Fukushima’s Wake

Documentary seeks to answer questions for the Japanese surf community

Surfers on the beach in Motoyoshi, 100 miles from the nuclear powerplant at Fukushima. Photo: Courtesy Lisa Katayama

Over a year after the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster ravaged Japan, the small towns along the coast still struggle with unanswered questions about their safety and future. It was this uncertainty that inspired filmmaker/journalist Lisa Katayama and her crew to follow a group of surfers and fishermen based in Motoyoshi, a coastal town 100 miles north of Fukushima, as they searched for answers.

"A few months after the earthquake in Japan, I got a call from my friend, Cameron Sinclair, who runs a non-profit called Architecture for Humanity," says Katayama. "He had just connected with a young American woman, a surfer, who was living in Japan and leading a team of fellow surfers in the reconstruction efforts there."

Katayama's crew gave cameras to members of the community, and also conducted interviews with locals, anti-nuclear activists, and global experts on radiation, seeking to tackle the complexities of the disaster on a physical, political, and sociological level.

"People from all over Japan used to come to Motoyoshi with their surfboards and set up camp, staying for a long weekend or just for the day," says Katayama. "Because the northern current meets the south right off the shore of Motoyoshi, you get these pristine breaks, with lots of awesome sea life."

While many have left the area, the community that remains is still uncertain as to whether it is safe for them to stay--and surf--in this area. The film project, We Are All Radioactive, seeks to raise awareness and educate the public through the eyes of the local surfers. In the second episode, Katayama introduces Konno-san, an older surfer who has been surfing for 30 years and used to run a hangout called Sunny Day where visiting surfers could eat, hang out, and play music. "Sunny Day still exists, but it's mostly being used as a volunteer camp now," says Katayama. "Like most avid surfers, Konno-san can't really survive without going in the ocean frequently, but the waters off the coast of Motoyoshi are no longer a happy place. Many people lost their homes and their families here, and people fear that the water might be radioactive. So when the stresses of life become too much to bear, he drives 4 to 5 hours to a place where the waters are known to be safe, and surfs there."

In the latest episode, Chapter 5, the crew maps the radiation in different areas of Japan and discuss the issues involved in accurately measuring the radiation in the area and the risks involved.

For more on the We are All Radioactive project, or to see past episodes, click here.