Six Months on: Memories and an uncertain future
- Japan Diary 1 By Francis Markus in Yabuki, Fukushima Prefecture-


Mrs Yamada lights a short stick of incense and plants it in a bowl in front of the photograph of her late husband and the stone spirit tablet, which is Japanese people’s traditional way of remembering the dead.

I can see in this simple action the charge of emotion in this tiny 76-year-old woman, who was widowed only in December last year.

(Photo: Mrs. Teru Yamada tells us she would like to go back home where her husband lies buried, but that is impossible because it is within the 20km exclusion zone around the nuclear plant. (c) Nobuyuki Kobayashi)

Double Blow

As if that wasn’t enough, she then had to evacuate along with her family in March this year after the government declared a 20 kilometer exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. The family’s home in Namie was squarely inside the forbidden area.

“I was glad that we could pay a temporary visit back to our house in early August and I could retrieve the photo and the spirit tablet and I could go and lay fresh flowers on his grave,” she says.

We are talking in one of the rooms of the family’s prefabricated temporary house in a community on the outskirts of the town of Yabuki, about 60 kilometers west of the Fukushima plant. On the low table where Mr. Yamada’s photo stands is a bowl with three grapefruit and standing on the floor a celadon vase of fresh flowers. And on the wall of the prefabricated house are taped several water colours of fruit and flowers.

Not Worried about Radiation

Sitting with us are her daughter, Ayako, and 23-year-old grandson Takaaki, who was working in the Fukushima plant at the time of the disaster. “I haven’t had a radiation check, but several of my mates went for one and the results were not too bad, so I’m not really worried.” He says. His mother is a bit more worried.

When I ask her if she thinks they will be able to go back, she says: “half of my wants to, but half of me knows that we can’t.” As to where they will go if they’re unable to return home, she says,”we can’t think about that now. We will think about it if it comes to that.”

What Takaaki is more worried about right now is trying to find a job. The family have been here since late May and he says he’s not choosy. “Any job would be ok as long as it brings in some income.”

Red Cross Helps

The family have received cash grants from the Japanese Red Cross Society, distributed by the local government. And their temporary home is also equipped with domestic appliances – a package of refrigerator, washing machine, tv, hot water dispenser and rice cooker and microwave – provided by JRCS. So for now, they are as comfortable as the circumstances allow. But they face an uncertain future.

As to where they will go if they’re unable to return home, she says,”we can’t think about that now. We will think about it if it comes to that.”