"Invisible snow" by Reuters Tokyo Pictures, Aug. 19, 2011
He is the chief monk of Fukushima's 400-year old Joenji Temple and this is a sutra for peace and rebirth, a prayer for the resurrection of an entire community choked in radiation.
KOYU ABE, BUDDHIST MONK (voiceover translation): This radiation is like an invisible snow. It's fallen and brought us a long winter. But eventually the snow will melt and spring will come.
MARK WILLACY: To help his community rid itself of this invisible snow, Monk Abe is allowing people to dump their radioactive topsoil on temple land.
Armed with his four Geiger counters, he shows me just how contaminated this earth is.
The Japanese-made Geiger counter quickly blasts off the scale. The others reveal radiation levels ten times beyond what's considered safe.
KOYU ABE, BUDDHIST MONK (voiceover translation): The radiation level here is so high that some of the Geiger counters can't measure it. But I still accept this contaminated soil.
Photojournalist Yuriko Nakao of Reuter has reported even more in-depth on Koyu Abe and his community at "Invisible Snow," a sensitive photo blog that includes the above video: As well as engaging in radiation clean-up, residents are planting flowers that absorb nuclear radiation:
Abe described the radiation particles as an “invisible snow”, “A snow you can’t see has covered the area, and has brought a long, long winter to Fukushima,” he said.
Abe’s organization called, “Make a wish upon flowers,” aimed to reduce the volume of radiation in Fukushima by using certain plants’ natural ability to reduce toxic materials in the ground. With his volunteer group, comprised of about 100 members, he planted sunflowers where radiation levels were high.
Abe hoped to lower the level of radiation and through that ease stress and anxiety experienced by the residents. He also strongly believed that his actions will tackle the prevalent sense of stagnation and help cultivate a sense of hope...
What moved me most was to see the residents not give up their hopes and strive to overcome their predicament. The three days that I spent with the monk’s family were very moving. They were like a blessing to me.
The monk also had his motives to tell me his story. He looked into my eyes and said: “Media outlets have the obligation to reveal and bring everything into the light, so that the people can make their decisions.” By making everything clear, the media can help stop the spread of bad rumors and lower the anxiety while speeding up the recovery process, he said.
On the snowy fringes of Japan's Fukushima city, now notorious as a byword for nuclear crisis, Zen monk Koyu Abe offers prayers for the souls of thousands left dead or missing after the earthquake and tsunami nearly one year ago.
But away from the ceremonial drums and the incense swirling around the Joenji temple altar, Abe has undertaken another task, no less harrowing -- to search out radioactive "hot spots" and clean them up, storing irradiated earth on temple grounds...
"You can't see it. Nothing looks as if it's changed, but really, radiation is floating through the area. It's hard for those hit by the tsunami, but it's hard to live here too."
Last summer, Abe grew and distributed sunflowers and other plants, such as field mustard and amaranthus, in an effort to lighten the impact of the radiation and cheer local residents.
Now he is trading his ceremonial robes for a protective mask, working with volunteers to track down lingering pockets of radiation and cleaning them up...
Abe said he and the other monks are storing the soil on a hill behind the temple as neither the government nor the nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) are helping with the clean-up.