Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and Highwater in Post-Earthquake Japan ~ William T. Vollman

Byliner has just begun publishing longer form journalism pieces to be made available on Kindle/I-Pad, of which this one by WIlliam T. Vollmann is the second offering. Vollmann made a trip to Japan shortly after the earthquake/tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster, and in the process ventured “into the forbidden zone”: the evacuated ring around the reactors Fukushima I and II.

Vollmann is an avowed Japanophile (if there is such a thing) and is philosophically simpatico with the Japanese people. He’s also  made clear his anti-nuclear leanings. He interviewed a number of common folk in his travels, and asked the same things of many of them: what are your views on nuclear energy, how does this disaster relate to Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What he found was somewhat disturbing but not perhaps surprising. Most people took the disaster (and he always focused on the nuclear aspect) stoically, in most instances brushing aside the long-term problem of radiation, or “contamination” as they preferred to call it. One woman he met was asked how she thought her life would change since the events of 11 March:

“Will your lives be worse?”

“Of course I believe they’re going to be better,” she replied, sitting with me in the dirty wreckage inside her house, with smashed things everywhere.”


“Well, I don’t know why. The passage daily life will create another sense of value. Unless you think that way, you cannot advance.”

Advance in the Buddhist sense.

Armed with his portable Geiger counter (dosimeter) which he refers to constantly, monitoring the levels of safety, and calculating their daily dosage levels, extending them to the effects in years of exposure, he flys to Japan to begin his investigation. The trip is made with his long time interpreter and when he goes into the most dangerous part of his adventure, with a taxi driver. The trip ended with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and on the way the taxi driver volunteered that most visitors were foreigners, not Japanese. The vast majority of Japanese have only faded historical interest in Hiroshima-Nagasaki. In Hiroshima, most people were too young to remember, or not even born at the time.

Vollmann (and at least this reader) are left with a sense of resignation that we are headed down a path  that is unalterable, the end of the path to be determined, yet forming before out very eyes if we only blink the blinders away. The present and recent generations have set the process in motion, but most likely will not be around to be a part of the legacy of our selfishness, our foolishness and lack of foresight. We give lip-service to making the world a better place for our children. The dirty little secret is that that mantra takes a back seat to our present comfort. Woe to those left to pay the piper.


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