A Body in Fukushima

To be a body in these parts of Fukushima often means being close to alone

Next year, and less than a decade after its full-blown nuclear disaster, Fukushima will be the site of the start to the Summer Olympics. A torch will be relayed; baseballs and softballs will be hurled Olympically at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium. Presumably, tens of thousands of people will visit the area—up to six hundred thousand are predicted to visit Tokyo, the main site of the Games, and the baseball stadium holds thirty thousand. How safe it is to visit, let alone live in, Fukushima, is not a matter particularly well-probed by the Japanese government. The games are being marketed as “Recovery Games,” with the accordant implication of safety. After the disaster in 2011, much of Fukushima sat dusty, abandoned, and irradiated. More recently, large swaths have been bulldozed by workers, vegetation and soil swept up into black plastic bags each meant to hold one ton of material, and irradiated water will have to be, the government says, released into the Pacific.

“I should not be here,” the performer, artist, and nuclear power scholar Eiko Otake thought while standing off the coast of Fukushima, not far from the Daiichi Reactors, and calf-deep in seawater surely thrumming with radioactivity. But of course, many people were here, and were killed in the earthquake and tsunami, exposed to radioactivity, and/or displaced, having yet to return. Sixty-seven now, Otake is a veteran artist with a long body of work behind her. She wanted to put her body, at this point in its life, in a disaster zone off-limits even to the imaginations of most people. “A Body in Fukushima” is the result. The dance performance was captured in photographs by William Johnston, a professor who teaches courses with Otake at Wesleyan, and who joined Otake over several visits to Fukushima. There are a few permutations of the project; I saw a fifty-minute video of Johnston’s photographs interlaced with ruminative title cards at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time Based Art festival. Otake, in attendance, introduced the project and took questions.

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Lucy Schiller is an essayist based in Iowa City. She’s at work on a book about the musician Arthur Russell and on a collection of essays.

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