Japanese Buddhist priest discusses spiritual toll of nuclear crisis
In Japan, where nature is believed to cleanse spirits, how do people cope when treasured mountains and oceans are tainted by leaks of radiation from a nuclear power plant?
Sokyu Genyu, a Buddhist priest from a temple just 45 km (28 miles) west of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeast Japan, is drawing attention to the less visible scars from the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. As a member of a government panel to come up with a blueprint for rebuilding after the deadly earthquake and tsunami on March 11, Genyu is adding the people’s voice — and a different view — to debate on dealing with the loss of homes, jobs and communities.
“We need to treat the situation in areas affected by radiation separately,” said Genyu, head priest of the Fukujuji Temple and also an award-winning author, told Reuters. “It’s not just about getting compensation.”
His small town of Miharu has welcomed thousands of residents who have evacuated from around the nuclear plant, still leaking radiation after being struck by the tsunami.
Damage to the environment has been especially hard on local communities, where farmers and fishermen have traditionally associated nature with god, building shrines to pray for rich harvests and to ward off accidents at sea, Genyu said. “God is the symbol of nature, what people worship as a natural force that can be violent and is uncontrollable,” he said.
“Mountains and oceans have purified us but now those mountains and oceans are contaminated,” he said. “We could see the very foundation for our religious beliefs break down, because it is no longer able to purify us.”