Yamaguchi headed back to the Fukushima prefecture town of Namie, where TOKIO had worked on a decade-long TV project called Dash Village in an area later evacuated in the wake of the March 11 disasters that triggered the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant just 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) away.
While there, Yamaguchi donned protective clothing and braved the boiling midsummer heat to help plant sunflowers as part of an experiment by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to determine if the plants could reduce soil cesium in the heavily irradiated area.
Twice this summer, Yamaguchi has returned to Dash Village, where TOKIO had been trying to create a new village based on traditional Japanese lifestyles for more than 10 years. While there, he took part in the JAXA experiments, despite the concerns from his talent agency that he would be exposed to excessive radiation.
“It was good to see and be in the village again,” Yamaguchi said. “We thought we’d never be able to see it again.”
TOKIO had worked on Dash Village as part of the band’s program, Tetsuwan Dash. They had been aiming to create a village from scratch based on traditional lifestyles and had eventually hoped to get the village officially recognized. Then, the March 11 disasters struck while the band was in the town.The band members returned to the capital the day after the earthquake, though it took them 11 hours to get there. Animals and people who were working on the Dash Village project also evacuated when the government ordered people out of Namie as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant went into meltdown.
Yamaguchi had given up hope of ever seeing Dash Village again as the Fukushima crisis worsened, but then JAXA proposed planting sunflowers there to determine if they could speed up the decontamination of the cesium-tainted soil. Yamaguchi decided to take a hands-on approach to JAXA’s experiments, visiting Dash Village on July 11 and August 22. He found that the town had gone to seed, but he hoped to inspire others by his action to help plant the sunflowers, despite the dangers of hourly radiation at 33 microsieverts.
“Did I think it was risky? Sure, but I can’t do anything to help if I choose to be totally protected,” the pop star told reporters at a news conference. “I chose to be in a position where I could send out a message that there are things we can do so maybe we can go back to our village one day, just as everyone else wants to return to homes they had there.”