Filipino to sue TEPCO over suicide of husband in Fukushima

February 18, 2013

By YOSHIKA UEMATSU/ Staff Writer

SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture—Vanessa Kanno started sobbing when she looked at the messages scrawled in chalk by the man who had provided her with a quiet but happy life.

“I was a father who could do nothing,” one of the messages said.

Vanessa’s husband, Shigekiyo Kanno, a 54-year-old dairy farmer, wrote those words on the wall of a compost shed before hanging himself three months after the accident started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.

“I lived with him for more than 10 years,” Vanessa, 34, recently told The Asahi Shimbun on the farm. “I want to see him. He is not responsible, so why does he have to say, ‘I’m sorry?’”

Vanessa, who was born in the Philippines, and her two sons plan to file a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court in March against the company she says is responsible for destroying the family’s peaceful life. They will demand about 110 million yen ($1.2 million) in compensation from the nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Vanessa wed Kanno in 2000 after meeting him in the Philippines for an arranged marriage. At the farm in the mountainous village of Soma, the couple raised about 40 dairy cows and sold compost.

Kanno, described by neighbors as a quiet, earnest and hard-working man, always put top priority on his family. On holidays, the couple often went shopping or collected edible wild vegetables in the mountains with their two sons, now 7 and 8.

Vanessa, who helped to tend the cattle, said she was happy with this life.

About two months before the nuclear accident, Kanno took out loans of more than 5 million yen to build the compost shed, acting on his long-held desire to expand the scale of the farm that he had inherited from his father.

But the family’s life fell apart after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused a triple meltdown at the nuclear plant about 50 kilometers from the farm.

Amid rising fears of radiation contamination, Kanno was forced to suspend milk shipments for a month. He also faced difficulties selling his compost.

With no income coming in, the exasperated farmer was unable to pay off his debts.

“What should I do?” he repeatedly said.

Urged by the Philippine government, Vanessa temporarily returned to her homeland with her two sons in mid-April 2011.

A lonely Kanno considered giving up his farm and migrating to the Philippines. He spent a week in the country from late April, but he returned to Japan after struggling with the language and failing to find a job.

He talked with Vanessa two or three times a week through international phone calls. So desperate was their situation that they asked about things they used to take for granted, such as: “Did you eat dinner?”

On June 10, 2011, Vanessa was surprised to receive a call from her husband so early in the morning. His voice was normal, but his words were disturbing.

“Vane-chan (nickname of Vanessa), take care of our children firmly. You don’t have to come back (to Japan). Cherish them,” he told her.

The next morning, an agricultural cooperative worker found Kanno dead in the compost shed.

One message written on the wall said, “I have lost my vigor to do my job.”

Another message said, “If only there hadn’t been a nuclear power plant.”

Vanessa learned of her husband’s suicide through an e-mail sent from a friend. She immediately returned to Japan with her sons and held a funeral, all the time asking, “Why?”

Fearing radiation, she rented a house in the neighboring city of Date, about 20 kilometers from the farm. She says she cannot work because she has to take care of her child who often becomes sick.

Using part of the benefits from her husband’s life insurance policy, she paid about 8 million yen to clear his debts and is now living off the remainder.

In November 2012, Vanessa met movie director Hiroshi Shinomiya, who was shooting a film about the situation in Fukushima Prefecture.

For the first time, she told the director about her desire to sue TEPCO for what had happened to the family.

“Our life is difficult. I want to fight for my children,” she said.

In the lawsuit, Vanessa plans to argue that the effects of the nuclear accident made it impossible for the family to continue dairy farming and, as a result, the life of her family was destroyed and her husband committed suicide.

“We apologize from our heart that we have given troubles and anxieties to many people," TEPCO’s public relations office said. “As for the planned lawsuit, we have yet to hear about it.”

By YOSHIKA UEMATSU/ Staff Writer
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Vanessa Kanno stands near the messages of her husband, Shigekiyo Kanno, in a compost shed at their dairy farm in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 12. (Jun Kaneko)

Vanessa Kanno stands near the messages of her husband, Shigekiyo Kanno, in a compost shed at their dairy farm in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 12. (Jun Kaneko)

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  • Vanessa Kanno stands near the messages of her husband, Shigekiyo Kanno, in a compost shed at their dairy farm in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 12. (Jun Kaneko)
  • Vanessa Kanno sheds tears reading the messages that her husband wrote before committing suicide in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. (Jun Kaneko)
  • Vanessa Kanno explains her planned legal action against TEPCO in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 12. (Jun Kaneko)
  • Vanessa Kanno visits the shed in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, where her husband was found dead. (Jun Kaneko)
  • Pizza and cocoa are offered in front of a photo of Shigekiyo Kanno in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 12. (Jun Kaneko)
  • Shigekiyo Kanno and Vanessa were married in 2000. (Provided by Vanessa Kanno)

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