Made in Fukushima is the product of a collaboration between US-German manufacturer of sensors for agriculture and environmental science METER, communication agency Serviceplan Innovation and digital design studio Moby Digg, both based in Munich. METER’s mission bridges science and humanitarianism to provide sustainable solutions to issues related to climate change and the detrimental impact of human intervention on the natural landscape.
Since 1996, METER has been supporting farmers in Fukushima with their products and knowledge. In the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster, which led to the contamination of over 25,000 hectares of farmland, METER and The University of Tokyo developed an innovative decontamination method that enables Fukushima farmers to grow safe rice again.
Made in Fukushima aims to communicate this long-term project of soil decontamination, utilising decontaminated rice in the very crafting of its paper. The publication presents the stories of farmers whose livelihoods are affected by both the actual contamination and the residual stigma around Fukushima that deters buyers from purchasing the local rice crop, despite it being approved by strict official and independent tests.
With the publication of Made in Fukushima, METER hopes to elucidate its research by turning a complex and data-heavy scientific topic into something digestible. As Moby Digg puts it: “The researchers identified the problem that no one really understands the depth of the data and the effectiveness of their work. We turned this abstract data into something that’s visually appealing but also easy to understand. We use basic forms: the grid is always square and all the data points are circles in different sizes. This very reduced visual language really focuses the attention on what’s important.”
There is also a transition from data-loaded information and technical terminology to a more storytelling-focused approach that unfolds across the book’s structure. Moby Digg states: “At the beginning of the book, the content is more about background information on radioactivity, the region and the importance of rice, to provide readers with all the factual knowledge. Towards the end, the content focuses more and more on humans and their stories.” Factual information and verbal narratives interact with the sequential documentary photographs, shot by Nick Frank, to evoke the sense of a journey, with an emphasis on lived experience.
And it’s not just the stories and photographs that convey the project’s background. In every aspect of its physical makeup and format, the book engages with the environmental stakes and scientific processes behind its production. First, there is the interactive element of photo-pages that can be unfolded to reveal previously hidden data on the radioactivity in the photographed area. As Moby Digg says: “It’s like discovering a second layer, the data behind those images. First, you get the visual impression, a moment captured by photography, and then on the second layer you discover the information inside.” Directly involving readers in the revelation of the radiation data means that they can, in Serviceplan Innovation’s words, “discover and experience the invisibility of radiation.”