A year ago, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, killing nearly 16,000 people and injuring countless more with many still missing. In addition to the initial devastation, nuclear reactor meltdowns have continued to be a serious issue for Japanese people.
Among those who have taken it upon themselves to help is former Shooto champion and Pride FC veteran Enson Inoue. Over the past year, Inoue, using his own money, has made 14 trips north to the affected areas from his base in Saitama in an effort to help bring relief to people affected by the events of last March.
Inoue recently spoke to MMAWeekly.com about the affected areas, his personal mission to help and what he sees for the Japanese MMA scene in the future.
MMAWeekly: Firstly, Enson, tell us from your perspective about the affected areas one year later.
Enson Inoue: It doesn’t look like a warzone any more. There are certain towns that clean-up has been slow. I guess each town has their own rules. There’s a town for instance like Kamaishi, which won’t accept outside help, and I don’t know what the reasoning for that is, but the clean-up is going much slower. It looks like a huge rice field; a huge open field. There’s no debris, no smell of death; it’s a lot better and you can see the changes.
For the people hit by the tsunami there is stability. There’s more of a routine now every day. They have a place to stay – of course that’s only for another year – but they have housing and adequate food. The issue now is water. I don’t think they trust the government (for fear of) contamination; they don’t want to use any of the water.
It’s in a better place when you look at everything as a whole, but when you look down deeper, it still might be almost as bad or worse off than they were when they first got hit; it’s psychological now. A lot of people are having a hard time dealing (with the aftermath). Because they’re more level and stable, they have more time to realize what’s going on, and wonder what’s going to happen in the future. They still don’t have jobs yet, they still have to provide (for their families); they’re going to be moved out of their temporary homes in a year. The stress of having to start over from nothing is a deeper thing right now.
MMAWeekly: Tell us about some of the recovery efforts and what the status of your own personal mission to help is.
Enson Inoue: As of right now, the movement has changed to going to temporary housing and trying to supply them. It’s a lot harder in the beginning because they’re more organized. In Japan there’s a lot of rules. For instance, I went up with 150 shavers and toothbrushes for people, and I went up with temporary housing and they asked me how much I had, and then told me they had 800 people there. Then they told me that there’s some kind of rule that if you don’t have enough for everybody, they are not going to accept it. But there’s got to be people that need this. It was a hard thing.
I’m going to go back in April. I’m going to go up with a list of things I have, things I bought, and if anybody sticks their head out or makes conversation or eye contact with me, I’ll show them the list of what I have and ask them what they need. That’s my thing, but it’s so minute. Of course, helping one person is better than zero, but the movement is so, so much smaller than now. It’s harder to do.
MMAWeekly: Having made multiple trips to areas where radiation is present, do you happen to know how it has affected your health?
Enson Inoue: From what I’ve researched on radiation, as far as right now, like last year when I went up there, I accumulated about 25,000 microsieverts. I think at 65,000 microsieverts, your blood chemistry changes. So I’m pretty well below that. Of course, I’m not at zero, but when you’ve got everyday people going through x-rays or MRIs, I don’t think I have anything to worry about.
I’ve been offered to take a test and find out what my levels are, but I haven’t done it yet. As far as health goes, I feel healthy and I feel good. I’m starting to work out again, trying to drop weight and start lifting again. So I feel fine, but you never know.
MMAWeekly: Let’s shift over to the MMA scene in Japan. Give us your thoughts on the current state of it, and what you see possibly for its future.
Enson Inoue: Up until the last UFC, it looked pretty bad. I didn’t really see MMA making a revival here in the near future, but I went to the UFC last month and it was amazing because I felt the same feeling when I fought in Pride. The crowd and the atmosphere especially when “Rampage” (Quinton Jackson) came out to the Pride song was amazing. It was able to bring back a little bit of that fever. The Japanese fighters did pretty well, whether they won or lost. I see it coming back. The economy here is not very good, but there’s a chance of it picking up, and the UFC has a lot to do with it.
(Japanese based promotions) Pancrase and Shooto have been doing their own thing and it’s been pretty constant. There’s not much to talk about, it’s pretty quiet. Deep is doing a pretty good job of carrying the torch, but it’s not a big enough organization to spark the fire again. Those three groups and the local events are bridging MMA and waiting for something big. The UFC did a good job of filling the (Saitama) arena and bringing the atmosphere back, so hopefully it sparks some ideas, sparks some new ideas and MMA as whole. I hope it comes back.
MMAWeekly: Thank you so much for your time, Enson. In closing, is there anything our readers can do to help out or keep up with your activities over the coming year?
Enson Inoue: Right now, it’s hard to continue the way that I started, but it’s going to continue for me because I don’t easily give in. I can’t move the way I want to or the way I did before, but it’s still doable and it’s going to happen. I’m not doing it for any publicity or profit; I’m doing it for myself, with my own money and on my own time.
Because of the PayPal thing and all this, I don’t take online donations at all and I refuse to take any cash from anyone, but if people want to help, I’m selling some bracelets. I figure you get something good and you’re helping out a cause (at the same time). What I do is I use a percentage of the proceeds to travel up north. The homepage for that is DestinyForever.com, and I have a fan page on Facebook that covers everything I do, whether it’s fighting, training, helping up north and also going to (Taiji in) Wakayama to help out with the dolphin (hunting) thing.