After spending three weeks in Japan, the subject of radiation in the water remains a mystery to me. People young and old all had differing opinions about it, and tap water vs. bottled water was a hot topic.
When I first arrived in Tokyo, I didn't think twice about drinking the tap water, despite the possible traces of radiation. As I recalled growing up, tap water in Japan was always so good and safe -- my parents would always comment on how clean the water tasted, compared to what came out of our California faucet. It may sound strange, but Japanese people really always prided themselves on having access to naturally clean, pure water. The onsen (hot springs) culture is a direct proponent of this cultural fascination with water and cleanliness.
So when I started noticing my hotel mates constantly drinking bottled water, I grew suspicious. I started asking everyone I spoke to in Tokyo if they drank the tap water, since the earthquake/tsunami in northern Japan. Overall, it was about 50/50, those who drank tap vs. bottled water. Those who didn't drink the tap water were adamant about it, which turned their lifestyle around significantly.
Most of the anti-tap water people I spoke with were in their 30s and 40s. My cousins were absolutely convinced that their was a high level of radiation in the tap, as though it were a conspiracy. Naoko, a good friend who is also pregnant, also switched to bottled water, even though she did not change much of her other eating habits. Takashi Oohashi, who took us around Natural Harmony center to show us how to test for radiation in food, told us he did not drink the tap water.
Older folks, like my aunts, continued to drink the tap water. In general, the older generation were not as worried about the radiation and more worry and caution were placed on the younger generations, especially small children.
However, many of my peers also drank tap water too. While I would not say that drinking tap water meant they were not as serious about the nuclear crisis, it did come down to personal lifestyle preferences. With such little, convoluted and manipulated information provided by the government about the radiation, people were forced to choose whether or not to drink the tap water from their instincts and personal politics.
Yes, water is a political issue, and in Japan it seems now more than ever.
My friend Naoko and I went to an onsen in Hakushu in Yamanashi prefecture. Hakushu is well known for its water, and is the namesake of a well known whisky distillery, owned by Suntory. On the Hakushu website, there is an entire section dedicated to the "Pristine Waters of Hakushu".
visited a rest stop, where there was also a spring of this "pristine water", available for passerbys.
Basically, people bring their own plastic bottles, jugs and containers, to fetch this "pure" water of Hakushu.
Naoko, who only drinks bottled water in Tokyo, drank Hakushu's spring water.
The sign guides people on the courtesies which should be taken when fetching the water. Don't hoard the spring, etc.
The general consensus was that the further away from northern Japan and the earthquake-affected regions, the safer the tap water. People here in Hakushu had no issues with these springs because they did not believe radiation could reach here (Hakushu is landlocked, northwest of Tokyo). I admit I do not have any authority on the matter of radiation found in water, or how it reacts to one another, but it did intrigue me on how people reacted to Hakushu's water.
The ideas people have of water in Japan is a very culturally deep subject. Again, there is a level of pride that comes with cleanliness and purity of the country's water. The subject of radiation within the water will remain a sore subject for years to come.
*This is a part of an ongoing exclusive series on Umamimart, Radiation + Japan. Please check out these other posts and videos for more:
Testing of Food in Japan, By Yoko Kumano
Interview with Washio, Bar Owner (Tokyo), By Yoko Kumano
Testing Report and Thoughts, By Howie Correa
Interview with Satoshi Imai, Rice Farmer (Niigata), By Yoko Kumano