Japan evacuees: New year, new baby

Image caption,
Iroha was born eight months after the earthquake and tsunami

The Saito family used to live in Haramachi-ku in Minamisouma, inside the 20-30km (15-20 mile) zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. They evacuated to Tokyo and have begun a new life there. One year on, Dai Saito reflects on 12 turbulent months.

Our family grew by one member last year, which allowed us to welcome 2012 with a feeling of renewal. At the same time, one year has passed since the earthquake and I am sad because the problems with the Fukushima nuclear power station are not over yet.

We are still living in Koto, Tokyo, in the same flat that the Tokyo metropolitan government provided for us after we evacuated from Minamisouma in May 2011. When I first came here, I was impressed by all the skyscrapers but after 10 months, I have become used to city life.

Image caption,
Dai Saito and daughter Yutsuki, son Sawato and daughter Iroha

Though my employment started as a part-time job, I am now working as a manager and main coach to the infant group at a futsal [indoor football] centre which opened close to our flat in July. It is sometimes hard work - every day until late - and it is not really the same as my old coaching job. But I am very happy because I have a job involving football, futsal and coaching children.

Iroha was born on 10 November 2011. The thing I am most glad about is that she is in perfectly good health, no abnormalities at birth. She was inside my wife for eight months after the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident and our biggest concern was whether she would suffer any ill-effects from the radiation.

My wife is now careful about food and is breastfeeding Iroha. We are choosing products produced in areas without serious contamination. I didn't care about these things before but we would like to do as much as we can.

No luxuries

Since Iroha was born, the whole family has been very busy. The two older children are helping us as well. My elder daughter loves Iroha and talks to her a lot. From a different perspective our family's gender balance has changed (three females to two males now), so my son and I have become much closer.

My elder daughter often goes out with her friends straight after school without doing her homework. It seems she takes after someone... My second one, my son, goes to playgroup brimming with energy every day. He has also started coming to my infant futsal school and is enjoying playing football. They have both adapted very well to the change in their environment. Perhaps they are one up on us.

Image caption,
Baby Iroha has been welcomed by the whole family

Though the Tokyo metropolitan government originally said they would provide housing until November 2011, they have extended our stay in the same flat until May 2013. They have done this for everybody. It worries me that the reason has not been explained, especially as one month after the original scheduled end date of our stay, in December 2011 the Japanese government announced "cold shutdown" at the nuclear plant.

In terms of money, I have work, so we can live, but we can't afford luxuries. We don't plan to go back to Minamisouma at the moment, although I wish it could be an environment in which my baby could live safely. We don't know how many years that will take. But if the nuclear issues do get solved, we could return. First and foremost, we are able to stay in this flat until May 2013, so our biggest priority is planning what happens after that.

No news

At the beginning of the year, I had a chance to go back to Minamisouma and see my mother, who is still there. I didn't have much time but I told her about Iroha's birth. She says she doesn't feel like Iroha's grandmother yet because she has never seen her. Working and living alone seem to have had an effect on her and she did not seem quite as well as before, but I am happy I saw her for a little while.

I really hope my mother will hold my baby when we go back to Minamisouma, but I was reluctant to take her there in the current situation.

Almost all my friends who evacuated after the nuclear accident have started new jobs so they won't go back. Especially those friends who have children won't go back. The people who remain in Minamisouma are mostly only there because they have to work there.

The other day, I met my one of my friends who stayed in Minamisouma. He was really angry about a blog in which a person claimed to have internal radiation effects from Minamisouma. Residents in Minamisouma are already suspicious of the gap between media reports and reality. Why do those same citizens have to twist reality again? Although I have left, I really agreed with his opinion.

These days we don't hear much news or primary information about the nuclear plant. The media don't really report the amount of radiation and state of the power station. It is still discharging polluted water. Is information about the plant only for people who are particularly worried about it or involved in it? The government publishes information about the plant but does not disclose everything. Nothing has changed.

How do I feel about the disaster now? I think the real victims are the environment and the people right next to the disaster area. Speaking for myself, I have a new family member, I got a new job, I moved home… My life, my environment completely changed because of the disaster. It not just me - I think the same happened to all the victims.

This article was produced with the assistance of Mayumi Geater.