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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: International | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism
"Ranch of Hope" Yoshi Kaneda
Masami Yoshizawa a cattle farmer from Fukushima has been battling to protect his cattle and let the world know the results of Fukushima and the role of the Abe government
"Ranch of Hope” by Yoshi Kaneda
By Yoshihiro Kaneda
Masami Yoshizawa is a cattle farmer and he has been living and feeding the contaminated cattle inside the former evacuation zone, prior to, and after the nuclear accident. He is not breaking the law by living inside the zone anymore. Because the government lifted its order to evacuate from the zone on March 31st, 2017 around 6 years after the nuclear accident in Fukushima which has been rated the level 7event, same as Chernobyl. But there are still high levels of radiation in the zone. Nobody is in the town except few very old people who do not care about the radiation.
Masami Yoshizawa’s ranch is 14 km northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Clearly, he can look over stacks and cranes of the crippled plant from the ranch. He has fed 304 cows which lost their economic value because they became radioactive waste due to exposure.
The first time I met Yoshizawa was on October 15th, 2016 at the my friend’s photo exhibition. Yoshizawa wore a blue windbreaker which had the printed logo of his farm on the upper right, called the Ranch of Hope in Japanese. He was tall and I could easily imagine his body was sturdy under the clothes. He was in his 60s. His face was tight, rustic but handsome and kempt, and, by the look, he seemed a type of a humorous guy. But his face looked weary. I knew he brought his famous red-framed structure, the cattle installation, on his truck from Fukushima to Tokyo. But I did not think his fatigue was from the drive and did think his face had features of activists in Fukushima who were aged and worn out by radioactive rays. You may imagine old sailors looking worn out by ultraviolet rays. It was same as the people in the high radiation area. The difference is that ultraviolet rays can be kept off but the radioactive rays cannot. They always radiate.
He was a main speaker for the event. After the event, we went to the underground café and listened to his words with a few people for three or four hours. Through and after the event, he made a fiery speech with humor and political satire.
Then I had a chance to go to the gathering of the Ranch of Hope to meet him in Tokyo. After the gathering, while listening to his words with remaining several people, I asked an old woman who went to the ranch how the ranch’s radiation was. She said, only for a night, she aged and her cataract grew two stages. Her story was like Cinderella in hell.
This is the story about Masami Yoshizawa since the day of the Great Earthquake until now.
It was on March 11th, 2011. After the Great Earthquake and the following Tsunami, strong aftershocks hit North Eastern Japan frequently. The evacuation due to the nuclear accident already started inside the 3 km radius from the plant and then 5 km, which people in other areas including Yoshizawa did not know at all at the time. At night, several helicopters with flashing red lights came over the area of the plant. Noises overlapped and sounded weird in the dark. The town was full of debris, rubble, and wreckages of buildings and houses. Cracks in the ground were all over the place. “It was the end of the world,” Yoshizawa thought. “My sister, nephew and I spent the night at the ranch and warmed ourselves around the woodstove with candle lights. We experienced fear.”
In the early morning on the next day, a police unit came to the ranch. “I thought they came to tell me ‘evacuate from here’ because I knew something unusual was happening at the nuclear power plant. But they said they needed the space for a relay base.” They were the signal corps of the prefecture police and their role was building a relay base for the live broadcasting of the nuclear power plant accident from the helicopters to the headquarters via the satellite. “I said ‘yes please’ and delivered rice balls and miso soup and prepared the woodstove.”
Several hours after the first conversation, the Unit 1 Reactor exploded. The police unit captured the moment of the explosion. And the policemen came to Yoshizawa hastily and said “Finally, the moment of truth has come. The headquarters ordered to withdraw from here. The government covers up information. You should abandon the ranch and evacuate from here.” Yoshizawa could not understand what they were saying about the information. But afterward, Yoshizawa found what they said was about SPEEDI, System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, which could predict the directions of plume. He assumed that the policemen had known the ranch was downwind.
The government, the prefecture, and the off-site center did not inform the town of Namie, where the ranch was, about the plume and the nuclear accident even though the government dispatched about a hundred big buses only for the municipalities of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for evacuation. Namie was not one. The mayor of Namie, on his own, made a decision to evacuate the whole town and people of Namie fled to Tsushima. In the Ukedo port of Namie, about two hundred people were under the wreckages by the Tsunami and waited for rescue but the rescue teams had to withdraw due to the risks of exposure to radiation. “It was the scene that made us mad. Humans still alive were left behind and died. What they could do was to abandon other humans and escape in order to save their own lives.”
About a half of people in Namie, around 9,000 people, stayed in Tsushima for four days, on 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th. On 14th, Unit 3 exploded. On the next day, 15th, Unit 4 exploded. On 15th, people staying in Tsushima knew that their evacuation place was downwind and the heavy plume was continuously coming there. Everybody escaped in panic.
The off-site center of Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency which was designed for the nuclear accident already fled on 12th. “They are bug outs, cowards, and useless,” said Yoshizawa.
Yoshizawa still stayed on the ranch that week, wondering how to treat the cattle. If he had not started up the diesel generator, they could not even drink water. His sister and nephew already evacuated because the incoming radioactivity was 1000 times more than the normal levels. On 17th, Murata, the president of the ranches including Yoshizawa’s, got a call that the traders refused the cattle which might be contaminated. Murata said to Yoshizawa “All is lost.”
Yoshizawa was alone, filled with emptiness, thinking in the ranch. When Yoshizawa had seen rising white volcanic smoke with a blast from the nuclear power plant, which was the explosion of Unit 3 Reactor, he had already known the ranch has ended.
Then, Yoshizawa thought about going to Tokyo to protest against TEPCO, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, and the cabinet, and he thought he would never return to the ranch because of the radiation. He sprayed on the tank “Death-Defying Survivable Solidarity” like a graffiti art. All of service stations were closed, so he collected gasoline into the wash bowls from the scrap cars in the ranch. The gasoline was sometimes red or yellow. He put loudspeakers on the car which was used in old days and went to Tokyo.
Yoshizawa stayed in Tokyo shouting through the loudspeakers and sleeping inside the car. On 18th, he went to TEPCO and said he wanted to meet TEPCO’s representative. The policemen at the gate saw Yoshizawa crying and they sympathized with him and gave him permission to see the director of TEPCO. He complained to the director, while crying, and, at the end, the director was also crying. “I think my performance was good,” said Yoshizawa cunningly.
In Tokyo, Yoshizawa saw young women and men wearing fashionable clothes and thought about the gap between them and him. The electricity made by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was used in Tokyo. Actually, many people of Tokyo did not know that at the time.
Yoshizawa came back and said to Murata “Feed the cattle, will you?” and Murata agreed. They knew the ranch’s radiation levels were very high. They were going to the ranch, and coming back quickly to feed the remaining cattle a few times a week. After finishing the series of jobs, Yoshizawa sprayed “Death-Defying Survivable Solidarity” on a side of a truck, a bucket of a wheel loader, a utility pole and so on. At the check point to the zone, policemen always ordered “Don’t go inside the zone.” One policeman urged “Which one do you choose a human life or cattle’s lives?” Yoshizawa refused it.
On April, 22nd, the government issued an order to evacuate the zone and make it a restricted area. Murata and Yoshizawa broke the government orders to go to the ranch. So they wrote many apologies, oaths and particulars to the officers at the barricade of the evacuation zone.
Meanwhile, they went to the other ranches to see the condition of cattle in the evacuation zone which was desolate and nobody was there. There were sometimes surviving cattle but their bodies were all skin and bones. Dung was very small and dry due to a lack of water and food. All of the neighboring cattle were already dead. And when the surviving cattle felt someone coming nearby they were bellowing to ask for water and food. “I was witnessing a sight from the hell that cows and bulls tethered to the cowsheds starved to death.” Here and there, they saw these kinds of scenes. They also saw pigs were devouring each other. So they made a firm decision never to leave the cattle behind, as the barricades leading to the zone were growing larger and larger.
On May 12th, 2011, the government ordered that the livestock inside the evacuation zone must be humanely killed and they provided a letter of consent to the family farmers in the evacuation zone. Most of the livestock had to be destroyed and they were designated as radioactive waste. The officials mobilized all of veterinarians in Fukushima. A great deal of livestock was killed and buried. Yoshizawa was mad about it. “Out of about 3500 cows, 2500 cows starved to death and 1400 cows were destroyed. 700 cows survived because ten ranches disobeyed the government order.”
Despite the government’s order Yoshizawa moved to the ranch to live there. Yoshizawa was only human in the town of Namie and also only his ranch still remained. So people naturally called the ranch Ranch of Hope. Hearing this, Yoshizawa renamed his ranch to the Ranch of Hope, four months after the accident.
At the time, Yoshizawa thought the accident was an unexpected result of the natural disaster which the government announced repeatedly. But TEPCO and the government had already predicted the accident caused by Tsunami several years before. Afterward, it was revealed and the district court ruled it was the responsibility of TEPCO and the government on March, 2017. They did not build the protection wall against the Tsunami due to the cost.
Little by little, Yoshizawa experienced strange incidents, possibly due to the radiation. When professors of Iwate University’s veterinary course castrated about 70 bulls in order to stop the increase of the cattle, the doctors found that some bulls could not stop hemorrhaging even when their blood vessels were clamped. Yoshizawa thought “It could be linked to radiation. Considering this, humans could also suffer from the same condition.”
More than 10 cows died during the winter of 2011-2012. At the end of the year 2012, Yoshizawa held the spirit-consoling service for about 120 contaminated dead cows. Nobody knew what caused their death despite the great losses. Volunteers collected their white bones around the ranch. That was an amount of five buckets of the wheel loader. Yoshizawa said “I was depressed.” It was unusual and one volunteer vomited.
Half a year before that, in July, 2012, Yoshizawa noticed that some cows had white spots. One year later, some cows had white spots all over their bodies. When Yoshizawa shaved their white spots, he noticed white skin discoloration. Yoshizawa thought it was due to the radiation because veterinarians confirmed it was not a skin disease. In Chernobyl, there were birds with the same spots and, in Fukushima, the same abnormalities had already been found by the researchers. This story was published in the weekly magazine. Then, spoken and unspoken blames attacked Yoshizawa. The story about the contaminated cattle dragged down the reputation of Fukushima prefecture which suffered considerable damage of their products and so did residents and former residents. The people who evacuated to other prefectures have often been discriminated by the neighbors in their current cities and their children have been bullied at school. Because the neighbors assume the bodies of the evacuees have radioactive substances inside and emit radiation to other humans. Sometimes, they are called “radioactivity.” Several cases have been reported by newspapers and on TV and the survey of April 2017 shows there have been 199 bullying cases among children of the evacuees. Its number is the tip of the iceberg and the bullying is still ongoing. Also, the contaminated cattle story could hold back the process of exporting the nuclear power plants from Japan. It may be a loss for Japan as a nation, especially for the nuclear industry and the bureaucrats. So people in Fukushima have developed the jitters and have been afraid of speaking about the nuclear accident and radiation issues.
Regarding compensation, throughout the Japanese history, the authorities have been always stingy for the poor and not for the rich and you can see it in the history about the environmental pollution. TEPCO compensated Murata who owned the ranches all over Fukushima including Yoshizawa’s ranch, for about 600 contaminated cows until the end of 2011. It was enough money to Murata, but Yoshizawa who had been a hired cowboy and owned the land of the ranch, not the cattle, only got a thousand dollars a month which was regular compensation for people in Namie. Of course, nobody has paid for the expenses for keeping the cattle.
People in Tomioka, Okuma, and Futaba had earned a lot of money because they had built the nuclear power plant and had received subsidies from the government. Namie did not take any money because they did not have a plant due to the anti-nuclear activism. “We sometimes envied the rich people’s lives. But, whether protesting against the nuclear power plant or not, the rich or not, everything was gone right now. It pains me to read the replies to a questionnaire of the people of Namie. It’s hopeless. Many people wrote they lost their will to live. Some wrote they wanted to kill themselves. The number of suicides is the greatest among municipalities surrounding the plant. TEPCO deliberately takes a long time to compensate. Someday, they will say ‘Don’t resist!’ and they will do what they want. This kind of control will be a heavy burden for the people.”
According to the survey in 2016, only 17.5 % of the people want to return to Namie, because former residents are concerned about their health risks due to the high levels of radiation. An old woman of the town said “I can’t go back to my ancestors’ grave.”
Escape From Wavering
Yoshizawa always says he has been wondering why he keeps the cattle alive and people always ask questions about it. The picture book of the Ranch of Hope which was published in 2014 expresses Yoshizawa’s wondering. “There are some hundreds of cattle in the land where humans vanished. We are called Ranch of Hope before I know it. Whenever weakened cattle die I think here is only despair. Is there hope or meaning here? I am still thinking. I am thinking many times and will be thinking throughout my life. Do we have a meaning?” This Yoshizawa’s words might be collected in late 2013 or in early 2014. During this period, Yoshizawa always said “Why do I keep the cattle which don’t have economic value?”
He was in a maze on it. In the interview of December 2011, he said “It (feeding the cattle) is meaningless, I know.” In the interview of 2013, he said “In these two years, I have been thinking about the cowboy’s pride. I don’t blame those who agreed to have their cattle destroyed, but their despair is deep. I am wondering about the reasons of keeping the cattle alive for so long. I made up my mind not to destroy them, against the government decision, and to feed them. I will keep them alive until they die naturally. But I am still wondering. They have no economic value. We have been exposed to radiation there. Why should I be against the government? Of course, a cowboy’s pride is to keep the cattle alive, I know that. But I cannot find the meaning.” He has wavered in his mind and judgment depending on the period.
Yoshizawa added “Our town of Namie became Japanese Chernobyl due to the accident. Even though the town became empty, the lively cattle are surviving. That’s a ray of hope. I think if we don’t have any hope, we can’t live anymore. Unless we create some sort of meaning, the human spirit, the most important thing, will fall apart.”
In 2016, he said to me “Surviving cattle are the living witnesses who can talk about the nuclear accident. I don’t want to let them die in vain. The contaminated cattle are needed for a scientific research such as the examination of blood and urine and the examination of genetic abnormalities of the second generation of calves. But the government says ‘Be silent and kill them’. But this is the destruction of evidence.” I knew some universities have been researching the cattle but also I felt his mind was wandering and something is left out from his words. He seemed to force himself agree his words. Because the scientists have not admitted the cattle’s abnormal health condition is due to radiation.
One year after, in July, 2017, Yoshizawa had a lecture in near Tokyo. In this lecture, he was different from before. He did not express complex thoughts or feelings about the cattle in his speech or a tentative tone in his voice. Apparently, he changed himself. He said “I am exposed to radiation. We lost lives, towns, and the future. Humans who lose their future must break down and think that life is meaningless. Everybody has experienced it any number of times in Fukushima. I also experienced it. This can be understood by only those who have experienced.”
He added “The nuclear accident of Fukushima is weathering and fading away. Now, nobody listens to me.” His words implied the protest regarding the Fukushima nuclear accident was declining. But he continued to say “I decide to fight for abandoning nuclear power plants with the cattle throughout my life. This happens naturally. Don’t say tired or lost. Continue to fight.” The words were his resolution over about his 6 years struggling with the contaminated cattle. On September 11th, 2017, in front of the METI, Ministry of Energy, Trade and Industry, which has promoted nuclear power plants, he was standing alone on the roof of the protest bus and shouted again and again “Don’t say tired or lost. Continue to fight. Don’t say tired or lost. Continue to fight.” It was impressive and memorable. He was a valiant speaker. He overwhelmed his wavering. Don Quixotes like him in the world who protest against the power are symbols of the protests. Yoshizawa had already spoken his cattle are the symbol of the protest here and there. Finally, he himself becomes a symbol of the protest spontaneously which seems a natural flow of a victim of the nuclear accident.
Yoshizawa wakes up at 6:00 in the morning and feeds the cattle which are in the cowshed or in the pasture. The cattle herd and follow Yoshizawa’s wheel loader because they know he feeds them. The amount of food is about five tons. If the accident hadn't happened, the cattle would be slaughtered and become meat. But now, nobody buys them. Far from that, money to raise them is draining away. I heard at the event, one volunteer of the ranch asked Yoshizawa, “Will you lose your own money?” Yoshizawa answered vaguely but he expressed his will to keep the cattle. I remembered Yoshizawa’s words from some interviews, “You may think of me as an idiot. I am a cowboy. That’s my job. If they cannot be sold, it’s OK. Unless I feed them and work for them, I will go mad.” He is dauntless on money or health. He says “I want to ask people what is the meaning of keeping the contaminated cattle alive.”
Now, the zone is open to the public. Only 2 percent of the people of the town returned their home. All of them are elders. The high levels of radiation are still monitored even now, equivalent to an X-ray room. After the accident, at the ranch, new calves were born and about two hundred cows have died. Now, every weekend, about 20 volunteers go to the ranch. Masami Yoshizawa told us “Here (the ranch) is actually desperate place. I dare to say here is Ranch of Hope. Hope is something to be created by myself through thinking.”
By Yoshihiro Kaneda y-kaneda [at] rc5.so-net.ne.jp