When the Fukushima nuclear power plant exploded, I was in Fukushima covering people who had evacuated from their houses near the plant, as they underwent radiation checks as authorities isolated those who had showed signs of exposure.
The disaster control center in the prefectural government hall in Fukushima city, situated about 63 km (39 miles) north-west of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, was chaotic. However, once I stepped out the building, everything around me looked the same in the city and it was difficult to comprehend what was actually happening. People in the city were walking their dogs outside and riding their bicycles on the streets, although lights were out and many places were experiencing cuts in water supplies.
Soon after, I received an evacuation order from my bosses and since then, my coverage was carried out from outside of Fukushima city and I didn’t have a chance to go back there until recently. Even five months after the disaster, it seemed like fresh and shocking news of radiation had been floating up incessantly. Not just reading or hearing about the situation but imagining the amount of pain and stress the people in Fukushima were going through had made me feel depressed.
When I found about a Buddhist zen monk Koyu Abe, who aimed to revive Fukushima by planting sunflowers, amaranthus, field mustard and cockscomb, which are believed to absorb cesium, it occurred to me that I should go and cover his story. Before I even realized, I picked up the phone and shortly afterward I was on a bullet train heading for Fukushima.
When the fully packed train stopped at Fukushima station, I got off and realized not many people got off with me. However, everything looked strangely normal as the cicadas were buzzing lively under the sun. Just like a normal hot summer day. As I looked outside the window of a taxi on my way to the temple, the rice paddies glistened like a sea of green waves and the flowers planted alongside the road seemed heavenly. I still could not comprehend that many places were tainted with radiation.