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
       Mobile: f.mom.1941@ezweb.ne.jp 
           Phone: 080-5547-8675 
           FAX 047-346-8675


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