John, 43

A university professor currently seeking employment.
L, 28, is his wife. They have a 3-year-old son.


... We left Tokyo on March 17, 2011 because our son was one year and two weeks old at the time. If I were single, I would not have left. Because we came from Tokyo, and officially there is no radiation in Tokyo (despite all the measurements by independent researchers who measure radiation from secondary sources, in other words waste incinerators and sewage treatment plants) we are not eligible for any assistance from the government.

... Also, under Japanese law, if you do not work at least 20 hours per week for any one employer, you get no unemployment compensation. I was working more than 40 hours per week but it was for four employers, so we get absolutely no assistance at all from the government. So life has been hell since Fukushima. We are living off our savings. We have applied many times to get into salary-based public housing that would allow us to live in a 3DK for only 20,000 yen per month, but we are never lucky enough to win the lottery. Also, not having any Japanese family, we have no guarantor. So we are stuck in expensive UR housing that does not require a guarantor. [UR housing is governmental Urban Renaissance Agency housing].

From May 2011 to December 2011, I commuted to Tokyo from Fukuoka to finish my contracts. Two of my employers terminated me in September 2011. The other two unhappily let me finish my contract but refused to pay my commuting costs.

I became very sick. I could not eat for a month. I had a blood test at a local clinic and they thought I had meningitis. I went to a larger hospital that ruled out meningitis, but my white blood cell count was very low. The doctor claimed it was because of stress. I started suffering from debilitating arthritis so that I could not sleep nights.

Every time I go to the supermarket or to a restaurant I worry a great deal about eating or drinking radioactive food. As much as possible, I buy food from Kyushu, but the labeling of products is unclear, and frankly, I do not trust Japanese companies to correctly label products. My employers kept claiming that there is no radiation, but I do believe that there is radiation and I do believe that there is no threshold for harm. Every increase in radiation exposure results in an increase in cancer risk. I worry about myself, but I worry about my son more. I have no job and no job prospects. My wife is not American, so it is not easy to go back to America with my son because without a job it is difficult to get her a green card visa for the USA.

The government has proven itself to be entirely unreliable when dealing with this crisis. And I cannot understand the crazy belief of many Japanese that "to love Japan" (Do for Japan) means we have to spread the radioactive debris all over Japan and we have to eat and drink contaminated foodstuffs. If I could leave Japan (if I had legal visas and jobs), I would definitely leave Japan. Not having work is depressing and so I doubt myself. But I sometimes feel I have been blacklisted by colleges because of my vocal stance on Fukushima and for being a "flyjin". 

[A "flyjin" is a derogatory term for a foreigner who fled Japan due to concern over the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  Flyjin are considered by some to be people who deserted Japan because of irrational fears over radiation exposure].

... When they started burning radioactive waste in Kitakyushu, I felt that I was such a fool. I left Tokyo to get away from the waste, and the ... Japanese government and the ... Japanese ... allowed their government to send the radioactive debris to Kyushu.

When we left Tokyo via the Shinkansen, my wife and I were interviewed by Australian TV. More than a year later, no one cares about what is happening in Japan.

Fukushima has ruined my life, probably cut years off my life because of the stress of being an unemployed husband and father with no unemployment insurance and no social welfare. We do not qualify we are told over and over again. The jobs in Fukuoka are terrible compared to the jobs in Tokyo. Prices for commodities and for transportation are much higher in Fukuoka than Tokyo so my cost of living is higher than in Tokyo. Companies here in Fukuoka do not pay for transportation and have ridiculously long "training periods" when you do not receive full pay. Almost all jobs are part-time.

... Now my son is two and a half and he knows his daddy has mental issues. He gives me my anti-depression medicine every day because he wants me to cheer up. He does not understand that without a job, there is no money, and once our savings run out, we'll be homeless.

I wonder what will happen then since my wife and I come from different countries. What will the Japanese authorities do? Split up our family? Deport us to our separate countries? All three of us are permanent residents of Japan, but as you know, everything in Japan is at the arbitrary discretion of some bureaucrat.



L., 28



The food here is dangerous and the food in China is dangerous, so what's the difference?  And in China I can't let my son run around like this.  Someone would take him.

... I just want to go where there's a job.

J and L's son at age 2

John and L's son at age 2



Third Birthday

John and L's son on his 3rd birthday

August 2013 Update: John has found work in another country, and has moved there with his wife and son.



All images and interviews © 2013 Neil Witkin
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