China / World

Torment and taunts for Fukushima kids

(China Daily) Updated: 2017-03-11 06:59

Six years after nuclear disaster, evacuees still can't shake stigma

HIRONO, JapanSatsuki Sekine's home was destroyed in Japan's 2011 tsunami disaster and her family fled in the nuclear panic that followed. But crueller still were the insults and stigmatization she faced in the community where she sought refuge.

Rather than offer sympathy, Sekine's new classmates bullied her with nasty jibespart of an epidemic of discrimination in a nation where the vulnerable and the different can be marginalized.

"She's a Fukushima kid, she carries contagious radiation," were among the taunts aimed at the evacuee, now 15, in her new home far from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

"My house was destroyed in the earthquake and swept away in the tsunami," Sekine said. "One of my relatives died in the disaster. We had to flee from the nuclear accident.

"After all that, I was bullied at school. I was so depressed that I wanted to die."


Sekine is now living back near her original home, in a region which is slowly recovering from the disaster that drove more than 160,000 people from their homes when the tsunami-lashed plant went into meltdown.

But she is just one of many who have faced insults, ostracism and even violence in towns and cities where they sought sanctuary.

Japan is famed for social order and exquisite manners. But behind the facade is a suffocating group identity that can result in bullying of those who stand out, a dynamic blamed for a high rate of child and adult suicides.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake-tsunami disaster which left 18,500 people dead or missing, a sense of solidarity swept Japan as it faced its greatest postwar crisis and municipalities welcomed the displaced.

"Ganbarou Nippon (Don't give up, Japan)" was a common refrain as the nation pulled together.

However, reaction to the refugees at street level was often cold.

Urara Aoyama, now 16, tried hard not to let her new classmates know her family came from a town beside the stricken plant.

"But word spread when I entered middle school," said Aoyama, who, with Sekine, now attends high school in the town of Hirono near their original homes, which remain off limits.

Aoyama too was questioned about the contagiousness of radiation, taunted and told she should just go away.

"They said such things behind my back, sometimes intentionally in loud voices so I could hear," she said.

Asao Naito, a bullying expert at Tokyo's Meiji University, said Japan's education system suppresses individuality and makes children prone to pick on the different.

"So evacuees from Fukushima are preyed upon in the totalitarian environment of Japanese schools," he said.


A recent case in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, stirred outrage after it emerged that a boy had been extorted of $13,000 by classmates.

He was also slapped and pushed around and accused of living on government "compensation".

He swallowed the pain for years while secretly siphoning cash from home to pay his tormentors.

Kei Hida, the family's lawyer, said she believed the boy could not bear to open up to his family, knowing his mother had also suffered abuse from neighbors.

"Garbage was thrown at her and she received an anonymous letter telling the family to leave the neighborhood," Hida said.

Lawyer Tomohiro Kurosawa said part of the problem is that many Japanese do not see the Fukushima evacuees as victims as nobody in authority has yet been held accountable.


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