FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - For Mr Yasuhiro Abe, 52, seeing his wife and daughter means an eight- to nine-hour drive south from Fukushima to Kyoto.
The mother and daughter have been living as evacuees for the past five years, since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster in their hometown in Fukushima prefecture.
But unlike many others who were issued evacuation orders, they decided to uproot voluntarily because they are worried that harmful radioactive material could spread west with rain or snow.
His daughter was nine when the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant happened, Mr Abe told The Straits Times earlier this month (March).
The family first moved to the neighbouring prefecture of Yamagata before heading further away and finally settling down in the ancient city of Kyoto.
His wife and daughter now rent a home in Kyoto while Mr Abe has returned to his job as the general manager of a theatre where he has worked for almost 30 years. Now, he visits them twice every three months.
“Fukushima city and Koriyama city - inland areas within the prefecture - were never made evacuation zones despite heightened radiation levels right after the disaster,” said Mr Abe, who thinks that a factor could have been the higher population density in cities, compared to coastal towns.
He is skeptical that the heightened levels were still deemed safe.
“As far as possible, we want to raise our child in a place with lower radiation levels,” he said. “When she comes of age, she can choose whether or not to come back.” “As for myself, I’ll always be here.”
Five years on, he finds himself at a crossroads. “In March next year (2017), the Government will be stopping housing assistance for voluntary evacuees and if we want to continue living elsewhere, it will cost more money,” he said.
While the cost of living will become an issue, he is more concerned about ensuring that his daughter completes high school without disruption. She will begin high school, likely in Kyoto, next year.
“Parents like ourselves have to consider the impact on our children’s lives before deciding if we should relocate,” said Mr Abe.
“Of course, a part of me wants them to come back - for us to live together again.”