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Nosebleeds, food, and fear: How a manga became center of a debate on Fukushima

19 Comments
By Philip Kendall

In the West, comics are often considered predominantly for younger audiences, and adults who spend more time scrutinising the contents of speech bubbles than printed paragraphs might be looked down on by some. But in Japan, comics are considered a perfectly acceptable pastime whatever one’s age.

More often than not, comics, or manga to use the Japanese term, provide their readers with a break from reality, much like a TV drama or soap, and allow readers to peek into the kinds of worlds that they might not ordinarily be able. But there are times when fiction and reality come together, and real-world events become fodder for a writer’s imagination or in some case the main focus of a story. In the case of popular manga series "Oishinbo" (美味しんぼ), one particular plotline has raised not just eyebrows but objections on a national level, and what was once just a comic about food has become the center of a debate about health, radiation, and whether the Japanese government is telling the truth about Fukushima.

Today, we delve a little deeper into the “Oishinbo Nosebleed Problem”, as it has become known, and consider whether, after the resulting backlash, this controversial topic is one that the manga’s writer perhaps ought to have left well alone.

Documenting the lives of fictional journalists Shiro Yamaoka and his wife Yuko, long-running manga series "Oishinbo," or "The Gourmet," is a food-based drama series. The manga follows the couple on their adventures in the pursuit of gourmet grub, and has won legions of fans since its first publication back in 1983, selling over 130 million copies to date.

While there is plenty of whimsy to be found in the manga’s pages, "Oishinbo" is written predominantly for adult readers and occasionally touches on slightly more mature themes, the like of which might surprise Westerners whose knowledge of comics extends only as far as Marvel’s more famous action heroes and the musings of Calvin and Hobbes printed in their newspapers.

Published in the April 28 and May 12 editions of weekly manga magazine Big Comic Spirits, a new chapter of "Oishinbo" sees its protagonist returning from a brief trip to Fukushima, whereupon he suddenly begins to experience nosebleeds. A bespectacled man going by the name of Mr Idogawa then arrives on the scene to explain that he, too, has been suffering with nosebleeds since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, telling the fictional journalists: “In Fukushima, there are a lot of people who suffer from the same symptoms. They just don’t talk about it,” and in another scene bluntly stating that “people should not live in Fukushima today.”

Later, the same character alludes to a survey conducted in Osaka, where a large amount of rubble taken from Northeast Japan was shipped during the post-tsunami clean-up operation. He states that 800 out of 1,000 people living close to the site where this rubble is being kept reported having nosebleeds and feeling generally ill.

Even if this sombre gentleman’s surname does not immediately ring any bells with readers of "Oishinbo," his face, and to a lesser extent the statements he makes, may.

In the real world, 67-year-old Katsutaka Idogawa is the former mayor of Futaba, a town in Fukushima Prefecture that was once home to roughly 7,400 people. Today, Futaba lies within the exclusion zone surrounding the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, and its entire population has been relocated. Idogawa stepped down as mayor in January this year after a vote of no-confidence at a local assembly and claiming that “frustrations” with the government following the nuclear disaster had made his job difficult.

Mayor makes cameo in manga

Idogawa remains vocal about the dangers of nuclear power, however, and shortly after his initial cameo in "Oishinbo," he uploaded a selection of photos to his public Facebook page showing himself with bloodied tissues, often placed on top of a copy of a local newspaper and accompanied by post-it notes with dates written on them, taken after some of the many nosebleeds he has recently been having.

It is of course no coincidence that the former mayor should feature in the same chapter of "Oishinbo" in which its protagonist suffers a nosebleed after visiting Fukushima, but the comic’s writer, Tetsu Kariya, maintains that the story is based on his own experiences, commenting that he also suffered nosebleeds and experienced periods of fatigue immediately after a trip to the area. Members of the public commented that the timing of Idogawa’s Facebook post was somewhat suspicious and felt that the photos did little more than incite fear amongst an already anxious population, but it would seem that both the former mayor and "Oishinbo's" writer feel that Fukushima Daiichi is somehow to blame for their health complaints and are using their respective platforms to send a powerful message to the people of Japan.

Unsurprisingly, complaints came flooding in to Shogakukan, the publisher of the magazine that carries "Oishinbo," shortly after and government officials began issuing statements assuring the nation that, although studies have shown that exposure to radiation can indeed cause nosebleeds, the levels recorded outside of the Daiichi exclusion zone are nowhere near high enough to cause such symptoms. An Osaka prefectural government statement, too, reported that there had been no such reports of illnesses in the area, and that the rubble brought down from the northeast – which, notably, came from Iwate Prefecture rather than Fukushima where the power plant is situated – in no way posed a health risk to residents.

It is the psychological effects that such a story as "Oishinbo's" may have on the people of Fukushima, however, that were of most concern to officials from the region. A statement issued by the Fukushima prefectural government criticised Kariya for his overly dark depiction of the situation, saying that “the feelings of the Fukushima people were totally ignored and deeply hurt.” The prefecture’s economy and tourism industry, too, it added, would likely suffer as a result of the statements made in the comic, despite the fact that “it has been made clear through the appraisal of experts that there is no causal relationship between radiation exposure among residents and nosebleeds.”

Indeed, while statements such as those made in Robert Stone’s pro-nuclear documentary "Pandora’s Promise" perhaps ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, it is no secret that radiation levels recorded in areas outside of the exclusion zone in Fukushima are on par with – and in some cases lower than – background radiation recorded in other parts of the world where life continues as normal. As a fellow Fukushima resident commenting via Twitter wrote after the "Oishinbo Nosebleed Problem" began earlier this month (and whose tweet was subsequently shared tens of thousands of times), “I have never once had a nosebleed in the past three years.” It seems odd that, if so many people are suffering with ill-health like Mr Idogawa suggests, they should all want to keep it a secret.

Debate rages on

The debate rages on, with Fukushima residents, politicians, and even TV personalities chiming in to voice their opinions. Although most agree that creative works such as "Oishinbo" should not be censored in any way and writers should be free to broach whichever topics they like, a common complaint is that the comments made in the manga were insensitive to the feelings of Fukushima residents and only serve to exacerbate existing fears that the area is unsafe – something that is in itself causing significantly more harm than anything else, with a recent study finding that some 1,656 people in Fukushima have died from stress-related illnesses alone since the 2011 disaster. Clearly, living in fear and being the subject of constant rumor and speculation is already taking its toll on the prefecture, and for that reason one has to ask whether "Oishinbo's" recent portrayal of the situation was the best way to raise concerns.

Are Mr Idogawa and "Oishinbo's" writer right to share their stories and, as the former mayor puts it, “state the truth”? Absolutely. Both TEPCO and the Japanese government have been criticised in the past for downplaying the severity of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, and clean-up operations have been marred by allegations of counterfeit contracts and mishaps on more than one occasion. It would be wrong for people to blindly accept everything that they are told, and it is the responsibility of not just the government but the people of Japan to ensure that if nuclear energy is to remain a part of the country’s future, standards are met and that those in charge can be trusted and relied upon.

But without medical or empirical evidence to support his theory that his nosebleeds are the result of living close to the exclusion zone (and it should be noted that "Oishinbo's" writer, too, was reportedly told by a medical professional prior to penning the controversial story that it was unlikely that his nosebleed and visit to Fukushima were connected), it is the opinion of this writer – as someone who has many friends living in Fukushima today and who himself resided in the prefecture both before and after the events of March 11, 2011 – that Mr Idogawa’s photos of blood-stained tissues and the matter-of-fact statements such as “people should not live in Fukushima today” printed in the comic do far more damage than any amount of radiation seeping out of Daiichi ever could.

I have no doubt that Mr Idogawa’s nosebleeds are quite real, and as many Japanese netizens have commented agree that they are a cause for concern and should be fully investigated, but ignoring the numerous other possible causes – high blood pressure, allergies, perhaps even the stress of having been the mayor of a city affected by one of the largest nuclear disasters in decades – and pinning the blame squarely on Daiichi in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary is not the best way to make one’s case, let alone ensure the welfare of those whom the information most directly affects.

The Fukushima disaster has taught us a lot about the dangers of nuclear power, and it is vital that we learn from the mistakes that were made. But right now, as all but one of Japan’s nuclear power stations stand idle and the country relies on electricity generated by burning fossil fuels (despite the fact that air pollution is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people each year), its third-largest prefecture suffers quietly as the rest of the country gives it a wide berth and regularly shuns its produce out of fear of contamination.

We should be thankful that men like Katsutaka Idogawa and Tetsu Kariya are among us, unafraid to challenge authority and demanding answers, and we should remain both vigilant and critical of the information that the government provides about the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, but suggesting that a single visit to Fukushima – or that living in the same town in which some rubble taken from the northeast is situated – is enough to cause blood to spurt from one’s nose is in my opinion far more detrimental to the health of Fukushima Prefecture’s residents than anything else during these critical years.

Publisher Shogakukan has stated that it will continue to feature Kariya’s comic in its weekly manga magazine, which is due to go on sale on May 19, and that a special feature presenting a number of counter-arguments to the claims made in the story so far will run alongside the next installment of "Oishinbo."

Somehow we have a feeling this may be one of the best-selling issues of Big Comic Spirits to date…

Additional sources: Mainichi, Asahi Shimbun, Japan Daily Press, Huffington Post Japan, Fukushima Prefectural Government Homepage, Virates, Kotaku US Facebook

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Oishinbo manga’s depiction of Fukushima’s radiation effects criticized -- Japanese Documentary Tells the Real Story of the Daiichi Nuclear Plant Evacuees -- Alone in the Red Zone: Fukushima Town’s Sole Resident Speaks Out in Harrowing Documentary

© RocketNews24

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


19 Comments
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Where there is smoke there is fire, and I don't trust Abe and his cronies, so more power to any type of added exposure and information regarding Fukushima.

5 ( +13 / -8 )

Where there is smoke there is fire

Well, I would change it to 'Where there is smoke there is money'.

It's all fake and not much to speak about.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Smoke and mirrors rather than smoke and fire. Two incidences of nosebleeds and no medical evidence to support an epidemic. I agree with the writer that the associative claim is spurious. Opinion and suggestion is permissible and the writers of the comic should not be condemned. The people who believe or accept the story as having credence without verification should be pitied for their gullibility and inability to use all the available knowledge abounding to learn for themselves.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Way easier to blame this stupid manga that to focus on TOKYO ELECTRIC and on the JAPANESE GOVERNMENT, isn't it??

7 ( +12 / -5 )

An adult should read a book and be informed, a comic with informative speech bubbles can never impart enough information to make an informed decision. Unless it's about super powered mutants, or child rape!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The reason that this controversy even exists is due of the lack of information surrounding the potential health risks from the fallout and continuing contamination from the Daiichi nuclear disaster. What is the root of the paucity of information?

Almost everyone agrees that the blame should fall squarely on TEPCO, for the suppression and misrepresentation of the facts surrounding the disaster, and EVEN MORE SO on the Japanese government for downplaying the potential dangers of this radiation and the draconian measures it has since employed to minimize, stifle, and withhold information.

I, for one, am glad that Oishinbo's storyline has included this important issue. If the government takes exception to this, then they should get their act together, set up a better radiation monitoring & food testing program, and be fully transparent with the results! This responsible plan of action would remove the doubt and eliminate the controversy, wouldn't it? The Japanese government was elected to serve the interest of Japan's citizens (and residents), not to serve its own purposes!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Cricky, sometimes comics get the word past the news minders. That was certainly the case with Stars and Stripes back during the Vietnam War. So, if something is being hushed up, Manga may just uncover it and maybe add some ideas nobody else realized.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The bottom line is, kids these days, and many adults for that matter, don't read history books that much -- they read comics that are supposedly representative of history. I was shocked when I visited a junior highschool once to see that their history 'texts' were manga, and even more shocked to hear this was not uncommon. It's not all that surprising Japan is falling farther and farther behind in world ratings on such subjects, nor any surprise the sudden increase in 'mascots' and cuddly figures to present stories. The reason this particular comic is under scrutiny? because it reveals some unpleasant truths the government would rather have covered. Even the mayor of the town in question showed, to the news, bloody tissues to prove that the comic is not without validity.

If that's all that will get people to pay attention, then bring in the artists.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I support Oishinbo, yet wish the story line had dealt with the food grown in Fukushima, and why there is no labeling on just where it was grown. Areas over the mountains from the npp were basically fine, yet there is no way to trust "JA" labeling...too vague. So, I shun food from that area for this reason. Also, the writer claims the nosebleed issue is, is revive a phrase, a "baseless rumor". Yet where are Mr. Kendall's sources to support his claim that one visit won't cause some people nosebleeds, or the mayor's difficulties, or the people of Osaka, much less everywhere else that foolishly accepted waste from the area.

The manga is spineless for stopping Oishinbo, even for one issue. Let's get the facts and issues out in the open, and Oishinbo would be a great way to get the discussion going.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Japan gets upset about a comic book. I do not read comic books but often they tell a story of things that will be. Look at Iron man. The US government is working on creating such a thing and is almost there. Most serious comic books have some truth in them and much imagination but it is the imagination that creates things most people think are impossible. Most comic writers study their subject well so that they can write about it. I never disrespect one who writes comic books and the things they expose should be taken seriously.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

“You simply can’t decontaminate a wide area in Fukushima and make it a place where people can live again,” Arakida says in the manga. “This is the truth of Fukushima,”

Equality ; well said , great comment .

Kent Mcgraw ; AGreed ,, if i may add,, comics are also a way of expressing ones opinions/ ideologies in countries where there is no press freedom and are popular in many other countries except from japan as well .

2 ( +4 / -2 )

K. Idogawa must be really a strange Person, why he is unable to visit a Laboratory for a Check Up here in Tokyo?

He can visit this Clinic and pay his 16.000¥ like anyone else who truly want to know it.

Decontamination is possible but need Time but we are lucky that a wide Area is not "that" contaminated that Decontamination is needed.

A Manga should never spark such a big Discussion, the Politicians must inform the People after they spoke with their Consultants because they are elected to avoid Harm from their Citizens!

But it is also a good Sign because it show us that a Discussion about the. danger is needed and possible!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"Idogawa stepped down as mayor in January this year after a vote of no-confidence at a local assembly"

Sorry, did he step down or was he tossed out? Anyone able to clarify?

How much credibility do you give a guy who's towns people / local council has no confidence in. (FCS, Rob Ford still holds his position as mayor of Toronto.)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Fukushima: zero dead as a direct consequence of the nuclear accident (and no likelihood of any casualties)

Turkey: 301 miners dead (and rising) in accident while mining coal for power generation

...and yet a lot of 'green' campaigners would replace safe nuclear power with fossil-fuelled dirty power instead. This is insane.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

@frontandcentre,

the main difference is that when we stop to use Coal now the last People die because of the use of Coal in ca. 25-50 Years, but with nuclear Energy and Waste we need to think in other Dimensions like 1.000- 250.000 Years and more!

Both Forms of Energy are deadly and introduce (Invite?) a bleeding Nose!

Tokyo, ca. 0.075-0.115mcSv/h

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The editor of Oishinbo says that he does not make anything up. He writes each issue after consulting many local residents and hearing their individual stories.

Possibly they are over-sensitive and put down physical symptoms which may have occurred spontaneously to the effects of radiation. With so little information feed from the authorities, and so little attempt to make it believable when information is actually released, the conditions for gentle mass-hysteria are all there.

Both sides would seem to have a point regarding these manga articles. A difficult and delicate position for the present Governor of Fukushima Prefecture to be in.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Good article. Points well taken. The issues surrounding safe food / water from ANY areas in and ALL prefectures neighboring Fukushima need to be kept on the table. The Japanese government and TEPCO have lied and backtracked after the fact too often to be trusted. Unlabeled food sold with deep discounts are unacceptable yet continue to be sold. Radiation can be measured, and reports must be checked regularly. US government / BBC reports have been forthcoming as far as the Japanese government has allowed them to see. Until I see more forthcoming / clear reporting on the Japanese side I'll continue to get all my food / water from sources in the cleared southwestern part of Japan and from overseas.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

spucky - except that they aren't both "deadly" to anything like the same extent. Apart from the Chernobyl firefighters, civilian nuclear power has killed almost no-one since its inception, such is its safety record. Coal mining accidents, on the other hand, kill hundreds of people every year, and air pollution from the use of coal in industry - including power generation - probably kills thousands or tens of thousands per year, before we even start to talk about climate change. And even then I may be grossly underestimating the figures.

You can't even begin to compare these.

Karen - I know from personal experience that the farmers in Fukushima Prefecture have had their produce intensively scrutinized and cleared as being safe for human consumption, because, as you say "radiation can be measured". If you don't trust the authorities to properly check produce from Tohoku, then why should you trust them with regard to produce from other parts of Japan? Please support Tohoku's economy and don't assume you are being lied to.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@spucky

With coal and other fossil fuels the toxic waste, like mercury and arsenic, will continue to kill and injure people for ever. Those substances will NEVER become safe. And due to the way those plants operate their toxic wastes get spread over the whole planet.

Meanwhile nuclear waste is usually confined to a very small area and gets less toxic as each day passes, ultimately becoming harmless. And in the cases where it is spread over large areas it can be easily measured and it's toxic effects still decrease with each passing day until it becomes completely harmless.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

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