Namiko Morishita did not expect it to last this long. She and her family fled their home on Miyake Island in late August as volcanic activity on Mount Oyama intensified.
Nearly two months after the evacuation order was issued to the 3,900 islanders, Miyake remains a no man’s land.
The volcano is spewing up to 50,000 tons of poisonous sulfur dioxide daily, keeping even security officials away.
Miyake Island, about 180 km south of Tokyo and part of the Izu Island chain, depended heavily on tourism, fishing, agriculture and the construction industry.
Many of the island’s 2,000 workers are now unemployed, and the prolonged evacuation forces them to face a difficult, yet inevitable question: How much longer must they stay in temporary housing, away from their homes?
Morishita, now living in a public housing unit in the western Tokyo suburb of Inagi, said she is bracing for the worst-case scenario — permanent resettlement.
This month, she started to take business courses provided free at a vocational school run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
“I decided to acquire some skills so that I could get a job here quickly if the evacuation continues,” said the middle-aged woman.
She said she could eke out a living on unemployment insurance for the time being, but the prolonged evacuation poses a growing financial threat to her family, which includes school-age children, and so she must find work.
Morishita is studying bookkeeping and how to operate a computer at Hachioji Technical College five days a week, including three full days.
“I used to operate word processors on the island when I was working as a clerk,” she said. “But I have to be able to use a personal computer to work in Tokyo.”
When she started the course, she told her classmates — about 10 people of various ages — that she was an evacuee from Miyake Island.
“I had no reason to hide it. It would be known anyway,” she said. “Some young classmates showed sympathy and gave me words of encouragement.”
Morishita leaves home at around 7:30 a.m. for her 90-minute commute to school. She returns home after 6 p.m. to find the day’s chores waiting.
Spending little time to review lessons between chores, her day ends at around midnight.
“It is not that hard for me, because I like studying. But I am worried I might not land a job even if I study hard.”
Even though an immediate return to Miyake seems out of the question, many islanders are still hesitant about committing themselves to settling on the mainland.
According to a metro government survey of Miyake evacuees in late September, nearly 50 percent of 499 respondents hoped to land temporary jobs.
The islanders, however, are not desperate to the point that they will grab whatever is available, metro officials said.
When the metro government sponsored a job fair for evacuees in late September, about 150 businesses offered 1,600 jobs. Yet, only about a dozen islanders actually got work, a metro official said.
This was not because they were unqualified, he said. Many just did not apply for the jobs.
“Maybe a different job environment and the long commuting times discourage many from taking a job,” he said. “More importantly, I think they are still optimistic that the evacuation will end soon.”
Morishita, however, is resigned to starting a new life here — if she must. “I am preparing for the worst.”
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