Takashi Sasaki was a Japanese citizen, translator and a professor of Spanish philosophy. His contribution to the people of Fukushima during the nuclear disaster of 2011 – communicating the reality of the situation and “speaking truth to power” – cannot be over estimated.
Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011
The most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan was on 11th March 2011. It reached a magnitude of nine on Richter scale. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that destroyed part of the Country’s east coast. It took more than 15,000 lives.
The Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant is a disabled nuclear power plant in Japan. The earthquake and tsunami permanently damaged several reactors, making them impossible to restart and causing serious radiation leaks. It was one of the country’s biggest nuclear disasters.
Takashi Sasaki was a resident of Minamisoma, a city about 25 km from the nuclear power plant.
Born in Hokkaido in 1939, he spent some of his childhood in Manchuria, a territory invaded by the Japanese army, where his father was an official. When World War 2 came to an end, he returned to Japan aged five, and lived in the Fukushima province. He studied at the Jesuit University of Sofia, in Tokyo, and became a professor of Spanish philosophy. He was Miguel de Unamuno’s Spanish-Japanese translator.
Government evacuation plan
As soon as the disaster took place, the government declared that their highest concern was the safety of the citizens. So they evacuated the affected zone and moved citizens into emergency refugee camps. Cities surrounding the nuclear power plant were assigned a threat level according to their distance from it. Minamisoma was designated as “emergency evacuation preparation zone”. Accordingly, citizens evacuated the city and moved to the refugee camp. However, 72-year-old Takashi Sasaki refused to leave his house in Minamisoma, preferring to remain and take care of his wife, Yoshiko, who suffered from dementia.
According to the government, it was the right plan for the safety of the citizens, but it wasn’t working so well. According to Takashi’s statistics, more people were dying in the refugee camps than in cities. Initially, because there were not sufficient facilities for the people in the camps. Furthermore, the amount of radiation in the city was actually less than in some of the refugee sites.
Living the Disaster
Takashi Sasaki remained in his home and started his blog, “Fukushima: Living the disaster.” He started informing the rest of the country about the actual situation in the affected area, with his day-to-day reports. The media, as usual, was mostly following the Government line and giving positive situation reports. Takashi connected his city with the rest of the Country. His blogs gained popularity. In time, all of Japan were reading his blog (which was published in book form, five months after the disaster). In time, there was also an English translation, which spread the news further around the world.
“The house shook during the earthquake, but the water and power never gave out,” wrote Takashi. “If I had tried to move my wife, all I would have accomplished would have been to shorten her life by sapping what is left of her strength and making her illness worse. We were not going to die immediately from the radiation. I decided it was better to stay here at home instead.”
Takashi tried to encourage others to do the same. “We must not move the elderly and the sick,” he wrote in his blog. However, more than 290 sick and elderly residents were forcefully removed from their homes, only to die in the hardship of camps.
Living the Disaster denounced the misinformation and ineptitude of the Government and the regulating companies of the nuclear power to both anticipate the disaster and face its serious consequences. In particular, he criticised the lack of individual responsibility in the Japanese system, which instead encourages collective decision-making.
He published the last entry of his blog on the eve of his admission to hospital. Sadly, the hospital diagnosed lung cancer, which ended his life. His final post contained a list of last wishes. He left his savings to his wife and his son’s family. “I also want my granddaughter Ai to study at Seisen University,” referring to the women’s university where Professor Sasaki taught. He hoped “that Ai will specialize in Hispanic studies and marries a young Spaniard who loves Japan and follows the work of the dissemination of the Spanish language of his grandfather.”