Cartoon characters who suffered nosebleeds after a visit to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are turning into a headache for manga publisher Shogakukan.
Locals are apparently angry about the “misleading” depictions in an episode of the popular manga series “Oishinbo” published Monday in the weekly Big Comic Spirits magazine.
Visiting the stricken plant two years after the 2011 nuclear catastrophe, a group of characters, all newspaper journalists, are momentarily exposed to hourly radiation levels of 1,680 microsieverts. After their tour, which takes them near the plant’s six reactors, lead character Shiro Yamaoka begins to complain of “extreme exhaustion” as well as sudden nosebleeds that span days. His colleagues confess to suffering similar symptoms.
Later, when they meet a character named Katsutaka Idogawa — based on a real-life former mayor of the town of Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture — they learn that he too has suffered repeated nosebleed attacks and felt “unbearably sick” since the accident.
“Many Fukushima residents have been afflicted by the same symptoms. It’s just they don’t say it openly,” Idogawa tells them.
In another scene of the episode, the team of reporters complain that they were allowed to publish only a handful of photos taken at the site, an apparent dig at plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co’s rigorous censorship of the media.
In response, a Twitter user with the handle @jyunichidesita who claimed to be a resident of the city of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, expressed anger at the depictions. The user claimed he or she had “never suffered such symptoms over the past three years.”
By noon Wednesday, the protest had been re-tweeted more than 13,000 times.
When contacted by The Japan Times, the editorial department of Shogakukan was unapologetic. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the weekly’s managing editor said the publisher had been inundated with phone calls and emails from readers saying the descriptions risk arousing public prejudice against the prefecture.
The editor said the episode drew on “meticulous reportage” conducted by manga author Tetsu Kariya and his team in Fukushima. Nothing the Idogawa character said deviated from the opinion of the real-life mayor, the editor insisted. Kariya himself once told the media that he had suffered several bouts of nosebleeds and been plagued by unusual fatigue following his visits to the plant.
However, the managing editor stressed that the publisher was not pointing the finger at radiation exposure as the cause of the characters’ illnesses. He noted that Yamaoka, the main character, is at one point assured by a doctor that no medical studies indicate radiation in Fukushima could have resulted in his nosebleeds.
The editor, however, also added doctor and radiation expert Eisuke Matsui, another real-life character who appeared in the episode, told the editorial staff that “the connection between sickness and radiation is not exactly zero” and that his opinion would be reflected in future episodes.
In an apparent attempt to dodge further criticism, the editorial department said in a statement dated Monday: “We would like to stress that past ‘Oishinbo’ episodes clearly stated that it would be a huge loss for consumers if they balked at eating (Fukushima) foods proved safe just due to their lack of understanding.”