Elderly pair stay put in evacuated village

by Kazuma Kuroki

Kyodo

Toshi, 93, and Kinjiro Ide, 97, have chosen to live out their lives at their home in the village of Kawauchi, Fukushima Prefecture, where evacuated residents are still hesitant to return due to the radioactive threat from the nearby nuclear plant catastrophe.

The entire village was evacuated shortly after the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region, leading to three reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power station.

The couple took shelter in the home of their third son and his wife in Tochigi Prefecture.

But two months later they returned to the village, even though it is less than 30 km from the stricken nuclear plant.

For a while after their return, their oldest son insisted that the couple move in with him in Hyogo Prefecture.

But the couple chose to stay, telling him they are too old to move around so much.

Over the past 2½ years, Toshi Ide has grown vegetables in their garden. She prepares three meals a day and takes care of Kinjiro, who has a visual impairment.

During the war, Kinjiro, who was a member of the Imperial Japanese Army’s Kanto unit, was sent to Manchuria in northeastern China, where he sustained a bullet wound to the head that affected his eyesight.

After returning to Japan, he married Toshi in 1941. When the war ended he opened an acupuncture clinic in their home and continued to work until he turned around 90.

He is now losing his hearing, too, but can eat on his own.

Recalling the days during the 1970s and 1980s when two atomic power plants were constructed near their village, Toshi said, “We envied people on that side as roads there were paved and new municipal buildings were built.”

The Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 facilities are located to the east of Kawauchi.

Toshi said she found the rapid development of the area “impressive” and never felt endangered by the plants.

The couple said they are not too concerned about the radiation they are exposed to daily, but they do fear the village may fade away as young people hesitate to return.

About half of the roughly 2,800 residents have been spending four days or more a week in the village, but only a small number of people in their 40s or younger do so, according to the village office.

“I don’t think we’ll still be alive even if such a day comes that the village disappears, but don’t want to even think about it,” Toshi said.

She said her secret to living a long life is writing a diary, adding she can’t go to bed without finishing it for the day. She has been maintaining her journal for decades except for the upheaval from March 15 to 31 in 2011.

Referring to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Toshi, who loves watching sports on TV, said to Kinjiro, “It’ll be great if we’re still alive and can watch the event here at home as usual.”

  • Michael Radcliffe

    If only other residents of Fukushima and people in general had the commonsense of this elderly couple! By choosing to stay in their community they have avoided the stress and hardship of unnecessary evacuation that has already killed hundreds of people, and will undoubtedly live longer as a result. And regarding the radiation there, the amount in the Fukushima countryside is so low it has never been shown to affect human health, and international scientific bodies such as the IAEA and UNSCEAR are expecting no measurable health effects at all. In fact, the only real tragedy is that this couple were forced to evacuate in the first place.