I am a foreign resident who usually doesn’t watch the Sunday morning talk shows, so I was not aware that Nobuteru Ishihara, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, and other political party leaders appeared on an NHK broadcast Sept. 11 to discuss the national government’s response six months into the nuclear plant crisis at Fukushima.
Like most people living in Japan these days, I am disappointed by the failure of the national government to adequately collect and disseminate necessary information regarding radiation levels to the public. True, high-level information such as the maps produced by the education and science ministry have been released, but such broad-based assessments are not granular enough to pick up local hot spots. Without this level of detail, it is very difficult for people living in areas outside the mandatory evacuation zone who are still exposed to elevated radiation levels to make daily decisions about their lives. It is for that reason that many of them have taken matters into their own hands and purchased Geiger counters to take their own measurements of their surroundings.
I live in the suburbs of western Tokyo, far from Fukushima Prefecture, and thankfully radiation levels here have more or less stayed at background levels since the early days of the crisis. But for months I was worried, so I borrowed a friend’s Geiger counter and spent a weekend walking around my neighborhood taking readings until I could go back to living without immediate fear. I can’t imagine the stress that people living in the contaminated areas are going through without this sort of pertinent information.
So, I was quite surprised to hear Ishihara come out against these individuals who are simply trying to provide themselves what their government has to date failed to provide them: information so they can make decisions. Ideally, a strong national government, working with local authorities and civil groups, would rally the people and provide this. Unfortunately, we are not seeing that.
In the same broadcast on which Ishihara appeared, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi spoke a lot about what the government was planning to do. Clearly it has managed to accomplish a lot, but as many of the other panelists pointed out, so much more needs to be done.
For instance, if politicians are concerned about the quality of the radiation measurements that individuals are taking, then perhaps the national government, working with Japan’s scientific community, could come up with simple guidelines that citizens can use to ensure that they are taking readings properly under a common standard. Prefectural governments, local municipalities and neighborhood associations could help to make sure these guidelines get into the hands of people willing to pitch in and take the measurements, and coordinate the local efforts. Experts could provide advice on how to best “blend” readings to account for high variances between readings taken by different people at the same location, to make the data more reliable.
Japanese governance has suffered from a failure of imagination for decades. I would ask that Ishihara and his colleagues begin to show some imagination and willpower now, rather than throw stones at the efforts of the DPJ and fellow countrymen. Work with them — and anyone else who is willing to play a role in Japan’s recovery — to try to find creative solutions. The national government can play an invaluable role enhancing and coordinating what others know and accomplish.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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