Fukushima disaster 10th anniversary | Japan seeks 'recovery of people's hearts' More than 30 trillion yen ($280 billion) has been spent on reconstruction so far — but even Reconstruction Minister Katsuei Hirasawa acknowledged recently that while the government has charged ahead with new buildings, it has invested less in helping people to rebuild their lives, for instance, by offering mental health services for trauma.
March 09, 2021 / 02:22 PM IST
Ten years after Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, the lives of many who survived are still on hold. On March 11, 2011, one of the biggest temblors on record touched off a massive tsunami, killing more than 18,000 people and setting off catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Nearly half a million people were displaced. Tens of thousands still haven't returned home. The Associated Press talked to people affected by the disasters about how far they have come — and how much more needs to be done. (Image: AP)
Yasuo Takamatsu, 64, lost his wife, Yuko, when the tsunami hit Onagawa, in Miyagi prefecture. He has been looking for her ever since. He even got his diving license to try to find her remains, and for seven years he has gone on weekly dives — 470 and counting. “I’m always thinking that she may be somewhere nearby,” he said.Besides his solo dives, once a month he joins local authorities as they conduct underwater searches for some 2,500 people whose remains are still unaccounted for across the region. Takamatsu said the city’s scars have largely healed, “but the recovery of people’s hearts ... will take time.” He said he will keep searching for his wife “as long as my body moves.” “In the last text message that she sent me, she said, ‘Are you okay? I want to go home,’” he said. “I’m sure she still wants to come home.” (Image: AP)
Hazuki Sato was 10 when she fled from her elementary school in Futaba, home of the wrecked nuclear plant. She's now preparing for the coming-of-age ceremony that is typical for Japanese 20-year-olds, hoping for a reunion in town so she can reconnect with her former classmates who have scattered. Despite horrifying memories of escaping from her classroom, she still considers Futaba her home. After studying outside the region for eight years, Sato now works for her hometown — though from an office in Iwaki, another city in the Fukushima prefecture. Sato has fond memories of Futaba — a family barbecue, riding a unicycle after school and doing homework and snacking with friends at a childcare center while waiting for her grandma to pick her up. “I want to see this town become a place of comfort again,” she said. (Image: AP)
Yuya Hatakeyama was 14 when he was forced to evacuate from Tomioka after the disaster. Now 24, the former third baseman for the Fukushima Red Hopes, a regional professional league team, is in his first year working at the Tomioka town hall — but he still hasn't returned to live in the town, joining the many who commute into it from outside. “I want to reach out to the residents, especially the younger generation, so they know their home is still here,” Hatakeyama said. One day, he said, he wants to see young families playing catch, like he used to do with his father. (Image: AP)
About 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of the wrecked nuclear plant, rice farmer Naoto Matsumura defied a government evacuation order a decade ago and stayed on his farm to protect his land and the cattle abandoned by neighbors. He's still there. “It took hundreds of years of history and effort to build this town, and it was destroyed instantly,” he said. “I grew up here ... but this is nothing like a home anymore.” Because it took six years to lift the evacuation order, many townspeople already found jobs and homes elsewhere. Half of the former residents say they have decided never to return, according to a town survey. “Who wants to come back to a place like this?” Matsumura asked. “I don’t see much future for this town.” This spring, for the first time since the disaster, the 62-year-old farmer plans an experimental rice planting, and to expand his beekeeping efforts. “I will stay here until the end of my life," he said. (Image: AP)
Just a month after a tsunami as high as 17 meters (55 feet) smashed into the city of Rikuzentakata, Michihiro Kono took over his family's soy sauce business. That he was even able to continue the two-century-old business is a miracle, he says. The precious soy yeast was only saved because he had donated some to a university lab. “This is a critical moment to see if I can do something meaningful in the coming 10 years,” said the ninth-generation owner of Yagisawa Shoten Co. “I was born here, and now I’m at the starting line again.” Kono often thinks of the people killed by the tsunami, many of whom he used to discuss town revitalization plans with. “Those folks all wanted to make a great town, and I want to do things that will make them say, ‘Well done, you did it,’ when I see them again in the next life,” he said. (Image: AP)