2019 / Fukushima: First-hand account of current situation to be presented in L.A. Little Tokyo event, Nov. 17

(Photo) Little Tokyo Historical Society President Michael Okamura explains how tomato are grown in a Fukushima farm. (Courtesy of Soji Kashiwagi)

Little Tokyo Historical Society president Michael Okamura will present a first-hand account and report back to the community about the current situation in Fukushima, Japan on Sunday, November 17 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Nishi Hongwanji Los Angeles Betsuin Kaikan in downtown Los Angeles.

Led by the Los Angeles-based Love to Nippon Project, the five-day 2019 Fukushima Mission from USA study group toured affected areas in Fukushima prefecture from September 17 through September 19.

The study group included 15 tour members from Los Angeles, and eight from Japan.

Okamura, who also serves as a board member of the Grateful Crane Ensemble, will talk about the tour group’s visit inside the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, site of the nuclear disaster that struck Fukushima after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

He will also discuss how the local people are working hard to rebuild and recover despite over eight and a half years of nuclear contamination clean-up and monitoring, a mass evacuation and displacement of thousands of local residents and ongoing discrimination and stigma against the people, just because they’re from Fukushima.

“Those of us on the tour are now ambassadors for the people of Fukushima,” said Okamura. “And one of our messages is this, ‘Fukushima is safe and open for business.’”

Prior to the triple disaster, Fukushima was known as a place steeped in Japanese history, natural beauty, agriculture (especially rice and sake) and its fishing industry.

Since the disaster, much of this reputation has been shattered, first by the physical after-effects of the nuclear meltdown, and second by widespread fears of radiation contamination from Fukushima food, water, products and people.

The road to recovery, according to people who are there, is daunting.  “It’s going to take years, if not decades,” said Okamura.

However, after visiting Fukushima and seeing the effort and the spirit of the people, Okamura believes the region is deserving of support and a second chance.  “It has natural beauty, delicious foods and the people are truly welcoming,” he said.  “They know they’ve been through a lot, but they’re moving forward with energy, cheerfulness and enthusiasm.”

For Japanese Americans, there is a long tradition of supporting friends and family in Japan during their times of greatest need.

“Ever since the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, we have a tradition of rallying behind people of Japan,” said Okamura.  “Japan has suffered from so many natural disasters and heartbreaking situations.  We need to continue to support them.”

Okamura’s presentation will be part of a larger program entitled “Together for Fukushima,” whose goal is to build awareness and understanding about the current conditions there, and to raise funds to bring hope and well-being for children in Fukushima.

Sponsored by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the George and Sakaye Aratani Community Advancement Research Endowment (C.A.R.E), the program will also include songs of hope and inspiration from the Grateful Crane Ensemble’s 2018 Goodwill Tour to Tohoku, Japan, a special Fukushima “Byakkotai” sword dance presentation by Yukiyo Ikebe and Akemi Hanna, and presentations from local groups EGAO and the Akabeko Project.

Participating organizations include the Grateful Crane Ensemble, EGAO, Akabeko Project and the Love to Nippon Project.  Additional event sponsors include Koda Farms, Robin Koda, Lorna Fong, Sadako Kashiwagi and Allen Okamoto.

Funds raised will support public-safety efforts to provide clean, safe bottled water for children and their families in several Fukushima-area schools, will assist children’s homes in building indoor playgrounds and will support a school for disabled children.

The event is free to the public, but donations will be accepted.  The following Japan-based organizations will benefit from this event:  Association for Aid & Relief Japan (AAR Japan) Fukushima Bottled Water Project, Fukushima Children’s Home and the Ohana Ouenja Center for Children with Disabilities in Motomiya.

The Nishi Hongwanji Los Angeles Betsuin Kaikan is located at 815 East First Street, in downtown Los Angeles.  To RSVP, please email Grateful Crane at  gratefulcrane@gmail.com.