radiation at once, for such an extended period of time, I feel like I can sense my body being irradiated. This is of course impossible, but serves as a personal proof of the way in which something so intangible and invisible, and at the same time so hostile to the human organism, could cause severe mental stress and a feeling of being reduced to ones bare and unprotected life. I remember my father’s concerns about this trip and cannot help wondering if, in this very moment, I am doing anything harmful to my potential future offspring.

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One of many radiation measurements inside the car. Taken Friday, 04.03.2016, 16:41:50.

The view along the highway is defined by fields whose surfaces have been lowered to a few decimetres. This reduction of surface level is due to the extensive excavation of irradiated soil, which in strenuous, labor-intensive work is dug up and stored in massive black bags. The latter are even more defining of the landscape than the strangely lowered squares of land. The black bags are almost everywhere. Rows and rows, mountains next to mountains of squarish bags bursting full with dirt, once source of life, they are now through the impact of human technology turned into toxic radioactive waste.  I ask myself, from this moment onwards, what is this matter that they contain? Is it nature or is it something else?

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Rows and rows of decontamination bags, filled with radioactive soil.

The night is spent at a local Ryokan in Minamisoma-Shi, a city who has been severely affected by the impact of the Tsunami. Being located high enough on a hill the elderly owners’ house was just spared by the hungry flood. However, due to the radioactive contamination all around they had to discontinue their occupations as organic farmers. In an attempt to keep his most prosperous collecting spots a secret and maybe also in a desperate grip on normalcy, the husband, Mori-San, continues to collect the local Hatsutake mushroom. This is a mushroom variety, which is highly sought after, but as mushrooms tend to pull out the radioactive elements from the ground, it will remain inedible for the next decades, maybe centuries. Mori-San and his wife tell stories of how gravely the local community was affected by the disaster. When the Tsunami ate its way inland many citizens evacuated to a Shrine, located at the top of a hill. However, tragically enough, the elevation proofed to low and all of the refugees there fell victim to the merciless waves. Now, tales are being circulated of the ghosts of the deceased haunting the area. Strange instances of ghost-sightings are amassed and shared between residents. Deeply impacting and irreversibly altering everyone’s life, the disaster has entered the oral culture.

(To be continued in part 2 and part 3)

[1] http://www.fukushimaminponews.com/news.html?id=314

[2] http://www.fukushimaminponews.com/news.html?id=442

All images and content ©Theresa Deichert, 2016.

The Krauts & the Tommys – A glance at the German/British Relationship

Subconsciously and then consciously I have noticed, over the last few months, more and more articles about Germany, German culture  and German leadership. Identified as a sign of German efficiency her ability to strip herself of unnecessary decision-making, articles regarding the latter often focus on Angela Merkel and her choice of jackets; in my eyes this women has perfected the concept of #normcore.

Decision detox. While her fashion sense remains questionable, Angie choses to focus on the important things.

This is not a completely recent development. More or less frequently, all major English newspapers have had their bit to share on our chancellor, our country, our football. However, it seems that especially in the wake of recent economic developments, the UK has become more interested in exploring their (often ambivalent) relationship with Germany.

Caricature via the Guardian

Now there is a major exhibition, as well as two massive retrospectives of seminal German artists picking up on cultural mouthpieces of German culture. They seem continue where Gerhard Richter and the major exhibition in 2011 at Tate Modern left of.

Gerhard Richter, Erschossener 1 (Man Shot Down 1), 1988 depicting Andreas Baader, co-founder of the terrorist organisation Red Army Faction (RAF) and arrested in June 1972.

Popping up on the cultural landscape are numerous museum shows with a ‘German flavour.’ For instance, there is the British Museum exhibition “The Other Side of the Medal – How Germany saw the first World War,” which examins German history through a selection of medals and their engravings. In this context, both the Observer and the Guardian ran buzzfeed-style lists of things that ‘made modern Germany.’  The weight that is attributed to sausages’ contribution to the development of our country, however, seems rather questionable to me.

With Anselm Kiefer  at the Royal Academy, which just opened this Saturday, and the Sigmar Polke retrospective at Tate Modern, scheduled to open next week on the 9th of October, two major London museums turn their full attention to German artists.

Anselm Kiefer, Wege der Weltweisheit: die Hermanns-Schlacht,1978

What these artists, have in common is that they reflect and are a reflection, if not magnification, of German history and historical developments.  Kiefer, for example, is well-known for his work’s occupation with Hitler and the resulting collective silence in  post-war  German society.

Arguably, these exhibitions then come to surface in a process, wherein the British try to understand and come to grips with Germany’s political, social and economical development after the war. After all Germany, as a country, has made its way out of their (self-inflicted) misery like a well-plucked phoenix ascending from the ashes. In a time of Scottish referendum, terrorist threat and possible economical downfall, it seems the Empire is looking for an example or a backup-plan to follow, when and if they have to struggle to their feet again; Something they never had to do before.