Life transition research on the ground in Fukushima Prefecture
The Great Tōhoku earthquake occurred on March 11th, 2011 and a tsunami struck TEPCO’s Fukuhsima Daiichi nuclear power plant. On March 12th, a hydrogen explosion occurred. Footage of the hydrogen explosion at Fukushima Daiichi’s number one reactor captured by a Fukushima Central Television camera wasn’t broadcast until four hours later, but then quickly spread across networks throughout the country and delivered a major shock to the Japanese people. My previous position was as an associate professor at Fukushima University’s Faculty of Administration and Social Sciences. I wondered if there was something I myself could do at Great Tōhoku earthquake, but I couldn’t think of anything right away and a year passed before I took any kind of action.
A year after the disaster I had the idea of holding a conference at Ritsumeikan University and inviting my former colleagues from Fukushima University to come and talk about the situation in Fukushima. Among the people around me (the “Satō seminar”), this led not only to an increased tendency to visit Fukushima, a proliferation of research using internal research and project funding, more than two hundred seminar students and people connected to them visiting Fukushima, and many graduation theses and academic papers being written, but also to a number of individuals finding a profession or meeting a lifelong companion.
While the frequency of these trips varied, for a period of three years beginning in June of 2012 we travelled from Kyoto to Fukushima Prefecture roughly once every two months. Through ongoing communication and interaction with local residents we built up a rapport with people living in this Prefecture. I worked with Dr. Ayae Kido (then a post doctoral fellow at Ritsumeikan University, now an associate professor at Kansai University) and students enrolled in my seminar. Those who were most deeply involved in our research were the members of “Fukushima Dojō (soil) Club,” an agricultural club based in Fukushima City, and the residents of Fukushima City Sasaya East Provisional Housing (Suzuki Norio, Professor of social welfare studies in Fukushima University’s Faculty of Administration and Social Sciences, put us in touch with these groups).
The people to whom we were able to create and maintain the deepest connection were the residents of Fukushima City Sasaya East Provisional Housing. Particularly notable was the experience of four students working on their graduate theses who conducted field work while actually living in a room rented in this temporary housing, first for twelve days from September 9th to 18th, 2014 and then for seven days from September 14th to 20th, 2015. The fieldwork conducted in 2015 included an interview survey in addition to participant observation. When examined using the KJ method, the people in this temporary housing were found to be concerned about the following three points: 1) Whether the day will come when recovery problems are resolved and they are able to return to Namie. 2) Whether they will be able to adapt their lifestyles to the culture of their new location. 3) Whether they will be able to maintain the connections they have made in the temporary housing in the future. Dealing with these concerns can also be seen as one of the major tasks to be addressed following the Tōhoku disaster, including the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. I hope to continue conducting fieldwork and investigating these issues going forward.