Tatsuya Hoshino and Naoko Kagemoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
In Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture, where the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is located and residents have been forced to evacuate, the amount by which the exodus of residents outnumbered newcomers reached about 500 during March to November last year.
Before the crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the town’s population had been increasing due to efforts made by the town government, such as lowering water rates to promote Okuma to outsiders as a worthwhile place to settle down.
Considering the town’s current decline in population, a senior official said, “If this exodus continues, Okuma will lose its vigor.”
The pattern is repeated in Iwaki City, which is outside the no-entry zone around the nuclear plant. The total number of residents who left the city exceeded newcomers to the region by about 6,000 during the same period.
About 20,000 evacuees from Futaba County, home to the plant, have migrated to Iwaki City. There are 10 temporary housing units for evacuees in the city’s center.
An Iwaki convenience store manager said, “The number of shoppers has doubled since the disaster, as elderly people from the [nearby] temporary housing unit shop during daytime…Sadly, however, some of my regular customers stopped coming here after the disaster.”
Yamagata Prefecture is also home to many evacuees who have left neighboring Fukushima Prefecture.
Since late July, 27-year-old company employee Chiaki Shibata has been living outside the prefecture with her 4- and 2-year-old daughters in an apartment in Yamagata City. Her 27-year-old husband remains in Date City, Fukushima Prefecture.
Shibata commutes to her office in Date four days a week, while a day care center in Yamagata City takes care of her children. It is a 1.5-hour commute from her home to the office.
When Shibata was wondering whether to evacuate from Date, she asked a Yamagata day care center about the possibility of enrolling her children there.
But she was told that to do so, she would need to transfer her residency from Date to Yamagata. Shibata struggled with the amount of paperwork, including enrolling her residency with the Yamagata City government, notifying the Date government of her move, and applying for places at the day care center and for an apartment.
During the several trips between Date and Yamagata required to complete such complicated paperwork, she thought, “Why should I be forced to do this in an emergency situation?” Considering her daughters’ health, however, there was no alternative.
According to a survey of evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture conducted by the Yamagata prefectural government in November, about 16 percent of 1,649 households who responded have considered remaining in Yamagata “forever” or “until our children graduate from school.” About 14 percent of respondents said they had already transferred their residency to municipalities in Yamagata Prefecture.
Based on a special measures law concerning evacuees that came into effect last August, relocated evacuees from 13 municipalities around the plant can receive a total of 219 administrative services, such as being able to receive services under the nursing care insurance system and entry to day care centers for children.
(Jan. 12, 2012)