A Land of Sorrow: A City Spirited Away by God: A Litany (6)

Jotaro Wakamatsu (1935- ) Born in Iwate. Lives in Minami-Soma, Fukushima.

A Land of Sorrow: A City Spirited Away by God
A Litany (6)

45,000 human beings disappeared in two hours.
This wasn’t from a sports arena after the conclusion of a soccer match.
People’s lives disappeared entirely from a city.
The radio sounded the warning to evacuate:
Take enough food for three days!
Many people hoped that they could return home in three days.
Some carrying small bags, an old lady holding a kitten,
patients undergoing treatment at hospitals, all riding aboard 1,100 buses.
45,000 human beings disappeared in two hours.
Happy voices of children playing tag,
greetings between neighbors over fences,
the ringing bell on the mailman’s bicycle,
the smell of borsch cooking,
lights out of windows at night,
people’s daily lives,
the entire city of Pripyat disappeared from the map.
That is what happened within 40 hours after the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
Riding on 1,100 buses,
the citizens of Pripyat City dispersed in two hours,
and together with three neighboring villages,
altogether 49,000 people disappeared.
49,000 is about the same
as the population of Haramachi City where I live.
And then,
the zone within a 30-km radius of the nuclear power plant
was designated as a danger zone,
and within three days after May 6, the 11th day after the notice,
92,000 people evacuated,
bringing the total number of evacuees to some 150,000
People dispersed, disappearing into farming villages 100 or 150 km away.
The zone within a 30-km radius
of the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima nuclear power plant
includes the towns of Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, Naraha, Namie and Hirono,
and the villages of Kawauchi, Miyakoji, Katsurao and
Odaka, the northern part of Iwaki City,
and the city of Haramachi where I live.
Altogether the population of these districts is also about one hundred-fifty thousand.
Where should we go and disappear?
Where should we make ourselves disappear?
Even 6 years after the Chernobyl accident some people were ordered to evacuate their villages.
Eight years after the accident
we enter the former city of Pripyat.
Weeds grow wildly
through the cracks, elbowing the cracks aside.
Swallows fly. Pidgeons sit with bulging chests.
Butterflies rest their wings on the flowers.
Flies move around uneasily.
Swarms of mosquitoes swirl.
Leaves of boulevard trees yield themselves to the wind.
Yet,
it is a city with no human voices.
It is a city where no human walks.
It is a city where 45,000 people are hiding.
I look all around in earnest pursuit.
Toys scattered around in the kindergarten’s hall,
a stewpot left on the stove in the kitchen,
papers spread open on the desks in the office—
there are signs that people were here just a few moments ago.
But the sun is setting.
I, despite my earnest pursuit, am at a loss.
All the friends have been spirited away by some god
and I stand transfixed on a plaza all alone.
Department stores, hotels,
cultural centers, schools, apartment houses—all are breaking down.
Everything is headed for ruin,
competing with human lives
and the city built by humans in the race to ruin are:
strontium 90 with its half-life of 27.7 years
cesium 137 with its half-life of 30 years
plutonium 239 with its half-life of 24,400 years.
It takes 90 years for the radiation level of cesium to go down to 1/8.
Cesium with a radiation level 8 times above the lethal level will continue killing living things for the next 90 years from now.
If men cannot handle things that will occur one hundred years in the future,
it is arrogant for them to handle plutonium now, is it not?
I walk on the grounds of the abandoned kindergarten.
I step into the weeds.
Nuclides sticking to the weeds must have been blown around.
Lungs must have inhaled the air in which the nuclides are mixed.
More cities may be spirited away by ghosts on Earth.
We may be spirited away even today.
Sensing children’s voices behind me,
I turn around, but there is no one.
I feel a shiver go down my spine.
I continue standing alone on the plaza.

(First published in 1994.)
Translated by Naoshi Koriyama

aLandOfSorrow_japanese

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