The following is the testimony given by Ms. M, a mother who had decided to relocate her family from their home in Fukushima, at a symposium on discrimination organized by the Kyodan Buraku Liberation Center, held in June 2014 at Wakamatsu Sakaemachi Church
Resisting the calls to just “forget about radioactivity”
Ms. M and her family evacuated from a certain city in the Nakadori district of Fukushima Prefecture, close to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, to the Aizu district of Fukushima and stayed there until March 2014, after which they moved to a neighboring prefecture even further away from the power plant. “When I look back on the days immediately following the earthquake,” she says, “I deeply regret that we did not relocate right away. I had let my children be exposed to radiation because I was ignorant and indifferent about society and the nuclear power plant.”
The family was living in an apartment when the great earthquake hit, and she evacuated to her parents’ house in Fukushima Prefecture with her two sons, a first grader and one-year-old. She expected that the Japanese government would evacuate them if the nuclear power plant was truly dangerous. However, she watched in dismay as the neighborhood continued to lose residents, and she finally decided to evacuate her family to Aizu. Although they returned to their home once, she felt uneasy about the continued inaction of the central government and went to a temporary shelter in a nearby prefecture. When that shut down, she decided to relocate her family to Aizu, as that was the only place with enough distance from the power plant, but from where her husband would still be able to commute to work, thereby allowing the family to remain together.
Most of the people who voluntarily evacuated moved outside of Fukushima Prefecture. There was little radioactive contamination, and certain housing facilities leased by Fukushima Prefecture were provided free of charge. The evacuees were also allowed to maintain their residency in Fukushima and so were able to receive various administrative services from the areas they originally lived in and were also able to send their children to public schools around their temporary homes. For these reasons, the evacuees had fewer burdens placed upon them.
However, unlike the people forced out of their homes in the mandatory evacuation zones, no support is provided to those who voluntarily relocate within Fukushima Prefecture. Housing facilities were taken over by the local government and provided to the forced evacuees, leaving little availability for those who voluntarily evacuated by themselves. Mrs. M appealed to the local government to permit voluntary evacuees to enter such housing facilities, but she was told that priority was given to evacuees from the designated evacuation zones. As school was starting in the spring, her family had to move to Aizu on their own, paying for all expenses out of their own pockets.
When the forced evacuees finished their relocation in October, she questioned local authorities again about housing availability, but their response was cold, saying that there was nothing available for the voluntary evacuees. During that time, the mortgage on their original house, the rent and cost for living in their new home, and tuition fees for their children’s private school (instead of public school, as children from outside the designated area were not allowed to attend) piled up. Her efforts to persuade the government to allow her family to enter the evacuation housing facilities were treated as nuisance claims, as they had not been forced out of their homes in the beginning.
Eventually, she met others in the same predicament at the Information Center for Radioactivity in Aizu and began a movement, appealing to the local administration to accept voluntary evacuees into designated housing facilities for those displaced by the earthquake disaster. They went through appropriate channels, in accordance with the Disaster Relief Act, and submitted a petition to the Reconstruction Agency and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. In November 2012, the housing where certain voluntary evacuees lived was recognized as government housing, but there were conditions that applied. Only those with children and/or pregnant women were considered for government support, and there were limits to rental costs. Due to this, many voluntary evacuees had to continue to live without any government support.
In Aizu, Ms. M did not speak of having evacuated voluntarily, knowing she would be told that she acted like a victim when she fled from a safe zone, in overreaction to radioactive contamination. Consequently, her family would lose their place in the surrounding society. She cannot even contact her old neighbors and friends, as she harbors guilt that her family escaped while theirs did not. Not everyone had the means to escape, and those left behind begin to feel as if life has been denied to them and thus brew jealousy toward those who managed to escape. Relationships are divided and broken, and that division happens even within families. “My parents were against me in my decision to evacuate,” says Ms. M. “They told me that I was selfish to make my son transfer schools, when the government had declared our neighborhood a safe zone. I wondered myself, if I was only overreacting.”
They eventually sold their apartment, and the husband changed jobs. They also moved out of Fukushima Prefecture again. The family is able to live together, but they do not see eye to eye. “My husband says he agreed to move out of Fukushima to stop me from worrying so much about radioactive contamination,” Ms. M says dejectedly. “He threw away everything, and so he wanted me just to forget about radioactivity and move on. I thought that we would all be happy if we could all relocate and live together as a family and that we would see eye to eye, but differences in opinion still continue to haunt us.” It may be easy to forget about everything when living outside Fukushima, as there is little available information on the situation at the power plant and radioactive contamination. “But it’s also scary just to forget about what’s going on in Fukushima,” she continues. “The fact remains that we have been exposed to radioactive contamination. I do not want to return to the indifferent and ignorant person that I was before the disaster and repeat the same mistakes.” (Tr. KY)
—From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend), December 2014 issue Summarized by KNL Editor Kawakami Yoshiko
フ クシマに聴く 被 害者たちの証言