FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - Having settled into a new life with his family outside Fukushima prefecture, Mr Hiroshi Ueno has no intention of returning home.
The 51-year-old, who was a florist in Minamisoma city - around 30km north of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant - now handles data management at a support centre for other evacuees.
His son was 18 and about to start his first job when disaster struck on March 11, 2011. The extended family of 10, including Mr Ueno’s elderly parents and his sister’s family, decided to evacuate the very next day.
At that time, there was no official word from the Japanese government for mass evacuation but many residents feared the worst - a meltdown from the nuclear plant.
“Most of us left our houses without even tidying up our homes which were damaged by the earthquake,” Mr Ueno told The Straits Times.
“No one knew what would happen next.”
They packed only the bare essentials into their car and began their journey as evacuees. Over the next five days, they drove from one place to another before finally arriving at Yonezawa city where they now live. Their former home in Minamisoma had become a no-go zone.
It was only a year later that Mr Ueno and his wife were allowed a brief visit back to retrieve their important documents and other belongings.
“Wearing protective suits, we got on a bus with others who were from the same area,” he said. They were allowed to stay for only two hours and had to wear dosimeters to keep track of radiation levels.
Five years on, he would rather not return home.
“There are many issues like housing, compensation and security that have yet to be fully resolved.”
Damaged and worn out, the house will soon be demolished for redevelopment. But Mr Ueno will not be returning.
“Even looking at it is painful,” he added. “But for my parents, the house is full of memories... it is something that they couldn’t bear to let go of.”