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(Project of the Kajima Institute of International Peace)

"Fukushima, Genki?" Project
- Young Taiwanese volunteers introduce the facts on Fukushima's revival through documentary films -

OGATA, Makoto
Associate, SSDP
Former Chief of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association in Taipei

1.The import regulation against Japanese food in Taiwan

At the May 2017 conference co-hosted by SSDP and Prospect Foundation in Taiwan, the import regulation against Japanese food that the Taiwan government has been implementing was one of the topics discussed.

Taiwan has continued the import regulations against food from five prefectures including Fukushima, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaragi and Chiba since the occurrence of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. The Tsai Ing-wen administration / DPP announced in November 2016 a policy that it would deregulate food imports for four prefectures except for Fukushima. This decision led to a violent protest demonstration initiated by the KMT and Pro-China unified groups, and resulted in a terrible confusion. Taiwan media referred to food from the five prefectures as "a nuclear disaster food", while fake news and false rumors that seriously distorted the facts circulated among the people. This did not reflect the reality in Japan. The Tsai administration had no choice but to postpone the deregulation, and has still not found a solution to the Japanese food import situation.

In June 2017 I received an e-mail from a young Taiwanese friend. She said that there was almost no accurate information reported in Taiwan about the rehabilitation efforts in Fukushima, and that Taiwanese anxiety against Japanese food already had turned into a misled national sentiment. She decided to organize a volunteer group and to make a visit to Fukushima, to collect facts on the ground, and to disseminate the truth through documentary films they would produce.

The project's title is "Fukushima, Genki?". "Genki?" means "getting well?" I would like to introduce their strong passion for Fukushima.

2.What is their motivation?

(1) Identity of "the Naturally Independent Generation"

People who positively promote the project belong to the so-called "Naturally independent generation", who are creating a new trend in Taiwanese politics. They are younger than mid-thirties, and have grown up enjoying significant freedom and democracy after the 1990's Taiwanized education. Their identity is completely different not only from the "Republic of China Nationalism" that mainlander Taiwanese have, but also from "Taiwan Nationalism" that older fashioned native-born Taiwanese have. They were born and grew up in a practically independent Taiwan, respect Taiwan's original history and traditions, and recognize themselves as Taiwanese who accept the fact that "Taiwan and China are different entities" and view this as natural as air they breath. Much like students who occupied the national assembly (the Sunflower student movement) in 2014, they have a strong consciousness of political participation with their Taiwan identity, and do not mind taking action to promote innovation and justice in their society.

(2) How was the import regulation against Japanese food presented to them?

Although all radiation doses of food products from the five prefectures never exceeded the standard level, these products were labeled as "Nuclear disaster food", and created an impression that all the foods are contaminated by radioactivity. Even processed foods from the five prefectures were withdrawn from supermarket showcases. Fake news and false rumors were abundant in the media and SNS (Social networking service), and fear and anxiety in Taiwan have been escalated. When the Tsai administration proposed a public hearing on the deregulation of food imports, the KMT and anti-Japan protest groups created confusion at the public hearing, not wishing to discuss the deregulation issue, and took actions with the sole purpose of criticizing the Tsai administration. People belonging to "the Naturally Independent Generation" did not recognize that all these phenomena were normal in a mature democratic state. They regard people who prefer to trust superstition rather than scientifically grounded facts as backwards and populist. They are ashamed of their fellow Taiwanese. This led their inquiring minds and sense of justice to take action.  

(3) What should be done?

This group discussed several times what should be done to dispel the people's anxiety. They reached a conclusion that there is almost no accurate and clear information available in Taiwan on how the Japanese government and the people of Fukushima have tried hard to revive Fukushima after the earthquake. They themselves visited disaster-stricken areas, investigated and collected facts, saw the situation as it is, and took action to directly inform the people. And they selected SNS as a transmission tool as SNS is the most popular and influential tool in Taiwan.

After all this, the "Fukushima Genki" project came into existence. There is no meaning for the Japanese word "Genki 元気" in the Chinese language. "Genki desu ka? (Are you fine?)" means "Ni hao ma?". They dared to use an ordinary Japanese greeting word for the project title, which demonstrates that they would like to directly express their belief that they should report the facts on Fukushima with direct experience in this region of Japan.

3. From collecting facts in Fukushima to opening the Exhibition of Fukushima documentaries.

(1) The coordinator of the project is "Impact Hub Taipei", one of the social innovation groups in Taiwan. Mr. Chen Yuzhu, the founder of the group said, "Taiwan and Japan have something in common due to a number of disasters. We should study seriously how the Japanese government and the people of Fukushima have been tackling reconstruction." As for the import regulation issue he mentioned, "Taiwanese news is not neutral. We need to make sure the actual situation is as it is, and not obtain information from fake news but through our own eyes. Farmers in Fukushima have been paying more attention to whether their products are safe than to consumer preference. Please look at the documentary we made in Fukushima, and judge"

(2) Six social innovation groups, who are popular for sending SNS in Taipei, gathered facts in Fukushima. They covered over 1000Km, visited over 36 towns, came in contact with local people and investigated the real situations. They established three different themes for their investigation, first is the recovery of agriculture and tourism, second is the restoration of education and infrastructure, the third is the rehabilitation of local persons and local communities. Each group produced one documentary film. The scene that the people in Fukkushima speak the truth quietly is impressive.

(3) The documentary exhibition was held in "Huashan 1914 Culture Innovation Industry Zone" from November 24 to the 30. Mr. Chen Yuzhu delivered the opening speech and opened a ceremonial sake barrel, and the exhibition was opened. The hall is not very large, but the images and the documents were neatly arranged, and looked to be of very high quality. By 3 o'clock there were almost 300 visitors, and at the 8 o'clock closing time attendees reached over 800 people. Some visitors came with their children and there were also some foreign guests. We could see that some visitors were eager to ask questions to the staff.

The host organization announced that there were over 10 thousand visitors during in this period. Japanese media like Asahi, Mainichi, Sankei and Taiwanese media like Central News Agency and United News came to collect the news, and the exhibition was successfully closed.

5.Conclusion

The activities of the "Fukushima, Genki ?" project have been uploaded to Face Book, "Fukushima Genki? –Fukushima Exchange Project–" one after another. Anyone interested in this project is invited to follow it on FB. The number of followers has now reached around 2000. It is very difficult to judge whether the project is progressing smoothly from these figures. Each interview group independently holds round-table discussions and visitors independently upload the pictures of the exhibition on Instagram. The project seems to gradually become popular through steady activities like these.

However, the central core of the activity is the youth who belong to the naturally independent generation and have an interest in social innovation. They never provided the films to the media, so there exist some obvious limitation to expanding widely throughout society. It is also quite difficult to have an impact on the views of people like parenting housewives who have shown an allergic reaction to Japanese food or to middle-aged people who have been influenced by negative rumours. I feel that this is somewhat regrettable because their documentaries are of a high quality.

I would like to inform that Taiwan's net media "Formosa.com" conducted a public-opinion poll and published it on 26th Dec. The question concerning the deregulation of imported Japanese food from the five prefectures still has a severe response, as follows;

"Agree to deregulation: 19.0%", "Disagree: 72.4%", "No Answer: 6.6%"

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