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Translator brings post-disaster Fukushima Pref. to life through documentary screenings

Hiroko Crary welcomes the audience at a free public screening of documentaries capturing the lives of people in Fukushima Prefecture after the March 2011 disasters, in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, on Nov. 15, 2018. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

NIHONMATSU, Fukushima -- A 46-year-old translator is giving free public documentary screenings both inside and outside of Japan, telling the story of this northeastern Japanese prefecture in the years since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Hiroko Crary, born in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Nihonmatsu and currently living in the midwestern U.S. state of Michigan, feels strongly that she should do what she can for her home prefecture. Showing documentaries is a way for her to present the current conditions of her hometown to domestic and overseas audiences.

This photo provided by Hiroko Crary shows a scene from the documentary film "Haru Yo Koi: Bears, Honey Bees and Akio-san."

She held a screening event on Nov. 15 in Nihonmatsu. The 100 seats were quickly filled. Crary has previously hosted eight public screening events in various locations including Hawaii and the central Japan prefecture of Mie, but this was the first in Fukushima. She called out to the audience "to consider this occasion an opportunity to think over the time each person has spent since the disaster."

The 2011 tsunami engulfed towns on Japan's Pacific coast and triggered the triple-meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. It was just a year after Crary had settled in her husband's home country. She received an email from a friend working at the Fukushima prefectural government that the disaster was "not a laughing matter," and she paid close attention to news broadcastings.

"Is your family all right?" asked her mother-in-law. Crary was at loss for an answer. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo had urged American citizens living within 80 kilometers of the nuclear plant to evacuate. Her parents' home in Nihonmatsu was about 76 kilometers from the stricken power station, and they had not evacuated. Her father explained during an internet phone call that "the Japanese government said evacuations are for those within 20 kilometers (of the plant)." Crary did not have any way of confirming if Nihonmatsu was safe.

This photo provided by Hiroko Crary shows a scene from the documentary film "Haru Yo Koi: Bears, Honey Bees and Akio-san."

The 46-year-old wished for her only son to know her hometown, while she yearned to understand Fukushima's current condition. Crary and her son began to live with her parents for four months of every year starting in 2013, when her son began elementary school. Children wore personal dosimeters. Guardians and school officials clashed over field trip routes. Crary learned about safety measures to cope with radiation, invisible to the human eye and causing her stress.

A friend recommended a movie which Crary saw in 2016 when she was in Japan -- and the film became a turning point. "Haru Yo Koi: Bears, Honey Bees and Akio-san," directed by Wataru Abiko, captures the struggles of a bear hunter to preserve tradition and nature in the disaster-affected Aizu region about 130 kilometers from the plant. Crary saw pain and loss in a nearby resident she had never known. She bought the required equipment and hosted her first private screening event in Michigan that winter, encouraged by a Japanese-American friend in Hawaii.

Crary arranged a screening event in June this year in Honolulu, Hawaii, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Japanese immigrants arriving on the islands. "Mothers of Fukushima: Eiko & Yoshiko," directed by Mizue Furui, depicting feelings of women driven out from their hometown because of the nuclear accident, was added to the bill for the event.

Many members of the local Hawaiian "Fukushima Kenjinkai" prefectural natives association and people of Japanese descent participated. "I'm grateful I got to know the current state of Fukushima," one of the audience said in an answer to a survey. Crary felt she had found her own way of being involved in her hometown.

Meanwhile, she faces a hard time adding the English subtitles. Crary feels she isn't correctly translating the subtle differences in the Fukushima regional dialects. "It would be great if I can be of help as a translator from Fukushima," said Crary, as she seeks to spread understanding of Fukushima's reality to the world.

(Japanese original by Toshiki Miyazaki, Fukushima Bureau)

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