As requested by Japanese Emperor Akihito, some of the first rice harvested in Fukushima prefecture since the March 11, 2011 disaster and subsequent nuclear meltdown has been delivered to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The Imperial Household Agency confirmed that 120 kilograms of Koshihikari premium rice from the town of Hirono arrived on Tuesday.
Hirono, a seaside municipality of less than 6,000 people, is located just 20 kilometers from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The town was included in the emergency evacuation zone after the earthquake and tsunami that created one of the world’s most severe nuclear disasters. Public health concerns about irradiated Fukushima produce have devastated the livelihoods of local residents.
“As a sign of good faith, Hirono Mayor Motohoshi Yamada turned over around 1,920 kilograms of freshly harvested rice to [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe, which would be served at the different staff cafeterias of government agencies, including the Imperial Househould Agency,” reported The Japan Daily Press. “When Emperor Akihito found out about the delivery on November 20, he requested that some of the rice be given to the Imperial Palace so they could also partake of it.”
Jiji Press quoted Emperor Akihito as saying, “We want to have some too, because the rice must have been grown with great effort.”
Farmers in Fukushima began planting rice in the 30-kilometer zone around the plant last May, following the completion of decontamination efforts that included adding a new layer of topsoil from non-contaminated areas.
An Imperial Household Agency spokesperson added that the rice would be served in the compound’s dining halls as well as the emperor and empress’s private residence.
Akihito’s request comes less than one month after a Japanese lawmaker made headlines by presenting the emperor with a handwritten letter that expressed concern over the potential health risks faced by Fukushima residents.
Taro Yamamoto, an actor turned anti-nuclear politician, broke Japanese taboo by engaging the emperor in a political matter. Though Akihito passed the letter on to a chamberlain without reading it, Yamamoto was fiercely criticized by fellow parliamentarians and pundits alike. Many called for his resignation, with the disgraced lawmaker also receiving death threats and a knife in the mail.
“I wanted to directly tell the emperor of the current situation,” Yamamoto told reporters following the incident. “I wanted him to know about the children who have been contaminated by radiation. If this goes on, there will be serious health impacts.”
Yamamoto has since been banned from attending events hosted by the Imperial family.
Whether the request for Fukushima rice was a publicity stunt or a true gesture of solidarity remains uncertain as Japan remains divided over the issue of Fukushima-area food safety and nuclear energy at large.