A recent edition of Japan's Oishinbo comic in which the controversial references to Fukushima were featured.
More than three years have passed since the Fukushima disaster, but local officials remain extremely sensitive to any attempts at political satire or even critical commentary regarding the event.
A comic that recently depicted one of its characters as suffering from a chronic nosebleed after a visit to the Fukushima power plant has been suspended indefinitely after outrage from Japanese officials. The illustration, which was published by the long-running Japanese manga called "Oishinbo," has now renewed discussion around the issue of health and safety as it relates to traveling to Fukushima and consuming products from the region.
Following the publication of the cartoon in Big Comic Spirits magazine, the Fukushima government posted a letter of complaint, protesting the cartoon (which was subtitled the "Truth of Fukushima") as a mischaracterization of safety issues related to Fukushima.
According to a report in the Japan Times, the magazine's editor, Hiroshi Murayama, defended the publication. He also published a 10-page insertion in a follow-up issue that featured criticism of the cartoon as well as expert opinion from radiation experts regarding the safety issues related to traveling to Fukushima.
"[P]arts of Fukushima are indeed dangerous and uninhabitable," wrote Murayama. "Some local people are worried about health problems linked to radioactive fallout."
Despite outcry from the Japanese government, the editor further defended his decision to publish the comic, writing, "We hope the various views on the latest 'Oishinbo' will lead to a constructive debate into assessing our future."
The furor over the comic has swelled into big news in Japan over the last couple of weeks, prompting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to weigh in over the weekend.
"The government will make the best effort to take action against baseless rumors," he said.
Freedom of speech now in question
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, also discussed the issue on Monday after reporters pressed him during a press conference.
"Based on scientific grounds, there should be accurate information communicated," said Suga, in response to a question about the government's reaction to the comic. "Under minister [Takumi] Nemoto there's a task force that's been launched to deal with this kind of reputational risk that's unfounded."
That special task force was mentioned in a memo that Japan's Reconstruction Promotion Committee released last year. In an action plan presented in February, Nemoto detailed the creation of a policy package designed to "respond to harmful rumors and other effects of the nuclear disaster." But it's unclear exactly what actions such a task force might take without igniting concerns of censorship from Japanese citizens.
"But anything that is communicated should be based on facts and accurate information.""But anything that is communicated should be based on facts and accurate information."
Despite Suga's comments, the issue of press freedom in Japan has become somewhat complicated in recent months. Late last year, the Japanese government enacted a strict new state secrets law that outlines stiff penalties, including up to 10 years in prison, for public servants and journalists who publish leaked information.
With the potential for possibly valuable leaks about the status of the region now greatly reduced, the official attention now directed toward even comic book commentary on sensitive topics may serve to only heighten the concerns of some already harboring doubts about the region's relative safety.
This isn't the first time Japanese officials have expressed outrage due to a comic taking on the topic of the Fukushima disaster. Last year, French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé published a cartoon that showed two Japanese sumo wrestlers — one with three arms and the other with three legs — squaring off in front of the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant as a sports announcer, dressed in a radiation suit, looked on. The attempt at satire by the paper prompted Suga to publicly denounce the cartoon.
While the discussion of the Fukushima nuclear plant and its potential dangers has died down internationally, in major Japanese cities like Tokyo, concerns about the power plant still loom in the background.
Although the Fukushima power plant is about 150 miles from central Tokyo — roughly the equivalent of a trip from midtown Manhattan to Albany, New York — some local residents still haven't gotten over the 2011 domestic bans on milk and spinach from the Fukushima region.
The 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake, which claimed 15,884 lives and cost the country roughly $300 billion in damages, has also resulted in reports of stress-related maladies suffered by evacuees and those still dealing with the overall trauma of the event.
The lingering concerns surrounding Fukushima domestically, along with concerns from nearby countries regarding products produced in the Fukushima region, has intensified the Japanese government's efforts to tamp down fears that the region may still pose a hazard.
Concerns about Fukushima radiation have also been raised in the U.S. However, a March update from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) squashed claims that the food supply was tainted:
To date, FDA has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern. This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the United States. Consequently, FDA is not advising consumers to alter their consumption of specific foods imported from Japan or domestically produced foods, including seafood.
Additionally an April 2014 a report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) found that a rise in cancer rates due to the Fukushima nuclear accident is unlikely.
The struggle to move on
Nevertheless, the Japanese government's efforts to get the public to move on have been made difficult by the ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant concerning TEPCO's work to contain leaks of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
Adding to the local tension over the issue of Fukushima are ongoing anti-nuclear protests. Just three days after the three-year anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, thousands of protesters descended on Tokyo to protest the government's plan to restart nuclear reactors in the earthquake-prone country.
As for what, if any, action the government's task force might take with regards to the controversial comic, no official moves have been announced. After mentioning the task force in relation to the comic, Suga said, "I would rather refrain from making any specific statement about that."