By Mari Yamaguchi and Haruka Nuga
Ten years after Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe, the lives of many who survived are nonetheless on maintain.
On 11 March, 2011, one of many greatest temblors on report touched off a large tsunami, killing greater than 18,000 individuals and setting off catastrophic meltdowns on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Nearly half one million individuals have been displaced. Tens of hundreds nonetheless haven’t returned house.
More than 30 trillion yen (US$ 280 billion) has been spent on reconstruction thus far — however even Reconstruction Minister Katsuei Hirasawa acknowledged just lately that whereas the federal government has charged forward with new buildings, it has invested much less in serving to individuals to rebuild their lives, for example, by providing psychological well being providers for trauma.
The Associated Press talked to individuals affected by the disasters about how far they’ve come — and the way far more must be carried out.
Above: Yasuo Takamatsu prepares to take a diving lesson at Takenoura bay, Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan. Photo through The Associated Press/Koji Ueda
Above: Yasuo Takamatsu speaks with The Associated Press at Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan on Monday, 8 March, 2021. Photo through The Associated Press/Eugene Hoshiko
“As lengthy as my physique strikes”
Yasuo Takamatsu, 64, misplaced his spouse, Yuko, when the tsunami hit Onagawa, in Miyagi prefecture.
He has been in search of her ever since.
He even received his diving license to attempt to discover her stays, and for seven years he has gone on weekly dives — 470 and counting.
“I’m at all times considering that she could also be someplace close by,” he mentioned.
Besides his solo dives, as soon as a month he joins native authorities as they conduct underwater searches for some 2,500 individuals whose stays are nonetheless unaccounted for throughout the area.
Takamatsu mentioned town’s scars have largely healed, “but the recovery of people’s hearts … will take time.”
So far, he has discovered albums, garments and different artifacts, however nothing that belonged to his spouse.
He mentioned he’ll maintain looking for his spouse “as long as my body moves.”
“In the last text message that she sent me, she said, ‘Are you okay? I want to go home,’” he mentioned. “I’m sure she still wants to come home.”
Above: Michihiro Kono, president of Yagisawa Shoten Co, holds his firm’s soy sauce bottle, named “the miracle,” at his firm’s new headquarters in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, in 2015. Photo through The Associated Press/Eugene Hoshiko
“Starting line once more”
Just a month after a tsunami as excessive as 17 metres (55 toes) smashed into town of Rikuzentakata, Michihiro Kono took over his household’s soy sauce enterprise.
That he was even capable of proceed the two-century-old enterprise is a miracle, he says. The treasured soy yeast was solely saved as a result of he had donated some to a college lab.
For the final decade, Kono has labored to rebuild the enterprise in Iwate prefecture, and later this yr he’ll end development on a brand new manufacturing unit, changing the one which was destroyed, on the identical floor the place his household began making soy sauce in 1807. He has even launched a soy sauce named “Miracle” in honour of the saved yeast.
Above: (LEFT)Workers of Yagisawa Shoten Co, put together for soy sauce extractor of the corporate’s manufacturing unit in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan on Friday, 5 March, 2021. Photo through The Associated Press/Eugene Hoshiko (RIGHT) A employee of Yagisawa Shoten Co., checks soy sauce tanks of the corporate’s new manufacturing unit in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, in 2015. Photo through The Associated Press/Eugene Hoshiko
“This is a critical moment to see if I can do something meaningful in the coming 10 years,” mentioned the ninth-generation proprietor of Yagisawa Shoten Co. “I was born here, and now I’m at the starting line again.”
But challenges stay: His buyer base has been decimated. The metropolis’s inhabitants has plunged greater than 20 p.c to about 18,000, so he’s making an attempt to construct enterprise networks past town.
Kono usually thinks of the individuals killed by the tsunami, lots of whom he used to debate city revitalisation plans with.
“Those folks all wanted to make a great town, and I want to do things that will make them say, ‘Well done, you did it,’ when I see them again in the next life,” he mentioned.
“Who wants to come back?”
About 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of the wrecked nuclear plant, rice farmer Naoto Matsumura defied a authorities evacuation order a decade in the past and stayed on his farm to guard his land and the cattle deserted by neighbours.
He’s nonetheless there.
Most of the city of Tomioka reopened in 2017. But dozens of neighbouring houses round Matsumura are nonetheless empty, leaving the world pitch darkish at night time.
The Fukushima prefecture city’s principal practice station received a facelift. A brand new procuring centre was constructed. But lower than 10 p.c of Tomioka’s former inhabitants of 16,000 has returned after large quantities of radioactive materials spewing from the plant pressured evacuations from the city and different close by areas. Parts of the city stay off-limits; homes and retailers stand deserted.
Above: Naoto Matsumura speaks throughout an interview with The Associated Press at his house in Tomioka city, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Sunday, 28 February, 2021. Photo through The Associated Press/Hiro Komae
“It took hundreds of years of history and effort to build this town, and it was destroyed instantly,” he mentioned. “I grew up here … but this is nothing like a home anymore.”
Because it took six years to raise the evacuation order, many townspeople already discovered jobs and houses elsewhere. Half of the previous residents say they’ve determined by no means to return, in response to a city survey.
This has been true throughout the area.
In Tomioka, radioactive waste from decontamination efforts within the city are nonetheless saved in a no-go zone.
“Who wants to come back to a place like this?” Matsumura requested. “I don’t see much future for this town.”
For firm, Matsumura has a number of cows, a pony and a household of looking canine that assist him push back wild boars. The cows are descendants of these from neighbouring farms that he has saved, as a protest, after the federal government issued an order to destroy hundreds due to radiation fears.
This spring, for the primary time because the catastrophe, the 62-year-old farmer plans an experimental rice planting, and to increase his beekeeping efforts.
“I will stay here until the end of my life,” he mentioned.
Above: Yuya Hatakeyama, a Tomioka city official, walks by a brief storage location for luggage of grime with doable radioactive waste throughout an interview with The Associated Press as he guides reporters in a “difficult-to-return” zone in Tomioka city, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Friday, 26 February, 2021. Photo through The Associated Press/Hiro Komae
“Their house remains to be right here”
Yuya Hatakeyama was 14 when he was pressured to evacuate from Tomioka after the catastrophe.
Now 24, the previous third baseman for the Fukushima Red Hopes, a regional skilled league crew, is in his first yr working on the Tomioka city corridor — however he nonetheless hasn’t returned to reside within the city, becoming a member of the numerous who commute into it from outdoors.
Hatakeyama has bittersweet reminiscences of Tomioka. The space that’s now a no-go zone contains Yonomori park, the place individuals used to collect for a cherry blossom pageant. Decontamination work is being stepped up within the space and the city plans to raise the remainder of the no-go zone in 2023.
“I need to attain out to the residents, particularly the youthful era, in order that they know their house remains to be right here,” Hatakeyama mentioned. One day, he mentioned, he desires to see younger households enjoying catch, like he used to do along with his father.
Above: Hazuki Sato, a Futaba city official, visits a playground she used to play day by day till she evacuated attributable to a nuclear scare following a 2011 earthquake, throughout an interview with The Associated Press in Futaba city, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Sunday, 28 February, 2021. Photo through The Associated Press/Hiro Komae
“A place of comfort”
Hazuki Sato was 10 when she fled from her elementary faculty in Futaba, house of the wrecked nuclear plant.
She’s now getting ready for the coming-of-age ceremony that’s typical for Japanese 20-year-olds, hoping for a reunion on the town so she will reconnect along with her former classmates who’ve scattered.
Despite horrifying reminiscences of escaping from her classroom, she nonetheless considers Futaba her house.
After learning outdoors the area for eight years, Sato now works for her hometown — although from an workplace in Iwaki, one other metropolis within the Fukushima prefecture.
None of Futaba’s 5,700 residents can return to reside there till 2022, when the city is anticipated to reopen partially. An space outdoors a practice station reopened final March just for a daytime go to to usher in the Olympic torch.
Sato has fond reminiscences of Futaba — a household barbecue, using a unicycle after faculty and doing homework and snacking with mates at a childcare centre whereas ready for her grandma to choose her up.
“I want to see this town become a place of comfort again,” she mentioned.
Above: Hazuki Sato, a Futaba city official, walks round an elementary faculty she used to attend till she evacuated attributable to a nuclear scare following a 2011 earthquake, throughout an interview with The Associated Press in Futaba city, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Sunday, 28 February, 2021. Photo through The Associated Press/Hiro Komae
Bleed picture: Michihiro Kono, president of Yagisawa Shoten Co, stands at his manufacturing unit underneath development on Friday, 5 March, 2021, in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan. Just a month after a tsunami as excessive as 17 metres (55 toes) smashed into town of Rikuzentakata, soy sauce maker Kono inherited his household’s two-century-old enterprise from his father. Later this yr the ninth era proprietor of Yagisawa Shoten Co. will open a brand new manufacturing unit on the identical floor the place his household began making soy sauce in 1807. Photo through The Associated Press/Eugene Hoshiko