The Nosebleed Controversy

Setsuko Kamiya 神谷説子

I was recently cleaning my room and came across a copy of the magazine Big Comic Spirits, which I bought back in late May amid the controversy over its popular series Oishinbo, a long-running manga about cooking that came under fire because of the way it described the possible impact of radioactive materials on people’s health. I’m not in the habit of buying manga magazines but had to get this one as its publisher Shogakukan Inc. unprecedentedly ran a series of opinions and reactions by experts to the manga in question after it received wide media coverage.

Harsh criticism against the 31-year-old comic series began in late April after the weekly magazine ran an Oishinbo installment called “The Truth About Fukushima Edition.” In it, the main character, a news reporter, experienced fatigue and a nosebleed after a guided tour of the ruined power plant. Katsutaka Idogawa, a real-life former mayor of Futaba town, which hosts the plant, tells the reporter that the nosebleed was likely caused by radioactive materials, and that he believes people shouldn’t live in Fukushima. A couple of others also raised similar voices in the story.

Once the nosebleed episode was released, critics attacked Oishinbo publisher Shogakukan, arguing that no health problems have been linked to the radioactive fallout and that the depiction in question would only fuel the prejudice against the people of Fukushima and its food produce, which undergoes safety checks. Meanwhile, Oishinbo’s author Tetsu Kariya wrote on his blog that his work was based on two years of reporting in Fukushima and that he only wrote the truth.

Media reports fueled the controversy by closely following the developments, which at one point drew critical comments against the manga by the Prime Minister, Chief Cabinet Secretary and local governments. This reaffirmed my belief that manga has a strong influence on our society, but I felt uneasy as it looked as though authorities were ganging up on people voicing concern about radiation. Meanwhile, Kariya said he would only respond to interviews after things calmed down. In the end, Shogakukan, along with the final episode of the Fukushima edition, ran the opinions of radiology experts, doctors and local municipalities.

I revisited this copy of Big Comic Spirits, whose special 10-pages full of text read nothing like a comic magazine. What’s evident though is that even if Oishinbo’s nosebleed depiction lacked scientific accuracy, so much is still unknown about radiation and opinions are divided even among pundits.

In his comments, Big Comic Spirits editor-in-chief Hiroshi Murayama noted that Kariya in fact has repeatedly criticized how consumers were refusing to buy Fukushima produce. In fact, Oishinbo has featured characters from the disaster-affected areas in several of its past episodes. Not being a regular reader I have no clue as to how they were depicted, but as non-fiction writer Osamu Aoki commented in the magazine’s special edition, the backlash against Oishinbo may be considered unfair if this background is taken into account.

During the weeks that Oishinbo made the headlines, some locals ironically commented that the upside of this dispute was that it brought Fukushima back into the media spotlight. If that’s the case then, even with its claimed faults, shouldn’t Oishinbo be given some credit for continuing to cast light on the status quo in the disaster-affected areas?

Just like many other news stories, this controversy has now become something of the past. But anxiety against radiation will remain a major issue for many Fukushima residents, and the media should be making the effort to follow it up.