Their life revolved around Fukushima. Now, they vow patience.
Closely tied to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and loyal to their company town, the Ouchi family wants only to go home. But officials are now urging the evacuation of anyone within 19 miles of the plant.
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Even if one day the area is deemed safe for human habitation, the wrecked plant, where four of six nuclear reactor units have been damaged by fire or explosions, is unlikely to function again. Thousands of jobs with Tokyo Electric Power, the plant operator known as Tepco, are gone.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Japan's pet survivors
In Pictures Japan survivors
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Those jobs have been a godsend in this decaying corner of rural Japan, already experiencing population decline. The best thing about living in Okuma, a quiet town of 11,500, “is that my husband and son did not have to go somewhere else to find work,” says Takako. “The family could stay together, thanks to Tepco.”
About half the workforce in Okuma is employed at the nuclear plant next door, according to residents. It is a company town, where almost every family has someone on the payroll.
‘Everybody said it was safe.’
“Where I come from, it is quite natural to work there,” says Mitsuo, who has worked for a Tepco subsidiary at the plant almost all his adult life. Bonds with the company are strong. “Everybody said it was safe, so I believed them.”
He remains loyal to his employer. “The reactors stood up to the earthquake,” he points out. “It was the tsunami that did the damage. But the government’s at fault too. They haven’t solved the problem as quickly as we expected.”
Reminded that it is Tepco, not the government, that is running the emergency operation, he grudgingly allows that the company too shares some blame.
His wife is just as loyal to her hometown in its darkest hour. “Okuma is a nice place to live,” says Takako, using the present tense. As in much of the rest of rural Japan there are not many young people in town, she concedes, but since she moved there after her marriage 32 years ago “I’ve been getting older myself, so I don’t notice so much, and I’ve got all my friends.
“It’s a green town, and the rice they grow around there is delicious,” she boasts. “I’ll send you some if you like, but I don’t suppose you’d eat it now, seeing as how it comes from Fukushima.” She laughs, ruefully.
The only rice the family is eating at the moment, sitting cross legged on the patch of school-provided blankets laid over judo mats that is now their home, comes cold in vacuum-packed individual servings donated by regional governments elsewhere in the country and by private companies.
The food is basic but sufficient, prepared by local volunteers at a field kitchen set up under a tent in the sports hall parking lot: two meatballs in a bowl of steaming broth, cold rice, pickled vegetables, and bread made up one recent supper menu. But instant noodles have become a staple.
The mood is subdued in the brightly lit basketball court where the Ouchi family has installed itself alongside its real life neighbors on a patch of blankets surrounded by cardboard cartons that define its space.
Most of the people here are elderly, reflecting the demographics of the region, and many spend their days staring vacantly into space. Only rarely does a child’s squeal enliven the atmosphere.