Monday, April 10, 2017

The Current Situation of the Disaster-affected Areas Where the Evacuation Order has been Lifted

 The season of beautiful cherry blossoms is here. It is truly mysterious how the simple act of looking up at the cherry blossoms always calms my heart and fills me with hope and happiness. For some reason, cherry blossoms fill me with nostalgia. I feel nostalgic for a time long ago that I never even knew, but feel as if I might be able to remember. It’s as if the flowers are trying to tell me a story. When spring comes, I can hardly wait for the cherry blossoms to open. When they finally arrive, I feel a sense of relief and think to myself: “They bloomed again this year!”. We Japanese love the slow flutter of falling cherry blossoms. In the old days, we found solace in discovering the beauty of impermanent and imperfect things, we loved the changing of the seasons, admired rock gardens, were modest and looked out for the needs of others. In the old days, we valued the goodness in people’s hearts.  But, as I gaze now upon the cherry blossoms, I ask myself: do I still retain all these values in my heart these days?
  It seems as if the news is filled with sad stories every day. Murders, missile attacks, and the like. Watching the constant stream of new information in these modern times, one can’t help but feel anxious. What is happening to this world we live in? Where are we headed?

【Voices from the disaster-affected areas where the evacuation order has been lifted】

 Let me tell you once more about the people from the places affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and their current situation.
 Individuals from the disaster-affected areas that the national government has declared safe to return home currently find themselves in a very difficult situation. No one outside a 20 kilometer radius from the plant is receiving compensation from TEPCO or the government. As a result, they are unable to repair their homes, which are still not in habitable condition. The houses have become infested with mice, raccoons, civets, and wild boars after being left untouched for 6 years. Their gardens and fields are overgrown with weeds and wild grass, some of which has grown as tall as the height of a person. Their land is in no condition for growing crops of any kind. These individuals will need a lot of money and help before they can rebuild their homes and start harvesting crops again. But, unfortunately, the people from the disaster-affected regions do not have money. So, they remain unable to rebuild, finding themselves faced with no choice but to live in their damaged homes.
Even if people return home, their villages and towns have no stores or hospitals. Getting around is inconvenient because of a lack of transportation. Also, as most neighbors have not returned home, the areas are dark and gloomy at night. The people living in these places say there are areas where robberies happen and people worry for their safety. These are currently the conditions that people have to live under in the areas where the evacuation orders have been lifted (with the exception of a few towns).  
It seems that the disaster-affected areas that appear in the media and have been visited by the prime minister have public facilities and are the lucky few. Please listen to the following stories of individuals who have now returned home.

 <Kawauchi Village, female, 80 years old, living alone>
“I came home on March 26th. Kawauchi Village is very, very cold, so I spend my time sitting at the kotatsu.” (note: a kotatsu is a type of heated table).
“There are some people who were originally relieved to come back home, only to be astonished by what they found. After I got back home and checked up on my neighbors, I found out that one of them had her husband die in December, and someone else had to be taken by helicopter to the hospital. It’s rough.”  

 <Kawauchi Village, female, 86 years old, living alone>  
“In 6 years, it’s changed so much. The road in front of my house has changed. In upper Kawauchi there are no shops, no taxis, no cars and no hospitals. Elderly people can’t get by without a hospital. If something happens, they won’t be able to get help. A hospital is the most important thing. Since there aren’t any stores, I wrote a letter to the town office asking for them to send out a mobile sales vehicle. I have a bicycle, but I can’t ride it anymore. It’s become a town of nothing but elderly people walking around slowly with the help of canes. All the houses of Kawauchi Village have used well water since long ago. Now, the well water still comes out in some places, but it is sometimes muddy and black. Only the top water is clean. At my house, things are just as they were at the time of the disaster. The house is just being held up by supports, so I’m afraid of what would happen if there were an earthquake. As I only received a 55,000 yen government pension (about $495 USD), I don’t have enough money to fix the house.”

〈Naraha Town, 76 years old, married couple〉
“Our house in Naraha was partially destroyed, so we did some renovations then moved back in. Besides our home, there is just one other house with people in front of the town office. Nobody else has returned. Since there aren’t any stores, we drive an hour by car to Iwaki to do our shopping. After the earthquake, my wife had a stroke. She was paralyzed on the left side of her body and has suffered from dementia. Once a month, I take her to the hospital. She is also under the care of elder daycare three times a week. We’re both doing the best we can under the circumstances.”

〈Futaba Town, married couple, in their 60’s〉
“It’s the anniversary of my father’s death, so we came to Futaba Town to visit his grave. The graves have been left untouched since the disaster, so some are knocked over and some have been crushed. It was heart-breaking to visit the graves while they were in that condition. As the graves are located in an area contaminated by radiation, I was told we can’t even move the remains. The radiation level inside the house is 3 microsieverts. The area around the outside of the house measured 20 microsieverts during a two-hour period. When you look out at the swamp, you can see they are burying contaminated materials out there. This worried me. I wondered to myself: “Won’t this be carried by the river out into the ocean?”

〈Ōkuma Town, woman living alone, in her eighties〉
“I moved into publically-managed disaster housing. After the disaster, I fell and broke my leg and pelvis, so I can’t move around much. Most of the people living in the same housing as me are from Futaba Town. The only other person from Ōkuma Town besides myself is someone in their 30’s. I want to know the whereabouts of the other people from my town. So, I asked about it at the town office. However, I was told that they can’t tell me their locations, as that is personal information. So, I’ve been unable to meet with anyone else from my hometown of Ōkuma and I have been very lonely.”

〈Ōkuma Town, house wife in her 40’s, with a family〉 
“The recovery housing where we had been living was suddenly taken away, so we moved to housing managed by the prefectural government. Even though we just moved in last year, our house has cracks in it that cause drafts, and the roof leaks. There are some places where the tatami floors have mold on them as well. We informed the Fukushima prefectural government about this, but have received no response.”
“I keep telling my children: ‘We can’t return to our own home. There are high levels of radiation, and no schools or shops back there. We have to be prepared for certain things. Some people around may look at us strangely and judge us. Learn to judge a person’s character wisely. Some people are kind, some people are different. Please realize this. Sometimes people’s lives can change a lot. Judge things for yourself.’ We have a different educational philosophy in our house than others.”

【A message from the heart】

 Wouldn’t it be difficult if you found yourself in the same situation as those from the disaster-affected areas? They have lost their homes and have been separated from their families. They are suffering from wounds that are both mental and physical. They are exhausted, but now that they are returning home things are becoming even more difficult. Because of this, I would like to propose that we reach out a helping hand to them. I hope that people don’t just assume that now that 6 years have passed and the government has told them to return home, that means that everything is fine and it’s okay to forget about them now.
In this day and age, new things keep happening one after another and our lives are filled with more worries than in the past. Precisely because of this, we should not cast our eyes away and pretend not to notice the suffering of those who were affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and whom the government has treated so unfairly.
Approaching the disaster-affected people can be as simple as sending out a letter or postcard that says: “Please take care. We have not forgotten about Fukushima.” It might also be nice to include a heartfelt picture or some origami. This sort of heartfelt message will undoubtedly gladden the hearts of those affected by the disaster and give them the courage to keep going on. Please lend some help to those who are suffering by sharing your kindness with them. I ask you from the bottom of my heart.

 For more information, please direct your questions directly to Momoko Fukuoka. Dear readers, your continued health and happiness is always in my prayers.  

[Contact Information]
Momoko Fukuoka
Fax: 047-346-8675

(I would like to request that calls to be made between 11:00 AM - 5:30 PM local time in Japan. Depending on my health, it may take some time for me to respond. If this happens, please try calling back again.)
Translation: Karen Rogers

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