In late March 2011, as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continued to spew radioactive iodine and cesium into the air and ocean for a second week, Nobel Laureate Oe Kenzaburo, published a short “Tokyo Postcard” in The New Yorker. In this one-page piece, titled “History Repeats Itself,” Oe expressed his dismay over his country’s nuclear legacy, his doubt over nuclear deterrence in the present, and his commitment to bringing about a nuclear free future for the world. At the end of this essay, which moved from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through Japan’s growing dependence on nuclear power, and up to the present disaster, the 77 year old novelist imagined a future for his country gesturing toward the last line of Dante’s Inferno; “From there we came out to see once more the stars.” For Oe, the stars illuminate the hope of a brighter tomorrow to come. And yet, as Oe penned these words, energy from Fukushima was cut off, and Tokyo’s nighttime skyline, which had been long concealed by neon abundance and the grey of light pollution, was a perfect black, dotted by a delicate !eld of stars. The tragic beauty was an ambivalent commentary on an ambivalent sentiment vis-à-vis Japan’s energy dependence in the days and weeks after March 11th. Our borrowing of “to see once more the stars” as the title of this volume is thus both an expression of hope for the future and a recognition of the darkness that overwhelms the present. ‘To see once more the stars’ is to catch a glimpse of the deep confusions and contradictions attendant to living in a nuclear world.
Over three years have passed since this fraught darkness descended upon Japan. Aftershocks continue to rattle the coast as reports of leaks, breakages, and other accidents at the nuclear plant have become the rule. Many victims remain in temporary shelters, living without livelihoods. Utterly symbolic of the situation’s utter fragility, a critical power failure at the Fukushima plant just last week ended with the discovery of a tiny electrocuted mouse corpse. With the situation as volatile as ever, the word ‘post’ in our title seems oddly out of step. Thus, for us the word “post” suggests not that the disaster is over, but that we are forced to work through the consequences of the accumulating danger in this emerging nuclear landscape. The disaster has sunk into post-Fukushima Japan in two opposing ways. On the one hand, particularly in the north, daily life is saturated with thoughts of nuclear contamination. On the other, the disaster has so thoroughly soaked in that it has slipped out of mind. Like radiation, concern collects in “hot spots”, clusters of points, some “hotter” than others, some bodies more exposed than others. Concern, danger, darkness, hotspots, are all distributed historically from Nagasaki to Chernobyl to Three Mile Island as well as contemporaneously, across Japan, from Germany to the U.S. West Coast where debris is being washed ashore. This book attempts to bring together some of these configurations.
“Post” in “post-Fukushima” is thus not merely a temporal marker but also a verb indicating to pass through, to send forth, to bring into communication, and thus to ‘post’ as one might slip a missive into a mailbox. Oe’s New Yorker “Tokyo Postcard” served as the impetus and initial volley for the small dispatches cum “postcards” that comprise this volume. The anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, literary scholars, activists, scientists, artists, farmers, and Fukushima mothers whose work is collected here gives voice to a broad variety of experiences of nuclear “power”—some express anger, some despair or confusion. Some make a plea for hope. Some contributions share personal stories from Fukushima, others are of a more historical character. Still others offer equipment to live, think, and act in a post-Fukushima world. These insights and images, exchanged in multiple directions, make demands, pose questions, and present dead ends. Some stand on their own while others invite a conversation to be had down the road. While Fukushima is not necessarily directly present in all of the essays, it haunts each of them. These stories, fragments, points of lights—some hopeful, some troubled, some doubtful—are spread throughout the pages, like hot spots or stars in the night sky. In these days, with the stars becoming veiled once more by the glow of electricity, this book is an attempt to step out into the night and imagine the implications of seeing once more the stars.
March 28, 2013 Kyoto, Tokyo, Santa Cruz, and Princeton