JAPAN | Woman tries to keep her evacuated hometown alive

Posted on July 7, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 7 July 2011

Emiko Ota holds a handmade booklet aimed at keeping evacuees together. (Hiroyuki Takei)

SAITAMA–As evacuees from the zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant spread out, Emiko Ota became concerned that residents of her hometown of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, might scatter to the wind, never to return as one community.

So, she is working hard to keep people from her hometown in touch with each other.

Ota, a 33-year-old company employee who now lives in Saitama, said “unless evacuees maintain the feeling of wanting to return home, reconstruction will not be possible.”

Ota is organizing gatherings in Tokyo for residents of Namie, including those who were displaced by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami or nuclear power plant crisis.

She also has issued a booklet containing messages from different evacuation places and created a website as a forum for Namie residents to stay in touch.

Ota lived in Namie until she graduated from high school.

Her parents and grandparents were forced to leave the town, which was in the evacuation zone of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, in mid-March. They now live in Shirakawa in the inland of Fukushima Prefecture.

With the central part of Namie in the 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the crippled nuclear power plant and the rest within the extended evacuation zone, all its 20,000 residents were asked to leave due to concerns over dangerous levels of radiation.

About 9,000 of them now live outside the prefecture, in 46 prefectures, many in Niigata, Saitama and Tokyo prefectures.

Many of the evacuees have small children.

“Due to anxiety about rearing children in an unfamiliar place and not finding a job, many are feeling isolated,” Ota said.

On May 29, she held the first Furusato-kai hometown get-together in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, announcing it through the Internet and other media.

About 25 people from Namie, including disaster victims, gathered. Some of them brought clothing and stationery to share with other participants.

They introduced themselves, talked about memories of Namie and discussed their lives after the earthquake. Four hours passed quickly.

Each participant posed for a photo, holding up a message.

“We will return to Namie together, all with smiles!!” one wrote.

“Let us walk a long road together,” another wrote.

The pictures were carried in a booklet published in early June. The 50 copies were presented to Ota’s acquaintances and evacuation centers.

With the help of volunteers in Saitama Prefecture, she created a website, Namie-machi Furusato Network (http://namieimonikai.com).

“Imonikai” in the URL is derived from a traditional autumn get-together in the Tohoku region to share a hot pot of soup containing satoimo potatoes and other vegetables.

“I included the word hoping that scattered Namie citizens will come together in the website in a similar way as they do at imonikai,” Ota said.

“I often ask myself if what I am doing has meaning when the goal is not visible. But I want to be of help for reconstruction.”

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Posted in: JAPAN