Rebuilding Lives Outside Fukushima, Japan

Much has been accomplished since the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but survivors and evacuees are still dealing with the long-term physical and emotional effects of the disaster. Many families are still living in temporary housing or moving from place to place after fleeing the disaster with little more than the clothes on their backs.

International Medical Corps is working with the Salvation Army Japan, CARITAS Japan, and Kojima Co., Ltd., a Japanese home electronics retailer, to support a distribution of essential items to vulnerable families that have evacuated from Fukushima where the nuclear power plant was seriously damaged resulting in the ongoing threat of radiation. Reaching up to 5,880 households (14,700 individuals), our distribution provides items such as heaters, portable stoves, and other household items to evacuees.

International Medical Corps’ Japan Country Representative, Yumi Terahata, and our team recently visited two young mothers living in temporary housing with their children. Although it’s been more than a year since the earthquake and tsunami, these women are struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy for their children during this time of transition.

Yukiko, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture
Yukiko and her daughter Marina were at home in Minami-Soma, a city located close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, when the earthquake hit. Her husband rushed home from his job at a metal factory and the young family quickly got into the car and drove inland towards safety. They left home with nothing and their apartment and all of their possessions were completely destroyed by the massive tsunami which devastated large parts of Japan’s eastern coast.

Yukiko’s family was offered temporary housing in Minami-Soma, but concerns about the effects of radiation on her young daughter made her reluctant to stay there. At first Yukiko and Marina went to stay with her parents in Ibaraki Prefecture, while her husband stayed behind in Minami-Soma living in temporary housing and continuing his job at the factory. Living more than 100 miles apart was hard for Yukiko and her family, so they began looking for an apartment in Yamagata City, where Yukiko’s husband could come to visit more easily. What the family hoped for more than anything was a sense of stability and a return to normal life.

Yukiko and Marina moved to Yamagata City in October 2011 and now her husband drives to Yamagata every weekend to visit. Yukiko knows she can’t go back to Minami-Soma any time soon, and she is coming to terms with the fact that she will live the next few years apart from her husband. An added cause of worry for the family is the expense of now supporting 2 households. This is why Yukiko was particularly grateful to receive some help from International Medical Corps’ winter distribution project.

When International Medical Corps delivered the basic household items she requested, Yukiko was especially excited to open a box containing a mini-grill pan, asking her daughter Marina what she would like her mom to make her for dinner!

Akemi, Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture
After the second explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Akemi, her husband and two young sons, Yusuke and Kenta, got into their car and began driving as far away from the plant as they could. The gas in their tank got them as far as Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture.

When they stopped at a restaurant and asked where they could find a place to stay, the owner suggested the name of a sleepy ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) nearby. When our Japan Country Representative Yumi visited Akemi and her family in mid-April, they were still living in the very old, no-frills ryokan more than a year since the disaster. Thirteen months after the disaster, they were still renting two small rooms at opposite ends of the hall and sharing a bathroom with the rest of the inn.

Although some families have been able to return to their hometowns, Akemi didn’t think it was safe to take her children back due to the threat of radiation. Akemi enrolled 8-year-old Kenta into a nearby school and spent the last year looking for somewhere more permanent to live. She finally found an old house nearby that she and her sons can move into at the end of this month. Akemi’s husband returned to Minami-Soma to continue running his family’s sweets shop. He has to work even on weekends and holidays so he can only visit Akemi and his sons once or twice a month.

When International Medical Corps visited Akemi, she was able to get a kotatsu (electric heated table) and an electric fan for her temporary home. She says the earthquake has transformed her family’s life and sighs when she talks about how hard it is for her to discipline her two rambunctious sons without her husband there. Her husband misses the family and so, the few times he can see them, he spoils the boys and showers them with little gifts like Pokemon figurines.

With support from International Medical Corps, Akemi and her family are adjusting to their new dual lives as the long-term consequences of the earthquake and tsunami are just beginning to become clear.

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