The Fukushima Prefectural Government, aiming to encourage residents to return to areas they evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, announced on June 15 its intention to end free rent for voluntary evacuees in March 2017, while continuing to provide limited support for a time.
Among such evacuees are families living in poverty, and the prefectural government intends to listen to the needs of these families while deciding on the details of its policy.
Many voluntary evacuees are living in private apartments, and their rent is free. Just like with forced evacuees from areas with evacuation orders placed on them, voluntary evacuees have had their free rent extended on a yearly basis, in accordance with the Disaster Relief Act.
At a press conference on June 15, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said, “The construction of publically-managed recovery homes (for evacuees) has made progress, and it will be difficult to maintain the emergency aid being offered under the Disaster Relief Act.”
As replacements for free rent, some measures the prefecture plans to offer evacuees include: financial assistance starting this fiscal year for moving into Fukushima Prefecture; financial rent assistance for low-income evacuees starting in fiscal 2017 and lasting a few years; and preparation of publically-managed homes both in and out of the prefecture for evacuees to move into. The prefecture will seek financial assistance from the national government in order to provide these services.
Starting in July, the prefectural government plans to open consultation meetings in regions with large numbers of voluntary evacuees regarding lifestyle support and returning to evacuated areas.
“We will think of a framework that allows us to respond to everyone’s individual wishes. We want to enrich the contents of our support policies,” said Gov. Uchibori.
The exact number of voluntary evacuees is unknown, but at the end of last year, the Fukushima Prefectural Government estimated there were 25,000 people, across 9,000 households. Five thousand, across 2,000 households, are believed to be in the prefecture, and 20,000, across 7,000 households, are believed to be outside of the prefecture. This year the Fukushima Prefectural Government and the central government, which pays for the free evacuee rent, have been in talks about how much longer to extend the free rent. Since last month, the prefectural government has been exchanging opinions with municipalities with voluntary evacuees in them. The Fukushima government reached the conclusion that, with radiation decontamination work having moved forward and living conditions in evacuated areas improving, in order to encourage evacuees to move back and become independent it is necessary to end the free rent.
The Fukushima Prefectural Government has also decided for now to set the end of the residing period for forced evacuees living in temporary housing structures at March 2017, with what to do after then to be dependent on factors including whether evacuation orders on restricted areas have been lifted.
For evacuees who have yet to register their new addresses, the government is planning to issue certificates based on the places where they live now. Such evacuees who have failed to register their new addresses are facing various difficulties when they receive administrative services, such as seal registration, and in their daily lives, such as car purchases.
To issue the new evacuation place certificates, the government plans to consider such measures as revising related legislation, reviewing the operation of administrative services and issuing instructions to business operators.
Before starting talks with the central government, the Fukushima prefectural government will talk with the municipal governments in areas where evacuees from the nuclear disaster live about problems to be cleared toward the issuance of the new type of residence certificate.
The central government unveiled the plan to issue evacuation place certificates during talks on Oct. 23 in Fukushima city with the Fukushima prefectural government on measures against the long-term evacuation of residents from the nuclear disaster.
An official from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, who is in charge of the project, told the meeting that no double residence certificate can be accepted under the Constitution.
In response to a request from the Fukushima prefectural government for new residence certificates for the evacuees, the official said the ministry plans to work out measures for issuing certificates based on places where the evacuees currently live without letting them transfer their original residence certificates to the evacuation places.
Prefectural government officials said the evacuees cannot resister their seals with offices of the municipal governments in the area they live now if they do not transfer their original residence certificates to the evacuation places from the places where they lived before evacuation. Such evacuees need to visit local government offices for their original residence places or file their requests with them by mail to receive certificates of seal.
In addition, the evacuees are required to show their residence certificates to mobile phone carriers or automobile dealers when they purchase phone handsets or cars. They also face such inconveniences over credit-card contracts as card issuers will send the cards only to the addresses on the evacuees’ residence certificates.
The 2011 special law concerning evacuees from the nuclear disaster limits the scope of its coverage only to a number of fields, such as certification of those who need long-term care and students’ enrollment into or change of schools.
A large number of evacuees have failed to change their residence registry as they love their hometowns and wish to return to them at an early date, according to municipal governments which have also moved their offices to other municipalities in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.
Katsutaka Idogawa, mayor of the town of Futaba which, together with the town of Okuma, hosts the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, said he hopes that the new type of residence certificate will be realized, noting some business corporations ask town residents to show their residence certificates in business deals.
An official of the Okuma municipal government said the new type of residence certificate would be convenient for residents who live in municipalities where the town has no branch offices.
Currently, the number of Fukushima Prefecture residents who have been forced to evacuate from their original residences to other places — both in and outside the prefecture — total 160,000.
Shunsuke Kita and Katsuro Oda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
YAMAMOTOCHO, Miyagi–Aya Nagaki has been staying in a tent with her 12-year-old son and her parents since the start of April. However, this is no family camping trip.
“I naturally wake up at 5:30 a.m. due to the sunlight and sounds coming from other tents nearby,” said Nagaki, 37, a life insurance salesperson.
Nagaki is staying in one of 33 white tents neatly lined up next to a central community center in Yamamotocho. The tent is only the size of about five tatami mats, but it affords more privacy than the crowded evacuation center set up after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and more space than her car. There is room inside for a wooden table, futon, hot-water bottles and some clothes.
Most of the about 100 evacuees living in the “tent village” had been taking shelter in their cars, rather than the cramped shelters where privacy is a rare luxury. But seven weeks after the disaster, Nagaki and many others are reaching their limit.
The March 11 tsunami flooded Nagaki’s house. She went to an evacuation center, with her family but was shocked by the crowded conditions where they had to live close to complete strangers.
She felt she had no choice but to live in her car with her family because it was difficult to move around the evacuation center because her 73-year-old father and 65-year-old mother have leg conditions that restrict their mobility.
However, Nagaki only started the engine when absolutely necessary because gasoline was in such short supply after the disaster. On days when it snowed, she was too cold to fall asleep.
Desperate to take a hot bath and find some respite from the harsh conditions, she stayed in a Japanese-style inn in Wataricho in the prefecture for three nights with her family at the end of March. It cost 85,000 yen for the four of them. “There’s no way I can afford to keep staying here,” Nagaki recalled thinking.
She decided to live in a tent, which was provided by the town government, rather than stay in her car due to fear about so-called economy-class syndrome, a condition that can affect people who stay immobile in one position for long periods.
Although the tent provided more privacy than the evacuation center, being exposed to the elements presented new problems. Strong winds blew away the tent once, and water seeped up through the floor the day after a heavy rainfall.
Nagaki wants a more permanent roof over her head. She has found a house she wants to move into in Tomiyamachi, about 50 kilometers from Yamamotocho, and has applied for a loan. Nagaki, who is currently taking disaster leave from her job, has her fingers crossed the loan manager will have some good news for her.
“I’m not sure if my loan will be approved,” she said.
Moving into homes a slow process
Thirty-three tents cover the gateball ground at a general gymnasium in Onagawacho, Miyagi Prefecture, where about 770 people are taking shelter seven weeks after the March 11 disaster.
The khaki tents were provided by Self-Defense Forces members who had seen the plight of disaster victims forced to live in cars because shelters were full.
Hiroshi Kashimura, 36, a company employee, serves as a “village head” who conveys information from town offices to evacuees in the tent village. Kashimura’s house was damaged in the disaster, so he stayed in a car for about 10 days until he could shift into a tent with his family.
His 8-year-old daughter goes to a primary school, and has become friends with other children in the tent village. People in the village sometimes share their food.
Kashimura’s wife, Satsuki, 36, said a bond had formed among the tent residents as they endured some dark times.
“We came to share a sense of unity while we were huddling around open fires to keep warm, rather than staying in the freezing cars,” she said.
However, living in a tent has its inconveniences. Fetching food and water from an evacuation center can be time-consuming, and it can be difficult to keep up with the latest information from the area.
Between 20 and 30 people are still staying in cars near the gymnasium. Some are waiting until a spot opens up in the evacuation center, having temporarily left the town.
In Onagawacho, the first group of 57 households is scheduled to move into makeshift homes from May 1. Temporary housing for a second group will be built soon. However, with 1,909 evacuees in the town as of Thursday, demand for these homes far outstrips supply.
Hironori Suzuki, planning section chief at the town office, is worried about the housing.
“We hope all the evacuees can move into makeshift houses within six months, but there are limited sites for construction because electricity and water haven’t been restored in some areas,” Suzuki said.
(May. 1, 2011)