RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Over the next few minutes, our reporters track the seafood scare from a Japanese sea-farmer to a San Francisco sushi chef. We start with NPR's John Burnett on the coast of northeastern Japan.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FLOWING)
JOHN BURNETT: They say the world's best green seaweed - which is not an oxymoron - comes from here on Japan's Pacific Coast, where just the right temperature, salinity and nutrients produce sanriku wakame. That's the seaweed you see floating in a bowl of miso soup. But Japanese seaweed farmers along the coast are in a world of hurt these days, their livelihoods washed away by the tsunami, and now the reputation of their products threatened by nuclear jitters.
MITSUE MURAKAMI: (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: Mitsue Murakami is a seaweed, scallops and oyster sea farmer on the island of Oshima, known as the Green Pearl for its lush, pine-covered hills. It lies just off the coastal city of Kesennuma, about 90 miles north of the stricken nuclear reactors.
MURAKAMI: (Through Translator) We have to live day by day. We won't know for years how much radiation exposure people received. The thing I'm worried about today is if people stop buying our seaweed and scallops because they're afraid of radiation.
BURNETT: The tsunami wiped out the fishing fleet of Oshima. The boats are scattered helter skelter on land, their nets tangled in the tall bamboo. The surge of water also took away Murakami's 10-room inn with its picture-postcard vista of the fishing harbor. Thankfully, her family survived. Murakami had a large batch of seaweed drying behind her house that was two days away from shipping to the buyer. The sea reclaimed it.
MURAKAMI: (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: Everything was lost, she says with a gentle smile.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)
BURNETT: Murakami walks around the cement foundation, which is all that's left of her inn, the Big Ocean Hotel. The sea is cruel, but it's also generous. They're doubtful they will rebuild the hotel, but she will return to her family sea-farming grounds a mile off-shore and grow more wakame seaweed and scallops.
MURAKAMI: (Through Translator) We won't be defeated by this, and we're trying very hard to overcome this hardship. I will be very grateful if everyone will enjoy Japanese seafood again, as before.
BURNETT: From Green Pearl Island, I'm John Burnett.
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