With an end to the volcanic activity on Mount Oyama nowhere in sight, evacuees from Miyake Island are facing an uphill battle in trying to secure sources of income upon settling into temporary housing in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Metro officials say it will be very difficult for the islanders to land a job here, given that many are aged and that the duration of their stay is unpredictable.
Last week, Yukio Imano, 62, appeared relaxed in the lobby of the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, where many evacuees were staying before moving to public housing units.
But he was upset about leaving the island, located about 180 km south of Tokyo. “I am at loss now. I have to find a job, whatever it is,” he said. “I have debts, which I would have been able to finish paying back by year’s end” if it hadn’t been for the evacuation.
On the island, he worked as a truck driver distributing school lunches. He said he had not received his August paycheck amid the confusion that paralyzed the volcanic island.
“The pay would not have been much because the schools were open only a couple of days in July before the summer break, but it still makes a difference,” he said.
It was not the first time Mother Nature played havoc with Imano’s life. About 10 years ago, a typhoon wrecked a bar he was running on the island. His debts accumulated as he invested in two eateries, which he later closed, he said.
Yet, for him, money was not much of a problem back home. “When I was on the island, I did not have to spend that much. But here, everything costs money,” he said. “I will do anything for work, but I need to be able to return to the island any moment the evacuation order is lifted.”
The metropolitan government and the Tokyo bureau of the Labor Ministry last week jointly set up a job counseling desk at the youth center for islanders seeking jobs.
According to officials, there were 55 people who sought advice on the first day, with 29 of them actually seeking employment. The officials said many of the job-seekers are aged 55 and over.
But amid the prolonged recession, conditions could not be worse for these older evacuees looking for temporary work.
The ministry has decided to subsidize employers who continue to pay their laid-off employees at least 60 percent of their regular salary, but the measure is limited to policyholders of unemployment insurance and only 511 islanders are eligible.
According to a figure taken in the 1995 census, the rest of the island’s roughly 2,000 workers — including about 300 working in farming, forestry and fisheries — are without income support.
Toshitaka Asanuma, 46, who worked in the forestry sector before he left the island, said he had little money to his name after spending 2 million yen for lung surgery two years ago.
The evacuation came four months after his wife had started part-time work, which was made possible only when their child turned 3 and could enter kindergarten.
However, Asanuma said his wife might not be able to work here because she was likely to have to take care of their child.
Nevertheless, he was optimistic about finding a job, saying he would be all right as long as he was not choosy. “I don’t mind getting dirty — I would be covered with volcanic ash anyway if I’d stayed on Miyake,” he said jokingly.
About a dozen business owners in the metropolitan area have offered to hire the islanders after seeing their plight. Yasuo Ikegami, 50, runs a “yakatabune” pleasure boat business in Tokyo’s Koto Ward that operates trips on and around Tokyo Bay. After reading a Miyake story in a morning paper, he felt the urge to help.
“I felt as though their problems were my own, and I thought I should do something for them,” said Ikegami, who has three employees. He admitted that his business has been in dire straits recently but added that he would hire one or two islanders.
“You know, giving money is easy to do, but I know that’s not what they want. People need work to lead energized lives. I can only pay 1,000 yen per hour, up to 8,000 yen a day, but Miyake people can come to work on a short-term contract.”
In this century alone, Miyake’s 813-meter Mount Oyama has erupted three times — in 1940, 1962 and 1983 — before the activity this year.
Muneo Matsumoto, 61, experienced the last two and said he did not flee the island until the eruptions this year. Matsumoto, the only tatami-mat manufacturer on Miyake Island had to abandon his old house after the last eruption, whose lava buried more than 400 houses in the Ako district.
The latest eruptions occurred while he was recuperating in a mainland Tokyo hospital, and the evacuation order was issued upon his return to the island.
“I was supposed to go back to work this fall, but I don’t know how long it will take,” he said. He has had no income since a hospitalization in June and now ekes out his living by borrowing money from acquaintances. But despite the volcanic horror — sure to be repeated — Matsumoto brushed aside the idea of leaving the island for good.
“It’s the place where I was born and grew up. I really want to go back as soon as possible.”
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