Six months after Japan's tsunami, residents worry their plight is fading from view (video)
Many residents in Japan's northeast are struggling to put their lives back together six months after Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami. More than 80,000 people remain in temporary housing.
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A cluster of 20 prefab housing units behind the Bayside Arena, where Sunday morning’s service was held, is now home to a fraction of the town’s people who lost their homes on March 11.Skip to next paragraph
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Kaeko Gyoba was in a club for Minami-Sanriku’s elderly residents with her husband when the earthquake struck. They made it up to the fourth floor and were spared as the waves swept through the three stories below, but left the building standing when the waves receded. It was one of the few buildings spared in the entire town.
“We spent two nights up there until a Self-Defense Force helicopter was able to land at the elementary school nearby and get us out,” says Ms. Gyoba.
She stayed with relatives near Tokyo after the disaster, but she returned last month to be with the rest of her family, who now occupy five of the small, flimsy-looking temporary houses.
“It’s very tough living here, I just can’t get used to it. There’s nowhere in the town to shop, you need a car to go anywhere, and I worry how cold it will be in the winter,” says Gyoba. “And none of the family have jobs now. They all worked on the ocean, farming seaweed and oysters. Everything was swept away.”
Fading from public consciousness?
Despite the nationwide attention that the six-month memorials have been receiving, some of those still struggling to put their lives back together feel they are gradually fading from people’s consciousness in the rest of the country. There is also anger at politicians in Tokyo who they see as more concerned with partisan fighting than focusing on helping the region’s recovery.
Even the leadership contest to replace former Prime Minister Naoto Kan – heavily criticized for his handling of the crisis – was seen as a self-indulgent distraction by many in the region. His replacement, Yoshihiko Noda, has already lost his trade and industry minister, only eight days after being sworn in.
On his first visit to the disaster zone last week, Trade Minister Yoshio Hachiro joked with a reporter accompanying him on the trip about infecting him with radiation by wiping his jacket on the journalist after coming out of the no-go zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. The minister went on to describe the area around the stricken facility as, “really like a town of death.”
Hachiro’s behavior provoked outrage not just among residents of Fukushima, but across Japan’s north-east coast. For many, the minister’s attitude betrayed a lack of real empathy from Tokyo politicians with the victims of the triple disasters, and his tearful apology afterward convinced few.