The village of Iitate in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture was once home to 6,000 people.
Today, however, it is essentially a ghost town, evacuated after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant just 25 miles (40 kilometers) away following the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011.
While former residents can return to Iitate during the day, it’s still an eerie scene — children’s toys lie abandoned in yards, bicycles rust on front porches and only an occasional truck passes through its quiet streets.
For elderly couple Yukio and Masayo Nakano the last 20 months have not been easy. Yukio lived had lived in his home in the village for more than 60 years, moving in just after World War Two.
“I can’t describe it. It’s hard living in the temporary housing, and it’s very stressful mentally,” he says.
The difficult situation has also taken its toll on his wife Masayo.
“I’m lonely. We’re getting old,” she says. “I think every day how long I can survive in this situation.”
Only one building — the town’s nursing home — has permanent residents. Following consultation with their families and the Japanese government, the 80 or so people living there were allowed to stay despite the evacuation order.
Miyoko Sato, a former Iitate resident who left after the nuclear accident, returns to work there each week for a very simple reason.
“These people will stay here for the rest of their life,” she says.
“And I cherish them just like a family member. But I don’t know if our village will be able to come back anytime soon.”
However some are trying to make the village inhabitable for all: crews who have the hazardous task of trying to clean up from one of the worst nuclear accidents the world has ever seen.
They perform repetitive tasks — wiping down buildings with damp cloths, and using high pressure hoses to clean drainage systems along the streets.
Workers are also clearing a layer of top soil in Iitate, as well as the numerous other affected areas of Fukushima prefecture.
But it’s an endless task, as it’s a region that’s roughly the size of greater Tokyo.
So far, it’s not clear what the government intends to do with the countless bags of contaminated dirt. Some critics, including experts on radiation, call the government’s clean-up efforts “meaningless” and say that using high pressure hoses simply spreads the radiation.
Others contend that wiping down a building with a wet rag is pointless, particularly when the wind blows from the nearby forest which is still contaminated.
Iitate’s Mayor, Norio Kanno, has heard those arguments but insists they have to start somewhere.
“We have a responsibility to clean up and decontaminate this land. I can’t accept the idea that we give up. And it’s hard for some people to just start a new life elsewhere,” he says.
Yukio Nakano remains hopeful that he and his wife can return to their home one day.
“But we don’t know when that will happen. It’s hard to predict our future,” he says.s