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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Some of the gymnasium’s residents chat in low voices to one another or on their mobile phones. Others snooze under their comforters, read the papers, sew, play chess, or go to the foyer to watch the television, tuned permanently to the news channel of the state broadcaster, NHK, where the aftermath of the March 11 disaster is the only story.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Japan's pet survivors
In Pictures Japan survivors
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Takako Ouchi spends much of her time caring for her 88-year-old mother, whose health problems have deprived her of her voice and made it difficult to swallow even the soup her daughter feeds her from a paper cup. But her eyes are bright, and she passes her time doing crosswords in a children’s puzzle book.
Mitsuo, the father, appears more despondent, sitting slightly apart from the rest of the family lost in thought, occasionally popping outside for a chat with other men grouped at the sports hall entrance, sheltering under a canopy from the snow.
His son Masaru, whose own wife and two sons have found their way to his mother-in-law’s home down the coast, rallies himself from time to time to help local volunteers shift boxes of supplies, and takes long walks three times a day around the sports center grounds. It kills the time, he says, “and keeps me fit for when I go back to work.”
What that work might be he has no idea, except that his boss has warned him to be prepared to join the emergency team battling to control the stricken reactors. “If they call me I am ready,” he says simply. “If I can help solve the problem more quickly, I’m ready to go.”
In the longer run there is a chemical factory in Okuma, he says, “and there ought to be some kind of work taking care of the power plant, maintaining it or decommissioning it.”
But neither he nor his father has even begun to talk about how they might earn a living if Tepco has no jobs for them. Masaru has only ever worked for that company since he left high school 11 years ago, except for a six-month break, and Mitsuo has been at the plant for 30 years.
Nor will any of the Ouchi family openly allow any doubts about the safety of their homes to creep into their minds. “I can imagine only that we will go home,” says Mitsuo. “Everyone here is the same,” he adds, gesturing around the gym.
I’m sure we’ll go back home,” Takako chimes in. “There is nowhere else for us to go.”
A few feet from the Ouchi family’s patch of blankets, by the door, a group of women are sitting on the floor sewing scraps of material into small bags and stuffing them with bits of torn up polystyrene noodle cups to make juggling balls. One of them, Yoko Koyama, has also made a teru teru bozu, a traditional rag doll that the Japanese hang in their windows to bring better weather when it is raining.
“I think we’ll hang it in the window here,” says Mrs. Koyama. “We hope the sun will come out again."