Listening to Fukushima

by Yuki Masami
(Professor of Human and Socio-Environmental Studies, Kanazawa University, Japan)

How often do adults listen to children?

Almost always adults tell children to listen to them, not the other way around. Why? Most likely it is because they think they are more knowledgeable, having had more experiences. Yes, adults have lived longer than children and therefore it is true that they have had more experiences; however, seen through the eyes of children, the knowledge of adults is not always right; rather, it is often colored with lies, hypocrisy, and injustice.

Riku and the Kingdom of White illustrates a post-nuclear reality in Fukushima seen through the eyes of Riku, a fifth-grade boy who moves to Fukushima with his father who is to start working there as a doctor. What the boy sees is the drift of different–often selfish–thoughts and desires of the adults surrounding him. Some people, including Riku’s father, say that everything is okay, while others such as Aunt Midori keep warning about health risks, without any firsthand knowledge of life in Fukushima. Tossed about and controlled by them, Riku eventually finds that adults are “surprisingly self-centered”:

It was probably better to decontaminate than to not decontaminate, but it was still kind of strange, Riku thought, that no one knew what to do with all the contaminants put out. What were the grownups thinking? Wasn’t there anyone among them giving some thought to the matter of radioactive waste?

Even though adults always say to kids things like, “Think before you act,” they themselves needed to heed that advice.

Riku now felt that adults were surprisingly self-centered. At one time he used to believe that, unlike children, they were bright and always looked ahead. But now, he wasn’t so sure anymore.

Taguchi Randy’s decision to write with Riku as a major character suggests her wish that adults would listen to children, whose eyes are less clouded than those of grownups.

In fact, children are keen observers regarding how adults deal with environmental issues. One good example is the legendary speech by twelve-year-old Severn Suzuki at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Like Riku, Suzuki questions adults’ inconsistent attitudes, saying “At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world. You teach us to not fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then, why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?” Children’s vision and voice are powerful and truthful, and perhaps for that very reason, they are often underrepresented; maybe adults are afraid of children’s perceptive vision.

Since the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in March of 2011, writers and poets–established and new alike–have been exploring justice in a society which prioritizes economic growth over all other things. Some openly criticize Tokyo Electric Power Company and the government of Japan for their cover-ups of nuclear meltdown and the resultant radioactive contamination, while others question the ways of society in a subtler, personal manner. Taguchi’s Riku and the Kingdom of White does not belong to either camp; it offers a new perspective from which to contemplate the future of Fukushima–and Japan–by paying attention to what and how a child sees.

Riku values compassion the most. He observes that most adults are angry, stating what they want to say and not listening. But the novel suggests a direction of hope as well, through portrayals of exceptional characters such as Mr. Nomura who is willing to listen to and play with kids, instead of preaching to or trying to control them. Mr. Nomura eventually guides Riku to “the center of his being; the place inside himself where he felt calm and cheerful.”

Riku and the Kingdom of White is an invitation to listen. Only by means of learning to listen, we can cultivate the compassion needed with which to understand, and be understood by, others.

* Foreword of the book Riku and the Kingdom of White  by Randy Taguchi, translated by Raj Mahtani.

© Balestier Press 2016

Links:

YouTube Video Riku and the Kingdom of White (for the Japanese Edition リクと白の王国 by Randy Taguchi, Kinobooks 2015)

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