Many of you who experienced the Christchurch earthquakes will have a good understanding of the media - its there when all the action is happening but disappears after a while and yet everyone is still dealing with the aftermath. Its much the same here in Japan.
It has nearly been a year since the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (March 11) and there isn`t a lot we see on TV about it at home anymore. Those of you who know me, know that my sister lives in the Fukushima prefecture and was forced to leave her home when the nuclear power plant went into meltdown mode. At the time this was a stressful situation for everyone in our family. Now she is back at her house in Iwaki - this is only due to the fact that the wind happened to be blowing in the other direction during the meltdown her luck has been another towns disaster. I have only been here for two weeks and I already know way to much about radiation....for e.g. radiation is absorbed by nature so when walking the dog it is best to walk in the middle of the road away from the trees and grass. It is also good to stay away from the drains as it also collects there. My sister has a good friend Yuri and she has access to a Geiger counter so my sister is able to take regular readings of the radiation levels. The most up to date one was this week and it was good to see that the radiation levels have halved and are nearly back to pre- disaster levels.
My sister is one of the lucky ones......today I spent the day visiting people who have lost everything either by the Tsunami or being evacuated from their homes due to the nuclear power plant............
This morning I met Yuri down at the local cafe that is set up for evacuees as a place to come and spend time with others. Yuri volunteers a lot of her time to work with and help people affected by the disaster and in short she is one of the most generous and thoughtful people I have met in a long time. She was kind enough to sit with me and help translate so I was able to hear people`s stories.............
Monma - she lived in Okuma which is a town 3km`s a way from the nuclear power plant. After the earthquake her and her husband hopped in the car and drove away to somewhere they thought was safe. Her husband believed that everything would be fine at the nuclear power plant - it had been for the last 40 years. They slept the night in the car and the next day woke to see people fleeing. They were told to hop on a bus that took them to a town in the mountains. It was only on the bus that the whispering started and they learnt it was because of the power plant - they were never given any official information from the government. They thought maybe they could go back in a few days time. They are still waiting to go home.....its quite likely they will never be able to live in their home again.
There were 5 towns that were evacuated following the nuclear power plant disaster - they are now ghost towns. There are reports of animals running wild (owners didn`t have the chance to take their animals with them - how did they even know they weren`t coming back) rubbish stinking out streets, and people`s homes being looted.
Kaori Hamano is new to Iwaki she has only been in town for two days. She survived the Tsunami in her town Minamisoma but her husband`s parents and grandparents were killed in the neighbouring town. They never found the bodies of her grandparents, they had been in their home which was metres away from the shore. She said that when they arrived at where the house should have been there was so much destruction that they couldn`t work out where the house had stood. Her husbands parents bodies were found as they had been out visiting. She told me about a famous picture of a train that had been washed away by the Tsunami, the trains carriages had been washed into the shape of a U. Her daughter had been on that train - and survived! Until recently Kaori had been living in the Fukushima city in an apartment with 14 other people! Her husband had been transfered to Iwaki and she has come to join him. She told her story with such poise I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from crying.
These were only two stories of thousands and thousands of people........Those that lost their homes in the Tsunami or evacuated from the nuclear power plant "red zone" have been moved to many different areas throughout Japan. Quite a few have been relocated to my sister`s town here in Iwaki. After lunch Yuri took me to visit and evacuee village.
Here is a map of the layout of the compound - each tiny yellow square represents someones house (and the houses are just about as tiny as the squares).
Each house has a small room for living and sleeping and small kitchen/eating area and a bathroom. Adequate for one - but a whole family?! The houses themselves remind me of packing crates - its winter here at the moment and its freezing!
Yuri and I walked about the village and she noticed one that didn`t looked lived in I had a peep through the window and I am not sure who got the biggest fright me or the lady inside! Apparently I will be the talk of the town tomorrow - who was the lady in the pink jacket???
This one strip of building has 6 "houses" in it!
While we were visiting I met with the man who is in charge of the organisation of this village. He and his wife had to leave their homes as they were only a few km`s away from the nuclear power plant. It was the same story again of no information being passed to them from the government and having no idea that they might not ever be able to return. They asked me if I had been to the ocean yet. I replied I hadn`t but would like to. His wife said to me that if I hadn`t seen it that maybe I wasn`t suppose to and seeing the ocean in New Zealand would be a much better thing. I have to say I agree with her.
Before I left I noticed my coffee cup and on it read Kizuna - my sister explained to me that it means a bond or relationship between people. Every year a priest in Kyoto announces to the people what this years special Kanji is - last year the "word" was Kizuna. In a word that is how I felt about my day.
Thank you to those who shared their stories with me I appreciated your honesty and was humbled by your strength.