Sunday, June 28, 2015

---The current situation of the disaster-stricken areas---The recovery housing, decontamination effort, and some “small” supporters

Today, I would like to talk about the requirements needed to move into recovery housing and the current status of Okuma town and Naraha town.
I will also introduce some “little” supporters.

[Requirements to move into recovery houses]
In my blog dated May 25, 2015, I talked about the procedure to move into housing. In addition to this, I will talk a little more in detail about the national government’s required conditions to move into recovery housing. As you can imagine, many evacuees want to know the room layouts and the size of windows, or would like to see the housing units in person before they move in. This would enable them to take time to plan on the furniture, curtains, and lighting, and would
encourage hope and dreams about their new lives. However, the national government doesn’t make this possible and forces the evacuees to follow their rules. The evacuees never see the actual rooms until they receive the house keys. They never even get to choose which house they move into. The evacuees are told to move in wherever the local government assigns them. Even for same-sized houses, the rent varies in ten different amounts, depending on the evacuees’ income. The lowest rent is 8,000 yen per month (US$65), and there are elevator
fees and other surcharges.

I talked to someone who started moving into one of the recovery houses in Okuma town. The recovery houses were completed in May, and those who won the lottery received a notice. The orientation meeting was held on June 9th. The rent notice was sent to each evacuee, and the
house keys were given to those who paid three-months’ rent up front. They were told to move in within twenty days. Unfortunately, some evacuees live on a pension and don't have three-months’ rent on hand. Also, though they have to move within twenty days, some old people
don’t have cars and live far away from the recovery houses, so it is both physically and financially difficult for them to transport their belongings in time. The evacuees are given just twenty days to move into their new houses, even though the houses do not come equipped
with necessary items such as lights, a gas stove, or curtains. This is an inconsiderate way of treating disaster victims.

Usually, when looking for a new house, one discusses with the realtor about rent prices. Also, the decision whether or not to move in is usually made after first touring the inside of the actual house and seeing it with one’s own eyes. But the Fukushima evacuees have to first make the decision whether or not to move in, and only then are they notified how much the rent will be, which is decided depending on their income. I have never heard of something like this before. How could the government force such an ordeal on them?  However, it seems to me that none of the evacuees are in a position where they have the option to oppose the government’s policies.

Nuclear power plants were promoted as part of Japan’s national agenda. After the nuclear accident that occurred in Fukushima in 2011, a vast expanse of land was contaminated with radiation.  Countless innocent and good-natured people were forced to evacuate from the area. Those evacuees say “We didn’t evacuate. We were driven away from our own land, leaving our perfectly good houses behind. We are not even sure where we can settle down to live our lives after four and a half years. We have moved 7 or 8 times so far, and it cost us a lot of money each time. We are separated from close friends and family members, and we are so exhausted.”

[Status of Naraha town]
In Naraha town, before the official declaration of evacuees’ return to home, evacuees were allowed a trial stay in their own homes from April 6, 2015 through July 5, 2015. However, I was told that no one went back and stayed in their homes due to their concern about the radiation level.

One of the people I talked to share the following details: “Some big company built refabricated housing for thousands of workers who worked on radiation decontamination. One site can hold 300 to 500 workers. They built some of those homes. The workers came from all over Japan. Since the neighboring town, Tomioka is too radioactive to live in, they also built the same housing units for Tomioka’s 3,000 workers who are staying in Naraha town as well. There are traffic jams every day because of those workers commuting from Tomioka to Naraha. After an incident involving a woman being chased by one of those workers, residents started a local patrol, but I don’t feel safe even in my own home. They built the pre-fab houses for the decontamination workers so quickly. But for us Naraha evacuees, the recovery houses are still in the planning stage, and construction has not yet started. There are no carpenters available to repair or rebuild the existing houses; there are no building supplies. Building contractors see
financial uncertainty for repairing the disaster victims’ houses, and they are attracted by the higher pay for construction in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. So for the carpenters, the choice is clear. As a result, the evacuees are left without homes or any means
for building one.”

[Support from a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy]
I would like to share this heart-warming story that I encountered recently. I received an email message on my phone about ten days ago. It was from a young Japanese housewife who lives in England. She had learned about the situation of many people in Fukushima, and she
wanted to do something to help them. She was planning to get together with her six-year-old daughter and her four-year-old son to write messages for each evacuee on little packages of sweets. She wanted to know what type of sweets the senior evacuees could eat, and if it was
okay for her to send 10 to 20 sets weighing a total of 2 kg (4 lb). I was delighted to receive such an offer.

Thinking about this mother working with her daughter and son to write messages and draw pictures for the Fukushima evacuees moved me to tears. I couldn’t think of a more precious gift than this. I talked to the leader of our residents’ association right way. He was also very happy to hear about the offer. He knew the Fukushima evacuees would appreciate any small gift, even candy. The letter from this young girl and boy would be such an encouragement for them.

To tell the truth, continually working on this mission to support the Fukushima evacuees wears me out physically and mentally. Whenever I hear about the inhumane way the national government treats the disaster victims as well as the situation in which the evacuees have
been left behind and forgotten, I feel helpless and deeply distressed. But this message from the young mother and her children healed me, and re-energized me. I sent a thank-you message back to them saying “I’ll never give up! Little boy and girl, I will always keep moving forward
as long as I live. Stay in touch!”

I’m not asking for anything grand. Just as the example of this young mother in England shows, a caring heart and a kind act can help save people in despair and give them the power to confront their daily struggles. If you have any children or grandchildren around you, please share this story. Please consider reaching out to the Fukushima evacuees with your support.

[We need more concerned individuals who care]

There are many Fukushima evacuees who are in bad health as a result of their unstable lives. Even a small donation of simple daily

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

People in affected area continue to endure horrible living situations

[Life in temporary housing units]

Today I would like to bring your attention to housing issues in the affected areas. Not just humans, but all living creatures - including fish, birds, plants, insects, and countless others - all need a place to live and feel safe (in other words, a home to call one’s own).

Please imagine for a moment that you are living in one of the temporary housing units – that this is the place that you currently call “home.”

When you are at home, you need a certain space where you can relax, right? Can you live comfortably in a space with no windows, no sunlight, no air flow despite uncomfortable levels of humidity, no privacy to the extent that you can hear everything that your neighbors are saying and vice versa? Well, that is the life of people in temporary housing units in the affected area. You always have to pay close attention to potential noise that might bother your neighbors.  This may mean you have to refrain from listening to music, playing musical instruments, and you have to keep the TV volume and your conversational voice at the lowest possible level. Every time your kids make noise your neighbors might complain, you can never use a loud voice, and you are constantly thinking of what the neighbors might think….This describes life in a temporary housing unit.

In most cases, even if you store furniture and bedding in closets, you will still not have sufficient space for everyone to sit down and relax around the table and enjoy family time. At night, you do not have space to sleep without having to worry about being stepped on by someone. The deepest concern of all is the fact that you do not know how long you can stay there. This is a house where you are not allowed to stay indefinitely - you do not know when you might receive a notice to leave. You cannot even find an alternative house, so you just spend every day in fear. You want to leave your temporary housing unit, but then you would lose your compensation. If you find a new place (outside the affected area) by changing your residential registration (something similar to voting registration in the U.S.), you will lose your current compensation. Thus affected people cannot leave their temporary house, nor plan their futures.

What do you think about this situation? If your government asked you to live in this same state for a long period of time and you were actually placed in this situation, how would you feel? Don’t you think that everyone needs a certain quality of living environment; as well as relaxing and sufficient space to live?

Ladies and gentlemen, you may not be able to identify with this type of situation. However, the affected people of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster have been in these horrible circumstances for more than four years. Please allow me to review something I’ve written about in the past.

A living space with an area of only four and a half tatami mats (roughly 80ft²) sometimes only includes a single window.  Once you add in basic furniture and appliances, you have barely enough space to spread out futons (Japanese foldable bedding.) The floor is so close to the ground that it invites high humidity, mold, and extreme coldness, which then adds additional weight to comforters. From fall to spring, it is common to have water dripping from the ceiling in these residences due to excess humidity, which moistens the walls and floors. In these houses, wiping the floor is a necessary daily task. Some units have broken floors, as well as being drafty and cold. Residents sometimes stuff pieces of newspaper into gaps in an effort to stop the drafts and make their lives more comfortable. There is not even enough space in these homes to hang up clothes to dry.   

Residents have almost no privacy: people who walk outside can see people inside, sometimes their eyes meet unintentionally. Some residents cannot sleep well: the wall between you and your next-door neighbors is so thin that you can tell exactly what they are doing. The majority of temporary housing units and school buildings are prefabs. The material in prefabs do not have adequate insulation.

[The voice of residents at temporary housing units]

Affected people sometimes say that living in the temporary housing units makes them feel stifled and like they’re going crazy.
One said, “I usually stay out of my unit.” I asked her, “Do you go to work somewhere?” to which she replied, “No, I cannot keep up with my mental health in a four and a half-tatami mat space (80ft²). That is why I walk outside every day. Although I have been looking for a job, when I mention my age (67 years old), they do not want to hire me….”

Some residents say, “Without a fixed home address, I cannot find a job,” or “A stable address is the key to go forward. Without one, my family members are still scattered and we cannot even find a place to store the remains of my mother and my husband. We are not yet able to decide where to build our family tomb.”

Still others say, “The recovery housing units are yet to be built. Also the number of the units are limited. They will not be open to everyone. Those who lost their houses due to the tsunami and nuclear accidents get higher priority. Not only that, once those individuals get a unit, they will need to buy their own curtains, ceiling lights, stovetops, make monthly rent payments, etc….a fairly large budget is necessary.”

In Funehiki, Tamura City, there are four temporary housing apartments where people from Miyakoji mainly live, as well as some from the towns of Okuma, Namie, Futaba and Tokiwa. “I’ve just heard that they are building a recovery housing apartment in Funehiki and it is supposed to be completed sometime after next fall. More than a year ahead!” said an evacuee.

I still remember something I heard from one of them; “If only our government had said that they would buy out our properties and would find an alternative place for us to live, elsewhere in Japan.  We would have appreciated it so much. Had they taken such a measure four years ago, those new communities would have been flourishing and the residents could have been contributing to the nation’s economy by now….”

However, in reality, affected area survivors have been forced to find a place to live on their own and no government funding is provided. After losing their homes in the disasters, they have been offered no replacement homes and no jobs to generate enough income to make ends meet. “How can we survive like this?” say affected people lamenting over the prolonged suffering.

Members of the younger generations have already left their home towns, searching for a new life elsewhere. Thus temporary housing units are full of elderly people who have nowhere else to go and no family with which to live. They cannot  get in to recovery housing apartments, are separated from people belonging to younger generations, and are thus forced to live a lonely life; for them to “live independently” sounds very harsh. They are doing their best to support each other, living among others stuck in the same situation and sharing similar experiences.

It would be wonderful if you could also help them out by sending some grocery items for their daily necessities.      

[Please offer your support]

Please show your support for those who have lost their ability to live on their own and are lost in despair.  Even the smallest support would be a big help. In your package, you can send your thoughts and well-wishes to let them know that they are never forgotten, that you are thinking of their health, or you can even send some grocery items; this will truly seem like a treasure chest to the recipient. Our society has forgotten them, but you can help save them, even if it’s by sending just one care package out to save a single person. If you are interested in sending some packages, please contact me.

“Let’s make happiness together!”

Contact:  Momoko Fukuoka
           Phone: 080-5547-8675 
           FAX 047-346-8675