Interview with historian Ryoichi Hoshi: Abandoning displaced people of Fukushima must not be permitted

by Makoto Iwasaki, Deputy Editorial Writer

Ryoichi Hoshi, 80, a historian, journalist, and resident of the city of Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, has written a number of books on the Aizu feudal domain, which was defeated by the military forces of the Meiji regime in the Boshin Civil War of 1868. Mr. Hoshi has also written about the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) nuclear power plant and he argues that the tragedy of the Aizu people who were accused of being an imperial enemy overlaps with the suffering of the victims of the nuclear accident who were forced from their homes. Nearly five years have passed since Japan experienced the great Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2011. The Chugoku Shimbun interview the outspoken Mr. Hoshi about his thoughts regarding the reconstruction of Fukushima.

Did you hurry to the area near the site of the nuclear accident to learn about conditions there soon after the event?
Yes. I accompanied a Diet member so I was allowed to enter. The roads were destroyed and the streets and towns were deserted. It was like a scene from an American movie. From the clutter of cars and bicycles abandoned at the Namie town office, it was obvious that the people had fled the town in a panic. Some pet dogs wandered up to me. I felt sorry for them. They probably mistook me for their owners, thinking they had returned. I visited several evacuation centers and found that the conditions in which the disaster victims were placed were unimaginable for the standards of society today. We must never forget these things.

Nearly five years have passed, but the residents haven’t been able to return to their homes, as they hoped.
The government lacked vision when it came to restoring and reconstructing the towns affected by the disaster. I myself spoke out from the early stages of the reconstruction effort, saying that there would be places where residents would be able to return and places where they would not. I argued that the towns of Okuma and Futaba, in particular, where the nuclear power plant is located, should be made uninhabitable and that new towns should be built for the displaced residents. Despite my suggestions, both the central government and the local government made five-year and ten-year plans based on the premise that the residents would again live in the towns they were living in before the accident, where their houses and farm lands are located.

You think that their plans were unrealistic, is that right?
It isn’t easy to establish conditions in which people can resume ordinary lives in such places, especially in areas near the site of the accident. Though the government refers to these areas as “difficult-to-return zones,” I think they should refer to them instead as “impossible-to-return zones.” The government must not allow the matter to remain ambiguous. Before starting construction work, the government should decide exactly which zones can be returned to and which zones can’t. The government shouldn’t allow the affected residents to continue to cling to a short-lived illusion.

Interim storage facilities for waste from the decontamination work, to be built in both the towns of Futaba and Okuma, may be a reflection of the unrealistic approach pursued by the government.
The precondition for the construction of these facilities is that the land will be returned to these towns in 30 years, but this precondition is phony. Since the government has no such alternative land in mind, the interim storage facilities will remain there permanently. Although it’s true that some elderly people want to die near their ancestors’ graves, many young people hold the realistic vision of restarting their lives in a new place rather than returning to their hometowns. It seems that the government is waiting for the households which want to come back to their hometowns to die out over time.

The government’s approach is reminiscent of the harsh punishment imposed on the Aizu Clan by the new Meiji regime, isn’t it?
After the Boshin Civil War, the entire Aizu Clan was transported to Tonami on the Shimokita Peninsula (in Aomori Prefecture) as a form of punishment by Kido Takayoshi, a statesman who was a native of Choshu. When I visited Tonami to do research, I found grievous stories of the Aizu people still linger there. Like the victims of the nuclear accident who became displaced after the disaster, the Aizu people had no food or houses to live in. They were forced to sleep on beds of straw even in the harsh winter. They were completely abandoned by the Meiji government. Even children were branded rebels and pelted with stones, which is clearly an inhumane act. I assume that the Japanese government’s behavior toward Chinese and Korean people in later days is an extension of the Meiji regime’s view that winners are always in the right and that they can conquer others by force.

Your perspective should be taken seriously.
We must not allow the victims of the nuclear accident to suffer as the Aizu people suffered in Tonami. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is from Choshu (now part of Yamaguchi Prefecture). When he visited the city of Aizu Wakamatsu to give a roadside election speech during his first administration, he apologized to the citizens there for what his fellow countrymen did in the past. This is evidence that Mr. Abe is concerned about these kinds of historical events. If the government examines the Meiji Restoration and admits that disdain for the Aizu people and the perception of them as an imperial enemy were wrong, and if the government puts more energy into the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture, it will lead to reconciliation between the people of Aizu and Choshu.

What measures would you recommend?
The foundation for the future lies in education. I’m now proposing that a graduate institute for advanced studies be established. My plans are these: assemble researchers from across the world, whether they are in the arts or the sciences, to contemplate the energy of the future in collaboration with staff at the nuclear plant decommissioning site in Fukushima; then send messages for peace and ideas for a vision of how the civilized world should live. The planned university would be a center for these activities. If the university campus is established on the shores of Lake Inawashiro, surrounded by a rich natural environment, and the university is named after Hideyo Noguchi, a great figure who was born in a poor family in Fukushima and later became a world-renowned researcher, the university would hopefully be able to collaborate with the Rockefeller Foundation in the U.S. to which Mr. Noguchi made a significant contribution. This idea, however, has not obtained wide support yet. But we can see a similar example in the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University which was opened to pursue promotion of the island. Okinawa hosts most of the U.S. military bases in Japan. This plan to establish the university in Fukushima could never be considered unrealistic because there’s an enormous budget allocated for the reconstruction of the affected areas. I think this university would convey big dreams from Fukushima.


Ryoichi Hoshi
Born in the city of Sendai, Mr. Hoshi graduated from the Faculty of Arts and Letters at Tohoku University. He has been involved in compiling Aizu Wakamatsu Shi (The History of Aizu Wakamatsu) since first working as a staff writer at Fukushima-Minpo Co., Ltd. In 1970, he moved to Fukushima Central Television Co., Ltd. and assumed the post of news director. He then became a historian and writer. To date, he has written more than 130 books including Aizuhan Moyu, Aizuhan Ruzai, Tohoku wa Makenai and Choshu no Shikaku. Meanwhile, he has been engaged in the issue of reconciliation with the people of Choshu. As the head of Fukushima Mirai Seisaku Kenkyusho, he published a book entitled Fukushima Hatsu, a collection of reconstruction theories, last year.

(Originally published on January 6, 2016)