Seniors tough it out in shelters outside Tokyo | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.03.2012
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Seniors tough it out in shelters outside Tokyo

The Japanese town of Futaba had around 6,500 residents until March last year. Then the tsunami hit, triggering the Fukushima nuclear disaster. One evacuee talks about her life since then in a shelter north of Tokyo.

Residents read morning newspapers at a shelter in Japan

After the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster struck Japan last March, the entire area around the crippled Fukushima 1 plant had to be evacuated, including Futuba, which is now a ghost town.

Of the 1,500 former Futaba residents who found shelter north of Tokyo, around 500 of them, mostly elderly, are still living there. One of them is Ms. Suzuki who says although it is difficult it is nice nonetheless to be with so many people from her home town.

Keeping busy is what keeps her going. “I help out organizing different activities. This morning there was a ceramics course. It is ok. I keep myself occupied.“

People carry their belongings after being evacuated

Many people were evacuated in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster

The 86-year-old is standing in a room of about 50 square meters located in a former school in Kazo, north of Tokyo. She lives here with 10 others, which means they only have a small space they can call their own.

“My family lives in Tochigi," she explains. "My daughter, her husband and their child. We came here together but my grandchild needs to go to school. So they moved to Tochigi to live with my daughter's husband's family.“

“I didn't want to be a burden to my daughter's family. I want to be with others who have met a fate similar to mine.“

No going back

Of course it would be nice to go back to her home town, the tiny lady admits with a trembling voice. She has only been able to go back for a short time to collect important documents.

“I want to go back, but I will not be able to wait 30 years. I am too old. There is no way for me to die in my home town. But my grandchild has asked us not to sell the property because he wants to return there some day.“

Whether or not that will be possible in 30 years it is not yet certain - radiation levels there are currently over 100 millisieverts per year.

Donations and volunteers

While sad she will not be able to return, Ms. Suzuki says she is happy that she is receiving so much support. “We are still getting a lot of donations so many months after the evacuation. People on giving us food and clothes. I am very, very appreciative.“

A boy is examined for nuclear contamination

Radiation levels are still high in Fukushima

Aside from having high blood pressure, the 86-year-old is healthy. Doctors and physiotherapists from the area offer their services free of charges in one of the rooms of the former school. Outside, people form a line to see the doctor.

One volunteer comes here once a week to help the Futaba refugees with acupuncture and acupressure. "At the beginning it was very difficult;" he recalls. "Everyone seemed depressed. The atmosphere was dismal. But now, things are starting to get better. People are starting to think about their future again.“

Author: Peter Kujath, Tokyo / sb
Editor: Anne Thomas

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