'Sun Child' artwork to remember Fukushima nuclear disaster slammed by residents

Sun Child, a 6.2m-tall statue created by artist Kenji Yanobe, was recently installed at the Com-Com Children's Creative Learning Centre by the Fukushima city government.
Sun Child, a 6.2m-tall statue created by artist Kenji Yanobe, was recently installed at the Com-Com Children's Creative Learning Centre by the Fukushima city government.PHOTO: REUTERS

FUKUSHIMA (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A large artwork in front of an educational facility in Fukushima has sparked a wave of criticism, with local residents angered by its depiction of a child wearing what looks like a suit to protect against nuclear radiation.

"Sun Child", a 6.2m-tall statue created by artist Kenji Yanobe, was recently installed at the Com-Com Children's Creative Learning Centre by the Fukushima city government.

The city office has explained that the statue's purpose is to keep alive memories of the nuclear disaster that hit Fukushima Prefecture immediately after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, many fear it will reinforce negative stereotypes that the prefecture has tried to shake off.

"I will listen to residents' opinions carefully and consider what to do (with the statue)," Fukushima Mayor Hiroshi Kohata, who had supported the artwork, said on Monday (Aug 13).

"Sun Child" shows a boy clad in what appears to be a yellow nuclear radiation suit. An instrument for measuring radioactivity attached to his chest displays "000".

"It shows a boy smiling after taking off his protective helmet in an environment where the amount of radiation is zero. It symbolises hopes for reconstruction and rebirth," Mr Kohata said at a press conference on July 6.

However, after the statue was unveiled on Aug 3, the city office was hit with a torrent of criticism in the form of phone calls, e-mail messages and online comments.

"It may cause the misperception that Fukushima city is so contaminated people need to wear protective clothing here," one resident complained.

Also, because some amount of radiation naturally exists in the environment, some have said that "the 000 figure is unrealistic because the amount of radiation is never zero".

In response to the criticism, the mayor said on Monday that the city would re-examine what to do with the statue.

Artist Yanobe released a statement about his work on Aug 10, saying: "The clothing is armour that looks like a spacesuit. The number on the chest symbolises a world free of nuclear disasters."