Re-animating a radioactive landscape: informal life politics in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Tessa Morris-Suzuki*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident of 11 March 2011 posed massive and continuing social challenges to communities in the affected areas. People from wide areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant received vastly conflicting information about the levels of radiation released and about the likely health effects. They were left facing agonising decisions whether to remain and face possible (but uncertain) long-term health risks, or whether to move away, leaving behind homes, friends, jobs, schools and communities. Focusing on the case of the small farming community of Tōwa in Nihonmatsu City, this article examines self-help activities that have emerged in the affected areas in the wake of 3/11. The activities have included community monitoring of radiation levels and collaborative research with academic scientists to explore ways to reduce radioactive contamination in forests, farm soil and crops. The self-help activities of Tōwa residents can be seen as an example of “informal life politics” – that is, of the way in which grassroots groups respond to challenges to their livelihood or way of life by organising themselves and taking actions outside the sphere of formal governmental structures. It is argued here that the residents of Tōwa were able to respond rapidly to the challenges of the Fukushima disaster because they had already developed informal life politics practices in response to earlier challenges of local economic decline and depopulation. I also suggest that, in responding to the Fukushima disaster, the relationship between the people of Tōwa and their landscape has been profoundly changed, and that this change has implications not just for the community itself but also for the wider world.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)167-188
    Number of pages22
    JournalJapan Forum
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2015


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