A project using sunflowers to absorb widespread radiation from Fukushima Prefecture’s crisis-hit nuclear plant has taken off in Japan and organizers hope that it will spur interaction between people in the prefecture and other areas.
Project organizers have sent sunflower seeds to some 13,000 locations around the country, where the flowers are now in bloom. Sunflowers are said to absorb radiation, and when the seeds from the grown flowers are sent back to Fukushima, they will be planted next year to absorb more radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant and improve soil quality. Organizers hope the project will spur deeper connections between people in Fukushima and the rest of the country.
The project was launched in March, with a group of 10 Iwate Prefecture business managers at the helm. When they began recruiting people to raise the sunflowers in late April, they were swamped with applicants. They ended up sending seeds to people in every other prefecture in the country, and they are now recruiting people within Fukushima to plant the new seeds next summer.
For work such as putting the seeds into bags, the organizers contacted a facility providing jobs for the mentally disabled in Nihonmatsu, which readily accepted.
“We are happy to contribute to such a grand project,” said the facility’s head, Seiko Watanabe.
After new seeds are harvested, they can be sent back via post, but project organizers hope that some will bring the seeds in person and interact with the people of Fukushima.
Koji Enjoji, 46, a hair salon manager in Isehara, Kanagawa Prefecture, asked around 50 of his customers to join the project. There are now around 30 sunflowers in front of his salon that have grown to about a meter in height.
“I was wondering what we could do to help, when I heard about the sunflower project and thought, ‘This is it!’ Every day, looking at the sunflowers and thinking about Fukushima, we get energized thinking about how we’re going to do our best here, too,” said Enjoji. He says that after harvesting the seeds, he wants to visit Fukushima in person and hear the stories of disaster survivors there.
Project representative Shinji Handa, 33, has received a stream of reports from around the country on the blooming sunflowers. One planting location, a field in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, was borrowed from a patient by Michinori Kojima, 37, the manager of an acupuncture and moxibustion clinic. There, around 2,000 sunflowers are in bloom.
“We’re happy that people around the country are thinking of Fukushima’s troubles as if they were their own. We want to make the sunflowers a ray of hope for Fukushima and Japan,” says Handa.
His dream is to create a “giant labyrinth” out of sunflowers from the project, creating a place for children in Fukushima, many of whom are limiting their time outside because of radiation, to play.