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Radiation brings fear, and kids let it all out

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Kids say the cruellest things: A girl bullied at school with the taunt ‘You’ve got the radiation!’ (right) sits at her home in Chiba Prefecture, where she moved after fleeing Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear disaster

Radiation is a fearful thing. Colorless, odorless, undetectable except by special instruments, it’s one of those evils you can dismiss from your mind altogether, until the special instruments start registering. Then suddenly it’s everywhere, or seems to be — a ubiquitous and ineradicable contaminant.

Children, as we all know, say and do the damnedest things. They mean no harm, they just know not what they do, sometimes. Their innocence is terrifying. Sometimes innocence looks anything but innocent. But all societies recognize it.

Children are not legally responsible for their actions. Parents and teachers may punish them in order to teach them responsibility. But it’s a long process. Until it’s complete, the evil they do, when they do evil, gets filed under “mischief,” in recognition of the spirit in which it was — probably — committed.

When Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant cracked under the strain of a tsunami six years ago and irradiated large swaths of Fukushima Prefecture, refugees streamed out of the stricken area, settling where they could. Forty thousand of them remain out-of-prefecture, 5,100 in Tokyo. Most of them will never go home again. Will they ever be at home where they are?

Josei Seven magazine raises the issue of “nuclear bullying.” Children too young, one might think, to even know the word “radiation” picked it up under the circumstances, and flung it with what seems like gleeful malice at disoriented new classmates who had enough to cope with already. Six years on, says Josei Seven, they’re still flinging it.

It started immediately,” says one refugee, recalling her son’s transfer to a Tokyo elementary school in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. “‘Fukushima kids are weird,’ they’d shout at him. Kids would crawl under his desk and jab his feet with pencils. In the mornings he began saying he wasn’t feeling well. At the time, frankly, I was too traumatized myself to take much notice.”

Lawyer Yukio Yamakawa, director-general of the Tokyo Disaster Support Network, takes up the story with an account of other children he’s spoken to. What starts with name-calling (“Hey, Radioactive!” “Hey, Bacteria!”) easily escalates into what’s hard not to call torture. One kid is forced to drink a bottle of ink. Another has his shoes tossed into the toilet. A third is met in the corridor by classmates poised as if brandishing guns: “Radiation! Bang! Bang!” A fourth suffers extortion of what adds up over time to ¥1.5 million: “You can afford it, your family gets (disaster victim) compensation payments!”

Yamakawa reports this taunt making the rounds: “Fukushima kids won’t live past junior high school anyway, so you may as well die now.”

Tanaka-san,” as we’ll call the mother cited above, began to fear her son might commit suicide. A poem he wrote contained the line, “Oh, to be able to go to heaven.” Fully focused now, she transferred the boy to another school. The peace that followed was short-lived. Name-calling, exclusion — it started all over again. The homeroom teacher was well-intentioned and put a stop to it — what she could see of it. What went on behind her back was beyond her control. A lot did, its viciousness increasing.

I’d been bullied myself as a child,” Tanaka says, incidentally reminding us that the problem is neither new nor necessarily nuclear-related. “I understood what he was going through.”

She transferred him again. That seems to have ended the ugliest persecution, but, once a victim, you don’t simply get over it. The boy as a small child had dreamed of being a botanist when he grew up. Now he simply says, “I have no dreams.” Fukushima No. 1 destroyed much that is quantifiable — lives, property, livelihoods — and much that isn’t.

What to make of little kids who inflict this torment on other little kids? Can innocence itself be evil? Or fictitious? One hypothesis Josei Seven raises is that children merely absorb what they hear from their parents. Lacking critical faculties and adult inhibitions, they act where grown-ups merely talk.

The energy and imagination they put into it make it hard not to suspect they enjoy it. Enjoyment of other people’s sufferings is a well-attested human trait, exploited for mass entertainment at least as far back as the Roman circuses. Nothing has happened since to root it out of us, and if radiation stimulates it today, in that respect at least it breaks no new ground.

Naked fear is a factor too. Radiation, unseen, unheard, is the most fearful of stalkers. Might school kids seriously believe their Fukushima classmates are contagious? If so, the rational response would be to stay away from them, but fear and hatred merge, short-circuiting rationality and generating “Radiation, bang, bang!”

Radiation today, tuberculosis a century ago, different causes producing similar effects. Novelist Ayako Miura (1922-1999), herself a sufferer, made what might be called “tuberculosis bullying” a sub-theme of her novel “Shiokari Toge” (Shiokari Pass), set in late-19th-century Hokkaido: “It was an age when sufferers of tuberculosis were so hated and feared that they were even forced to leave the neighborhood.” A character who innocently brings up the subject arouses horror in his listener: “Mr. Nagano, even if you only mention the name of that dreadful disease it makes your lungs rot!”

Radiation, bang, bang!” Last July a 26-year-old man slipped into a facility for disabled patients in Kanagawa Prefecture and slaughtered 19 of them, his apparent intention being to free the world from the scourge of disability. Disability, bang, bang. In February Satoshi Uematsu was declared fit to stand trial. A psychiatric evaluation found in him symptoms of a personality disorder but not of incapacity to distinguish right from wrong.

The disorder in question, writes psychiatrist Rika Kayama in the weekly Spa!, amounts to an extreme form of self-love. “Of course,” she writes, “we all love ourselves; we all at one time or another fantasize about being king or queen of the world …” We’d all, in short, be insane, more or less, if we let our fantasies rule our actions. Most of us know when to stop.

Uematsu’s self-love, Kayama hypothesizes, took the form of a conviction of having a mission, a destiny to fulfill. Maybe we all have that too, to some degree. Adults usually stifle it. Children often don’t.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/03/25/national/media-national/radiation-brings-fear-kids-let/?utm_source=Daily+News+Updates&utm_campaign=10c9bd6edc-Sunday_email_updates26_03_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c5a6080d40-10c9bd6edc-332835557#.WNbGPRjMx2Y

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March 26, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese school children who survived Fukushima meltdown are being subjected to ‘nuclear bullying

Discrimination suffered by evacuee pupils likened to that faced by those who lived through atom bomb blasts of Second World War

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School children wearing padded hoods to protect them from falling debris take part in an earthquake simulation exercise in an annual evacuation drill at an elementary school in Tokyo

 

Radiation! Bang bang!”

Gesturing as if with guns, two boys in Tokyo repeatedly taunted a girl whose family fled to Japan’s capital to escape radioactivity unleashed by the Fukushima nuclear crisis of 2011.

Tormented by headaches and weight loss, the girl began to skip classes, and switched schools to escape the bullies, her mother told Reuters. But the very radiation that uprooted the family brought more pain in her new home.

For her to be called ‘radioactive’ was heartbreaking,” said the mother, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Six years after an earthquake and tsunami sparked the Fukushima meltdown, several cases of “nuclear bullying”, as the Japanese media calls them, have prompted discrimination similar to that suffered by survivors of the World War Two atom bombs.

Japan has long grappled with bullying, but discrimination against Fukushima evacuees is a serious problem, with a government panel last month urging greater efforts to safeguard such children.

It called for better mental care in schools and asked teachers to improve their understanding of the disaster’s likely psychological and physical effects, besides watching for signs of bullying, so that it can be stopped.

Discrimination over the March 11 2011 nuclear calamity, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, appears widespread. Nearly two-thirds of Fukushima evacuees faced prejudice or knew of some who did, a recent poll by the Asahi newspaper showed.

One boy suffered years of bullying after fleeing from Fukushima aged around 8, a regional educational board found in an investigation prompted by the family’s lawyers.

Students in his new home in Japan’s second largest city of Yokohama hit and kicked the boy, calling him a “germ.” They also demanded a share of the evacuee compensation they believed he was receiving.

The boy, who is now 14 and wants to remain anonymous, paid them 1.5 million yen (£10,700) to avoid physical abuse, the family’s lawyer said.

I thought of dying many times,” he wrote at the time. “They treated me like a germ because of the radiation.”

The board had initially refused to investigate, heeding only the written request of the lawyers, said one of them, Kei Hida.

Bullying, known as “ijime,” is one aspect of the immense pressure facing Japanese children to conform, with the most recent data showing a record 224,540 cases in 2015.

The new guidelines for disaster-stricken children supplement laws adopted four years ago requiring better measures in schools to detect, and prevent, bullying.

The scale of abuse is impossible to gauge, as child evacuees rarely protest.

But more than half face some form of it, said Yuya Kamoshita, leader of an evacuees’ rights group. “Evacuees tend to stick out, and are easily categorised as ‘different’, which makes them prone to bullying,” he said.

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Pupils take shelter under desks as part of quake drills ahead of the six-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Schools and education boards’ efforts to tackle the problem have fallen short, he and other lawyers said.

The cases are reminiscent of victims of the 1945 bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose radiation exposure led to discrimination in marriage and at work over mistaken fears of infection, or birth defects in their children.

The bullying of Fukushima evacuees springs from similar prejudice, say victims, raising fears of the treatment they will encounter as adults.

Children who were in Fukushima may be unable to get married when they grow up, or their husbands may wonder whether they can have babies,” said the girl’s mother, who is from Iwaki, a city 50 km (31 miles) south of the nuclear plant.

I think this anxiety will stay with her.”

Bullying has a corrosive effect, said Masaharu Tsubokura, a Fukushima doctor who has treated disaster survivors and worked to spread understanding of radiation.

Some children can resist bullying, they can talk back,” he said. “But others cannot, they just hide themselves away. They lose their confidence and dignity.” 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-fukushima-meltdown-school-children-nuclear-bullying-second-world-war-hiroshima-nagasaki-a7622646.html

March 15, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Mom of student called ‘germ’ at school links bullying to Fukushima disaster

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The mother of a fourth-year elementary school student in Niigata, who has been staying home from school since late November after being called “germ” by his peers and his teacher, spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun, saying that her son was bullied because he came from nuclear disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture.
The family evacuated from Fukushima after the nuclear disaster. While the Niigata Municipal Board of Education has denied a link between the bullying of the student and his Fukushima roots, according to the mother, the student started being called “germ” around March of this year, which marked five years since the disaster, and this is one reason she argues that there is a connection.

According to the mother, around March 11 of this year when the nuclear disaster issue came up in class, her son proactively talked about his own experiences.

“He must have been happy to be able to give lots of answers,” she says. However, it was around that time that he started being called “germ” by his classmates.

“Some kids who knew he had come from Fukushima started calling him germ, and that led to kids who didn’t know him also calling him that, like a nickname,” she says.

In June, the student talked to his teacher, complaining that he was “being treated like a germ.” At that point the student is thought to have not considered the name as bullying, and when the teacher referred to him as “germ” after summer vacation ended, he didn’t appear to be deeply bothered by it.

In early November, though, it was reported in the news that a junior high school student in Yokohama who had evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture was bullied by being called “germ.” When the student in Niigata heard this, he said, “It’s the same as me,” and the mother says she thinks “he probably began to see himself as being bullied.” On the mother’s advice, the student talked to his teacher about it again on Nov. 17. When he came home, he triumphantly said with a smile that he had talked to the teacher.

After a strong earthquake off the Fukushima Prefecture coast early on the morning of Nov. 22 this year, the boy went off to school looking anxious, he and his mother having not yet been able to get in contact with the father, who works in Fukushima Prefecture. During recess that day, while the student was receiving teacher-parent correspondence from his teacher, the teacher called him “germ” again. The shocked student returned home, and since Nov. 24 has been staying home from school, saying, “I want to go to school, but I can’t because that teacher is there.”

According to the mother, at first school authorities denied the teacher had called the student “germ.” On Nov. 25 the father called the school and said tearfully that “There are kids who commit suicide (when they are bullied).” Although the teacher apologized, the mother says that the teacher treated them coldly, saying it was only this year that they had become the student’s homeroom teacher. The teacher has said they want to apologize to the student, but the student is refusing to see the instructor and the school principal has been visiting the family’s home every day to try and deal with the matter.

The family has been planning to move after the free rent for the government-leased apartment they are living in ends at the end of this fiscal year. The mother says, “My son had been asking that we stay in the same school district, but now that this has happened, we have no choice but to have him change schools,” adding, “We evacuated voluntarily (from Fukushima), and I don’t want to impose on the people of Niigata.”

According to the Niigata Municipal Board of Education, there are 291 children who have evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture to the city of Niigata. It holds that “there is no bullying of students related to their Fukushima roots.”

———-

Timeline of events involving the bullying of the student:

2011:

March — The Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster occur. The student evacuates to the city of Niigata.

2016:

Around March — Student begins to be ostracized by peers and called “germ.”

April — Student enters fourth grade and homeroom teacher changes.

June — Student speaks to teacher about being called “germ.” Teacher disciplines classmates who bullied student.

Early November — News is reported of a junior high school student in Yokohama who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture and was bullied, including being called “germ.”

Nov. 17 — Student again speaks to teacher about being bullied.

Nov. 22 — During recess, student is called “germ” by teacher in classroom in front of classmates.

Nov. 24 — Student begins to stay home from school (Nov. 23 was a school holiday).

Nov. 29 — School questions students about incident. Multiple students testify that teacher called student “germ,” and teacher also says it is true.

(Based on sources including student’s parents and the Niigata Municipal Board of Education)

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20161205/p2a/00m/0na/020000c

December 5, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment

School Bullyism Against Fukushima Evacuees Children

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Fukushima evacuee hurt by teacher’s remark

Education authorities in Niigata City, north of Tokyo, have apologized after learning that a school teacher used a word that can mean “germ” to address a pupil. The boy had evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear accident.
Officials of the city’s education board said on Friday that the 4th grader has not been able to attend his elementary school for more than a week because of what happened.
They say the boy consulted his homeroom teacher several days before the incident. He said his classmates were calling him “kin”, which can mean “germ”.
The teacher has reportedly explained that the students had a habit of adding “kin” to each other’s names, as a way of showing friendliness to their classmates.
He said this also made them sound like “Anakin” Skywalker in the Star Wars movie series and other celebrities.
The teacher said he added the suffix to the students’ names, but he never intended to refer to them as “germs”.
But the officials said the teacher’s use of the term was inconsiderate and hurt the feelings of the pupil, who felt he was being bullied and was seeking help.
They said the teacher will visit the boy and his parents to apologize, and the education board will offer support so he can return to his school.
In a similar recent case, another young evacuee from Fukushima said he was called a “germ” at his school in Yokohama and he thought of killing himself many times.
His parents have criticized school and local education board officials for failing to promptly act on their complaint.

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20161202_30/

Teacher ‘insulted’ Fukushima boy in latest school bullying case

NIIGATA–In the latest classroom bullying case involving children from Fukushima, a fourth-grader has not attended school for more than a week due to the alleged victimization by a teacher as well as his classmates.

The municipal board of education here is investigating the harassment of the boy who had the derogatory term “germ” added to his name by his classmates, which was then apparently emulated by his teacher.The boy has been absent from his elementary school since his homeroom teacher, who is in his 40s, is alleged to have used the insult on the boy. The teacher has denied the accusation, but other pupils have corroborated the boy’s account.

The school’s principal has admitted that the teacher’s behavior was problematic.

The principal also said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Dec. 2 that the school will provide an opportunity for the teacher to apologize directly to the student and his parents.

The case is the latest to have surfaced of the potentially widespread bullying at their new schools of Fukushima students who fled the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Last month, media reports on a 13-year-old junior high school boy who moved to Yokohama recounted his experiences at his elementary school through his handwritten notes, sparking huge repercussions across the country.

In Tokyo, another Fukushima boy attending junior high school described his ordeal at his elementary school in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun later that month.

The two boys were called “germ” by their classmates, who also harassed them in other ways.

But in the Niigata case, the teacher called the boy by the insulting name in front of other students when he handed his pupil a correspondence notebook on Nov. 22, according to the boy’s mother.

The boy appeared to be devastated by the teacher’s behavior, which compounded the anxiety he already felt when his family was unable to contact his father to make sure he was safe after a powerful quake jolted Fukushima Prefecture earlier that day. His father works in the prefecture.

The following day was a national holiday and the school was closed. The boy has not attended the school since Nov. 24.

The boy’s family moved to Niigata over concerns about radiation in 2011 following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March that year.

According to his mother, some of his classmates began ostracizing him and calling him “germ” when he was in the third grade.

When he entered the fourth grade, some children threw away his stationery and broke his umbrella, and the harassment later escalated.

Although his mother was worried about him, he reassured her, saying, “I have friends who are trying to protect me. I will be OK.”

But he became visibly depressed when he learned of the report about the bullying the boy in Yokohama went through, according to his mother.

My son must have thought that he is also the victim of severe harassment,” his mother said.

Urged on by his mother, he told his homeroom teacher on Nov. 17 that he, too, was being called “germ” by other children.

Five days later, however, he found that his teacher had joined in the name-calling.

His mother contacted the school to raise the issue. The teacher initially denied the allegation when school officials inquired.

I have never said such a thing, given that the boy came to me for counseling,” the teacher was quoted by one of the officials as saying.

But the teacher was found to have actually used the insult when other teachers interviewed all the students in the boy’s class on Nov. 29. Some students admitted that they called the boys by an unkind name and that the teacher, too, had done the same.

According to the principal, the homeroom teacher said he wanted to apologize for being insensitive.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201612020060.html

December 5, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment