Introduction – A suitcase Without a Handle
by Ryoko Ando
Some time ago there was an anthropologist who lived for a long while with a North American tribe. It was a small group of about fifty people. Now, from time to time that tribe met like this in a circle. They just talked and talked and talked, apparently to no purpose. They made no decisions. There was no leader. And everybody could participate. There may have been wise men or women who were listened to a bit more―the older ones―but everybody could talk. The meeting went on, until it finally seemed to stop for no reason at all and the group dispersed. Yet after that, everybody seemed to know what to do, because they understood each other so well. Then could get together in smaller groups and do something or decide things.
―David Bohm, On Dialogue, 1996.
David Bohm, an American physicist who looked into the issue of dialogue used the above example to suggest that dialogue should not aim to achieve something valuable. It is because the act of deciding what is valuable itself narrows the scope of the dialogue. Bohm said that the most valuable aspects of the dialogue are having a variety of people and having them share their different thoughts and ideas. Any subsequent decision-making and action are made more meaningful because of these pre-conditions.
In both ICRP Dialogue and Fukushima Dialogue, people from all walks of life affected by the Fukushima Daiichi accident and/or became involved with post-accident Fukushima came together to converse for a dialogue. They discussed a wide range of topics. People’s interests changed over time and by where they came from. However, one thing remained constant. The Dialogue always remained an open space where any participant could speak in his or her own words.
The Dialogue meeting is like “A suitcase without a handle.” Let me start the story of the Dialogue by explaining the mysterious metaphor.
On March 11, 2011, a huge earthquake shook the pacific coast of Japan, which was the beginning of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami disaster. That afternoon, a 15-meter tsunami generated by the earthquake overpowered the defense-wall at TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (hereinafter “Fukushima Daiichi”) and disabled the power supply. The ensuing loss of cooling capacity resulted in three hydrogen explosions that released large amount of radioactive material in the environment. The Government of Japan ordered evacuation in large parts of the coastal zone of Fukushima Prefecture. The residents who lived in these areas were forced to flee their homes and working places after the Government designated these places as evacuation zones.
This much is well-known. However, it is more difficult to understand what the people of Fukushima and Japan experienced, felt, and suffered from at the time and thereafter, because there is no single, clear-cut answer. Each person’s experience was different, and each has his or her own story to tell.
Since November 2011, we have organized a series of meetings called “the Dialogue” in Fukushima. There were 12 ICRP Dialogues (from 2011 to 2015) and ten Fukushima Dialogues (from 2016 to 2019).
These were attempts to overcome the confusion and reclaim ownership of one’s life after the terrible accident, through meeting with people who were interested in Fukushima, both from Japan and overseas.
The Dialogue meetings left us many words from the participants’ conversation. They reflect what was at stake at the time and how they thought and acted. These are precious treasures full of the experiences, wisdom and sentiments of the people who chose to face the harsh reality.
Jacques Lochard served as the moderator of the Dialogues 20 times from 2011 to 2018. He left the following remark when he stepped down from the role in 2019.
The Dialogue is like “A suitcase without a handle.” It is full of treasures, but no one can take it away and claim its ownership. The treasures belong to you all. It belongs to you in Iwaki, Japan and anyone in the world.
These treasures do not belong to any person or group.
They belong to everyone who has come to the Dialogue and spoke or listened to the words. It also belongs to those who will be interested in those words in future. The suitcase does not have a handle so no one can carry it away. That is why the Dialogue a suitcase without a handle but filled with treasures.
So that I could once again become the captain of my own ship, return to my everyday life, and help heal the world/society scarred by the nuclear accident, we engaged in a dialog and listened to each other.
Another point to note is that there were many women at the Dialogue. Women often led the discussion and volunteered in important roles. This is rare in Japan, where women’s empowerment and participation still remain a challenge. In fact, women held key positions in the post-nuclear accident activities in Belarus and Norway after the Chernobyl accident, too.
Through this project, “A Suitcase Without a Handle: Records of the Fukushima Dialogue 2011-2015,” we also aim to showcase the important roles women played in the rehabilitation phase after the nuclear accident.
Lochard, Jack. (2019, August 4). Opening address at Fukushima Dialogue. [Opening speech]. Fukushima Dialogue, Fukushima, Japan.