False Rumors Not the True Culprit

In the wake of the nuclear disaster, tourists are avoiding Fukushima Prefecture and consumers are reluctant to buy its agricultural products. Fuke Yasunobu, managing director of Fukushima Broadcasting, rejects the view that blames the prefecture’s dilemma on false rumors, and emphasizes how the government’s careless response has exacerbated the problem.

In the wake of the nuclear disaster, tourists are avoiding Fukushima Prefecture and consumers are reluctant to buy its agricultural products. Fuke Yasunobu, managing director of Fukushima Broadcasting, rejects the view that blames the prefecture’s dilemma on false rumors, and emphasizes how the government’s careless response has exacerbated the problem.

Fukushima’s Hour of Need

Many people across Japan, particularly in the region around Tokyo, have been calling on their fellow citizens to shun rumors and come to Fukushima’s aid by purchasing the prefecture’s vegetables. As a Fukushima resident, I am sincerely grateful for this support.

The negative impact of rumors has in fact been quite extensive. Even the agricultural products free from the government’s shipment restrictions have not been selling—or must be sold at slashed prices. 

Hot Spring Resorts Become Evacuation Centers

Although the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture is far from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station , the usual crowds of tourists were nowhere to be seen this spring at its famous spots to view cherry blossoms, nor have any tourists been staying at the inns and hotels near the region’s hot springs. Guests these days are all evacuees who fled residences located within a 30km radius of the crippled reactors. Forced to abandon their homes and jobs, evacuees are now packed into the accommodations at Aizu, but they are not relaxing in the hot springs or ordering pricey dinners. The establishments have taken them in at the request of prefectural and municipal officials, and cannot seek to profit from them. The resort facilities are now serving as evacuation shelters. The evacuees have tears in their eyes, and so do the operators of the inns and hotels; and gift-shop owners, dry cleaners, and taxi drivers are crying too as they watch their incomes plummet.

Fukushima residents are not the only ones suffering: There are reports across the country of  business activities grinding to a halt because of disruptions in supply chains resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the widespread mood of self-restraint has been putting a damper on tourism, cherry blossom viewing, and all sorts of parties. Yet the situation in Fukushima Prefecture, where the typical scenes at  sightseeing spots and hot spring resorts have been utterly transformed, is enough to make anyone choke up with emotion.

Radiation, Not Rumors, Is Scaring People Off

What leaves one feeling depressed is the prospect that, despite all the appeals to buy Fukushima-grown vegetables and visit its tourist attractions, not much is likely to change for quite some time.

In my opinion, it is not that people are reacting to false reports but that they are frankly scared of radiation. There has been a great deal of talk about damaging rumors, but the real problem lies elsewhere. Everyone in Japan knows that the reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, spun out of control, and continue to emit radiation; and they know that radioactive water was dumped into the Pacific  during the disaster response. These are facts, not rumors.

These real problems are compounded by the misunderstanding that all of Fukushima Prefecture is dangerous. And the decisive factor in shaping this false impression was the steps the government took in mid-March, after levels of radiation exceeding the limits allowed under the Food Sanitation Law were detected in raw milk from Iitate and three other municipalities in the northeast and southeast of the prefecture. Based on these findings, the government requested shipments to be halted, but then carelessly extended this ban to include the entire prefecture. Because radioactivity exceeding the law’s limits had also been detected in spinach around the same time, many people naturally assumed that all of the prefecture’s vegetable and dairy products were contaminated.

This is not a simple problem of rumors. Rather, a large portion of the blame for Fukushima’s current plight must be assigned to the government, which has failed to respond effectively to the emergency or explain the situation adequately to the public. (Written on April 30, 2011.)

In This Series
Grief and Anger in Fukushima
False Rumors Not the True Culprit (May 20)
Try to Imagine the Evacuees' Anxiety (April 15)

Fuke Yasunobu

Born in Kagawa Prefecture in 1949. Graduated from Kagawa University, where he majored in economics. Joined Asahi Shimbun Co. in 1974 and worked as a political reporter at its Tokyo Head Office. Experienced the 1995 Kobe earthquake while working at the newspaper’s Osaka Head Office. Served as chief editor of the Seibu Head Office. Joined Fukushima Broadcasting Co. and became its managing director in June 2009.