Francis Markus in Koriyama
It’s nearing lunch time on a chilly, snow-dusted day at one of the temporary housing settlements for evacuees from the area near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, about 60km away.
At the new community centre, donated by the Japanes Red Cross Society, the kids from the day-care room have just gone home, so we have a chance to chat to the carers, while they tidy up the plastic toys.
“We can see that the children are a bit stressed from not being able to play outdoors and they would like to play in the snow and sand, but their parents say they mustn’t, because of the radiation,” says one.
Talking about stress, just then an earthquake rattles the building and the carers instinctively open the glass door to free up an escape route. But it quickly passes. To me, this would add to the stress. The people here take all but major earthquakes in their stride, but the fear is always there.
When things have settled, we decide to explore the temporary housing or kasetsu settlement a little. We bump into 65-year-old Mitsuyuki Wakamatsu, who is standing just outside his temporary home, waiting for his wife to come home from a cookery class.
He lives there with her, while his parents, who are 88 and 91, live just next door.
“This kitchen is like a toy kitchen, you can’t really do anything in here,” he complains jovially.
Proudly, he shows us a wooden board, which he has made to attach to the sink unit, giving extra space for chopping.
There are also hangers for kitchen rolls and other useful things which take up space in the kitchen, that has been fitted out with the set of six electrical appliances provided by the Japanese Red Cross Society. Appliances have been provided to over 125,000 families in temporary homes, supported with EU funding.
After persuading him to put some grit on the icy front step, we take our leave and continue our journey through the temporary community.
An elderly woman is gathering in her washing, being blown about by the wind. Her next door neighbour is looking out of the window, sees us and waves.
Her name is Kiku Yokota and she tells us she is 88 years old and invites us in for tea.
We chat to her about her family. She has several grandchildren and even great grandchildren. But despite being such a venerable age, she still goes for a walk around the temporary shelters each morning for an hour.
Mrs Yokota used to be a farmer, but radiation has taken that away. “Even if I were able to go back to my home, I wouldn’t be able to farm any more,” she says.
She still hopes to return to her house, even though most assessments hold that it will be years, possibly decades, before people are able to live close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant again.
“It was damaged by the earthquake, but the person who built the house, says they are willing to repair it for me,” she says. “But it has to be done quickly, because the person is also old.”
What the future holds, nobody here knows. But Mrs Yokota at least seems cheerful about her life and is looking forward to her son and grandchildren coming in a few days to take her to celebrate her birthday at a hot spring.
As we prepare to leave, her next door neighbour, finished with the washing, opens the front door and comes in for a chat. The two of them come from the same area, and that clearly helps them to face up to their new life in this far from perfect environment.