Following a magnitude 9 earthquake on 11 March, 2011 a tsunami swept the coast of Japan. The devastation was complete and incomprehensible. Thousands of lives were lost and homes destroyed. The earthquake and tsunami disabled the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (Tepco) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant causing a nuclear accident. Our research team travelled to Fuksuhima and collaborated with locals to evaluate how pollution in the form of radiation and concrete is gendered and has come to more than ever influence how blue spaces (seas, oceans, rivers, lakes, and other waterways), health, sport, and leisure compose in Fukushima. We were particularly interested in men and masculinity. Men-who-surf were some of the first to return to the disaster area, including going surfing in the radiation “exclusion zone.” They told us how they had sent their families away from the region because of the risk. They were willing to undertake the risks to health themselves because of their love for surfing and the sea. A surfer explained, “I thought about it again and again but in the end, I became defiant. I was having a lot of stress from not being able to go back to the sea and it got to the point that this stress was becoming a greater health problem than the risk”. By returning (or staying) in the region the men said they had experienced discrimination. People coming from from Fukushima are experiencing sabetsu (discrimination) due to actual and perceived proximity to unsafe radiation levels. The discrimination affects school experiences, marriage, employment, and more. The men also drew out attention to the increased building of concrete seawalls, up to 12 metres in height that were cutting them off from the sea. Japan has a long history of constructing extensive coastal protection structures to protect from tsunami. There we men were negotiating multiple contradictions and tensions. The seawalls can shelter waves from the undesirable wind directions. However, the building of them has destroyed some surfbreaks and animal habitats e.g. sea turtles. Some of the men are employed by the construction industry that is building the seawalls. They go surfing on their lunch break. They cannot be dismissive of the construction of the seawalls when they are part of a livelihood that enables them to go surfing. Their role as family breadwinner could be jeopardised. All the men aware aware that concrete is a pollutant. It accounts for 5-7% of all human-generated CO2 emissions, not including transport of it. Production is water-intensive, making up one-tenth of the world’s industrial water use. The mining of sand for cement production damages beaches and river courses. Air pollution is also a significant by-product during production, causing acute dose-related respiratory problems near production sites for both workers and the wider populace. Other men-who-surf in the blue space do not want to talk too much about risk due to now wanting to be seen as mendokusai (“annoying” or “troublemaker”). The men who surf in Fukushima have a complex relationships with industrial polluters and pollution.
Photograph by Clifton Evers and James Davoll
Anonymous, "Fukushima", contributed by Clifton Evers and James Davoll, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 6 March 2020, accessed 17 August 2022. https://centerforethnography.org/content/fukushima