Please continue to follow our updates at uncannyterrain.com, safecast.jp, and SOS-Japan, and sign up for our mailing list. Much more to come!
Update June 10:
Update June 6:
We landed in Japan on 5/24 to and spent our first three days in Tokyo. There we interviewed representatives of Greenpeace whove engaged in independent testing of land and sea contamination. They argue that Japanese authorities have underreported radiation levels, due to some combination of flawed testing methods and an effort to minimize compensation claims, thus jeopardizing the public, particularly children, who are most vulnerable to radiation. Readings are commonly taken a meter high, which doesnt register alpha and beta radiation emitting from the ground, and doesnt account for childrens exposure to breathed and swallowed dirt.
After a Greenpeace press conference on the contamination they found in sea life off the Pacific coast, we met with Pieter Franken, cofounder of Safecast, a radiation monitoring group that promotes regular people doing their own reading and reporting of contamination levels. Pieter supplied us with an Inspector Geiger counter and instructed us in its use. He showed us levels as high as 350 counts per minute (the equivalent of 1 microsievert per hour) on concrete in his Tokyo backyard. Radioactive cesium apparently fell from above all over Japan and attached itself especially to horizontal exposed concrete, wood and stone.
On 5/27 we took a bus to Hanawa, Fukushima, a mountain farming town 45 miles from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Hanawa was spared the worst of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout, and the farmers weve met mostly see the stigma of being from Fukushima as their biggest obstacle. Soil samples here registered 250 becquerels of cesium 134 and 137, far bellow the legal limit for cultivation of 5,000 becquerels. The air outside mostly reads about .15 microsieverts per hour, 50% above natural background levels but a fraction of the levels seen closer to the power plant. But there are hotspots here that are much higher. We found levels of nearly 1,000 counts per minute on stones in front of a house where a one-year-old baby lives.
Were staying with the Yoshida family, whove farmed this land for nine generations, over 200 years. They grow premium quality rice free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, that they supply to international consumers and macrobiotic restaurants. Their soil showed low levels of contamination, but it will not be certain whether the rice is contaminated until its been grown, harvested and analyzed. So they planted their five rice fields, though orders are down to nearly zero. The Yoshidas are not sure they can stay here, but theyre not sure they can leave either. The family patriarch, Hiroaki Yoshida, talks about trying to make the farm completely self-sufficient, so they can survive on what they grow even if they cant sell their crops.
Farmers across the region face similar dilemmas. Those outside the evacuation zone are told to go about their business as normal, so long as their crops stay below the high maximum levels set by the government. But what health risks do they face by staying here, and what risks are posed by foods with legal levels of contamination?
In the next few days we will venture closer to the contamination zone. We are committed to follow the farmers through their autumn harvest. But we need your help to continue the project. We have six days left to raise the remaining $21,000 of our funding goal to cover our costs into the summer. If you can, please provide some support to keep us going. And either way, please share this message with your networks and help ensure that this important story can continue to be told.
Update May 6:
On May 23, filmmakers Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski fly to Japan to begin production of the documentary Uncanny Terrain, about organic farmers' response to Japan's nuclear crisis. We've been consulting with experts in the U.S. and Japan about safety precautions and the questions we need to ask, as we capture the farmers' efforts to meet this otherworldly threat with natural methods, and Japan's efforts to preserve its food supply, its communities and its landscape.
This is a critical moment for the organic farmers just outside the nuclear evacuation zone around the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Some of the farmers have already been forced to abandon their land, their livestock, and their homes to the threat of radioactive fallout. But many more are faced with uncertainty about the level of contamination in their soil, and they're exploring how they can help the land repair itself.
Nearly 50 donors have generously contributed to cover our travel, but we still need your help to purchase video and audio equipment as well as radiation monitoring and protection gear, and to continue production through the September harvest. June 11 is our funding deadline, but PayPal contributions are available to us immediately. If you can, please support the film today, and either way, spread the word by forwarding this email. Thanks!
Japan Tsunami Charity ART show and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Benefit
The weekend before we leave, we're participating with painter Hiromi Tanaka and musician Tatsu Aoki in a show at Creative Lounge Chicago in Wicker Park benefiting the Fukushima Organic Farmers Network, Japanese Red Cross, and the production of Uncanny Terrain. If you can, please come wish us bon voyage and help these worthy causes.
It's Friday and Saturday, May 20-21, 6-10 p.m. at 1564 N. Damen Ave., 3rd Floor. $10 minimum donation includes food and drink. Painting and video installation continues Sunday, May 22, 1-6 p.m.
Following the Farmers of Northern Japan, After the Quake by Twilight Greenaway in Civil Eats
Documenting the Disaster: Words with director Junko Kajino before she heads to the devastated regions of Northeastern Japan to document the effects of radiation on local organic farmers by Quin Slovek in Inflatable Ferret
Directors to produce Japan documentary this spring by Ed M. Koziarski in Reel Chicago
The first sprouts are beginning to emerge on Colors of the Seasons Farm, 45 miles from the malfunctioning Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant and 20 miles outside the evacuation zone.
28-year-old Masanori Yoshida left his job as a cook at a French restaurant in Tokyo three years ago to work his familys land with his wife, siblings, parents, and grandmother. They grow natural crops including firefly rice, so named because the insects, driven near extinction by chemical pesticides and fertilizer, have proliferated as farmers return to the traditional methods practiced by their ancestors.
The Yoshidas farm is one of hundreds of organic farms in Tohoku, the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged region of northern Japan that supplies much of the rice and vegetables to Tokyo and across the country. Government warnings have limited the sale of food grown there since high levels of radiation were detected in some spinach, milk and fish from the region.
We dont know if our crops will be safe, Masanori says. We cant ignore this issue. But we wont stop cultivating our land. We farmers need to nurture the environment, nature and culture, and pass them to them to the next generation.
Noboru Saitous Nihonmatsu Farm is famous for cucumbers. He also grows rice, shiitake, garlic chives, bamboo shoots, and flowers. Noboru works closely with the agricultural city of Nihonmatsu, 25 miles from the troubled nuclear reactor, just outside the evacuation zone.
Today, the problem spinach sprouted, Noboru says. We were supposed to ship this after it grew, but now we cant. After spinach is cucumber season, then rice. When the fields are golden we will harvest the rice. Thats the best part of farming. After that well plant canola. Each plant yields a lot. I hope I can continue this year. But now I see how hard it is.
Hiromasa Kitagawa is the unofficial leader of Mattari Village, an off-the-grid community of homes made from recycled construction lumber, powered by wind, solar and water, heated by wood fire. The people of Mattari share the food they grow.
We grow vegetables that you can even eat the skin, Hiromasu says. We spend our time and passion to go back to the way vegetables are supposed to be grown We aim for 100% self-sufficiency. Soon we hope to open our community for people to experience the sustainable lifestyle. Its cold in winter, but spring is so green, autumns colors are vivid, the night sky is beautiful, the water is clear.
After the earthquake, Megumi Kondou was evacuated from her Chitata Farm. Megumi awaits government approval to return to her farm. She may not be able to grow her renowned koshihikari rice this year. Instead shes considering growing canola, which she believes may help reduce radiation in the soil, and is a potential source of biodiesel.
Farmers and scientists search desperately for ways to continue safely using this rich land, or restore it to its natural state. Whether they can succeed, or whether the farmers must abandon their ancestral homesteads, remains to be seen.
After suffering the worlds only nuclear attacks in World War II, Japan emerged from poverty and devastation and entered into a period of unprecedented technological innovation and economic growth. Can todays Japanese respond to this catastrophe with new forms of innovation that will allow this nuclear-dependent society to continue providing healthy food to its people, and live in better harmony with the natural world?
Filmmakers Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski are embarking on the new documentary Uncanny Terrain, to follow the organic farmers of Tohoku as they contend with the threat that nuclear fallout from the Fukushima Power Plant poses to their land and their livelihood.
From spring planting season, we will document the testing of their land and crops for radiation, their efforts to adjust to the changing environment, through the harvest and beyond.
We are seeking financial support to cover our travel and living across Tohoku in the coming months, and for the purchase of highly portable, high quality video equipment to document what we find.
We will build an international online community of people interested in sustainable agriculture and energy and in the future of Japan, through regular video updates and ongoing dialogue around the issues raised in the film. In the end we will have a film intended for international broadcast and distribution, and around the film we will have generated a wealth of new friends, knowledge and media to address these questions in our own communities.
Ed and Junko wrote, produced and directed the psychological drama feature film The First Breath of Tengan Rei. Erika Oda of Kore-Edas After Life stars as an Okinawan woman who kidnaps the teenage son of a U.S. Marine convicted of raping her when she was a girl. An IFP Independent Film Lab selection, Rei screened theatrically, at educational venues and festivals across the U.S., Japan and in India.
Theyre developing the film and graphic novel Hand Head Heart, based on Junkos experience growing up in a traditional extended family on a cattle farm in central Japan, and learning the sword fighting martial art kendo.
Their short film Homesick Blues, starring pop singer Zoey (now Remah) as an Osaka girl running off to America to sing the blues, won the IFP/Chicago Flyover Zone Film Festival and played the Hawaii and Chicago international film festivals.
Theyve been co-producer, line producer, production manager, production designer and assistant director on films including Wendy Jo Carltons Hannah Free starring Sharon Gless, distributed by Wolfe Releasing; Malik Baders crime mockumentary Street Thief, a Tribeca Film Festival selection released by A&E Indie; Noel Olkens Meditations on Trafficking; Brigid Mahers Adrift in the Heartland; Anthony Collamatis The Acedia Thing featuring Stana Katic (Castle); Scott Cozzolinos Dead Letters, and Wojciech Lorencs pilot Windy Field.
They teach producing at Chicago Filmmakers. Ed writes about film, media and arts for Filmmaker Magazine, the Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, and Reel Chicago. A native of Nagano, Japan, Junko studied film at Columbia College Chicago and Wright State University. A native Chicagoan, Ed studied communications at Antioch College.