'Oishinbo' manga suspended after Fukushima controversy

The long-running foodie manga Oishinbo will be suspended after protests from the government and residents of Fukushima prefecture over a storyline that suggests radiation from the damaged nuclear plant there could be making residents ill. Nonetheless, the final chapter of the controversial story arc will run in this week's issue, according to The Japan Times.

An announcement is scheduled to appear today in Shogakukan's Big Comic Spirits magazine that the manga will not appear as of May 26. Anime News Network reports the series was scheduled to go on hiatus anyway, so it's not clear whether the editors are taking advantage of a planned break. In addition to the final chapter, this week's issue of the manga magazine will include a note from the editor pledging stricter review of storylines; a 10-page section (the link is in Japanese) of interviews with government officials and experts on the topic; and letters from Fukushima residents. In addition, Asahi.com reports the editors have agreed to scrutinize such stories more closely in the future.

Last week, Oishinbo creator Tetsu Kariya posted on his personal blog that "Responsibility for the contents [of the chapter] all lies in me," saying, "Doing things like calling the Spirits editorial staff and sending written complaints to the Spirits editorial staff's website is barking up the wrong tree." The managing editor of the magazine has stated the story was based on "meticulous reportage" and that Kariya experienced the same symptoms as his characters after a visit to the plant. However, the magazine also published a statement saying "it would be a huge loss for consumers if they balked at eating (Fukushima) foods proved safe just due to their lack of understanding."

Oishinbo is a story about a reporter who travels around Japan gathering the best foods from every region in order to assemble the ultimate Japanese meal. In the installments that ran in the April 28 and May 12 editions, the main character travels to Fukushima, takes a tour of the damaged nuclear power plant, and develops mysterious nosebleeds upon his return. Another character, based on Katsutaka Idogawa, the former mayor of a town in the area, also talks about how he has had nosebleeds since the accident. In real life, Idogawa, who left his job after a vote of no confidence, has been a vocal critic of the cleanup efforts, and after the manga appeared he posted photos of himself with bloody tissues on his Facebook page. Characters in the manga are also critical of attempts to suppress the story. In this week's episode, the characters visit a family of livestock farmers who were relocated, and they call for government compensation for residents who were forced to leave the area because of the disaster.

The Fukushima government responded to the first two installments with a statement saying they would harm the economy of the region, and that "the feelings of the Fukushima people were totally ignored and deeply hurt." A tweet from someone who claims to be a Fukishima resident, saying "never suffered such symptoms over the past three years," has received more than 13,000 retweets, according to ANN. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even got into the act, saying, "There is no confirmation that someone’s health has been directly affected by radioactive substances," after a visit to Fukushima Medical University.

Three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant melted down and released radioactive materials into the environment during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the cleanup is expected to take decades. Because Fukushima is an agricultural area, the accident raised concerns among the public that food from the region might be contaminated with radiation, although the Japanese government has tried to reassure residents that it is safe to eat.

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