High school student Takuya Otomo waits for the first train of the day at Kumagane Station in Aoba district, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. (Mainichi)
SENDAI — High school students in coastal areas of northeastern Japan devastated by the March 11 earthquake-triggered tsunamis are spending hours to commute to school as local railway lines remain in shambles with no signs of being restored in the near future.
At Kumagane Station in Sendai City’s Aoba district, Takuya Otomo, a 17-year-old student of Miyagi Suisan High School, gets on the first train of the day at 6:30 a.m, the beginning of a three-hour trip to his school in Ishinomaki.
Together with his parents, younger sister and brother, he evacuated to the home of his mother’s parents near Kumagane Station after his home near the Sanriku coast was flooded. Because part of the Senseki Line that Otomo used to take to Ishinomaki has yet to be restored, he is forced to take three trains further inland to make it to school. It takes about an hour longer than it took him to commute from his home before the disaster.
The school he used to go to suffered damage from the tsunamis, so it has rented space for classrooms from another school, Ishinomakikita Senior High School. Otomo arrives there at 9:20 a.m., stops by the teachers’ room to report his arrival. He cannot help but be late for the first class of the day, but the school forgives the tardiness.
His father has moved to Natori by himself where he has a job, while his grandparents are staying at their own home and clearing their farmland. Shortly after the disaster Takuya had thought of quitting school to help his grandparents with their farm. But when he went to school in early May after a long absence, he started to think that he actually wanted to stay in school and later get a job in the fisheries industry. He has been taking advantage of the long commute to study for qualification tests for such a job.
There is another student who is late for the first class despite taking the first train of the day, and there are also several other students who come in late when their bus gets caught in traffic jams, which can be caused by reconstruction work.
“We want them to get their ordinary life back as soon as possible, but it is still not clear when that will happen,” said Yujiro Masuda, a 38-year-old teacher.
At Kesennuma High School along the Kesennuma Line, about 40 students are separated from their parents, living together at a judo facility on the school premises because they cannot commute. The prefectural board of education said they did not know the total number of students staying on school premises.