On another visit to a reopened village in Fukushima, Nakamura-san, a scientist and member of a local citizen science monitoring group, takes me to see the Soil Museum, an unassuming shelter made of plastic covering scaffolding poles. It looks akin to the various flower polytunnels that have cropped up all over the area, in between abandoned paddy fields. The Soil Museum sits in a corner of one such paddy field, close to both a contaminated waste storage facility, a ziggurat of black bags and also a newly erected solar farm, part of the village’s attempt to remove the need for external sources of energy.
The museum does not contain much. Upon looking inside I am faced with a small ditch and a cut out in the soil below, providing me with a cross section of the soil in the field to a depth of about a metre. Grass and weeds sprout at the surface. The top 10cm layer of soil has been removed and replaced, according to government decontamination methods, with alternative ‘clean’ soil, harvested from a mountain elsewhere in the prefecture. The clean material is coarse and clearly a different make-up to the original paddy field soil. I am told not only is the soil not as fertile as what was there before, but also that heavy machinery used during removal of the top layer often crush the underground clay pipe systems that allow the fields to be flooded and drained. Outside the museum, examples of broken pipes lie quietly, unacknowledged inside the repository.
Louise Elstow, "At the Soil Museum", contributed by Louise Elstow, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 2 March 2020, accessed 4 February 2023. https://centerforethnography.org/content/soil-museum