Improvised Music from Japan / Otomo Yoshihide / Fukushima

Project FUKUSHIMA! Activity Report
[One year later: looking back at last year's activity - looking ahead to plans for 2012]

Otomo Yoshihide

I was born in Yokohama in 1959. Originally, my parents and I had no connection or ties to Fukushima. The connection began when we moved there for my father's work in the autumn of 1968, when I was nine (in third grade). I lived in Fukushima until 1978, when I moved to Tokyo at the age of 18 to go to university.

We moved to Fukushima because my father was transferred there by his company. This was in the second half of Japan's rapid economic growth period, when Tokyo manufacturing plants had been expanding all over the country. Looking back now, it occurs to me that the construction of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (which began in 1966) was part of the same kind of trend. My father worked in a factory that made precision parts for light electrical equipment, so his business had no direct connection with the nuclear plant. I realize now that many of the students at my elementary school had moved to Fukushima from other places.

I wouldn't say there were factions in my school, but it does seem to me that there was a clear division between children who spoke the native Fukushima dialect and the small minority who did not. On top of that, the gap between the Tokyo area and other regions was even more pronounced than it is now--so, naturally, as a transfer student from Yokohama, I felt out of place and had the feeling I was "picked on." Former elementary school classmates tell me that wasn't the case; they say, "You were like the king of the hill." But I didn't feel that way myself. I may have felt I couldn't fit in, that I was isolated. I suppose this is a typical story.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, late-night radio became a sort of best friend. I sent dozens of postcards, which were read on the air on various programs. I'm sure I experienced this as a window or connection to Tokyo. Eventually I was drawn to pop music, and I think this was a contributing factor in my decision to be a musician.

When I was in high school, I started cutting classes and hanging out in the jazz and rock cafes that were in Fukushima in those days. There was no internet then, so I was wrapped up in the information I got in the cafes, and started thinking I really wanted to become a musician. From that time on I was extremely restless: I wanted desperately to go to Tokyo. On the pretext of going to university (although I hardly went to classes at all) I moved to Tokyo, and from then on I continued towards my goal of being a musician.

Later my father established an independent factory in Fukushima and my parents stayed there, but I wasn't interested. I went back to visit for the important summer and yearend holidays, but I didn't feel any "home town love" or sense of nostalgia for the area. Of course, when you go back to a place where you used to live it brings back pleasant memories, and I'm always happy to see my old friends in Fukushima. But the truth is that I spent over 30 years with hardly a thought about the place called Fukushima.

-- A mass media that could not report on the nuclear plant accident and anti-nuclear demonstrations

And then the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake happened there on March 11. Even if it had been just the earthquake and tsunami, I would certainly have felt very upset. But I don't think I would have done the things I did, because Fukushima City, where I lived, was not affected by the tsunami and none of my friends lived right on the coast. What did it was the nuclear power plant. The plant exploded, people suddenly had no place to live, radiation rained down on many communities, and with all these things happening, something inside me changed. This was an incredibly serious situation.

At the time, the media were not functioning at all. In line with the government's statements--"There is no danger," "There will be no immediate health effects"--the media said nothing but "Please remain calm." The meltdowns were covered up. The American media, on the other hand, were saying something completely different: "Everyone within 80 kilometers of the plant should evacuate." At the time we had no idea what was true and what wasn't. Only recently have we learned that data from SPEEDI (a network for rapidly forecasting the spread of radiation in emergencies) was provided to the American military. The U.S. "80-kilometer exclusion zone" must have been based on this information. The Japanese government prioritized the United States over its own people, and the media failed to fulfill their essential role of checking and challenging government misinformation.

We didn't learn this from the papers, though, until long after the fact. In March and April, we and the people of Fukushima were getting a tangled web of contradictory information. We didn't know what to believe, and obtaining the facts was a real struggle. In my view, the biggest problem in that period was that Professor Shunichi Yamashita of Nagasaki University went to Fukushima and declared that it was safe. (He gave lectures in Fukushima City on March 21, Iitate on April 6, and Date City on April 17. On April 11, five days after his lecture there, Iitate was designated a "systematic evacuation area" by the government, and the residents were forced to leave.) Professor Yamashita may not have been lying; maybe he was simply advancing a theory. But I think it's a big problem that a professor regarded as an authority came to the area on the endorsement of Fukushima prefecture and declared at the outset that there was no danger, leading to a general loss of trust in subsequent statements by the government and public institutions.

When there is talk of evacuation after an area has been declared safe, people naturally start to suspect some kind of cover-up, and lose trust in the government and academics. Iitate is an obvious example. In fact, it was reported much later that the radiation levels in several areas of Fukushima at the time were high enough to warrant taking iodine. Levels like these can't lightly be called safe. In March, levels over 20μSv/h were recorded even in Fukushima City. Clearly, this was not normal. Even if relatively few people suffered health problems, the fact is that some individuals are more sensitive to radiation than others; and since it was not absolutely safe, the authorities should have informed people about the dangers of radiation before declaring that it was. I think the first thing experts should do is report the truth, and on that basis inform people of the risks and help them judge the situation for themselves.

The same can be said about the subsequent statement on the safety of rice, the government announcement that the nuclear plant was under control, and so on. If they don't start by honestly telling us the facts, no matter how harsh, instead of telling us how safe we are, we have no basis for making informed decisions.

-- April 10 was a major turning point for me.

When people are anxious, they're easily swayed by information that reinforces their fears. This became painfully clear after the earthquake. If they're continually told "There's no danger," they stop believing it whether it's factual or not. It was very clear that if you tell people who are really worried that it's safe but don't give them any proof, they're going to think you're hiding the facts even if it's true.

It really hit home that the media weren't doing their job when the anti-nuclear plant demonstration took place on April 10. Of course, I'd been thinking along those lines already, but that day I became sure of it.

On April 10, on the strength of Twitter messages alone, ten or fifteen thousand people gathered in Koenji, Tokyo. It was the first large-scale anti-nuclear demonstration since the nuclear plant accident, yet there was almost no coverage of it in the Japanese media. It wouldn't be overstating it to say the demonstration was deliberately ignored. When I asked someone in the media, he said, "That's because the people are amateurs." So of course I answered, "Come on, that's what a demonstration is--amateurs!" To which he replied, "We don't cover something if there's no press release." But refusing to cover something because there's no press release is fundamentally erroneous. We're not talking about an advertisement magazine. The work of journalists is to cover events and write articles about them on their own, right? I thought, in this country the press is not even doing this basic job.

I don't think there was any intentional information control like "Don't cover anti-nuclear activities" happening between government and media. With all the confusion just after the disaster, I really don't think there was time to organize anything like that. It's just a guess, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that the news desks were occupied mainly by members of the generation disillusioned with protest, people who think, "Demonstrations don't change anything anyway." I thought they might be vaguely reluctant to give credence to demonstrations. I didn't care whether the news departments liked demonstrations or if they were for or against nuclear power plants; I just couldn't understand why they didn't properly report the fact that about 15,000 people had come together via Twitter and staged a demonstration.

This was the main reason why I thought the media weren't functioning. It was easy to imagine that the coverage of the nuclear plant accident was making the same kind of mistakes. As it happened, the day of the demonstration was also the day of the election for the governor of Tokyo. On the internet the prevailing view seemed to be that Governor Ishihara would not be reelected. It turned out, though, that the announcement of Ishihara's victory was almost simultaneous with the the ballot count. It wasn't only that the media weren't functioning. I had the feeling the internet, on which we'd come to rely for information, was an imperfect tool for gaining an understanding of the situation. So that was the day I really thought, "We're in trouble."

-- Invisible radiation made the blood flow sluggishly from the hearts of people in Fukushima.

The first time I went to Fukushima after the disaster was on April 11. Before going there, in Tokyo, I met Michiro Endo from the band Stalin, which could be called a forerunner of punk rock. Endo is from Nihonmatsu in Fukushima. He's nine years older than me and went to my high school. Michiro told me, "I want to put on a free festival in Fukushima on August 15 called 'Nuclear Power Plants, Fuck You.'" He wanted to know what I thought. Well, I instantly thought it was a great idea to put on a festival with a name like that. Not in favor or against, but just "Fuck you"--only a punk rocker could say it. Brilliant. But I wondered if people in Fukushima would go along with a project that had a name like "Fuck You." Anyway, we decided to go to Fukushima and hear what people had to say.

So we went. On first glance, Fukushima looked almost the same as before the disaster. The sky was blue, the mountains were the same as ever. Only the radiation levels were high--between 1 and 2 microsieverts in the center of Fukushima City. Under the eaves of houses it was easily over 10 microsieverts. But we didn't feel anything. We had no idea how to interpret or think about this situation.

In any case, in Fukushima we met a lot of people and talked and talked and talked. I saw a friend from my old high school jazz club, acquaintances in the music field, the poet Ryoichi Wago, musicians Jun Nagami and Akihiro Okachi... It may be indiscreet to say this, but everyone seemed to have suffered major emotional damage. It even seemed to me that the blood was flowing sluggishly from their hearts. Looking back now, though, I realize I was actually in that state myself.

When we told people, "We're thinking of putting on a festival called 'Nuclear Power Plants, Fuck You,'" everyone's initial reaction seemed to be skepticism. Their honest opinion was that, above all, this was no time for a festival. But as we kept talking, everyone changed their minds and started saying, "Well, maybe we could try putting on a festival." I wasn't trying to push them into it, believe me. On the other hand, none of them thought the theme should be nuclear power plants. It was the period when the government was talking about evacuating Iitate and everyone worried that Fukushima City may be next. They felt paralyzed. So as we spoke with Wago, we started thinking the theme should be "What will Fukushima do next?"--and then we thought, no, it should be bigger than that: it should be simply "FUKUSHIMA."

In the same period there were big anti-nuclear protests in other countries. Watching footage of an anti-nuclear demonstration in Germany, I spotted a placard that said "NO MORE FUKUSHIMA." Naturally, I felt the same way--"Of course this kind of accident must never happen again." But to us, Fukushima isn't only the accident at the nuclear plant. It's part of our identity, because we grew up there. When I saw the placard, I also had the feeling my own identity was being negated. I thought, just the fact of people saying "No more Fukushima" from the outside isn't going to help the residents of Fukushima who suffered most. Very simply, we didn't want to let the name "Fukushima" go on carrying a stigma. So we felt very strongly that we should do something to turn the name Fukushima from the negative word it had become, to a positive word.

When we talked about this, more and more people we knew joined in. Michiro, Wago, and many others in Fukushima and Tokyo signed on. We decided we wanted to make something happen--that if no one was going to tell us anything useful, we'd have to do it ourselves. We realized we'd run into various problems if we put on a festival in Fukushima at that time, but we thought it would be worthwhile to show people the process of considering those problems one by one. That was the beginning of Project FUKUSHIMA!

-- Project FUKUSHIMA! Attempting to create a vision for the future of Fukushima

First of all, we had to have a medium for disseminating our own information. The first person who came to mind was Naohiro Ukawa, who runs the internet TV channel DOMMUNE in Tokyo. We told Ukawa about the Koriyama community FM station KOCO Radio, and asked him if he could set up an internet TV station to broadcast information from Fukushima. As a result, the internet TV station DOMMUNE FUKUSHIMA started broadcasting on May 8.

If someone had sent information from Fukushima to Tokyo before the disaster, I doubt that anyone in Tokyo would have had the idea of picking it up. Even after the disaster, almost all information about Fukushima was broadcast from the point of view of Tokyo. But we thought it was essential to have an information line communicating the thoughts and feelings of people in Fukushima directly, without going through Tokyo.

At the same time, we held study meetings on radiation at "School FUKUSHIMA!," started a school of poetry and music, and began transmitting music and video works on the website DIY FUKUSHIMA! While we were doing these things on an ongoing basis, we were looking towards our biggest goal--holding an outdoor festival on August 15. The title was Festival FUKUSHIMA! Rather than send a particular message, we wanted to show people the current situation in Fukushima--that in itself would be the main message. Naturally, we expected that there would be arguments for and against holding an outdoor festival in Fukushima, where radioactivity levels were higher than normal. But we thought we could say something meaningful by airing all the pros and cons and resolving the issues one by one. In fact, we thought the current situation in Fukushima might best be communicated by showing the process of dealing with obstacles and facing difficulties.

Of course, there would be a debate about whether or not we should invite people to an outdoor event, and that debate would necessitate checking radioactivity levels. If the government wasn't going to check and announce the levels, we could check and announce them ourselves, and have them interpreted with the help of experts. If foods were dangerous, we would measure the levels in those foods. We decided to do those things and show them all to the public. If the media weren't functioning, we would have our own media; and if the government wasn't functioning, we would do the things it wasn't doing. We thought it was important to show this process in detail.

Another and maybe even more compelling motivation was that I felt, on a very intuitive level, that people want to put on a festival after going through terrible disasters or hardships. When you think about it, most festivals that are still being held today originated in the aftermath of epidemics, large fires, and major earthquakes. There was no science or technology then, so I think people held festivals to pray and appease the gods, pray for the souls of the deceased, and so on. But in the end I think the festival also became a way for those still living to express their feelings and ideas about how to go on with their lives. It was a sort of declaration.

After the earthquake, people in the disaster areas worked together to revive traditional festivals. But people like me had left Fukushima because we weren't content with these traditional events... "Bon" (summer holiday) festival dances and folk songs are nice, but we don't listen to that kind of music on a daily basis. Our generation liked rock, techno, jazz...we didn't grow up with local culture alone, but with a more global culture--you could say a culture poisoned by America (laugh), but "poisoned" is too simple: in a sense we had found our own way of living by incorporating this kind of music into our lives in a discerning way.

We thought, there are other kinds of festivals besides just playing traditional music. Why not have a festival organized by people who didn't stay in the community, a festival for people who aren't interested in Bon dancing? In the circumstances, we thought we should hold a new kind of festival rooted in our honest feelings. In the short term we hoped it would serve as a sort of example of problem-solving, since we would certainly come up against some problems as we were organizing it; and in the long term we hoped it would be a first chance to turn Fukushima into a name with a positive image.

-- We wanted to send the message, "The future is for us to make."

The festival was covered widely in the media and stirred up a surprising amount of controversy. Some of the arguments were almost hysterical, but many of them made us think. The opinion we heard most often was: "You shouldn't do anything that will expose people to radiation--that's murderous." I thought it might be a sound argument, but at the beginning I couldn't judge whether it was sound or not because I didn't have enough scientific knowledge. I really felt that we needed a scientist to help us study this issue.

Then I happened to see a special program on NHK Educational TV called "A Radioactive Contamination Map Created through a Network." As a result, I met Prof. Shinzo Kimura and we started looking ahead to the festival--but I'll save that for Part 2.

There is no safe radioactivity. But that doesn't mean our world was ever radiation-free. We've always been exposed to tiny amounts of radiation, even before the accident. The amount of radiation people would be exposed to by going to Fukushima and spending 10 hours at the festival does not exceed 1mSv per year, which the government has indicated as the maximum acceptable annual amount. What's more, the radiation level at the festival venue, Four Seasons Village, is about one-third the level in Fukushima City, so you could actually say it's better for the people of Fukushima City to come to the festival.

Of course, there are places in Fukushima prefecture where radiation levels are so elevated that people had to leave right away. But there are many other places where that wasn't the case. A lot of people live amid a range of radiation levels, and many are really struggling with the issue of evacuation. On the other hand, some of the people who left Fukushima are thinking they want to go back soon, and some who say they'll never leave Fukushima privately want to leave. So the situation in Fukushima can't be described in just a few words. Everyone is extremely anxious.

In this situation, I could never try to tell people that they should or should not evacuate, since people have very different circumstances and I think they need to make this kind of life-changing decision for themselves. All we could do was respect whatever decision they made, and send the message, "Let's break the deadlock of this situation by looking squarely at reality."

The message we really wanted to send wasn't "Fukushima is alive and well" or "Hang in there, Fukushima!" but "We can make the future with our own hands." And so we decided to make the festival's catchphrase "The future is in our hands."

Festival FUKUSHIMA! took place on August 15 at Fukushima City Village of Four Seasons and Azuma Baseball Stadium. Michiro Endo, Otomo Yoshihide, and Ryoichi Wago were the Executive Committee representatives. At the venue, to ensure against the worst-case scenario of cesium coming into direct contact with people's skin or spreading through the air, many furoshiki (traditional Japanese multi-purpose cloths) gathered from all over Japan were spread over the ground to make a giant furoshiki of 6,000m2. This was also a work of art meant to convey the message that we won't let the cesium from Fukushima spread further. There were over 400 performers and about 13,000 visitors at the festival. Over 250,000 people saw it on U-STREAM. The event was covered extensively, for example on NHK's "ETV Special Report" and TBS's "News Special."

The average person may think of musicians and our colleagues in the music field as flaky, but if nothing else we do what we think is right, and we were active in this effort from early on. The music community I'm in isn't so bad after all--that's how I felt. After the disaster, as time passed it gradually became clear that we wouldn't be able to see any progress without this kind of cultural activity.

At the festival in August, everyone from musicians to the people behind the scenes worked without pay and even brought their own equipment. Normally you could never put on a festival this big without running up tens of millions of yen in expenses. We were able to do it, and without charging admission, thanks to all those people. Truly, there's no way I could possibly thank everyone enough. And if I did, they'd probably all say, "Give me a break. We came because this is our problem, too."

I think this first festival gave the people of Fukushima hope that "a message can be sent from Fukushima." That wasn't our original objective, but I'd be really happy if that's how it turned out. I think it also turned out to be an opportunity for people outside of Fukushima to think about the situation, whether they agreed with our ideas or not. I'm very glad about that, too. For the festival's second year, though, I think we need to do more than that. If the first year opened the door, in the second year and thereafter we'll need to ask the question, where do we go from here?

-- Various divisions became apparent.

Since the festival in August, the thing that has struck me most is that various divisions have become apparent. Of course there's the "anti-nuclear power/pro-nuclear power" division, and within the "anti-nuclear power" group there's the division "people who have/have not been to Fukushima." People say things like "You haven't even been there." So the opinions of the people who have been there have more authority, and the people who haven't been there feel like they have to stop talking. That kind of thing.

A lot of divisions have appeared in Fukushima, too--for example there's "people who leave/people who stay," and within the "people who leave" group there's the narrower division "those who want to go back/those who don't." Among the recent issues in Fukushima is the simplistic dichotomy "decontamination or evacuation." If you draw a line between "enemies" and "allies" on top of that, and try to silence the other side while saying "over here, over here" to extend your boundaries, absolutely nothing will be resolved.

I think we have to change this way of thinking. I can't help but feel that if we keep going this way, even if all the nuclear power plants are closed down they'll just be replaced by "the next nuclear power plant (kind of thing)." That's an exaggeration, but I do think we need something like a new kind of thought. When I say "thought," I don't mean a philosophical tract, or the kind of thought that can only be understood by people who know a lot of scholarly words; I mean the kind of thought that average people can relate to. I think we need to raise the level of the "thought" that we regular people engage in as we go through life.

Musicians begin the creative process by throwing question marks at the lines that are drawn in this way. That's why we tend to react against lines that are forcefully drawn, whether they're valid or not.

Drawing lines is not the role of music and art. Music and art make invisible lines visible and cast doubt on them. That's why they're interesting, and that's why they have the power to motivate people with the suggestion that the lines drawn by politicians and others are not really accurate. Of course, we don't make music in order to do this, but I think the reason music moves people is that it has the power to make these problems visible.

At times it occurs to me that the exact opposite of this richness is a message like "Let's unite as one." Divisions come about because people say things like "Let's unite as one" in spite of the fact that people have a variety of opinions. It's fine to say, just after a disaster happens, "Let's work on the cleanup together" or "Let's work together to contain the damage." But people cannot be united forever. I think that may be this year's big theme.

-- The things I'm doing and the various problems in the world started connecting.

Actually, after the festival, around autumn, I was quite depressed. My spirits sank as I faced the realities that radiation levels wouldn't go down just because we had a festival, and that nothing seemed to have changed. Since just after the earthquake I'd been running what I thought was a short-distance sprint, but I realized that I really couldn't keep going unless I switched to long-distance running. But I didn't even know how to make the switch.

It was right at that time (December) that I was scheduled to have a conversation on NHK Radio with Masaru Kaneko, a professor in the Economics Department of Keio University. I was expecting the intimidating character we know from television, but I found he actually has a positive outlook on the world. He has definite opinions, but never pushes them on other people. On the other hand, when something is wrong, he says it's wrong. Meeting Professor Kaneko helped me feel a little better. In the same period, I participated in an exhibition at "without records" in New York and wrote music for an NHK drama; and in December, while working on the activities in Fukushima, I started doing my regular live performances in Tokyo again. I seemed to have finally regained my emotional balance. My psychological wounds had been worse than I'd realized.

Actually, in December the radiation level at my parents' house dropped significantly, and in many locations in Fukushima the levels were lower than they had been in spring. This may have given me a sense of relief, too. On the other hand, when I think about the fact that cesium was flowing from ditches into rivers and then into the sea, I realize it isn't right to feel relieved for myself alone.

In this way I feel as if I'm slowly figuring out how to run long-distance. Amid all the difficult challenges, I guess I just have to pace myself and deal with each problem squarely, one by one.

-- The theme for 2012 is "Different ways of thinking make the world rich."

Right now the project members are coming up with lots of ideas about things we could do in 2012, and many of them are really interesting. I can't tell you what they are yet, but I think you'll like them.

Last year the 6,000-square-meter furoshiki spread over the Village of Four Seasons became a sort of symbol of the first edition of the festival. Now we'd like this giant furoshiki, in a different form, to be a connection to the second edition. So the idea that we came up with was to make it into flags. Every furoshiki has a different design, and they're like patchworks made from pieces of fabric sewn together. We thought if we make the furoshiki into flags, it'll be interesting because they'll all have different designs.

If we take this huge number of different-size flags made from the furoshiki--there may be hundreds or thousands of flags, I don't know--and suddenly put them up all over Fukushima City on August 15, it might be pretty interesting. Anyway, this is the vision we have at the moment.

We're planning to hold the festival over a 12-day period from August 15 to 26, and now we're thinking about having different things happening in different places rather than a single large event. For instance, over the 12-day period the flags could be scattered around the world--not just one, like in the Olympic torch relay, but a number of flags with different designs--and as they fan out, a variety of events could be held in different parts of the world. It'd be even better if we could make it possible for people to see the flags online as they go all over the place. Of course, this is still in the dreaming stage, but the point is, we'd like to send a strong message that "We are not one." This is not meant in a negative way at all. It's a response to the attempt to unite people as one entity, which, ironically, ended up dividing people. We'd like to send the message that, no, that isn't right--people have different ways of thinking, and that's what makes the world rich.

For instance, it would be great if we could connect these separate ways of thinking but allow them to remain separate, with a system similar to the "smart grid" featured in the energy revolution advocated by Professor Kaneko. In the "smart grid" the energy from many different types of electric power plants is shared through the use of computers, rather than having everything covered by the energy from a single large-scale plant. I think a big theme of the festival this year will be how different ways of thinking can create a network.

-- A loose, broad-minded, high-spirited event that transcends divisions

Last year many connections were born from the process of collecting furoshiki; and when we make flags from the furoshiki this year, a likely result is some kind of unexpected framework in which everyone can take part. Not just that, but we can make new flags ourselves. Not ready-made flags--we can make flags however we like, and no two will be the same. People will be able to participate by either making a flag or just coming to watch.

We'd also like to have a lot of discussion events--we could hold them in various places around the city, for example. What's really important, I think, is discussion, talking--music can just be a side show (laugh). No, no, I'm kidding. I do think we should make music the main event. I wonder who will take part this year. You can be sure there's going to be art as well as music. At the same time, this year I'd also like to place importance on talking. We need both serious discussion and frivolous conversation. In fact, I think it'd be great if people from the national and Fukushima governments could come by anytime and join in the discussions. Maybe they're not that casual, I don't know. But it'd be nice if they decided to come just because it sounds sort of interesting.

We'd like it if various people expressed various opinions. We want the event itself to be like the flags made from a patchwork of furoshiki sewn together, something everyone can be part of. How can we make this kind of event with this loose feeling? Broad-minded, wide-ranging and high-spirited, but also cynical at times. Anyway, I hope we can say, "We don't want to unite as one." (laugh)

-- The big issue from now is going to be "How to send the message to other countries."

We'd like to send dozens of the flags made from the furoshiki to other countries. Of course, they'd be thoroughly decontaminated first. A big problem that came up in last year's event was the international aspect.

Actually, last year we made a big error. We really wanted to make the festival a worldwide series of simultaneous events, and there actually were events in New York, London, Beijing, Seoul, Singapore and so on; but it was hard to see exactly what sorts of festivals were held there. And the language problem really tripped us up. In terms of communicating the changing situation, the thing we most regret is that we didn't send the message overseas in a satisfactory way. In order to connect with the world, we would have had to instantly transmit everything in English, but not all of us are proficient in English. Personally, I'm not capable of explaining this sort of difficult issue in English. In the end we were late in making our English website, too. The experience made us think really hard about how we in the domestic Japanese-speaking world should connect with non-Japanese speakers.

Since the earthquake, three books have been published about this project, all of them in Japanese only. If anyone reading this article would like to help with this, please get in touch.

-- Project FUKUSHIMA! as a forum for discussion

This project is obviously going to turn into a long-distance run. But how long is long-distance? Even though the government has announced that the nuclear power plant had been successfully contained, there's no real prospect of resolving the situation. Will it take decades? Maybe centuries? Will the situation continue throughout my lifetime and longer? As for Project FUKUSHIMA!, not even I know what will happen in the future. I only know that in order to keep going, we'd like it to be something flexible and ever-changing, rather than something with a fixed format like a traditional performing art--because the situation itself is ever-changing. And I'd like our thinking to be free and flexible enough that if it gets to a point where we think, "It isn't really worthwhile to keep doing what we're doing," we'll quit immediately and turn it into a different kind of activity.

This article is an edited version of the first chapter transcribed for the publication of Japan's Future Starting from Fukushima, a book of conversations with Prof. Masaru Kaneko of Keio University Department of Economics, and Tatsuhiko Kodama, professor at the University of Tokyo's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (systems biology) and director of the University of Tokyo Radioisotope Center. It's certain that before the disaster I would never have had occasion to meet them or to work with Shinzo Kimura, Associate Professor of Dokkyo Medical University, who is mentioned in the text.

There were so many things that I, a mere musician, didn't know how to interpret. Recently I also had the opportunity to speak to Hiroshi Kainuma, the young sociologist who wrote "Fukushima" Theory, and he helped me gain a much greater understanding of the current situation. In addition, it was thanks to many friends living in Fukushima that I found a direction for my activity. Over those months I was keenly aware of the importance of meeting people face to face and talking with them.

What's necessary for Fukushima first of all is that it suffer no further damage, and that this kind of accident never happen again. It all comes down to that. And it's no exaggeration to say that turning FUKUSHIMA into a name with a positive sound will depend on what kind of future we can transmit from Fukushima. If Project FUKUSHIMA! has a reason for being, I truly think this is it. And I don't think it's an issue for Fukushima alone.

Translation by Cathy Fishman

Last updated: April 15, 2012