Japan quake evacuees: Starting again
- 9 September 2011
- From the section Asia-Pacific
Dai Saito used to live with his wife and two children in Haramachi-ku in Minamisouma, which lies inside the 20-30km "stay indoors" zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. He worked as a children's football coach. But he and his family have now left the area and do not know when they will go back. Six months after the disaster, he tells the BBC about his life now.
We live in Koto, Tokyo, in a flat for civil servants that the local government made available to evacuees. We are on the 29th floor with a night view over Tokyo, which we couldn't have imagined back home. The Red Cross supplied us with appliances like a fridge and a television. But I think it is a shame we have to pay our electricity bills to Tepco [the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant].
After the earthquake, I didn't have a job for about four months but I am now working as a manager and main coach to the infant class at a futsal [indoor football] centre. To tell the truth, I had given up on getting a job where I could use my experience. But just when I thought I had to get any job to support my family, my wife brought home a flyer about this opening which she found at the station in July. It was so lucky. Also, I am now a writer at a futsal magazine called "Pivo!". While it is hard to learn everything I need to know, I am very glad to be working.
There is a big supermarket near our flat. Best of all, there is Tokyo Disneyland close by, which is a nice location for my Disney fan family! We can have this life because the local authorities are supporting us. It will be difficult to live like this after they take back the flat next July, considering the cost of living compared to our income.
Our new baby is due on 11 November and there are two months to go. There is a big gap between the cost of maternity care in the big city and in the countryside, which is a worry but at least we don't need to worry about radioactivity.
As for my children, some of their fellow students are evacuees, and my kids play with them and others. I don't know too well how they are coping in their new school because I work from afternoon to late night so I don't have a lot of time to see them. However, I'm doing my best to talk with them whenever we have time.
Stay or go back?
My mother stayed behind in Minamisouma. I am not in constant contact with her but she is fine. I went back home for one day at the end of July and I saw the traditional 'Nomaoi' Shinto folk rituals. It is usually a grand three-day festival but it was reduced because of the situation. I heard it would not run at first but it is an important historic cultural asset and they opened to pray for the revival of the disaster area.
I was surprised that the scene hadn't changed much in Haramachi-ku, the area in Minamisouma where I used to live. Maybe I didn't see the change because I only stayed a short time. I did notice that rubble was piled up in one place and that petrol was available at a fair price again. It seems like more people have gone back because I noticed more cars.
All of my futsal team-mates stayed behind - I don't think many of my friends left Minamisouma. The factors seem to be family and job. My friends who have children left and friends who don't have children or have a job in Minamisouma stayed behind. It probably happened like that all over the area. When I think about the present situation and the fact that they have not solved the nuclear power plant problems, I think we shouldn't return to our home. I don't want to compromise - I'll go back when it is resolved.
It is impossible to estimate the effect of 11 March on my life. I never imagined one single day could suddenly change my job, environment, home town, my whole life. My children feel these changes even more strongly than us adults. The friends they used to play with, the playground they liked to play in - they disappeared so suddenly. I still can't ask them how they understand or accept these things.
Health-wise, we have no particular problems. We can have a test to measure internal radiation exposure and my daughter, who is eight years old, returned to Minamisouma the other day to have it. It is hard to understand why we have to go close to the nuclear plant to check our internal exposure. We haven't had her results yet.
I believe I was exposed to more radiation than my family because I stayed behind, whereas they evacuated quickly. I saw on the news that tests found radioactive materials on local council workers. I went outside a lot to help neighbours and distribute goods before I left. I haven't been checked yet but I believe I have been exposed.
My image of the government has changed a lot, though I didn't have a good impression of them to start with. The biggest reason is their repeated cover-ups. Shouldn't the first priority of government representatives be the safety of people when we are in a crisis situation? They should give correct information so we can act appropriately. I was disappointed with their lack of interaction, scrambling to hide the facts. I believe they still haven't given us all the facts yet.
When I look at people in Tokyo, it seems as if there was no earthquake on 11 March. This is because we can't find news about the nuclear situation in the mainstream media in Tokyo. Even though it is still unresolved, it looks like people aren't worried about it. Of course, some people are working hard towards reconstruction but unfortunately there are a lot of people who are indifferent, and counting the first kind is much faster than the second. Is it OK? Are they happy they don't know all the facts?
The future that I expected before the earthquake was destroyed completely by this disaster and the nuclear power incident. It is very sad to begin my life again from scratch. However, I draw lots of motivation from the people who I have met through this experience. The power this gives me encourages me to create a new future.
I think I will be a victim for the rest of my life, I will not be able to return home but I have to move on with this situation. I appreciate being able to talk about this and I gain the courage to step forward. Thank you so much.
This article was produced with the assistance of Mayumi Geater