National | Regional Voices: Fukushima

At Fukushima's ground zero, a town slowly comes back to life

Fukushima Minpo

Shigeru Niitsuma moved back into Okuma’s Ogawara district on June 1 — the first day residents were allowed to move into disaster-relief housing since the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant forced them to leave town in 2011.

“I feel at home in Ogawara, where I was born and raised,” said the 70-year-old, who carried a washing machine and TV set into his new home.

It makes him smile to water the marigolds and other flowers in his new garden.

The evacuation order for the neighborhood was lifted in April after decontamination work lowered radiation levels there.

Before the crisis, he was a farmer who grew rice and vegetables. Now he lives in the unit alone while his family remains in Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, where they fled during the nuclear crisis.

The house where he used to live in Ogawara had to be demolished because of damage caused by boars, dogs and mice.

Niitsuma still visits it from time to time to tend to his flowers and vegetables and participate in neighborhood watch duties.

“It will be best if young people come back, which will revive the town,” he said. “In the meantime, I want to show everybody that it’s safe to return.”

Akiyoshi Fushimi, 68, and his wife, Teru, 66, moved into their disaster-relief unit from Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. The Great East Japan Earthquake struck just three months after they had built a house in Okuma, which co-hosts the now-defunct power plant.

Though they can’t return to their former home, which remains in a no-go zone, it still brings them joy to live nearby.

As they entered their new home, the couple brought in a painting of hollyhocks made by Teru, taking a moment to appreciate the work.

The couple said it was difficult to be happy while thinking about those unable to return, but they agreed it was important for those able to return to do so.

The disaster-relief housing in Ogawara includes 40 shared units and 50 two- or three-bedroom units with kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms. Workers were still coming and going on June 1 to get them ready and help people move in.

As of Friday, the town was still recruiting potential residents for the shared units.

In the meantime, to cater to residents and construction workers in the area, a convenience store opened on June 3 right in front of Okuma’s new town hall.

Yamazaki Shop sells about 700 products including bread, bento, instant noodles, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, general supplies and newspapers. With about 30 sq. meters of floor space, the tiny store is intended be a makeshift facility until a commercial complex under construction in Ogawara is finished.

For now, the store is scheduled to operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays. It will be closed on Sundays except for special events.

On the first day, residents and construction workers came in to search for lunch.

“I want to build up this store together with customers,” said the manager, Takashi Akama, 29. “If there’s a product people want, they should feel free to let me know.”

This section features topics and issues from Fukushima covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on June 2 and 4.