Dairy farmer’s last words blame nuclear plant crisis
July 02, 2011
Just before he took his own life, a desperate farmer scrawled a haunting message to those he left behind: “Remaining dairy farmers: Don’t lose out to the nuclear accident, do your best.”
The 54-year-old man, a dairy farmer from Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, wrote the message on the wall of the compost shed, beside the barn where he killed himself in June.
For years, the man had operated the dairy farm he inherited from his father in a small village nestled in the mountains of Soma, about 50 kilometers from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The farm had about 40 head of cattle. The cattle barn and compost shed stood side by side in front of the main farmhouse, which sat at the bottom of a gentle slope.
“Earnest and hard-working” is how his friends and fellow dairy farmers described him. He rose at 3 a.m. every day, they said, to cut pasture grass to feed his cattle. Sometimes, he would later head out to cultivate his fields.
Late last year, he decided to make and sell compost. He built the new shed. He planned to slowly expand his variety of farming equipment and tools, and worked diligently to increase the scale of the family farm.
Then came March 11, and the ensuing nuclear meltdowns to the south.
On March 21, with radiation spreading, the farmer was forced to halt shipments of raw milk. After dumping the milk from his cattle every day for about a month, he complained to his friends, “I can’t ship milk out, so no money comes in.”
Of the 28 members of the dairy farmer section of the Soma Agricultural Cooperative Association (JA Soma) to which the man belonged, only 18 have been able to resume operations.
According to friends, the man lived with his 32-year-old Filipino wife and two sons, aged 5 and 6. Wearing the same type and color of work jacket as her husband, the wife also helped tend the cattle.
The man appeared to be looking forward to his eldest son’s upcoming primary school entrance ceremony. Another dairy farmer, 52, a friend for 20 years, said the man seemed happy when he told him, “I went up to Koriyama (in central Fukushima Prefecture) and bought an expensive school knapsack (for my son).”
But in mid-April, just before his eldest son’s entrance ceremony, the man’s wife and children left Japan for the Philippines at the urging of the Philippine government. Toward the end of the month, the man followed.
“It’s no good. I’m quitting the dairy business and going (to the Philippines). It’s lonely without my children,” he told those around him.
When a friend contacted him in the Philippines, the man asked that his “cattle be disposed of.” It was decided that neighboring farmers and the man’s friends would divide up his cattle and take over their care.
Then, at the beginning of May, the man returned to Japan alone.
“I didn’t want to come back, but I couldn’t speak the language,” the man said of his time in the Philippines.
His barn was empty by then. “I’m sorry I caused you all so much trouble,” the man told his dairy-farming friends.
On the morning of June 11, an agricultural cooperative worker came by to deliver the association’s magazine. He found the man’s body in the compost shed, and the message handwritten in white chalk on the shed’s plywood wall.
To his older sister, the man wrote: “I am grateful for all that you’ve done for me. If only there hadn’t been the nuclear power plant.
“To my wife and children, I am sorry. I was a father who could do nothing. To my deceased parents, I’m sorry.”
His funeral was held in Soma on June 14. About 200 people, including family members and fellow dairy farmers, came to pay their respects. The man’s wife and children, who had rushed back from the Philippines, were huddled together, crying.
The man named two people in his will. The first was the carpenter who had built the man’s compost shed. Payment for the work had yet to be completed. “Please collect what I owe you from the insurance money. I am sorry.”
The other name was that of a neighbor, a 64-year-old dairy farmer.
“I can’t express in words how indebted I feel to you,” the man had written.
The neighbor said, “He was big in body but weak in heart, and a serious person who had no interests other than his work. We can’t let any more people like him leave us.”
According to National Police Agency figures, 151 people killed themselves in May in the three prefectures–Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima–hardest hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disasters. Of the three, Fukushima recorded the most suicides at 68, 19 more than in May of the previous year, and the only prefecture of the three that showed an increase.
After the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, some people who took their own lives from the shock of losing their jobs and loved ones were recognized as having died from “earthquake-related causes.” The bereaved families were provided with condolence money, provided that certain conditions, such as the deceased having been medically diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were met.
Terumi Hironaka, director for the Kobe-based Cosmos, an NPO working to reduce suicides brought on by multiple debts, is providing telephone counseling for disaster victims.
Recalling her experiences after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, Hironaka pointed out, “After the Hanshin earthquake, suicides increased sharply after survivors started entering temporary housing. After some time has passed, a sense of hopelessness can attack people who have lost their homes and jobs. Providing care from here on is important.”
Hisao Nakai, a psychiatrist who cared for disaster victims after the Hanshin quake, notes, “In Fukushima, along with being devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, people are also feeling pain from the uncertainty about the future due to the nuclear accident.”
(This article was written by Takafumi Yabuki, Sho Tanji and Kenichi Hato)