Ramblings of a hopeless optimist
We have just passed the one year anniversary of last years disasters - something hard, still, to think too much about. And something for which I have no words that seem appropriate, so please, don't interpret my silence on the sadness of it all as flippancy; it is not. Just inadequacy.
I've met a lot of new people this last year. First was the wave of newly-migrant families that rested briefly in an empty house down the road, some with the intention of settling in Okayama, some headed further south still. We brought them a few spare kids clothes and tips for camping out in an ill-equipped old house (did I ever share th photo of Shuzo and I on our first night here, when we had an open fire going inside? Turns out we are not the only people to have tried that. I think the little wood-fire cooking range with stovepipe I dug out of the shed improved the air quality considerably!), and in return I took away a good bit of advice I have been meaning to pass on - you will be much more comfortable in the aftermath of an emergency if your emergency kit contains spare undies. Mundane advice, perhaps, but it has stuck with me.
At least one of the families from the house down the road settled in Okayama, and has just opened a vegan (but sadly for me not gluten free) curry restaurant. Hooray for happy endings, or at least, promising new beginnings.
The second wave of people has been folks who lived too close to the leaky nuclear power plant for their own peace of mind, though not so near as to have been asked to leave by the government, and people who have ling dreamed of a slower paced country life who were moved to action by the disasters. Okayama is a small enough place that this is quite noticeable - my daughters tiny preschool gained several new kids this year as new families moved in. I imagine the same thing has been happening throughout southern Japan - a switch in the direction of the migration to the big cities which has marked the last 60 years.
Finally, we come to the third group of new people I've met this past year. People who have taken up new, mostly volunteer, work in the last year. These folks are the ones on my mind most, at the moment, as I think about the event we attended on Sunday (I'll get to that in a second), the anti-nuclear power movement and an article about the reconstruction efforts I read earlier today. One of the things, the positive things, to have come out in the wake of the disaster has been the forming both of groups to help with the immediate needs in the affected area and groups who recognized a need for the strengthening of community ties and local economies throughout Japan. The efficacy of these groups varies widely, of course, and some are doubtless well- intentioned but completely failing at their objectives (though they are perhaps doing great service to themselves, as surely they benefit from the sense of community and of contributing - not something to be desmissed, perhaps) but there are people and groups doing good, too. JEARS, the group who found, fed and relocated the lovely Henriettas (chickens), come to mind as a good example of doing good.
But the reason I'm writing now is because writing helps me think through issues, and at the moment I am wanting to think through lots of things about the anti-nuclear power movement. Bear with me as I ramble on, and forgive the lack of editing (my computer died some time ago, i am tapping this out on my ipod) or skip this post entirely, with my blessing. For background, let me explain that I'd be happy to see a safe end to nuclear power, but at the same time I feel very, very uncertain about the anti-nuclear power movement. I come from an area that was (is still, probably) very polarized by the issue of logging. You could be a tree hugging hippy or a redneck; there wasn't much room between, and I never saw anything positive come out of this polarization. Conflict, yes. Productive dialogue, no. For this reason, and an overdose on protest parades and petitions, I have trouble seeing the "no nukes!" people getting anywhere. I worry that drum circles and fancy dress will only drive away many people wjo might be willing to get involved. And yet, while I watch and worry about what polarization and conflict will do to the future, I also see the successes of the movements that have so recently sprung up. On Sunday, March 11, we loaded up the Market Mobile with bread, eggs, and a small bunch of flowers and set up our tent, along with dozens of other local businesses, to participate in an event called, simple, "Ichi," or market, which was organized to mark the one- year disaster anniversary by forging deeper connections in our own local community while commemorating those lost in and left behind after the earthquake and tsunami with an alter for flowers and a moment of silence (shared with people across the country), and staging an anti- nuclear power parade through the city streets. I don't know how many thousands of people attended, but there were a great many, and they ranged from the most flagrant hippies Okayama harbors to the most respectable-looking grandmothers and grandfathers in the old city neighborhood where the event was held. I don't imagine that my signature on that petition I couldn't read will change the world, but with so many people gathered in one place for one reason, perhaps good will come about. This must be a moment of unprecedented levels of connected, organized grass-roots desire for change in Japan, which thought brings me to the line I read in a news article this morning discussing the potential negative environmental and economic consequences of shutting down all the nuclear power plants in Japan (is that a possibility? A likely occurrence? I have no idea). I can't remember the line, exactly, but it was following a listing of the ills that could accompany / are accompanying a move to abandon nuclear power (loss of the trade surplus as Japan imports fuel, increase in carbon emissions as petroleum and natural gas replace nuclear power, power shortages reducing industrial output, heavier reliance on petroleum if supply of cleaner natural gas is interrupted as a result of tensions in iran) and the expense of a move towards renewables. That bit made for pretty bleak damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't reading, but I liked the way the article concluded, with the observation that Japan is a rich country with lots of talented people. It is that. There is money her that could be used well, and plenty of technical expertise. There is even a high level of desire for change, and there are groups of hard working people throughout the country eager to support change. I am, a I mentioned in the title, a hopeless optimist (actually, I wanted to be an incure-able optimist, but either I'm making that word up or autocorrect is against me, so I have settled for hopelessness), and I can imagine change taking hold in this climate. The cynic inside me disagrees,
of course, but I'm ignoring her tonight and planning on dreaming of a bright and sunny future, worthy of my bright and sunny five year old girl. In my unsure-of-petitions-and-other-such-over-used-vehicles-for-change attitude, I have become enamored of the idea of social entrepreneurship, and so my hopes for Japan's future, and really, this whole place's future, is that an army of social entrepreneurs with a large and varied battery of solutions both high- and low-tech will see the opportunities presented by all these problems to be solved.
Yep, just call me Pollyanna.