Hunting scientists in liminal forests

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Forests in Fukushima

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March 2, 2020

Critical Commentary

In May 2019 I accompanied three scientists from a Japanese research institute on a visit to a somewhat counterintuitively named ‘wild mountain vegetable’ farm in a reopened village in Fukushima. They are trying to determine why there are large variations in plant contamination across the farm.  This place is on the border of farm-land and forest.  It is both forest and farm, but at the same time neither one nor the other.  When asked whether the plants are farmed or wild, the owner, Hirono-San admits ‘well, they are really wild, but I if I say wild I cannot sell them!  So I say farmed.’ Her grandfather planted some of the garlic plants decades ago and they have since spread.  Who is to say where the border between wild and not wild is?

Decontaminating it is not so easy because of the terrain. Takahashi-San and I strain to see Ito and Watanabe struggle up the slippery slope to monitor plants in the tree-lined forest. ‘We are scientist hunting!’ he smiles.

An area next to a small river is relatively cleared of trees and has been decontaminated.  Hirono-San negotiated with the government to only take off the top layer of soil off.  Instead of taking off 10cm as they would do in paddy fields or flatter agricultural fields, they just scraped off the top 5cm. ‘We knew that it did not need to be decontaminated as much.’  How did you know?  I ask.  ‘Of course we know! Through the history and knowledge we know! These plants only have short roots.’ 

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