F is for Fukushima - 5 years on

Please note that the images and abridged commentary below are just some of a larger set of this Fukushima photo documentary. 

The 11th March 2016 marks five years since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear melt down that had devastating effects on the Fukushima area of Japan.

I would like to express my deepest thanks to my fixer and translator Hikaru Kawai, his mother Noriko and his family. Their amazing assistance and hardwork in setting up interviews, appointments, translating and being my transport and driver in the Fukushima area enabled this photo documentary project to happen. 

Special thanks also goes to each of the interview participants you will see in the photos below. Their candid responses regarding their memory of and their feelings about the events surrounding the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear melt down and forced evacuation of their homes was truly remarkable. Their lives and those of their families were each changed by the traumatic events beginning on March 11 2011.

[italics sourced mainly from WikipediaOn the 11 March 2011 14:46 JST, the 9.0 magnitude Tōhoku earthquake struck approximately 70km east of the Japanese coast. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since recordings began in 1900. The earthquake occurring at an underwater depth of approximately 30km triggered a massive tsunami that reached heights of up to 40.5m, travelling inland up to 10 km at it’s furthest point. In the area of Naraha (focus of this documentary), a wave of height ~15 m arrived approximately 1hr after the earthquake and travelled a distance of between 1-2 km inland - depending on local elevation. The tsunami wave also resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster at the Nuclear Power Plant - which was caused by equipment failures resulting in three nuclear meltdowns and the release of radioactive material beginning 12 March 2011. The tsunami wave impacting at the site of the Nuclear Power Plant at a height of 13m, overwhelmed the plants 10m high seawall. On 10 March 2015, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,894 deaths, 6,152 injured and 2,562 people missing across twenty prefectures, as well as 228,863 people living away from their home in either temporary housing or due to permanent relocation. A 10 February 2014 agency report listed 127,290 buildings totally collapsed, with a further 272,788 buildings ‘half collapsed’, and another 747,989 buildings partially damaged.

This photo documentary was split into two parts. The first included a visit into the Level 3 / Red no-go zone surrounding Tomioka - approximately 10km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant). This is a secure, permit only area that is filled with houses that are still too radioactive to allow people to move back to - and will continue to be for some time. 

PART I: Tomioka Level 3 / Red no-go zone

Entry permit to the no-go zone

Photos and radiation level measurements taken at Yonomori train station

The abandoned area around Yonomori station in Tomioka

A geiger counter is used to take a radiation measurement at the side of the road: 9.028 microSievert per hour. Standing at that location for an hour would give the equivalent radiation dose of 1-2 dental x-rays.

Fully suited in protective clothing, radiation measurements are made inside the no-go zone.

A no parking sign at the entrance to an Onsen in Tomioka

The entrance at the abandoned onsen in Tomioka

Bikes left as they were on the day of forced evacuation

A red corvette sits abandoned in the front of a house in Tomioka

The abandoned corvette surrounded by overgrown trees and bushes

Once famous Sakura-Dori (Cherry Blossom Lane) in Tomioka

The cherry trees of Sakura-Dori on the once famous tourist attraction in Tomioka

Driving past abandoned streets in the no-go zone

Security at the entrance point to the red no-go zone

Map showing the different areas from level 1 - 3 inside the Fukushima no-go zone

PART II: Rehabilitation of the town of Naraha

The second part of this photo documentary focuses on the residents and town of Naraha - which is situated at a distance of approximately 16 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. On the 12 March 2011, the day after the earthquake and tsunami, a local immediate evacuation order was imposed on the residents and towns in the area around the Nuclear Power plant due to the impending nuclear melt down. On the 5 Sept 2015, some 4.5 years later, the forced evacuation order was lifted in the area of Naraha - allowing residents to return back to their houses. The evacuation order however currently remains in place for many of the towns in the vicinity of the plant, meaning that Naraha is a test case for resettlement in the effected area. 

At the time of the forced evacuation Naraha had a population of approximately 7400 residents. Five years on, 6% of the towns population or around 450 people have since returned to live - this is expected to increase as services and facilities return and construction work continues. 

In the town office, a map shows the location of Naraha to the closest Daini nuclear reactor - at a distance of around 5km. Fortunately for Naraha all 4 of the Daini reactors safely shut down following the earthquake and tsunami.

Photos at the Iwaki library show the moment the tsunami wave broke the coastline at Naraha

Drone photography shows the remains of 4 of the 6 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant following the melt down

Naraha residents are pictured on 30 June 2011 at a memorial service in the town.

The remains of a destroyed public toilet sit near the coastline at Naraha

The twisted remains of a metal building frame destroyed by the tsunami are overlooked by graffiti near the Naraha shoreline

Overgrown greenhouses sit in farmer’s fields in Naraha town.

Corridor at the now closed Naraha South Primary School

Empty swing set at the now closed Naraha South Primary School.

Bags of radioactive soil sit in the front garden of an abandoned house in Naraha.

Piles of bags sit in farmers fields, filled with radioactive soil await further decontamination

Concrete tetrapods sit awaiting construction in a new tsunami sea wall.

Construction of a new tsunami wall at Naraha beach

An overgrown football free-kick wall and sign at the J-Village

TEPCO workers at the front entrance of the currently converted J-Village, once home to the Japanese national football team.

Laundry at the J-Village from TEPCO workers entering the decontamination zone of the nuclear plant.

The now running Kido train station in Naraha.

A radiation measurement is made at Naraha’s Kido translation. The geiger counter shows 0.165 microSievert per hour.

A radiation measurement made some 3-4 meters away at the base of a tree at the Kido trains station shows a value of 0.628 microSieverts per hour.

A temporary child’s playground at Iwaki harbour shows the construction activities in ongoing in the background.

Worker at the Naraha water filtration plant tests the level of radiation in the town’s drinking water

24 hr radiation monitoring of the Naraha town drinking water is a world first

The newly opened Naraha Remote Technology Development centre - which has both an R&D facility and test centre dedicated to training for decontamination of the Daiichi nuclear site.

Inside the test centre robots, motion capture and virtual reality are used to train for decontamination of the Daiichi nuclear plant.

A worker at the front of the newly opened Naraha public hospital and medical centre.

The following images focus on the impact to residents of the last 5 years, contrasting those that have chosen to return to their homes in Naraha with those who have elected to leave permanently. It asks the residents their feelings about nuclear power, thoughts about the rehabilitation process and their hopes & feelings for the future. The interviewees were asked to put their feelings for the future down on paper in calligraphy. 

1) Mr Taishi Sato & Ms Hiromi Sato. Used to live in Futaba - which is still classified as the no go zone.

They have since chosen to live in Iwaki city in a house with their children and family. As they were not able to move back to Futaba, they had to discuss selling their house and land to the government.

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future? 

TS: “Japan has no resources, so we have relied on nuclear power. It was fine before when it was pretty safe, but now the incident happened, of course some people are now against nuclear power. So it is a difficult issue. When the safety can be assured and to make enough power, Japan probably still needs to rely on the
nuclear power to some extent. However, as we had to evacuate because of the incident, I cannot say that I am for the nuclear power.”

HS: (Half sobbing voice) “Because such an incident has happened, I thought the nuclear
power plants will be gone from Japan. But the government decided to use the nuclear power once more, and started reactors again…..If possible, we want the country to generate power in alternative way, and not nuclear.” 

  • Qn: What do they want people to know about the area? 

TS: “There are many areas [of Futaba] that have not been repaired at all. They are left undone just as it was 5 years ago. For instance, many houses are left broken. Then when we want to go back home to grab something, it is not possible to drive in by car. On the other hand, the main road has been repaired and cars are accessible. So those damaged areas seem to be forgotten. Probably people going through the main road think that the area is pretty much fixed, but in fact if you go just off the main road, places are still damaged. Nothing has touched since the incident. The radiation itself will eventually decrease as time goes by. So the fear for the radiation will likely to disappear. However it is difficult to go back to the area if things are left untouched like as it is now. The school playground had many cracks but after all the rains, people would not notice how bad it was then, unless they see photos. I want the area to be reconstructed soon, and want people to know the fact that these areas are still left untouched. There has been no news coverage of these issues until now.” 

Photographs taken on 24 July 2011 when they made their first short visit to Futaba.

Taishi & Hiromi explain what they saw on that first visit back to town.

Taishi was a teacher at the Futaba South Primary School. His photograph shows the state of his classroom.

Hiromi recalls her memories of the day of the earthquake and evacuation.

Hopes for the future: Taishi - Dream, Hope, Reassurance. Hiromi: For children of Fukushima to have happy faces

2) Mr Masafumi Igari. Temporary residents’ association chairperson. He is moving back to Naraha.

Masafumi was a taxi driver at the time of the disaster and was in Tomioka on the day. That night he slept in the living room and was going to clean house the next day. The announcement was then made in town that there was to be an evacuation, so he left with his wife & pets - 5 dogs & 2 cats - and a little bag containing clothes & pet food. After moving to a multiple locations he finally moved to temporary housing at Iwaki - where he is the temporary residents’ association chairperson. He is now retired and working on his own to renovate his new house in Naraha.

He has a great love for his dogs, taking them to each of the interim locations he went to, and has been able to take them with him to live at to the current temporary accommodation.  

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

MI: “What I think the most regarding TEPCO and the disaster is that what happened cannot be changed. So if TEPCO management can come to see the temporary housing situation, then the anxiety and anger will disappear. TEPCO management is only giving out orders and only the working level of TEPCO employees are doing the labour work. So I want the management to come and experience living in the temporary housing as there are lots of rooms becoming available. I want them to actually feel how hard it is to live here. It must be really hard for the working level employees that have been made to muck in to do all sorts of work such as cleaning up broken houses and digging dirt from gutters, when they previously used to do office tasks. So I have lots of respect for them. I feel like bowing to them in appreciation.”

“I still have lots of things I want to say to the TEPCO management. It’s not the most important thing to just give away money. Even if I get money, I would just spend it all soon (laughing).” 

  • Qn: What does he want people to know about the area?

MI: “All the TEPCO workers and other labour workers are always rotating due to the radiation levels allowable, so there is a lack of trust between the Naraha residents and the workers. It is pretty much always strangers passing you by. Now it is hard to go outside by yourself as it is unsafe. There was recently an attack to an old person from one of the workers.” 

Masafumi explains the issues facing TEPCO as time goes on.

Masafumi has a great love for his dogs, taking them to each of the houses he’s had to move to.

These are all trees that he’s cut down by himself on his new Naraha property

Standing in front of the new house he is renovating by himself in Naraha

2) Ms Tsuruko Takasaki. Lived her whole life in Naraha, and will not be moving back.

As she had lived her whole life in Naraha, she did really want to move back there, but as she cannot drive and her sons live away from the area, she had no choice but to permanently move away. If she could have gone back 1-2 years after the incident she would have moved back, but the longer this has gone on the harder this becomes. She commented that it was a very difficult decision for her not to move back, but the circumstances dictated this was the case. Her Naraha house is now to be demolished.

Her motto now is “go with the flow” and she is getting a place in Iwaki that is close to her son, wanting it to be easy for her friends to drop in. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

TT: “I am totally against the nuclear power, though some plants recently started working
again. I kind of feel relieved that the affected area had a rather small number of people. If the same thing happened in larger cities, it would be disastrous. Now people are talking about the better evacuation process in other areas with nuclear power plants. If they have to talk about the evacuation process, there is a possibility of the same thing happening again. And I really don’t want them to start the reactors up again.”

  • Qn: What does she want people to know about the area?

TT: “It will take years and years to get the Naraha town as it was in the past. Young
people are not coming back to the town and almost all the residents there will be the elderly and I don’t know how the town will become. Deciding not to go back to the town was not an easy decision to make. I have thought about it for days and days and had to make such a tough decision. I never thought of living in Iwaki as I had never left Naraha for living. I want nobody else to have such an experience.” 

Tsuruko explains how difficult the decision was to not move back to Naraha

Using calligraphy to express her hopes for the future

Hope for the future: Peace

2) Ms Ikuko Takahashi. Staying in Iwaki temporary housing.

Ikuko still has a house in Naraha, but has decided that with all of the renovation required to enable her to move it, it is more sensible at her age (91) to stay in temporary housing.

Memories of the evacuation are recalled at the temporary accommodation centre

Ikuko has decided to stay in temporary housing moving forward

Hope for the future: Challenge anything

3) Mr Syukan Sakanushi. Bhuddist Priest at the Naraha temple & community leader. He has returned to live in Naraha.

On the day of the disaster he was working at the town office as he is also a town official. He was responsible for leading the towns people during the evacuation. First they went to Iwaki and then onwards to Aizu. Living near the coastline, he knew a lot of the neighbours in that area - so was worried about the threat of a tsunami - so he quickly left the town office and went to the coastline with a few others to tell people there to leave and get to higher ground. Following this he then lead the evacuation groups to Iwaki. When he left home he only took kerosene for cooking fuel and food he could take at the time. 

SS: “As I was born and raised at the temple, one of the main challenges I had [in the aftermath] was that the fact I could not pray and offer food and tea to the Buddha and departed souls for 4.5 years, which was a morning ritual for me prior to the disaster.” 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

SS: “[Before the disaster] the industry in Naraha was agricultural farming, and other
than that the nuclear power plant-related employment supported the town. The Naraha town was getting the benefits of having the reactor in the town. So it was a codependent situation. Therefore, we cannot just change our attitude toward nuclear power because of what happened. I think we will still need to live together with the nuclear power plants [in the future]. So I have no specific opinions to nuclear power.”

  • Qn: What does he want people to know about the area?

SS: “Prior to the disaster, the Naraha town had not suffered from a single natural
disaster, and was a peaceful town. Even when other areas had disasters, we could only feel sorry for them and could do pretty much nothing for them. I could not have imagined that such disaster would happen to us - so living an everyday life cannot be taken for granted. Also, you never know what will happen to you. I realised that living with a strong heart is very important, for us, who have suffered from the disaster and also those who have not. I feel all the people in the world should have a strong heart even when they suffer from something tomorrow.”

“I think it will take some time but I want the town situation to improve little by little without working too hard. At the moment, I don’t think we have time to reflect what happens everyday because it is really busy everywhere and time is passing very quickly.” 

Showing photos of the damage outside the temple after the earthquake

Contemplating the effect of nuclear power to the Naraha area

Hope for the future: Advance step by step

The steps of the Naraha Bhuddist Temple

4) Ms Rumiko Yokota. Lived in the Naraha area for over 50 years, has returned to her house there.

Overall she mentioned that she felt positive, didn’t regret the time since the disaster and tried not to take the events negatively. She wanted to move on as what happened is what happened and cannot be changed. She was always going to go back to Naraha since the forced evacuation began - while not being born there it was her home for over 50 years. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

RY: “It is a difficult question. Nuclear power is something humans have built so we can
never say that nothing wrong will happen. If possible, I hope they will decrease [it]. However, Japan has many nuclear power plants around the country. We also need to review our lifestyle, and not just hope for them to decrease [the use of it]. But it is difficult because life is like a seesaw. If we try to do one thing, the other won’t stay the same.”

  • Qn: What does she want people to know about the area?

RY: “Honestly, I think that it is the best if people can come and see it for themselves, and
tell it to others. For example, I think what I hope for is not the same as how others perceive things. very person would perceive it differently. I want people to know that the town is moving forward as it is rebuilding, so I do not want people to be negative when they look at the town. Also I think this is not just about the Naraha town, it is probably something that concerns other countries in the world too. So I want people to see the town fairly with proper judgement. I know that everyone is different and unfortunately what I feel and think is different to some people.” 

After living in Naraha for over 50 years, she has moved back to her house

Overall she was positive and didn’t regret the time since the disaster.

What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future: “It is a difficult question”

Hope for the future: A step forward

One of only 6% of the town to have moved back since the evacuation order was lifted

5) Kiichi Matsumoto. Was a town politician, undecided about moving back to Naraha.

On the day of the disaster Kiichi was having the last meeting of the business year. His house in Naraha was near the coastline. After the earthquake struck, he went back home and spent a little time there reviewing his house for damage. During this time he went outside and saw the tsunami coming in the distance, immediately getting in his car and drove to a higher part of town - the house was washed away minutes later. That day he spent the night at the town office - a higher altitude and further from coast. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

KM: “I feel the end of use of nuclear power is now beginning after the accidents in
Niigata and after that an even worse accident in Fukushima. I think the model of nuclear reactor Japan uses at the moment is like an addictive drug for Japan, as cost being cheap means that it is difficult for Japan to ban it completely.”

“I think if the members of the Government/Parliament become more sensitive to such issues, we would probably move toward banning nuclear power, but the fact such thing is not happening at the moment in Japan is a wonder.”

“Maybe the Japanese people are still not recognising nuclear power to be so dangerous.

We need to assure the safety of people first, rather than simply to the financial cost of electricity or power generation.”

“I believe that now once we start to use nuclear power again, Japan cannot probably stop using it unless we have another big nuclear incident like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” 

Kiichi explains how he saw the tsunami wave from his house near the coast.

Recalling the events in the aftermath of the tsunami

Hope for the future: To live

5) Takushiro Sakuma. Will not move back to Naraha.

TS: “I knew the earthquake was coming and also where it would happen, I was
sweeping the garden. I have somewhat of a supernatural power.” 

Three days after the tsunami, he and his wife went to a temporary evacuation centre, taking the dog with them, then moved on to Tokyo and stayed at apartment.

He mentioned that by the day he left Naraha there were burglars going through the
empty houses stealing things. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?:

TS: “I think for the environment of the Earth, we should not use nuclear power, as the
damage to the Earth is incredible and it is not the matter of how thick they make the concrete [protective walls].”

  • Qn: What does he want people to know about the area?

TS: “I think people from other countries are not as worried or concerned about this
[disaster] because it happened in Japan [and not their own countries]. I am interested in swans and I saw in an article that 4 or 5 swans have somehow died in Ibaraki, and not because of bird flu. The reason for their death is unknown. In Soma area in Fukushima, 2 swans have died. And in Fukushima city, another 2 swans have died, and not from bird flu. They died from unknown causes. Swans move down from the north of Japan to the south, and they feed while moving down along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. There is a possibility that they fed on grasses or worms that have been contaminated by the radiation. The natural inhabitants like animals and plants are the ones grieving most by the incident. Can you feel the misery of them?”

“I knew the earthquake was coming and also where it would happen…..I have somewhat of a supernatural power.”

Explaining the recent deaths of swans in the area.

Hope for the future: A new step

6) Shigeki Nemoto. Owner of the current temporary supermarket in Naraha. Would like to move back to Naraha in the future.

There were around 20 customers in the (previous) Naraha main supermarket shopping at the time of the disaster. The customers left and as lots of bottles of wine and liquor were smashed, he started to clean up the shop staying for most of the rest of the day. It was very hard and sad to leave the shop with all of the stock. For cleaning up the Naraha shop only he and a friend were there to tidy up - so it was a large job. Between the tsunami and April he could come back to shop, after that it was no longer possible. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

SN: “Especially in Naraha and the surrounding areas, where people evacuated, lots of
people had worked at the nuclear power plant, even agricultural farmers. They worked at the nuclear power plant and also did farming. So we [the area] had benefits from having the nuclear power plant there with employment at the plant and also plant-related businesses. The life there did improve after it was built. So we cannot say no to nuclear. I think nuclear power plants will never be totally gone or will not be gone for a while, as it is one of the main power generating options. I think nuclear power plants would exist for a long time in many countries but unless we take the proper safety measures, accidents like this will happen. We could not have imagined that a thing like this would happen. I realised that human beings are powerless to nature. Despite how hard we try, there is no such thing as perfectly safe.”

  • Qn: What does he want people to know about the area?

SN: “Naraha town is making a city centre called a ‘compact town’, and we are getting
asked to open a shop there too. I am considering it positively. We cannot keep running a business at a temporary shop, and the locals would not easily come back to Naraha unless there is a proper supermarket.” 

Recalling the level of destruction in the supermarket after the earthquake

Shigeki recalls how he and one friend were the only ones tidying up the shop in the aftermath

Hope for the future: Feel the happiness by giving happiness

7) Masaru Watanabe. Moved away from Naraha.

Masaru recalls that the information from the authorities at the time was quite good and quick, coming from multiple sources including via megaphones, from staff of the town office and via emergency services.

He cited the main challenges of the time as living away from his family - which was difficult and included a lot of worry and also sickness at the time. The constant moving from location to location was also tough. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

MW: “Honestly, there were local people who worked there and made a living from it. The
town was getting benefits from it. I cannot say that I can totally forgive for what happened, but nothing can be done now. I think there are differing opinions between people who are able to move back and those who cannot [eg. People from Naraha compared to people from Namie]. There are also different opinions between people who have decided to move back and those who have decided to live away. I have friends that work at the nuclear plant and every time I meet some of those friends, they apologise to me - but they are not to blame for what happened. So I personally don’t feel resentment [towards the nuclear plant] of ‘how could you have done it?’.”

  • Qn: What does he want people to know about the area?

MW: “I want people to show an interest in disasters like this. I am concerned with how
much the town can rebuild in the future. Naraha is and will always be my hometown. I hope the town can rebuild, but by looking at the current situation, I think the town will change [not returning to how it was previously]. I still want to keep contact with the town, but I thought first about my children and made this decision [to move away]. Once the children grow older though and the town rebuilds and improves, then I might move back to Naraha. Naraha was such a nice area to live in, but I wanted the children to have a proper everyday school life.

I keep recording news and TV shows about Naraha when it is on TV, as I still feel affection towards the town. I want the town to be an area that people can return to. If I did not have to demolish the house, I may have made a different decision - but the house was pretty much destroyed by the disaster.” 

“Personally I don’t feel resentment [towards the nuclear plant]”

“Naraha is and will always be my hometown”

A picture of the family house that needed to be demolished due to earthquake damage

Hope for the future: Appreciation - thank you

8) Toshimitsu Wakisawa. Naraha newsagent & delivery. Has moved back to Naraha.

In the aftermath he continued to return to Naraha town 5 days a week to keep an eye on his house, which was forbidden by the authorities, but he didn’t care as he loved his place so much - feeling it was his responsibility to return. He didn’t care about the risk of radiation.

He loves Naraha town, if he left this town he would have to leave his news agency business. He currently works from 3am until 8am every morning to deliver newspapers, with currently a total of around 200 deliveries per day, which is down from 800 per day prior to the earthquake - and as a result relies on government support to continue the business.

As soon as the evacuation order for Naraha was lifted, he moved back quickly with around 20 to 30 other families.

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

TW: “In the past, the local people used to work in big cities [like Tokyo] and away from
home and family, and even farmers did too in the off season. After the nuclear plant was built though, they did not have to travel away and started working locally in the Naraha area. If the nuclear plant had not been built there, the town would have had a lot less people - so it was a codependent situation. We never thought things like these would happen, we were told it was totally safe. When I was a high school student, we had an excursion to the same nuclear power plant that had the explosion. Even if Japan stops using nuclear power plants, other countries would still operate lots of them, so there is no point stopping nuclear plants just in Japan. There are people for and against nuclear power and because I am not an expert so I have no right to say anything about it. Then when the environmental issue arises, so some say nuclear power is good. So I really don’t know what to say.” 

  • Qn: What do they want people to know about the area?

TW: “I have not seen almost any children here in the town since the disaster. The
people who moved back are over 60, those who have already retired. Only a couple of families with children who have moved back - I know 4 children currently living in the town that go to school in Iwaki. I wonder how many children would come back to the town.”

“Personally I don’t mind/don’t think about the radiation, I’ve never checked the radioactive level, and don’t I intend to do it in the future. Also I drink the water without hesitation. I am not afraid of the radiation as I was told that it is safe. Car accidents are more terrifying for me, rather than the radiation. And even though they say the radiation does effect you, you don’t know when it does, especially because of the fact I have no knowledge about it. However, it is scary that you don’t know what kind of effects the radiation would have to still growing kids. That is why people are not coming back to the town, and even if some families come back here and go to school in Naraha, there will be only a small number of children and they would have few friends and no club activities. So I would feel sorry for the kids. And the parents would have to work, but they would need to commute to Iwaki, which takes an hour to get to. That’s why people are not coming back to the town, and just stay in Iwaki, where schools and employments are available. I wonder how many years that situation would go for.”

His calligraphy message about hopes for the future was a Bhuddist quote, Sanskrit translated into Chinese “form is emptiness, and emptiness is form” approximate meaning that all is connected and dependent on each other, while one cannot exist by itself.

He mentioned that he had no interest in Buddhism, even says he usually doesn’t like such things. But after reading a poem about the word on a newspaper, he was moved. He bought a Buddhist book, ‘Heart Sutra’ costs ¥150000 (US$1300), right after. Now he tries to learn to read the Buddhist sutra. 

Recalling how he would return to his house 5 days a week despite not being allowed

“Personally I don’t think about the radiation, I’ve never checked [it] and don’t intend to”

His message of hope was a Bhuddist quote

Hope for the future: (Bhuddist) form is emptiness, and emptiness is form

9) Mr Takahiro Nemoto & Mrs Junko Nemoto. Worked at the Daiichi nuclear plant. Has moved back to Naraha.

On the day of the disaster Takahiro worked at the Fukushima nuclear plant (and for the
previous 35 years) - not for TEPCO, but as a supervision engineer. Now he works to
decontaminate the area surrounding the nuclear plant. On the morning of the earthquake
he had been to work, but before the earthquake stuck he left to go home as was sick with a cold. 

They had planned to move back to their Naraha family home prior to the lifting of the
evacuation order but ended up moving back on the day it was lifted - 5 September 2015.
Upon return they found that the house was damaged with cracks on the walls and rats had moved in, so they needed to have home renovated.

Due to the location of their house close to forest and mountains they were worries about
radiation - as these parts were not part of the routine decontamination process. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

TN: “[We] think it needs to have better safety measures to withstand a tsunami, such as
higher sea walls. If they had done it prior to the incident, it wouldn’t have happened. A spare tank, which was prepared if anything like this happened, was also washed away. Also I think no one ever thought that the reactors would explode. After working there for 35 years, I never considered it exploding. When I asked coworkers, no one ever thought of that [as a possibility]. I could expect that it may break from an earthquake but never from tsunami and even explode. This tsunami was the highest of all they had seen. Over a 20m high tsunami wave. With nuclear power plants, disasters like tsunami, earthquakes, and fire related accident is the most terrifying. Leaking radiation is the most terrifying.”

“Now people are trying to ban nuclear plants, but I think this is very difficult. We, as in long-term workers at nuclear plants, get old and would not be able to work there. But it is really difficult for young people to just go in there and begin the decontamination process as it requires a lot of education and knowledge. So even when they try to decommission all the reactors, it will probably take years and years, or even not able to finish it.”

  • Qn: What do they want people to know about the area?

TN:: “The Kido River used to be a very well-known place for salmon fishermen. We would
get over 100,000 salmon [per year]. From this year [2016], they can recommence fishing salmon here, and the salmon has been confirmed as safe. We want to appeal for visitors to come to the town. There is a nice hot spring [onsen] in Tenjin Misaki, and the J-village [Japanese national football team training facility] with the Olympics coming up. Before the disaster, even the national soccer team would come to train and stay there. In Autumn, the leaves are beautiful. So we want people to come and visit the area.”

“We want the younger generation to move back to the town, to start with. Not just old people. Like it was before. The new [Junior high] school is opening next year.”

“Also, we want the town to rebuild soon, and to get people back to live there and make it how it was in the past. We first need to get people to move back, otherwise it is pretty much meaningless. We especially want the young people to move back. If only the elderly come back, the town cannot be sustained.” 

An engineer at the Daiichi nuclear plant, fortunately he went home sick on the day before the earthquake struck

“We want people to come and visit the area”

Hope for the future: Hopes

10) Mrs Tomeo Murao. Naraha FamilyMart (small convenience store) owner.

On the day of the disaster she was at home. Initially evacuating to Iwaki, however she
came back to Naraha pretty much every day to see her house and 8 cats despite not being allowed to. After being caught a few times by police, future visits were then made with others that had express visiting permission. The block of land in front of her property was marked for demolition, so she bought it to save that house. Her herd of cats recently increased from 8 (at the time of the earthquake) now to 30 - although one passed away on
the morning of the interview. 

  • Qn: What is the feeling about nuclear power in the future?

TM: “Because Japan does not have many resources, I think that we have no choice but to use nuclear power.”

  • Qn: What does she want people to know about the area?

TM: “I have no idea how many people will come back to the town, but personally I don’t
think that Naraha is going to be how it was before. I don’t know how long it will take for the town to be rebuilt but the reconstruction work needs to occur regardless. There are people who do not like having so many temporary labour workers in the town, but I think the town should be rebuilt with the temporary workers’ input too, as we don’t know how long it will take to rebuild.” 

Tomeo bought the then closed store, seeing it as an opportunity to sell goods to the construction workers

She came back to Naraha pretty much everyday to see her cats, despite not being allowed to.

Her herd of cats increased from 8 after the earthquake to now 30, with all of the strays from the area.

© 2021 Mark Forbes.
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