Tokyo, Feb. 28 (Jiji Press)–The Reconstruction Agency will boost efforts to help people rebuild homes and strengthen community development in areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, reconstruction minister Takumi Nemoto has said.
The year 2014 is a very important year when substantial progress would be made in many reconstruction projects, including house construction and work to prepare bases for long-term evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant damaged heavily by the disaster, he said.
“In Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, rebuilding the homes of disaster victims is more important than anything else,” he said in an interview ahead of the third anniversary of the catastrophe, adding that the agency will help as many people as possible move into new homes.
In Fukushima, recovery in the shadow of the nuclear accident is a challenging issue, he said.
By utilizing a recently launched subsidy program, the agency will do more to help lay the groundwork to enable evacuees from the nuclear disaster to return to their homes where possible, he added.
FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture–A calendar showing March 2011 still hangs on a wall, while a clock suspended from the ceiling remains stuck at 2:50. Documents and other files are scattered on the floor around desks and shelves. Potted plants withered and died long ago.
Outside, on the rooftop of the Futaba town office, one can clearly see the isolation and desolation of this dying town where time has stopped.
For the first time since the aftermath of March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, an Asahi Shimbun reporter entered the town office of Futaba on Feb. 25.
All 6,400 residents have fled the town.
A notice pasted on the interior of the front entrance, underlined in red, reads: “Since this office is located within 10 kilometers of the nuclear plant, you have to stay indoors. Please don’t go outside.”
On the second floor, sheets of paper pasted on a board show information that Tokyo Electric Power Co. released about conditions at the nuclear plant.
“The pressure in the containment vessel has risen abnormally,” reads information that arrived before dawn on March 12, 2011.
Futaba officials evacuated the town office on the central government’s orders that day, a day after the disaster started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
About 96 percent of Futaba, including areas around the town office, has been designated a difficult-to-return zone because annual accumulated radiation levels exceed 50 millisieverts.
The zone is surrounded by barricades, making it impossible for people to enter freely.
Wearing a mask and a white protective gear that covered my entire body and carrying a dosimeter, I entered Futaba after obtaining permission from the town office. A town official, who guided me around Futaba, wore similar clothing.
After leaving the town office, we headed to the Nagatsuka district in the central part of Futaba, where there were no signs of residents.
Trucks for decontamination work, passenger cars and the cawing of crows sometimes broke the silence.
A damaged shutter rattled as it was hit by the wind. A house that collapsed in the shaking of Great East Japan Earthquake covered part of the road. The Shohatsujinja shrine on the opposite side of the house was tilted, and a 3-meter-high stone monument remained toppled and snapped in the middle.
“My classmate was the chief priest of this shrine. I held (traditional) ‘shichigosan’ festivals for my daughter in this shrine. I also held purification rituals for my car here,” said my guide, Kunihiro Hiraiwa, 52, head of the town office’s public relations section.
When the magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, Hiraiwa headed a team in charge of issues related to the nuclear power plant. His duties included applying for central government grants for the town’s hosting of a nuclear power plant.
He was also the person who received information from TEPCO when problems occurred at the plant.
“TEPCO had said, ‘The nuclear power plant is absolutely safe.’ We had never imagined that such a disastrous situation like this would arise,” Hiraiwa said, looking at an empty street.
The Futaba swimming beach was crowded with about 85,000 people in 2010. The seaside facility operated by the town office was damaged by the 2011 tsunami.
From a higher floor of the facility, we could see the Pacific Ocean extend to the horizon and gentle waves hitting the beach.
Radiation levels are relatively low in the northeastern part of Futaba, and the area was designated a zone being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order in May 2013.
Peering over the barricade, however, we saw withered grass at places where houses were washed away by the tsunami. Infrastructure improvements and decontamination work have not made progress.
Hiraiwa’s house is located in the area.
“Nothing has changed (since May 2013),” he said.
By TAKURO NEGISHI/ Staff Writer
TAMURA, Fukushima — The central government decided Feb. 23 to lift on April 1 the evacuation order imposed on this city’s Miyakoji district in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns in 2011, government officials said.
The district will be the first among 11 cities, towns and villages within a 20-kilometer radius of the stricken nuclear power plant to have its evacuation order lifted.
The government will formalize the decision at a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters. The decision will allow Miyakoji residents to return to the district permanently a little over three years after the nuclear crisis was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The central and the Tamura municipal governments held a joint briefing for Tamura residents on Feb. 23 to explain the impending decision. Kazuyoshi Akaba, head of the local office of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters and State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Tamura Mayor Yukei Tomitsuka and other officials attended the briefing.
The some 100 Tamura residents at the meeting were about equally divided on the prospect of having the evacuation order lifted, but Akaba explained the impending decision by saying, ”The government does not have the right to delay the reconstruction of your life.”
He went on to tell the residents that radiation levels have dropped sufficiently due to the completion of decontamination work, and that infrastructure such as expressways had been restored. The government decided to lift the evacuation order on April 1 because the district has met conditions for lifting evacuation orders, including a local annual radiation dose below 20 millisieverts, completion of lifeline infrastructure and sufficient consultation with local authorities.
Eastern Miyakoji, home to 358 people in 117 households, was designated a no-go zone because it was within 20 kilometers of the nuclear power plant. In April 2012, it was designated as a district subject to a possible lifting of the evacuation order with annual radiation exposure of 20 millisieverts or less. But residents were not permitted to spend nights in their homes.
Decontamination work in the district was conducted under central governmental supervision from July 2012 to June 2013. The government implemented a long-stay program in August-October 2013 to allow residents to repair their houses and other essential purposes. The government proposed lifting the evacuation order on Nov. 1 last year but residents balked, saying there were still places with high radiation doses.
Evacuation orders in Fukushima Prefecture have been divided into three categories depending on radiation levels — no-go zones (annual radiation levels of 50 millisieverts and over), domicile restriction zones (annual radiation levels of between over 20 millisieverts to 50 millisieverts) and zones subject to possible lifting of evacuation orders — in the 11 municipalities. About 80,000 residents of those cities, towns and villages have evacuated to other parts of Fukushima and elsewhere in Japan.
TAMURA, Fukushima — Residents attending a Feb. 23 briefing on a government decision to lift an evacuation order here showed a mixture of relief and worry.
The decision, made the same day, will on April 1 lift an evacuation order covering the Miyakoji district of the Fukushima Prefecture city of Tamura, imposed after the March 2011 triple-meltdown at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant. The briefing, held by officials from the national and municipal governments, was attended by around 100 people.
Kazuyoshi Akaba, head of the local office of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, said, “The evacuation order interferes with the freedom to choose one’s place of residence guaranteed by the Constitution. For those who want to resume planting rice and repair their homes, the government does not have the right to delay the reconstruction of their lives.”
Akaba said that the government will give across-the-board support to those who choose to return to their homes, adding that whether evacuees decide to return or not is up to them.
Kazuo Endo, a 65-year-old resident whose home is in a part of Miyakoji district with comparatively low radiation levels, acted as representative of the residents at the briefing.
“Without the evacuation order being lifted, home renovation businesses won’t come back,” he said in support of a quick lifting of the evacuation order. He was followed by several calls from others for resumption of farming and measures to combat damage from unfounded rumors about local products being contaminated with radioactive substances.
While only three farming households resumed commercial farming in the district last year, more than 10 are expected to do so this year. Residents involved in farming, commerce and industry showed particular enthusiasm at the briefing about returning to the district.
Meanwhile, Hideyuki Tsuboi, 38, called for decontamination work to be done on a four- to five-meter-high slope by his house. Although decontamination work in residential areas ended in June last year, slopes were exempted over fears the work would cause radioactive materials to escape to other areas, and over concerns for worker safety.
Tsuboi, who has three young daughters, said, “At the last briefing (in October last year), you said that an environment safe for children has been established, but I think you have overlooked some parts of it.”
During a temporary return to his home in the Miyakoji district, his children picked up and played with stones in an area he later heard from his family was not yet decontaminated. While his oldest daughter, who is a third-grader in elementary school, may be able to understand if he tells her not to touch the stones, his 3-year-old daughter wouldn’t understand and could put them in her mouth, Tsuboi said.
“Before turning the discussion towards lifting the evacuation order, I want you to re-examine the situation from the view of a parent,” he added.
When the time limit for staying in his temporary residence runs out in spring next year, Tsuboi plans to move to the city of Fukushima, where his wife’s parents live. Although he knows that decontamination work has lowered radiation levels in the Miyakoji district, he wants to be sure his children are safe.
The briefing ended after about three hours. The expressions of those leaving varied, in testament to the complexity of the situation.
MINAMI-SANRIKU, Miyagi Prefecture–A filmmaker who started documenting a fishing community in this town, three years before it was swept away by the tsunami on March 11, 2011, will soon release his work at mini theaters across the country.
“The People Living in Hadenya–Part One” was directed by Kazuki Agatsuma, who survived the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The 28-year-old was a researcher in folklore studies at Tohoku Gakuin University in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, when he first encountered the Hadenya district of Minami-Sanriku in 2005. He became interested in the tight-knit community, which revolves around a traditional mutual assistance framework, known as “keiyakuko,” found throughout the Tohoku region.
In February 2008, Agatsuma commenced filming in Hadenya, where mountains stretch almost to the coast. At the time, most of the 80 households in the community made their livelihoods from oyster, ascidian, and seaweed farming.
The film shows how keiyakuko dictates the lifestyles of the residents.
In the film, parents openly discuss the pros and cons of letting their children leave the community after they come of age, and the impact such an exodus might have on the survival of the keiyakuko culture.
Keiyakuko was traditionally started among families who had lived in the area for generations. But emerging households embarked on aquafarming from the 1970s onward, and they quickly gained economic clout. As a result, the surface of the ocean soon became covered with aquafarming racks, and the quality of seaweed began to decrease.
The film conveys the reality of Hadenya through various images of daily life such as a fisherman and his wife preparing for oyster farming and a traditional event called “oshishisama,” in which an exorcist lion dancer visits each household in March.
Agatsuma said there were times, however, when he struggled to get people to speak their minds, and filming did not go as planned. But the residents encouraged him to finish shooting. “You should make a film that makes people cry,” he said one of the people in the community told him.
On March 11, 2011, Agatsuma was heading to Hadenya to set the date for a movie preview with the local people who cooperated in the production. As the tsunami hit, he abandoned his vehicle and film equipment and sprinted up the mountain to safety.
The next morning, he managed to reach the community, only to find that everything had been swept away by the tsunami. Among the dead were fishermen and junior high school students with whom he had become close through interviews. Agatsuma joined efforts to help remove the enormous amount of debris and pump out the water from the community.
Four days after the disaster, Agatsuma returned to his hometown Shiroishi in the prefecture. In the wake of the catastrophe, he ruminated over the significance of depicting the pre-earthquake lifestyle of the Hadenya residents, whose houses were swept away by the ocean.
His first cut of the film turned out to be an epic six hours, while the second was trimmed to 56 minutes. But neither version satisfied the filmmaker. In the end, he settled on a final cut that runs 134 minutes.
Although the film shows some scenes of debris scattered throughout the community, Agatsuma said he decided not to dwell on the disaster because he was aiming to convey a different message.
“With this film I set out to tell a universal truth that no matter what happens, life goes on,” he said.