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Tokyo to Kumano: Distance

December 13, 2012

By Alena Eckelmann

Moving to Kumano brings distance between me and Fukushima, or so I thought.

Tokyo felt too close for my liking, so moving several hundred kilometers to the West of Japan would take me away from any worries.

These were worries about the health of my intestines, skin, blood and bones and about the well-being of any children to be born yet, coupled with courtesy to my parents who kept inquiring about radiation levels.

Worries soon mound to existential fear, one without a shape, taste or smell, invisible in the air and in the ground, looming over people’s heads like Damocles Sword. Moving to a different place seemed to be the solution.

This week the fear caught up with me.

A monk, who is a friend of mine, called to ask whether I knew of any spare houses. At his temple he had given refuge to six families from Osaka who had fled the city for the day when Fukushima nuclear waste would be burned at an incineration plant there.

Six families – this was ten adults and just as many children.

Suddenly the temple and adjunct retreat were full with these people who needed to get away from a fear that is gradually spreading all across Japan.

Some of these families decided – like me a year earlier – to leave their home for good and find a new home in Kumano.

Osaka is one of the prefectures where the governor decided to accept and burn Fukushima debris despite citizen protests.

Does this put me back in the same situation like I was in Tokyo? Do I need to worry about water, air and food in Kumano soon too? Do I run again?

We try change position to escape from fears and problems but they do not go away, rather they catch up with us sooner or later.

Distance helps temporarily but there is no way of hiding from what is going on, neither in the outside world, nor in our inner world.

Facing whatever the problems or fears are might be the only way to get to know their root causes, and this is where change is possible.

And I am asking myself: what can I do; how can I help; what is my role in this puzzle that comprises the state of the world, Japan’s nuclear policy, concern for complete strangers who become friends, growing my own vegetables as I don’t trust Japan Agriculture, all the while searching for my own path.

What happens does happen here and now; focusing the mind, feeling the body and taking action in the present – why is this so tough?


This is the second installment of Alena’s monthly column for Embrace Transition – Tokyo to Kumano. See here for part one.

About the author: Alena Eckelmann grew up in East Germany, and it has been change and transition ever since the Berlin Wall came down. She took up Southeast Asian studies without having ever been in Asia. Thanks to some scholarships, she spent over a year in Vietnam. Next she went to London to learn English from scratch with no money in her pocket but then made London her home for nine years. She worked herself up the corporate ladder to manager position and executive training in Japan before changing direction and embarking on full-time aikido and weekend taiko training. Alena has been working freelance as a writer and researcher in Japan for several years now with second thoughts twice, which took her back to the corporate sector in Tokyo. Currently she lives in the Kumano Mountains where she tries to ‘do less and be more’ while pursuing journalistic, touristic and spiritual projects. You can find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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