Former Fukushima teacher blogs to inspire students while fighting off cancer

Fukushima Minpo

The former vice principal of a junior high school in Fukushima Prefecture has been encouraging his former students by blogging while undergoing 11 years of treatment for cancer.

Yuki Sanbonsugi, 55, who fled to Koriyama after his hometown, Futaba, was evacuated to escape the radiation from the core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, became a junior high school teacher in 1981, after graduating from Senshu University.

He has taught classes in Iitate, Iwaki, Minamisoma, Katsurao, Namie and Tomioka — villages, towns and cities all close to the No. 1 power plant.

Eleven years ago, when he was vice principal of Tomioka Dai-ichi Junior High School, he was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma, a form of blood cancer, and decided to quit to concentrate on treatment.

Although he could not return to teaching, he gave lectures at schools and community centers to convey his thoughts on the importance of life.

In March 2011, the nuclear crisis forced Sanbonsugi to flee to several places in the prefecture, including the town of Furudono and the cities of Aizuwakamatsu and Koriyama, and even to Hokkaido.

Despite his hardships, he kept thinking about all the students he had taught. He was worried they might be in the throes of despair with their futures still unclear 3½ years into the nuclear crisis, or on the verge of giving up on returning to their hometowns.

“I want to support former students who are living as evacuees as much as I can,” said Sanbonsugi, who avidly updates his blog.

“Rather than grieving over what you cannot do, just simply do something you can do. Then, quietly wait for spring to come,” he recently wrote.

Hidefumi Sanpei, 35, one of his former students, works for the Tomioka Municipal Government, which ordered a full evacuation in light of the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns. As an official in charge of residential support, he helps evacuees deal with their worries and sometimes gets a tongue-lashing in the process.

As an evacuee himself supporting a wife and two children in new surroundings, Sanpei often got fed up with the work and his longing for his hometown.

He said Sanbonsugi’s blog gives him the courage to move forward. One phrase he always keeps in mind is: “Under the same sky, each one of us is living life to the fullest.”

Natsumi Yoshida, 33, who was one of Sanbonsugi’s students at Katsurao Junior High School, now teaches at a special needs school attached to Fukushima University. When the village of Katsurao was forced to evacuate, her former classmates were scattered all over the country.

Yoshida said she hopes to convey to her students a message she read in Sanbonsugi’s blog: “Planting seeds of kindness on the hearts of each and every one of us.”

This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on Oct. 4.