— Cornelia Carey, CERF+
I look out the window as I wash the dishes. The rain has washed the snow away, though the majestic peaks of the Mikuni alps rise white amid the drifting clouds. Ten days have passed since the earthquake struck, a week since the explosions in the third and fourth nuclear reactors that led us to evacuate here. Over the past few days the struggle to control the reactors seems to be succeeding, and the radiation level seems to be falling day by day.
Each day, however, there is more news of contamination, ever more widely spread. First the drinking water in Fukushima, then the surrounding prefectures, Tochigi and Tokyo. Milk from Fukushima is contaminated, and spinach from Ibaraki. The next day vegetables from Mibu in Tochigi, farther from the reactors than Mashiko. The ocean around Fukushima, the rain across the Kanto Plain, beans from Kagoshima that were contaminated while going through Narita airport on their way to Taiwan …
The government spokesman and the experts tell us the contamination is many times greater than the accepted limits, but still safe for human consumption. It does not inspire confidence, and I am glad we are here. I have checked the sites that some of you have recommended, the radiation levels in the air, the water, the rain. The Internet was made for times like this.
The relief work for those suffering in the earthquake- and tsunami-hit areas continues, and though supplies of heating oil and fresh water are still lacking in some areas, the roads are clearer. Supplies are getting through. People are being evacuated to safer areas in other prefectures to the west and south. Petrol availability is back to normal in Tokyo, I hear, but there is still none here. Milk and bread are hard to get here now. Maybe tomorrow. It will be a long road to recovery.
The rain has stopped and the sky is clear. I take my daughter, Sora, for a walk before dark. We talk as we walk up the steep hill behind the village hall, forest to right and left. We have had long family discussions over the last few days, trying to find a way forward. The house in Ichikai is unlivable as it is, to repair it would cost a great deal in time and money, and in the end it will still not be ours. The kiln needs to be rebuilt. There are still aftershocks and the risk of more earthquakes. There is still radioactivity, though less than before, and the reactors are still not completely under control. We cannot go back, we must find a way forward.
Sora and I crest the hill, walking past Mika's father's blueberry field. Last summer we all came and helped him harvest them, though there were probably as many eaten as went into the baskets! I found some in his freezer yesterday and made blueberry jam last night. This morning we had it with yogurt on drop scones for breakfast. The branches are bare now, but there is a hint of spring in the air.
Many of my family and friends in Australia want us to move there. Admittedly, there are no nuclear power plants in Australia, and I know that everyone would rally around us. I miss the sound of magpies in the morning, the fragrance of the gum trees. I could start from scratch, Mika would be fine, but it is not just us. My children are in the midst of their schooling, and though the transition would not be impossible for them, it would be very difficult. Particularly after the trauma of the earthquake. I also remember how hard it is to make a living as a potter there, and I hear that things have not changed. Could I support a family of six?
We cross a bridge over a deep gully. From here we can see over the village and the valley below. The mountains march off into the distance. Across the bridge there is an orchard with an electric fence around it to keep the monkeys out. It has been good to watch the children with their grandparents, playing shogi (Japanese chess) with Granddad (“Jichan”) or listening to “Bachan's” (Grandma's) stories.
My father passed away many years ago, well before I came to Japan, and my mother the year before Sean, our youngest child, was born. It would have been nice for the children to have spent more time with her …
We walk across the fields of Sukawa Daira, beside the Temple of Daikoku. We stop at a field, perhaps a quarter acre, which has a large plastic hothouse. This field belongs to Mika's parents and until recently was used for growing “Konyaku” potatoes. The hothouse is full of the timber from the old shed where Mika's brother built his house, the house in which we now take refuge. They have offered us this land to build a new studio, a new home. We have accepted.
I will not return to Mashiko or Ichikai, though they have been my home for twenty-one years. I will not return to Australia, though I miss it sometimes.
I will stay here. Where the earth is solid and the air is clear. Where there is pure springwater to drink and hot springs to relax in after a long, hard day. Where the children can spend time with their grandparents, and pick blueberries and grow vegetables. Here, where it is safe.
The studio and kiln shed will need to be built first. Then I can start working again. A house will have to wait, but we can stay with Mika's family till then. I have spoken to a local builder, and we are waiting for some quotes. I will do as much of the work as I can myself, to keep the cost down, and help the builders do the bits I can't do myself. Once the shell of the studio is built I can move my wheel and tools here, dismantle the old kiln, and rebuild it here.
People from all around the world are raising money to help rebuild Mashiko, and it is heartwarming to see the ceramic community pull together like this. The Leach Pottery in the UK and the Potters Council Board of the American Ceramic Society are accepting donations to be sent to the Mashiko Potters Fund, an NPO created to help the potters in Mashiko rebuild after the earthquake. Our choice to start fresh in Minakami, to move away from Mashiko for the sake of our family, means that I must rebuild without that financial support. Mashiko will be rebuilt, but, alas, I will not be part of it.
Sora and I walk home, back down the hill by a different path. The full moon rises huge and orange over the jagged horizon and dusk begins to fall. We stop at the general store on the way past and buy a liter of milk. It has been rationed here to one liter per day per family, which for us at the moment is nine. Light is spilling from the kitchen window as we arrive home.
Canaan hugs me in the hallway. He turns his face up to mine and says, “We're all really happy, Dad.”
I smile and kiss him on the forehead. “Yes, son, I believe we are.”
I will make my own path forward, with my family. I thank you all for your kindness and encouragement, and I look forward to sharing this journey with you.
God bless and keep you all.