FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

226the ground to send off the spirits of deceased family members, who are believed to return to the spirit world. The most famous Okuribi must be the Daimonji, or the Okuribi at Gozan (the Five Mountains) in Kyoto on August 16. Last summer, however, many people in the Tohoku region had watched the Daimonji on TV with mixed feelings. Pine trees from Rikuzentakata, in the Iwate Prefecture, where 1,487 were killed by the disaster, were supposed to be sent and burnt as firewood for the Okuribi fire at Gozan in Kyoto by invitation. However, the local people in Kyoto got so anxious about possible nuclear contamination of the firewood, its smoke and ashes, that they refused to use the wood from Rikuzentakata, even though the city is located some 200 km from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. Complaints, criticism, and controversy continued for months.Several plans for reconstruction following the disaster have been proposed in vain due to poorly-collaborating stakeholders in our society. A large number of medical professionals, researchers, politicians, musicians, and even restaurant chefs came to the affected communities and tried to help us, encourage us, entertain us, and heal us. But sadly, the hidden agenda of some of them seemed just to become famous for the sake of their own interest. Their visits and thoughtless behaviour threw the communities into confusion. Their priority seemed to be to undertake highly visible projects no matter how little they met people's needs in the affected communities. I myself would like to rebuild a community-based primary care system, a more sustainable one than before, along the affected coast of Fukushima through programmes of capacity building and social networking. However, it has been difficult for long-term human resources projects like this to attract the support of policy makers and academics.The quotation at the beginning of this blog is from the popular cartoon by the acclaimed animation director Hayao Miyazaki entitled "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind." It is a story of reconstruction over 1000 years after a foolish series of wars devastated much of our planet. Humanity clings to existence at the fringes of a vast, polluted forest inhabited by monstrous insects. The struggle for existence escalates into another series of wars between humanity and the insects, as well as among the humans. Only Nausicaä, the princess of the tiny kingdom of the Valley of the Wind, knows the environmental significance of the forest. She turns her caring gaze towards all the creatures in harmony with the healing power of the forest. In Nausicaä, Miyazaki seems to explore how we have to pay for our mistakes after we have destroyed our environment.As early as two weeks after the disaster we had found ourselves somehow insensitive to what was happening around us. Daily tragic news and reports came and went, passing in front of us like a silent slide show. After several months of an active reconstruction phase, it seems to me that we are now experiencing a second apathetic phase around the first anniversary of the disaster. It seems easy for the media and journalists to tell anniversary stories, and they eventually broadcast and published a lot of them worldwide. But for most of us people in the affected areas, the scenery remains rather the same; nothing much has changed.After becoming a disaster victim myself, I now understand that it was not hard to care about the events in Fukushima. They just happened in front of us. What is more difficult, however, is for us now to feel a doctor's compassion toward people's sufferings in other parts of the world. Tragedy can happen anywhere and at any time: the big earthquake in China, the flooding in Thailand, the cyclone in the Philippines, and the riots in several areas of the world. The information comes to us continuously through the internet, emails, Facebook, Twitter and so on. If we are not sensitive enough, they too appear just as a series of silent slide shows. We need to survive the apathetic phase again by keeping our medical caring gaze turned towards what is happening to people elsewhere in the world, as well as in Fukushima.The First Anniversary of the Japanese Tsunami