Cows and Farmers

April 26th is the day of the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. On this same day, in the center of Tokyo Megalopolis, a demonstration was staged against TEPCO to showcase its criminal responsibility for causing the most terrific nuclear disaster in Japan. Participants were farmers from Fukushima prefecture, protesting against TEPCO, and against the mismanagement of radioactivity that contaminated all their agriculture products, their vegetables, their milk, their livelihood.

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But they did not come alone; they brought their cows. Imagine that! In the center of Tokyo, a global city, the proud center of Japan’s most advanced high-tech infrastructure, cows appeared. Along with their cows, the farmers also brought vegetables and straw mats. Straw matting has been a symbol of farmers since protests during the Middle Ages. For the farmers, cows are more than friends; they live with cows together and see them as their sons and daughters, like a family. I saw this scene in the TV news. The farmers angrily protested against TEPCO, and they also said that even their cows were angry, and the cows mooed. The sound of mooning echoed through the megalopolis. This disaster has brought out old strata of historical memory, images, and feelings that have lain dormant for many years in our cultural coconsciousness, but are now being exposed in front of our eyes. There is something being touched—in the core of people—that suggests a revival of something long dead. These strata, these memorials; we have to name them and claim them.

The most serious problem after the nuclear disaster is that all the vegetables are contaminated by radioactivity leaking from the Fukushima power plant. We have all become careful about the selection of food we buy and consume. Of course, the government has set safety regulations for food contamination, but already, these official levels have been surpassed. If we follow the government’s guidelines, we will be contaminated by radiation. We can no longer buy food with confidence or ease. It is a great tragedy that the products of the farmers’ sincere efforts, especially in the time of crisis, cannot be sold, and cannot be (safely) bought and consumed by us. The farmers are frustrated and, as we saw, angry. Nuclear disaster is like this: suddenly the soil is contaminated, the food is inedible, and neither producers nor consumers can help it. Now, more than 100 days have passed since the accident. The government has made up its mind to allow contaminated vegetables to circulate around Japan. We heard the voices of the farmers themselves in the early stage of the disaster, but not so much now.  What can they say?  “Please buy my vegetable, even though they are contaminated.” Or can they lie: “My vegetables are safe—please buy them”? What can they do? Those exposed to the worst levels of radioactivity are the laborers in the nuclear power plant, of course. But the second most exposed is the farmer himself, and his family, and his cows. The soil is highly contaminated and the farmers must work in his fields for hours and days on end just to survive, to produce. His fields and his work are toxic. And from Tokyo, it is difficult to hear their voices directly, especially now that the moos of the cows are gone. But just as in the memorialized past, these Tohoku farmers have again become the subalterns.

The hot summer will come soon and then, in autumn, the next harvest will come from their rice fields. What will we all do then?