For the past 30 years, Shin and Tatsuko Okawara spent their lives working as organic farmers. With their own organic farm, rural work was in their blood - tilling, planting and harvesting crops from the same soil their family worked on for six generations. They sold organic vegetables direct to customers and their service was cherished by the community.
Mr and Mrs Okawara pour so much love into their products that they stick caricatures of themselves on their labels!
Mr and Mrs Okawara lived about 45km west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and loved their place but at the same time were also cautious. They had a radiation detector alarm that they bought after feeling worried by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Then on 15 March 2011, four days after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the tragic Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, their detector alarm went off and radiation levels rose. They had no choice but to leave.
The adorable couple in their organic shop in Miharu town.
Eventually though, they decided to return.
"We have cattle and chickens and we had to come back to feed them. We couldn't leave them and go elsewhere," they told us in 2012.
But apart from dealing with the aftermath of such a tragic accident they also had to deal with the future of their farming business - their customer base fell due to fears of contaminated produce, and they even thought about giving up on farming.
Tatsuko Okawara gets emotional during a speech that she gave in her shop in 2014, as she talks about her experience as a victim of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
But instead of letting the nuclear accident shape them, they knew they had to move forward – for themselves, for their community and for their children’s future.
In 2013 they opened up an organic shop, “Esperi” in the agricultural town of Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture. Their intention was to help revitalise the area and create a community space where people could gather and help each other in 2013. After all, the name “Esperi” means “hope” in Esperanto.
But this wasn’t enough. So in October 2015, the couple launched the Solarise Fukushima crowdfunding project to install solar panels on the rooftop of their shop. Their aim? “Hope to spread life with solar energy from Miharu town, Fukushima”.
Before they knew it people around Japan and the rest of the world began contributing to their crowd funding project, and about a month later they achieved their target of around 1.5 mil JPY (about 13,500 US). Messages from crowd funding supporters gave them the encouragement they needed, especially as they felt “forgotten”.
Mr and Mrs Okawara are also enthusiastic performers. Shin plays the guitar and sings…
…whilst Tatsuko is a talented puppeteer. She’s performing "Taro and Hanako", a real-life story based on a couple affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Greenpeace Japan helped launch the project, and in January 2016 solar panels were installed on the Esperi rooftop.
Mr and Mrs Okagawa and myself help install the first photovoltaic panels…
... as workers install the rest.
Meanwhile, kids in the community learn about solar energy.
And when it’s finished we’re all happy.
Yep, we’re all happy.
Especially these two.
Esperi now has a 10kW solar system and will generate 10MWh electricity annually.
When the Greenpeace International radiation investigation team first met the couple in April 2011, Mrs Okawara said:
"Fukushima people are a bit naive. For a long time, we did not have money, and just accepted the plan of nuclear power plants. But for the future of our children it would be a shame if we didn’t continue organic farming and take drastic action.”
In 2012 Fukushima Prefecture pledged to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2040. But the policies that the Japanese government are currently promoting is heading in the opposite direction.
In order to achieve a sustainable, reliable and affordable electricity system, the Japanese government urgently needs to change course and streamline its actions. It needs to put the interests of people before those of the utilities and stop wasting efforts on restarting nuclear plants, stop investments in coal power plants that lock in climate destruction, and an set ambitious renewable energy target.
For many people in Fukushima, their biggest wish is for a life without nuclear energy and a future powered by clean, safe renewable energy. Esperi is a tangible testament to the community’s future - it’s our hope.
Ai Kashiwagi is an energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.