Depictions of characters' radiation-induced illnesses 'give voice' to silent Fukushima residents

‘Oishinbo’ editor defends manga

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The editor of “Oishinbo” defended on Monday the decision to depict characters in the cooking comic book as potentially hurt by radiation in Fukushima, calling it a “meaningful” attempt to sound the alarm about the grim, and largely overlooked, reality of life in the prefecture.

In Monday’s installment of the series — now suspended indefinitely — Hiroshi Murayama, who is also managing editor of the weekly Big Comic Spirits magazine the series runs in, includes an afterword in which he writes of feeling a strong pang of responsibility for the outrage caused by recent issues of the manga.

In an episode last month, the manga’s characters fall ill and get nosebleeds after visiting the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The illustrations quickly sparked outrage online, and many complained to publisher Shogakukan Inc. that the story might fuel prejudice toward people from Fukushima.

While acknowledging the raft of angry letters received by the publisher, Murayama stopped short of offering an apology. He did, however, note that Shogakukan is taking the outcry seriously and would conduct a policy review.

Murayama said the story line was meant to spotlight the truth that “parts of Fukushima are indeed dangerous and uninhabitable” and “some local people are worried about health problems linked to radioactive fallout.”

Their voices, he said, are rarely heard because they are reluctant to complain of sickness for fear of being branded as “overly squeamish.”

Manga author Tetsu Kariya, who has made repeated visits to the plant since the triple meltdowns, decided that “it’s wrong to ignore the voices of those people just because these are considered in the minority and likely to unsettle others,” Murayama said in the endnote.

“As editor in chief, I decided Kariya’s viewpoint was worth presenting to readers for their opinions,” he said.

The main characters in the long-running “Oishinbo” (“The Gourmet”) series are culinary writers working for a fictional newspaper company.

On Monday, in the last episode before the manga’s suspension, they conclude that, as journalists, they must face the pain of “telling the truth” about Fukushima. Remaining silent, they decide, is equal to “lying to the Fukushima residents.”

When it comes to the livability of Fukushima, there is a tendency to “sugarcoat your language in order to spare the feelings of the residents,” one reporter says, “but I think doing so is hypocritical.”

He adds: “As a human being, I would like to encourage people in Fukushima to have the courage to flee their dangerous homeland.”

The characters are apparent stand-ins for author Kariya, who wrote in a blog post that he “can only spread the truth.”

“Trumpeting the safety of Fukushima may have pleased some. But deception is what I abhor most,” he said.

Monday’s issue devotes 10 pages to laying out the opinions of 13 experts and municipalities.

One of them, Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, says that from a medical point of view the connection between nosebleeds and radiation exposure can’t be entirely ruled out.

Backing Kariya, he adds: “The government is not only indifferent to taking responsibility for the accident, but determined to erase it from people’s memory.” Such irresponsibility, he insists, is “almost criminal.”

Meanwhile, municipalities including Osaka and Fukushima prefectures and the town of Futaba have lodged complaints with the publisher.

  • Sam Gilman

    As climb downs go, this is an astonishingly arrogant one. They got it wrong. They picked up some junk science and still refuse to admit it.

  • JimmyJM

    If they feel there is something wrong about living in Fukushima, they should simply state their opinion. But here, they’re using lies to “sound the alarm”. Scare tactics in the extreme but it does sell magazines. Look at all the free publicity they’ve received. Shameful!

    • John Snow

      its Japan, being direct is so not Japanese.

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