JAPAN | Fukushima parents fret for kids

Posted on August 3, 2011

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JAPAN | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | 3 August 2011

FUKUSHIMA–The degree of concern among parents in Fukushima Prefecture is reflected by the revelation that as many as 2,300 children have left private kindergartens in the prefecture due to worries over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Two thousand of the children in question have either transferred to kindergartens outside the prefecture or stopped attending kindergarten altogether, according to an association of private kindergartens in the prefecture.

Parents decided to act to protect their children’s health, even though separating their children from their friends and teachers risked causing stress and anxiety.

Many kindergartens in the prefecture have taken measures to protect youngsters from health hazards, such as removing radioactive soil. But families with kids continue to leave their hometowns as the central and local governments’ response to the crisis fails to reassure parents.

Kumiko Yoshida, 30, has evacuated from the Haramachi district in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, to an apartment in Mitsuke, Niigata Prefecture, with her two daughters–Chinatsu, 9, a third-grade primary school student, and Koharu, 5, a kindergartner.

“I’m scared of making my children live [in Minami-Soma] because I think their health might be damaged,” Yoshida said.

Her husband, Hidetoshi, a 29-year-old company employee, lives apart from his wife and kids. He stays at his parents’ home in Shinchimachi, Fukushima Prefecture, because of its proximity to his workplace.

Koharu has started attending a day care center in Mitsuke. Though she is usually quite happy at the nursery, she sometimes complains: “I want to go back to my kindergarten. I want to see my teacher.”

Koharu had demonstrated a talent for calligraphy at her old kindergarten, and has said to her mother, “It’s too bad [the day care center] doesn’t have calligraphy lessons.” The kindergarten is keeping Koharu’s belongings on hand, and is ready to welcome her back any time.

Staff there have stayed in touch with the family via telephone and e-mail, which is how Yoshida learned many other mothers have left Fukushima Prefecture with their children while their husbands have stayed behind.

“I feel kind of relieved. I was feeling kind of guilty but that has lightened up a little,” Yoshida said.

She would love to return to life in Minami-Soma, but is unable to ignore her concerns about radiation.

“I hope [Koharu] will be able to graduate from the kindergarten that took such good care of her, but we can’t go back unless the situation improves,” she said. “It’s a dilemma for us.”

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A schoolmaster’s struggles

The Yomiuri Shimbun

“It reads 0.25 microsieverts per hour. This level poses no risk,” said Minoru Hosoya, director of Misono Kindergarten in the Hokida district of Fukushima.

On a recent day, Hosoya was using a dosimeter to check radiation levels on a terrace facing the yard of his private kindergarten.

The device’s reading was far below 3.8 microsieverts per hour, the level at which the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry imposes restrictions on outdoor activities.

Due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the kindergarten started checking radiation levels in and around its facilities on its own, e-mailing the data obtained to the parents of its pupils.

“We’d like to reassure parents that the radiation level [at our kindergarten] is low,” Hosoya said.

The kindergarten also took steps to eliminate radioactive substances, such as washing sludge from drainage ditches, where radioactive materials easily accumulate.

It set up a water purifier so children could drink tap water safely.

Moreover, it bought five air conditioners for the facility so that children could play more actively indoors.

Part of these costs is covered by public funds, but Hosoya said, “We’ll have to pay about 5 million yen ourselves, even considering the public funds.”

Despite such efforts, the kindergarten’s enrollment dropped by 15 children, and three of those who remain enrolled are no longer attending.

“The drop-off in the fees we’re receiving is equivalent to the budget for the salary for one teacher. But I can’t just fire a teacher, because they rely on the kindergarten to make a living, and there is trust between teachers and children,” Hosoya said.

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