Four years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami - A new lease of life for Fukushima’s elderly

By Hler Gudjonsson. IFRC

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Mikio Ara appears both happier and healthier than he was at the beginning of 2014 when almost three years had passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami destroyed his home in Rachihama, Fukushima Prefecture. After a period spent living in an evacuation center, Mr. Ara and his wife Tsutae were lucky enough to find rented accommodation where they lived for more than two years. Finally, just over a year ago, the couple was able to move into a permanent home which is part of a Red Cross funded community housing project in nearby Shinichi.

“We are so happy to have finally been able to return to a normal way of life,” says Mr. Ara. “I had always been in good shape, but after the stress and difficulties of losing all our property to the tsunami, I realized how much my health had deteriorated. Just walking a few meters made me exhausted.”

22 elderly individuals or couples live in the compound and Mr. and Mrs. Ara moved there when he retired at the age of 55. The construction of this community housing project was funded with donations from Red Cross and Red Crescent partners channeled through the Japanese Red Cross Society which has supported the construction of 798 homes since the disaster.

“I don’t have the same emotional attachment to my old house like many others, and living here at the compound is very convenient,” Says Mr. Ara. “We have close relations with our neighbors, and support each other a lot. Every month all the 22 residents meet to do something together. We are all good friends, and when somebody does not show up for the activities, we go and fetch them.”

Mr. and Mrs. Ara are already comfortably settled, and after a year of getting accustomed to their new home, they have established an active lifestyle.

“The period after the disaster was very stressful. It gave me a lot of health problems,” says the retired railway engineer. “I gained weight, I had liver problems, and my asthma got really bad, but after we moved in here, I started exercising regularly, playing tennis and walking every day. Now I am back in good shape and walk for an hour every day.”

His wife Tsutae has her own regular hobbies. “I do calligraphy and Tai Chi and I also play tennis”, she says. “I have made so many new friends. We are all elderly people living in this compound and I am really grateful to the Red Cross for giving us an opportunity to live here.”