Farmer’s Tepco grudge runs deep

Retiree found new life on the land until nuke crisis took toll

by Tetsuji Ida

Kyodo

A 70-year-old man who after retiring took up farming in a village in Fukushima Prefecture is in no mood to forgive Tokyo Electric Power Co. for the damage caused by the disaster at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“My grudge against Tepco is beyond control,” Nobuyoshi Ito said.

Ito got divorced after retiring from an information technology company and then fell into depression caused by the fatigue he endured in nursing his mother, even occasionally thinking of killing himself.

But he found a ray of light in May 2009 when he unexpectedly received an offer to manage an agricultural training center that the IT company planned to build in the village of Iitate.

Iitate is a small community in the northeastern part of Fukushima with a population of around 6,000.

In the mid-1990s, it launched various economic revitalization projects featuring local specialties. It also developed biomass energy and houses designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Life in Iitate did not rely on the Tepco nuclear plant at all. “Madei,” a word in the local dialect that means to do things “carefully and wholeheartedly,” is the watchword for village residents.

The training center, named Iitate Farm, opened in March 2010 and began cultivating rice in a leased paddy of about 2 hectares. Ito got up at 4 a.m. daily to manually water the seedbeds.

Because the use of herbicides was minimized, the field soon became inundated with weeds, requiring Ito to keep removing them, a “torturous” task.

“He woke up much earlier than me every day,” said Akira Meguro, 73, who taught agriculture to Ito.

The hard work resulted in a bumper harvest of 8 tons in fall 2010.

The rice was registered under the trademark Yugiri and sold well over the Internet.

Ito also produced honey, which sold at unexpectedly high prices, while foraging for wild foods such as mushrooms and nuts as well as catching freshwater fish like trout and eel.

“It was the most enjoyable year I ever had in my then 66 years of life, though the work was grueling,” he recalled.

Ito, who calls himself an “apprentice farmer,” then decided to increase the area of the leased paddy field by 4 hectares to step up production of rice and honey for the second year.

But his life of contentment was suddenly shattered by the nuclear crisis caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

A massive amount of radioactive substances from the No. 2 reactor, released when it suffered an explosion four days after the initial disaster, was carried the roughly 40 km to Iitate on the wind.

Ito said he “lost everything” just as he was getting on top of his new work.

He has since been taking measurements of the radioactive contamination of the village’s land and produce.

The contamination of mushrooms remains extremely high, reaching up to 3,032 becquerels of cesium per kilogram for “matsutake” and 98,839 becquerels for shiitake last year, compared with a government-set limit of 100 becquerels for regular food items.

Unfortunately, the current compensation program covers only economic losses and thus does not apply to mushrooms taken from the woods.

Ito sent a package of contaminated matsutake mushrooms, with a bill for ¥200,000, to the Tepco chairman in autumn 2012.

“Tepco should understand the value of the blessing of the woods and the feeling of villagers who cannot eat the matsutake that they have in front of them,” Ito said.