Japanese director talks about nuclear testing impact on the Marshall Islands

This photo provided by Shiori Okawa, director of the documentary film “Tarinae”, shows her posing for a photo when she visited the Marshall Islands as a high school student.

TOKYO – Shiori Okawa, 32, who made a documentary film about the Marshall Islands to convey the footprints left by the war, says she felt residents were still physically and mentally affected by the hydrogen bomb tests Americans led to Bikini Atoll when she lived there for three years.

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo, Okawa worked for a Japanese company in the Marshall Islands after graduating from Keio University. She shows the tragedy of war through interaction with locals, where Japanese soldiers starved and traces of war remain, in her first film “Tarinae” released in 2018.

Okawa told the Mainichi Shimbun what the nuclear tests have done for the locals.

This photo provided by Shiori Okawa, director of the documentary film “Tarinae”, shows a woman who spoke about her experience with nuclear bomb testing when Okawa visited the Marshall Islands as a high school student.


I was in third year of high school in 2007 when I first had the desire to learn more about the nuclear bomb experience among non-Japanese people. At the time, I was interested in nuclear and environmental issues and participated in a study trip to the Marshall Islands, known for the hydrogen bomb experiments conducted on Bikini Atoll. There, the United States carried out 67 nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958.

During the tour, a 60-year-old woman, who experienced the Castle Bravo nuclear test on Bikini Atoll at the age of 7, told me, “I still don’t feel well and I can’t live without all of these drugs. “She said she had had several stillbirths and went for adoption. She was a fashionable woman with a friendly smile, but she seemed to feel helpless in the face of the immutable situation despite the calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Shiori Okawa, director of the documentary film “Tarinae”, is seen in the Taito district of Tokyo on December 24, 2020. (Mainichi / Emi Naito)

One of the reasons the area was used for nuclear testing is because Japan, which occupied the Marshall Islands during World War II, lost the war in 1945 when the United States took control. Islands. When I learned that Japanese canons and songs still existed there, I thought, “Why didn’t I have any knowledge of this? From the point of view of someone who was educated in Japan, who has forgotten these past events, I dreamed of making a film to spread the memories of the war that remain.

I lived in the Marshall Islands for three years after graduating from university. There are areas still contaminated by radiation and the consequences of nuclear tests remain. Residents are divided over whether to return to their hometown and if they can receive compensation, causing deep pain although it is not visible. Pain is apparently one of the reasons people find it difficult to convey the experience of nuclear testing.

I have heard that many people who lived through nuclear tests developed diseases like thyroid cancer and had miscarriages. The United States has observed the health conditions of residents, not to provide treatment but to monitor the effects of radiation on people’s health.

An old WWII cannon is seen over the Marshall Islands in this photo taken by Shiori Osaka, director of the documentary film “Tarinae”.

I attended a memorial service for the victims of the Bikini Atoll testing that took place every year on March 1, when it took place in 1954. I couldn’t stand it when a government official American said that the experiments had been carried out to protect freedom and democracy in the world and thanked their contribution to world peace.

I think the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is important in banning the global use as well as the testing of nuclear weapons. At the same time, I think we need to know what individuals were forced to sacrifice before the treaty was concluded, take it as something personal and imagine what it looked like.

In just over 100 years since the discovery of the atomic nucleus by man, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons have been created, and we are in a situation where no one can take responsibility for the future. While nuclear policy can be a country-to-country problem, it is always the individuals who are the victims. These days hardly anyone in the world can live without having to do with nuclear issues.

It is essential for all of us to rethink why society accepts nuclear weapons despite sharing individual experiences, and to talk about them on a daily basis.

(Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Service)

Marie A. Evans