By Francis Markus in Yamada
The two 13-year-olds radiate a calm and healthy cheerfulness that’s reassuring in kids so young. It’s also a little surprising, since I’ve just been talking to a local education department official, who was telling me that parents here are still suffering from stress as a result of the disaster and are passing their unease to their children. He says the main issues are jobs, money and the conditions in temporary housing that families have been living in since the March 11 disaster.
I ask Kaito Ohkawa and Nao Nakamura about their parents. Kaito says that his father has a job provided by the local government in an oyster fishing cooperative. But he is anxious about when the authorities will make a decision on the location of new permanent homes. “I only see my parents at meal times, so it is not too bad for me,” he says.
“My mother is actually nicer too me now than before,” says Nao. Her mother initially got a job in a factory but had to give it up when she started to suffer from repetitive strain injury.
Living in prefabricated homes also poses significant challenges.
“It’s really cold at the moment because the walls are too thin and the windows are draughty,” Kaito says, when asked about the biggest challenge they face nearly a year after the tsunami washed away their homes.
“We had to choose between having a stove and a heated table,” says Nao. “We chose the stove because the heated table would have taken up a whole room, but it’s not safe to have it on at night.”
We’ve come to talk to the pair at their junior high school, where the Japanese Red Cross Society is handing over six school buses that have been donated to the town in order to help transport children to and from their temporary housing, which can be at least half an hour’s journey away.
With the amount of time they spend on sports training, every few minutes saved probably helps. Judo, basketball, running – and I’m sure the list goes on.
“I prefer to be out training with my friends, than sitting at home doing nothing,” says Kaito.
Nao too enjoys herself with sports, even though the training – coupled with homework – is hard. “I don’t get to bed until midnight, and I’m up again at 6am,” she says.
That’s my cue to ask them about education official Mr Furudate’s comment that local authorities have been trying to inspire a more disciplined lifestyle among the children at the dozen or so schools in town. Educators think they should get up bright and early and have a solid breakfast before coming to school. “But things have slipped back to how they were several years before the disaster,” he laments.
“Yes, many of my classmates do sleep very late, and some of them fall asleep in class,” Kaito acknowledges.
But it’s difficult getting a good night’s sleep in the temporary housing. “You can hear people snoring and shutting doors in the nearby houses,” says Nao.
Nobody seems to have a clear idea of when a decision will be taken on reconstruction – let alone when the process will actually begin.
So what are their hopes for 2012?
“I just hope there will be no more earthquakes,” says Nao.
“I hope that more shops will open in our town so it will gradually be a bit brighter,” says Kaito.
Sadly, Japan without earthquakes is an unrealisable dream, given the country’s geological makeup. They are going on even during our two-day visit to the disaster area. One can only hope that they won’t be major destructive ones.
As for the shops, we are just about to head into town to see how business is picking up and how the outlook is in this fishing town, which is gradually putting itself back together again.