Irrational fear of radiation continues to damage the sale of agricultural products coming out of the Tohoku Region. It is not only the foods produced by farms and businesses in Fukushima Prefecture, but it impacts all Prefectures along the coast. The problem is not only detectible levels of contamination, but also the irrational suspicion that Fukushima isotopes that might be contained in foodstuffs in concentrations below the ability for sensitive technology to detect. Not that the entire population of Japan experiences a mortal fear of radiation, but a significant minority is gripped in the throes of abject radiophobia. Millions of radiophobes are shunning perfectly safe Tohoku food-stuffs and the negative impact on the region’s recovery from the devastation of the tsunami is significant.
The Tohoku Region covers the northern third of Japan’s main island, Honshu, stretching more than 450 kilometers north-to-south. There are four Pacific Coastline Prefectures: Aomori (northernmost), Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima (southernmost). Though it is technically not part of Tohoku, Ibaraki Prefecture (south of Fukushima) is routinely included in the discussion relative to the Fukushima accident. The region is noted for its relatively low population density (nearly 10 million in a nation of 128 million), farms, mountainous terrain, and health spas. Before the F. Daiichi accident, Tohoku foods were prized among the people of Japan. However, current sales show a 30% decrease below the pre-3/11/11 level, and the reason is radiophobia.
Japan Daily Press says, “It is taking a toll on the farmers and other business owners in the Tohoku region. Products from the region that were previously hailed for their quality such as mushrooms, fruits, cereals, wasabi, sake, seaweed and salmon are now looked upon with suspicion by Japanese customers. They would rather import these products from nearby countries like South Korea or China to ease their minds.” The Tokyo Cabinet Office says that as of last November, 76 people have committed suicide due to the problems with Fukushima foodstuffs, which includes 21 because of financial issues and nine were unable to recover their business.
If the situation were specific to Fukushima Prefecture and/or the areas contiguous to the Tokyo-mandated evacuation zones, it might be understandable. However, the radiophobic impact stretches over all Tohoku eastern coastline prefectures. Japan Today reports that the Kawashu sea products company, 300 kilometers north of F. Daiichi, is feeling the impact. Seven of its seaside factories were washed away by the 2011 tsunami. They have rebuilt, but find their domestic sales to be at only 66% of their pre-3/11/11 business. Kawashu employee Mayumi Kurasawa says, “Our seaweed is checked every day, and I guarantee you that it’s safe. But we are selling two-thirds less than before Fukushima. Many clients prefer produce from South Korea or from China over us. They think it’s safer.” Japan Times ads that it’s not only seaweed, but the sale of many foodstuffs have been affected. The Times blames it on the Tokyo government’s overly restrictive standards and the resulting bans on beef, milk, mushrooms, vegetables, and rice from the Tohoku region. Speculations broadcast by the Press have also hurt business, such as officials understating potential health risks due to worries about potential economic fallout and the complications of possible compensation. This has forced food distributors to test all foods coming from Tohoku and establish a “zero risk” policy. But, even that has not resolved the problem. Katsuyasu Ito, the chef of French restaurant L’auréole in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, said, “All products sold here are checked and healthy. But anxieties remain among consumers when it comes to Tohoku products.”
What ought to be done? The new Tokyo regime says they will “review” the energy policy of their predecessors. They should do the same with their forerunner’s radiation standards. First, the new regime in Tokyo needs to look closely at the radiation stands the people in the Tohoku region now suffer under. Raising current limits to half the international standards would be a great help, and no-one would be placed at any greater health risk. Keeping the limits as low as they now are only fuels the “detectible is dangerous” notion that fuels radiation fears. Second, Japan’s primary and secondary schools should adopt curricula teaching the basics of radiation itself, demonstrating what the many forms of radioactivity can and cannot do. Japan’s schools have never taught this subject, which is horrendous considering Japan prides itself as one of the top science-educated countries on our planet. These two things should be done as soon as possible or the much-desired recovery of the Tohoku region will continue to be unnecessarily hindered.