On November 25, 2019, Pope Francis met with survivors of Japan’s “Triple Disaster” in March of 2011 that struck the city of Fukushima: earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. The death toll reached 18,000.
Three of the survivors gave their testimonies before the Holy Father spoke: a kindergarten teacher, a Buddhist Priest, and a young Catholic. The gathering was held at the Bellesalle Hanzomon event center in Tokyo.
Testimony by Matsuki Kamoshita, Nuclear Disaster Survivor
I was born in Iwaki City in Fukushima Prefecture. When I was eight, the nuclear accident occurred, and we were evacuated to Tokyo to escape radiation. But my father entrusted us to our mother and returned to Fukushima. He was a teacher, and besides us, there were students to protect. My mother took me and my 3-year-old brother and continued to evacuate from place to place. My brother would burrow into his futon and cry. I was bullied in the evacuation destination and every day was so painful I wanted to die. Eventually, my father got mentally and physically ill and stopped working. Even so, I still think we are fortunate because we were able to evacuate.
The country has given up housing evacuees. I have been desperately staying away, but many people have been forced to return to the contaminated area. But radioactive materials that have fallen all over eastern Japan are still emitting radiation after eight years. It will take many times longer than my lifetime to restore the contaminated land and forests. So, for us who live there, adults have a responsibility to explain without concealing anything about radioactive contamination, exposure, and possible damage in the future. I don’t want them to die before us, having lied or not admitting the truth.
We cannot fully convey our suffering. So please pray with us, Holy Father, that we can appreciate each other’s pain and love our neighbors. Pray that even in this cruel reality, we will be given the courage not to turn our eyes away. Pray that those who have power will find the courage to follow another path. Pray that we can all overcome this injury.
And please pray with us that people from all over the world will work to eliminate the threat of radiation exposure from our future.
Testimony by Tokuun Tanaka, Buddhist Priest, Nuclear Disaster Survivor
Thank you for this opportunity. Dokeiji, where I lived, has been a central temple in the region for over 800 years. It is about 17 km northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. It was a peaceful place, rich in nature with thriving agriculture and fishing. Many people lived together for three or four generations and valued the history and culture passed on from their ancestors. In the town there was a Shinto ceremony, Soma Nomaoi, that is said to have been passed on for a thousand years.
The evacuation order was lifted in 2016, and 35 percent of the people have returned. The members of the temple were scattered near and far in a very wide area. I often go to visit them. At first, we were at a loss in the face of this terrible reality. However, little by little we are getting up and accepting the reality and starting to move forward.
Besides the nuclear plant problem, how can we also respond to problems such as natural disasters, abnormal weather, environmental problems, wars, refugees, food, economic disparities, and other major issues? Honest and humble reflection, deep understanding and decisions about what is to be done are necessary. The most important thing is to hear the voice of the earth. We are part of the earth, part of the environment. If we can understand this, it will be like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly and the problem will be solved. Then, there is preparation of mind, body, and lifestyle. Based on these, we should pray and act each day.
Our way of life is being challenged. From growth to maturity, let us be part of the change. Let us take the right path without concern for profit or loss. It is time for the whole of humanity to evolve based on solidarity and harmony beyond self and society.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to meet you. With hands joined in prayer.
Testimony by Toshiko Kato, Earthquake Survivor
My name is Toshiko Kato and I am the head of a Catholic kindergarten in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture. I was at work on the day of the tsunami. One girl who had returned home from the kindergarten died.
From that day on, I have continued to think about the importance of teaching children the preciousness of life and how to protect their lives, as well as the heavy responsibility I have as kindergarten director to make the best choices to protect their lives.
Along with the rest of the town, my home was swept away by the tsunami. The seawall built around the city as a countermeasure against a tsunami broke. It had been so large that people came from abroad to see it. Things made by human wisdom and power were destroyed and washed away, but those made by nature did not break. I learned that human beings cannot fight nature and that the wisdom to live with nature is necessary.
That morning, I could not have known that the daily life I had known before I left the house would end, that in an instant many people would die. I was unthinkingly busy with what I had to do. I remember that when I stood in the rubble where my home had been, I was thankful for being given life, for being alive, and for just being able to appreciate it.
Through this earthquake, I received much more than I lost. Many people from all over the world opened their hearts and I was able to find hope from seeing people come together to help one another.
After eight years, I am finally thinking about connecting the before and after of that time bit by bit. What is important and what must be protected? If you do nothing, the result will be zero, but if you take a step you will move forward one step. I have realized the obvious fact that today is the continuation of yesterday and they are connected with tomorrow. Life is the most important thing, and no good life is lost.
While praying to know how the lives of the little people who suffer on the earth may be protected, I want to think about what I can do with the life I have been given and move ahead bit by bit.