Ramen chef, 75, rebuilds by example

Kyodo

A 75-year-old ramen shop owner near one of the evacuation zones in Fukushima Prefecture is hoping his experience rebuilding businesses after two disasters will send a positive message to those who survived the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

Born in the town of Naraha, Tsutomu Nozaki moved from Fukushima to Tokyo when he was 18 and eventually opened his first eatery in Shinjuku Ward. He then relocated to Miyake Island, part of the Izu Island chain, and opened a shop there, attracted by its rich natural surroundings.

But after the eruption of Mount Oyama forced the entire island to be evacuated in summer 2000, he returned to Naraha to open a new shop.

Fast-forward to March 2011, when Nozaki was forced to leave his hometown again by the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Evacuating to Aizuwakamatsu, Nozaki opened a ramen shop by leasing a former pub near his temporary home late last December. Its customers include both residents and evacuees.

“I would die if I didn’t work,” said Nozaki, who keeps busy cooking and talking to patrons.

In Naraha, some 100 km from Aizuwakamatsu, people can only visit in the daytime. Although he wants to return to the town, Nozaki and other residents don’t know when they will be able to.

Many Fukushima people still can’t hunt for jobs until they find a place where they can live in peace.

“I’m 75, but even I can do” something, Nozaki said. “I want others to look to the future and do something.”