“Attack of the mutant vegetables!! Are these our new tomato overlords?? Let’s all boycott the struggling Fukushima farmers for, oh, say 100 years or so.”

Actually, despite the attention they’re receiving and hits they’re no doubt generating online, the following photos don’t seem to originate from Fukushima at all…

The following scary veggie pics have popped up again on the internet, and this time they went viral. This is the kind of story that keeps showing up again in different incarnations. It’s just too good a story—I mean, who doesn’t want to see freakish vegetables? People love freakish vegetable pics. And people love stories about mutation. If I had a dollar for every superhero and super baddie who mutated due to radiation exposure, growing to unusual sizes and shapes and gaining strange powers, I would be on the beach in Okinawa right now. From X-men to the Incredible Hulk to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to that famous three-eyed fish in the Simpsons, it’s a huge troupe.

So, where and when were these photos taken? I tracked down this tomato to find out.

For starters, tomato experts tell me that scary-looking tomato is probably a “reisetomate”, a rare breed of tomato which looks like a lot of tomatoes fused together in a distorted, weird way. Big tomatoes are also prone to a disorder called “catfacing”, caused by cool or cloudy weather at blooming time which makes the blossoms stick together. Freakish tomatoes happen all the time—but because most of us get our tomatoes from the supermarket rather than growing them ourselves, we tend to see only the shapely ones.

This tomato image first appeared on Japanese website TV Asahi, featured along with other funny photos of babies and cats submitted by viewers as a “Deluxe Tomato”. If that was a tomato from Fukushima, I highly doubt that any Fukushima residents would be sending it in as a joke, chuckling as they effectively tell the entire nation, “Look everyone, our produce is totally not safe!”

In fact, it seems that this tomato may have come from Saitama, hundreds of kilometres south of Fukushima.


However, a bunch of questionable websites are trading on this image. One Romanian site claims that this picture was tweeted by @masason, CEO of SoftBank (try as I might, I can’t find this tweet). The same website goes on to ask for donations, to be sent to a bank account in Romania. Also, “monthly donation is very helpful”…

Another website (not to name any names) has some extra information and political commentary on the tomato:

“Lori Mochizuki, who edits, reports that capitalists in Japan are now selling clearly discernible radiation contaminated and genetically mutated tomatoes. Mr. Mochizuki reports that such mutated plants are being increasingly found all over Japan, as the capitalist try to draw our attention elsewhere.”

“Capitalists in Japan have apparently become so bold that they now seek to make money from tomatoes not fit to be eaten by human or animal alike, as their achon confederates in America and elsewhere seek to cover-up their negligent response to the on-going and worsening Fukushima crisis.”

Could this be any more convincing? Wake up, tomato eaters! This is a capitalist conspiracy!!

A few lonely voices of reason tried to debunk these images, but they were far outnumbered by the hysterical reaction of most of the internet.

Well, most folks are irrationally scared of radiation. Sure, it’s scary. Still, can we be rational about this? We have devices for measuring it. The vegetables and rice produced in Fukushima are tested for radiation and meet even higher standards than the rest of Japan. But for fear of the name “Fukushima”, people won’t buy these perfect and radiation-free vegetables, even when they were grown over 100km away from Fukushima Daiichi (did you know that Fukushima is actually Japan’s third-largest prefecture? It’s a big place!). Hard-working farmers suffer the consequences of these harmful rumours far more than they should.

As I write this article, a correction has been made to the English-language article that hosted the images — apparently “these images aren’t related to the Fukushima disaster”. But in the meantime, Fukushima has taken another senseless knock to its economy.

▼Leave your tomato on the bench for a month, and you might see tomato seedlings sprouting out of it. This is normal.



▼This five-fingered eggplant seems to originate from Kanagawa, which is nowhere near Fukushima. Cute though, isn’t it!




▼Has anyone seen this happen to a fruit when it gets sun on one side and shade on the other?


▼Double corncobs were happening long before the 2011 tsunami.



▼Newsflash: this is a very big cabbage.


▼These were originally described as peaches from Hiroshima. Conjoined fruit can and does happen anywhere in the world.






▼Apparently this sunflower hails from Yamagata. Again, not Fukushima.


▼From Hakuba.


What bothers us so much is that many of the sites from which these images were gathered from (and liked to) clearly state where they were taken. And Fukushima is rarely, if ever, mentioned. It’s good to be aware of the dangers of radiation, folks, but let’s give the people of Fukushima a chance and not make their lives any harder than they need to be.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” (Marie Curie)