National

No-go zones keep kin from burying deceased Fukushima evacuees at ancestral gravesites

In Fukushima, 3/11 fallout forcing remains to be stored at temples, ancestral gravesites to be moved

JIJI

The remains of Fukushima’s deceased evacuees are being left in limbo because radiation is preventing them from being buried.

In municipalities that remain off-limits because of the fallout from the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011, the inability of residents to return has put burials for their loved ones on hold.

Instead, many relatives are opting to leave remains in the hands of temples or moved their family graves out of their hometowns.

Choanji, a temple in a no-go zone in the town of Namie, is keeping the remains of about 100 people at a branch facility that was set up in the prefectural capital after the nuclear crisis began.

At the branch, a swordsmanship training room was renovated to enshrine remains that should have been buried in Namie.

“Evacuees don’t want to bury the remains of family members in places with high radiation levels,” said the branch’s chief priest, Shuho Yokoyama, 76.

A 66-year-old resident of Minamisoma visited the temple branch on Aug. 12 for the Bon holidays to pray for her elder sister, who died after evacuating the area.

Her remains are kept there because her family’s grave is located in a no-go zone in Namie; the remains of her sister’s husband, who died before the disaster, are already in the family grave.

“I am sorry that she is separated from her husband. I want their remains to be buried together,” the woman said.

To enter the no-go zone, residents need to submit applications to the municipal government in question.

The woman is unhappy with the system as she wants permission to enter the areas freely, at least during Bon, the traditional period for commemorating one’s ancestors. Since the disaster began, she has been unable to visit the grave of her brother-in-law.

At Choanji, 20 percent of some 500 families in the congregation have moved their ancestors’ graves to other areas.

Isao Kanno, 50, who hails from Namie but now lives in Tokyo, was in the area just before the remains of his father, who died two months before the meltdowns, were scheduled to be interred.

“I can’t be evacuated alone and bury the remains in the grave” in a no-go zone, Kanno said. “I’m considering moving the grave somewhere else.”

Some, however, worry their hometown ties could fade if they move their graves.

“Despite being designated a no-go zone, it is my hometown,” said a 57-year-old Tokyo resident who left the remains of one of his relatives at the temple branch.

“It is the land of my ancestors, so I’ve never considered moving the grave,” he said.