KYOTO (majirox news) — Five hundred woodblocks from Rikuzentakata, an Iwate prefecture town wiped out in the March 11 tsunami, were scheduled to be burned in ritual bonfires on one of the five mountains surrounding Kyoto on Aug. 16.
However, the Kyoto Municipal Government announced on Aug. 12, the burning would be canceled due to radioactive cesium detected in the wood. Prayers and messages to family members lost in the tsunami were written on the woodblocks. The blocks were to be burned on one of the mountains this year in the belief that the messages would make their way to the lost ones.
This is the second time woodblocks from Rikuzentakata have been rejected from the federation of five groups that preserve and organize the Gozan Festival, the Buddhist festival of the dead. In the first rejection, the festival organizers declined 340 woodblocks from Rikuzentakata because of protests from many of Kyoto’s residents who were worried about radioactivity. The refusal occurred even though the wood was tested for cesium and iodine and was reported as safe, with no sign of radioactivity.
These woodblocks were burned instead in a bonfire at Rikuzentakata on Aug. 8. Two days later, Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa decided to offer 500 woodblocks from Rikuzentakata to the festival federation after the federation was inundated with protests about the previous decision not to use the 340 woodblocks; the federation accepted the offer.
However, according to Kyoto City, cesium was detected in the outer layer of wood — in a 30 centimeter (12-inch) long sample cut from cedar pine. The amount was about 1,130 *becquerel per kilo. The radioactive material was not detected in the other parts of wood. Burning only the interior of the trunk, to avoid the possibly radioactive outer layer, was not an option.
Futoshi Toba, mayor of Rikuzentakata, said that he was sorry about the incident. “Kyoto and the other parties’ good intentions became a disaster, and I regret that this happened,” Toba said. “It caused a lot of anxiety to the citizens of Kyoto.” He added that new rumors will now spread about the disaster-stricken areas, causing more anxiety to the residents.
Kadokawa said he would like to visit Rikuzentakata, to which Toba responded, “It is not necessary to visit us because you offered an apology, which we accepted. This showed your consideration for the residents of the stricken areas.”
Some critics pointed out that the radiation level was not a problem. Futoshi Niwa, a professor at Kyoto University and a member of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, pointed out to the media that there are no criteria or rules regarding a safe level of radiation in firewood for the nation. “Besides, the amount of the radioactive material is small,” he said. Furthermore, Soda Anzai, a professor at Ritsumeikan University who studies radiation protection, said that the lighting of the woodblocks on Kyoto’s five mountains is a tradition, a divine service, and should not be treated lightly. “This matter is not about science, it’s about culture,” Anzai added, “and there should be a ceremony to mourn the victims, especially because the amount of radiation measured was so small.”
Meanwhile, the woodblocks are sitting in a private warehouse in Kyoto while Kyoto City officials figure out how to dispose of them.
*The becquerel is the derived unit of radioactivity in the International System of Units, symbolized Bq and equal to one disintegration or nuclear transformation per second.
Link to Kyoto rejects safe wood – http://www.majiroxnews.com/2011/08/10/kyoto-rejects-safe-wood-from-disaster-area-for-fire-ritual/
Link to Kyoto relents under fire — http://www.majiroxnews.com/2011/08/11/under-fire-kyoto-relents/