Manga gives real-life look at Fukushima plant workers in action

April 26, 2014

By KENSUKE NONAMI/ Staff Writer

A manga that describes the reality of daily life at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant through the eyes of a worker is enjoying popularity.

“Ichiefu” (1F), written by Kazuto Tatsuta, 49, first appeared in autumn 2013 as a serial comic in the weekly magazine “Morning,” published by Kodansha Ltd. Ichiefu stands for the Fukushima No. 1 plant among locals.

The comic was published in book form on April 23. The publisher shipped a total of 150,000 copies of the first volume, which is an unusually large number for a little-known manga artist.

Tatsuta said he changed jobs repeatedly after graduating from university. At the same time, he also worked as a comic strip artist.

It was when he was considering another job change that the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami occurred, triggering the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant.

While seeking a better-paying job, Tatsuta also wondered what part he could do as a citizen of Japan to help. As a result, he began to work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from June 2012 for a total of six months.

“Ichiefu” describes the situation at the plant in great detail. The descriptions of equipment, such as the masks and protective gear the workers used, and the procedures they took to measure radiation levels make readers feel as if they are there and reading actual worker manuals.

The comic also depicts intimate practices only workers there would know. For example, the workers always say “Be safe” to each other before starting their shifts.

Each of the workers was also required to stop working when his dosimeter issued a fourth warning sound.

“As a manga artist, I was interested in the overall atmosphere and scenery at the plant. But in those days, I was too busy working to do anything with it,” Tatsuta recalled.

When the amount of radiation he was exposed to reached the maximum annual limit after six months, he temporarily returned home to Tokyo. It was then that he decided to write the manga because what he was reading and hearing in the media about the situation at the plant was different from what he experienced and saw himself.

“The media were reporting that the workers in the plant were placed under miserable working conditions. But the working conditions there are not that different from those in other workplaces,” Tatsuta said. “In the compound (of the nuclear plant), workers eat meals and enjoy chatting (like those in other workplaces do).

“It was physically hard to work while wearing all the protective gear, though. That is because it was hot,” he added. “Besides I was not able to scratch my nose when it was itchy. And answering the call of nature or relieving oneself was a problem, so I refrained from drinking water as much as possible.”

Despite the tense working conditions depicted in the media, the descriptions of daily life presented by Tatsuta’s comic shows a much more easygoing atmosphere. Some readers who also worked at the plant sent messages to Tatsuta saying they felt nostalgic after reading his work.

At present, the serial comic still runs in the weekly magazine. After some time, however, he wants to work at the plant again.

“I have this growing feeling that I want to see the situation at the plant through to the end. Though I worked there for only six months, there were many drastic changes during that period,” Tatsuta said.

For example, a full face mask was initially necessary to wear in certain places. But (six months later when Tatsuta left), only a simple mask was sufficient there.

“Though we cannot currently see an end, the situation at the plant is making progress little by little. As a worker, I want to continue to be part of the process until workers like me are no longer necessary,” he added.

By KENSUKE NONAMI/ Staff Writer
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The cover of the first volume of the manga “Ichiefu” (Provided by Kodansha Ltd.)

The cover of the first volume of the manga “Ichiefu” (Provided by Kodansha Ltd.)

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  • The cover of the first volume of the manga “Ichiefu” (Provided by Kodansha Ltd.)
  • A self-portrait drawn by Kazuto Tatsuta (Provided by Kazuto Tatsuta)

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