Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
I saw a preview of the 1970 Italian film "I Girasoli" (Sunflower), which is due to be shown again. It is a well-known tragedy about a young wife going to the Soviet Union to look for a husband who did not return from World War II. As a sad melody plays in the title background, the camera slowly pans left to show a field of sunflowers swaying in the wind.
I hear that the scene, showing golden yellow flowers reaching to the horizon, was shot in Ukraine. The sunflower was brought to Europe from the United States some 500 years ago. It was used as a source of sunflower oil and its cultivation spread. The former Soviet Union became the world's leading producer of sunflowers. In the movie, the scene is used to symbolize a foreign land.
The sunflower was planted in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, along with rape blossoms, because radioactivity in the soil did not easily transfer to the sunflower oil. Unfortunately, its decontaminating effect remains uncertain. An experiment conducted by the farm ministry in Fukushima Prefecture concluded that the flowers were next to useless for nuclear decontamination. Since sunflower roots reach deep into the ground, scientists believe it is difficult for the plant to absorb radioactive substances near the surface.
A fast method of decontamination is the removal of topsoil. According to the ministry, scraping off 4 centimeters of surface soil removed 75 percent of radioactive cesium. According to a trial calculation by Yuichi Moriguchi, a professor of environmental systems engineering at the University of Tokyo, the maximum area that might need decontamination comes to one seventh of Fukushima Prefecture's total land. When I think about the mind-boggling amount of labor and cost that the process will require, the sinfulness of nuclear accidents is driven home to me once again.
Many people took part in the rally and march called "Sayonara Genpatsu" (Good-bye to nuclear power) held in Meiji Park in Tokyo on Sept. 19, which was organized by the Nobel Prize winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe and others. As writer Keiko Ochiai said to the rally from the podium, we cannot overlook the reality that young children, who can only read hiragana, are saying the frightening words: "Radioactivity, don't come."
Many senior citizens spent Respect-for-the-Aged Day, a national holiday, on Sept. 19 demanding a move away from nuclear power generation. Perhaps they were worried about the world their grandchildren will inherit. When people seriously want to protect their loved ones, they take to the streets. The sight of demonstrators wearing yellow clothes and holding yellow placards overlapped in my mind with that image of the sunflower fields.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 20
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.