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Japan’s manga comics boldly tackle Fukushima

Manga, Japan’s ubiquitous comics for adults and teens, which have taken up Fukushima on an unprecedented scale even as Japanese film largely avoids the topic. 

Ichi Efu, which centres on workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has sold 170,000 copies in book form in nearly two months, rare for a debut manga.

Another manga set off a furore that sparked angry responses from the government, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

As Fukushima, one of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, fades from the public spotlight, publishers say they hope manga will spark debate about uncomfortable topics such as the health impact of the accident, which released radiation over a wide swathe of northeastern Japan. 

More freedom for manga

The nuclear disaster, set off by a tsunami that tore through the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and touched off meltdowns, remains a sensitive subject in Japan, especially since thousands still remain in temporary housing and may never go home again. 

“Movies take a lot of money and backers tend to flinch away from this topic ... Manga are a lot more independent and can go where even news programmes might hesitate,” said Kenichiro Shinohara, an editor at the popular “Morning” manga weekly where“Ichi Efu” is also published. 

A staff walks past a poster of a Japanese Manga "Ichi Efu", which centres on workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, at a bookstore in Tokyo June 23, 2014. Manga authors have taken up Fukushima on an unprecedented scale even as Japanese film large

A staff walks past a poster of a Japanese Manga Ichi Efu, which centres on workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, at a bookstore in Tokyo June 23, 2014. PHOTO: Reuters

Fukushima manga run the gamut from Sobamon, which promotes the safety of Fukushima produce, to the overtly anti-nuclear Fighting the Nuclear Demon. At least one is set in the future.

“Manga are easier to follow than serious journalism or reportage, and of course there is some entertainment value, which makes them easier to pick up,” said Kazuma Yoshimura, head of the Manga Research Centre at Kyoto’s Seika University.

But some have touched a raw nerve - food manga called Oishinbo - The Gourmet – and a Fukushima food safety series, in particular, got both Fukushima residents to Abe up in arms.

In the story, several characters suffered nosebleeds they blamed on radiation exposure – a situation that medical experts say is highly unlikely but something they have not ruled out.

The manga also said the Fukushima area would be unlivable for years.

This unleashed a flood of angry comments from Abe, cabinet ministers and Fukushima residents who called for people to use “correct” information, in turn setting off discussions about free speech and government cover-ups.

The editor of the manga apologised for some word choices but remained unrepentant about running it, citing fading interest in Fukushima and the need for more discussion about the issue.

“In addition, people still aren’t really settled in what they think about Fukushima,” said Kaoru Endo, a sociology professor at Tokyo’s Gakushuin University. “They remain uneasy because they feel that ... a lot hasn’t yet been revealed.”

Source: Reuters