JAPAN | Japanese mothers take to street to protect kids from radiation

Posted on June 16, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 16 June 2011

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese mothers, many with little previous political involvement, have taken to the streets and urged the government to step up measures to protect their children from radiation since the March 11 disaster that crippled a Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Their campaigns, which have been mobilized through social networking media, have encouraged many people to join anti-nuclear plant rallies across Japan and even drew support from overseas in the form of offers for accommodation for Japanese families with children.

“If the Fukushima accident did not happen, I would not have come all the way to Tokyo to lodge a protest,” Masako Kobayashi, mother of a 10-year-old girl, Mariko, from the capital city of Fukushima Prefecture said at a rally in Tokyo.

“I thought nuclear plants would be safe. But now, I want to fight to protect my daughter and other children,” Kobayashi, 43, said.

Frustrated by what they see as insufficient information from the government, Japanese mothers have formed groups via Facebook, Twitter and blogs to share knowledge and data about radiation.

They are also calling on each other to participate in events across Japan to have their voices heard.

Many women say the government-set radiation dose limit for children at schools in Fukushima Prefecture, 20 millisieverts a year, is too high. Having seen the designated limit draw controversy among experts, mothers urge that the government lower the maximum level and ensure a safer environment for children.

“It is the first time that I have protested the government but I wanted to do something to change this situation,” an 8-month pregnant woman from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture said after another rally in Tokyo where she joined other women wearing aprons and carrying sunflowers, which are said to absorb radioactive materials from contaminated soil.

The 30-year-old woman is staying temporarily at her mother’s home in Tokyo with her 2-year-old son but her husband remains in Fukushima. “I was only lucky to have a place to escape to … I am speaking up for the mothers in Fukushima who cannot leave.”

Although many Fukushima mothers express online their distress regarding whether to leave or stay in the prefecture, in reality, many have little choice but to stay. “It becomes harder for mothers to leave because of family constraints since the government has said it is safe,” said a 32-year-old woman who fled to Saitama Prefecture from Koriyama with her daughter, 4.

Some women have heard their husbands or parents-in-laws saying they are “overreacting” to the government-set limit for questioning the government-set safety limit at school facilities for their children.

A group of four women in Tokyo launched a multilingual website — Moms to Save Children from Radiation — posting messages from the mothers in Fukushima and those evacuated from there, as well as a statement calling for a lower exposure threshold for children in Japanese, English and Korean.

Eriko Maruhama, author of a book on the role mothers in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward played in anti-nuclear weapon movements in the 1950s, said she has been impressed with the strength of today’s women as demonstrated in a series of activities following the radiation leakage accident at the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi complex.

“Many mothers today have better academic backgrounds and are able to understand how politics work by utilizing the Internet,” Maruhama, 59, said.

Messages on the Moms to Save Children from Radiation have triggered reactions not just in Japan but overseas.

A couple in Malaysia — Belgian Marc Huysmans, 51, and Malaysian Kow Yoon Ching, 54 — reacted to accounts on the website. They are offering their home for any Japanese family with children in need, free of charge.

“We feel heartbroken reading the messages. … One mentioned a husband stating he would divorce the wife if she would move away with the child. Another one stated more wealthy people had already move family to safer locations and use the bullet train to commute to work,” Huysmans said.

From France, Gerard Mannig, an antinuclear activist, also offered his home near Rouen for those from Japan in need. “Priority must be given to youth because of its capability to build future generations.”

Yumiko Iijima, one of the founders of the website, said, “The idea of protecting children is universal.” She said the group has received responses every day from around seven countries since the website’s launch in early May.

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