“The ground is contaminated with radiation – I tell my little boy not to touch it. Once I dropped my cell phone and was afraid to pick it up.” That’s life in broad swaths of Fukushima Prefecture these days, 14 1/2 months after a megaquake and tsunami generated a triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Aki, 24, works in a snack bar in Minamisoma, 20-odd km from ground zero, and struggles against the odds for normality. So do several other young people Friday magazine (June 1) talks to. They come from various walks of life but have this in common: they live in Fukushima by choice. Why?
“Our first thought,” explains Aki, speaking of her family, “was to get as far away from the nuclear plant as possible. But the government misled us. We went where they said was safe and kept ending up in the worst hot spots. So finally we decided home was safest.”
That flies in the face of the collective wisdom of 160,000 people who still cannot or dare not return home, but when nobody really knows what to do, who’s to say she’s wrong?
Her son is five years old. Aki was 19 when she gave birth and 21 when she divorced. She raises the boy with the help of her mother and older sister. When the snack bar she’d worked at before the disaster reopened last August, she was as happy to go back as snack “mama” Kazumi Motoyama was to have her.
“The staff are all younger than me,” says Motoyama. “I worry about what the radiation will do to their chromosomes. It would have been irresponsible to ask them to come back. When Aki did come back, I cried for joy.”
Yoshie Komura, 28, stands out among those Friday speaks to as the only one with no Fukushima roots. She’s from Tokyo. She’d been an office worker at a moving company, getting more fed up with each passing day with city-style work and “cold, heartless” city-style life. She yearned for the country, nature. In January 2011, she hooked up with an NPO and arranged to be sent to Fukushima to do agricultural research. She was about to leave when the quake struck. She left anyway, taking the train as far north as it could go and then hitchhiking. Her destination was Nihonmatsu, right in the thick of the radiation crisis. “I knew nothing about radiation,” she says. “All I knew was I wanted to farm.”
Rumor has stamped all food produced in Fukushima as unsafe. The least she can do, she felt, was help tamp down rumors with solid data. Her one-year contract with the NPO now over, she and her husband remain, raising, tomatoes, rice and chickens – hoping for the best.
Youngest among Friday’s interviewees is 19-year-old Koki Horikawa. “I like the place I’m from best,” he says simply.
His family home in Minamisoma was half destroyed by the quake, and the next day came orders to evacuate on account of radiation. Horikawa had just graduated from high school and was due within days to start work at a bus company. The job evaporated in the crisis. He and his family lived in shelters for a time.
TV reports of how Fukushima was becoming synonymous with radioactivity and contamination got to him, he says. He’d lived in the vicinity of Fukushima No. 1 all his life without giving it a thought; now, suddenly, it was shaping his life. It seemed to pose a challenge, and he made up his mind, against his parents’ wishes, to stay. He got a job at a fish processing plant in Iwaki. “If young people like me leave,” he says, “Fukushima has no future.”© Japan Today