FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN – Retiree Mitsue Masukura, 63, who used to live in the coastal town of Namie, knows she will not be returning home anytime soon.
The Japanese government’s target is to declare all areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant livable by March next year (2017), except for three towns. Namie is one of the three. Certain parts of the town remain off limits because decontamination works have been suspended given the high radiation dosages.
Residents like Ms Masukura, a former fishmonger, are already allowed to return for only short periods during the day. They are not allowed to stay overnight.
Not that she has any plans to return.
She said: “Even if we move home, there will hardly be any amenities because many of the former merchants have moved out and started new businesses elsewhere.
“Besides, people still do not really feel safe about returning to a town so badly affected by the nuclear fallout.”
Despite official assurances of the contrary, her unwillingness to trust the authorities stems from a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy’.
In the immediate aftermath of the March 11, 2011, disaster, there was poor communication of the situation, and conflicting instructions, which led to a lot of speculation, she said.
“We didn’t know who said what or where we should go,” she said.
As a result, her family of five moved five times from town to town, ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) to ryokan, before settling in their current temporary living quarters in Fukushima city. Each unit is smaller than the size of a one-room flat in Singapore. Her family used to live together under one roof, but now stay next door to one another across three units.
She looks forward to the family buying a house and moving to Minamisoma next year, after her grand-daughter graduates from senior high school.
When asked how she felt about not being able to return home to Namie, she said: “It’s been already five years since we left. There are all these memories of the past, which will continue to live on in the mind.”