Moving on with their lives, supported by Red Cross

By Francis Markus, IFRC

Fukushichi Watanabe seems to have a thing about pine trees. He goes back to his farm inside the restricted area near the Fukushima nuclear plant at least once a week to make sure his trees are all right. But he now also has an attractive Japanese white pine to look after outside the new home which his son recently bought for the family.

Mr Watanabe, 77 and his wife Katsu, 75, used to live in temporary accommodation, which he says was difficult. “e had no space to move around and it was very stressful,” he says.

Still, things have not been plain sailing for the couple, because Katsu was hospitalised twice in the past two years, first with kidney stones, then again after a heart attack.

“I had never had to do any cooking for myself before, so it was really hard for me to get used to, but I visited her in hospital every day,” says Mr Watanabe.

Red Cross nurses support

Along with around 2,000 other nuclear evacuees, many of them from the same town of Namie, just a few kilometres from the Fukushima nuclear plant, the couple are visited by Japanese Red Cross Society nurses who talk to them about any health issues they might face.

“For many people from Namie, it is very stressful because they want to keep secret from their neighbours where they come from, so that people don’t feel jealous and resentful of the help they receive from the government,” says Red Cross nurse Naomi Nagakawa.

She doesn’t have any easy fix for the problem. But she and her colleagues at the local Red Cross health centre for Namie residents focus on providing health and psychosocial advice, and activities such as massage and calligraphy which help people to relax.

“When I try to explain to people here that, although we have homes in Namie, we can’t go back to live in them because of the radiation. I think they understand that we are not being unfairly privileged, but it takes time to get the message across,” says Mr Watanabe.

No time scale for return

What makes things difficult is that the government has not given any time scale by which people from the worst-affected areas might expect to return to their homes to live – the radiation levels remain too high. “If they did give us some idea, then it would be easier,” he says.

In the meantime, all they can do is make themselves as comfortable as they can in their cosy but cluttered house – and for now at least, keep on making sure their pine trees back home and here in the garden are all right.