MOTOMIYA, Fukushima Prefecture--A retired social welfare official who was forced to flee his home in the Tsushima district of the town of Namie after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has found a new mission in life, to record the thoughts of those who once lived there and knew it in happier times.
Hidenori Konno, 66, who lived in the peaceful rural area northwest of the plant, can never return to his hometown because the area is designated a difficult-to-return zone by the government.
After the nuclear accident, triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, Konno, a former official of the Fukushima Ward Council on Social Welfare, evacuated to Motomiya, also in Fukushima Prefecture, where he now lives. It was there that he came up with the idea.
“Though there is no prospect for returning, I wanted to preserve the memories of the people who lived there (for future generations).” So he began to visit elderly people in May 2013 to interview them.
He compiled his “collection of testimonies” by interviewing 16 former residents of the area, all of them aged 70 years or older. That collection eventually became a book titled, “3/11 Aru Hisaichi no Kiroku” (March 11, Records of one affected area).
The Tsushima district is located in a mountainous area about 20 to 30 kilometers from the plant. At the time of the nuclear accident, a total of 1,459 people lived there.
The people there made their living by cultivating fruit such as apples and pears, raising domestic livestock and growing rice. Even if they did not lay pipes for tap water, they were able to secure water through digging wells.
The residents also harvested wild vegetables in the mountains. During the rice-planting season, they practiced the time-honored tradition of “Taue-odori” (the rice-planting dance), passed on by their forefathers.
The people of Tsushima were close to nature, and the bond among those who lived in the area was strong.
In compiling his collection, Konno visited not only evacuees living in Fukushima but also those who moved to other prefectures such as Saitama and Ibaraki.
Many of the farmers in the Tsushima district were returnees forced to flee Manchuria at the end of World War II. Japan ruled the area in northeastern China from the early 1930s to 1945. In Manchuria, many were engaged in agriculture despite the extremely cold weather. After the war, they settled in the Tsushima district and engaged in farming once again where they also suffered poor living conditions. Konno included that history in his collection, as well.
DAIRY FARMER FORCED TO KILL CATTLE
The book also describes the degree of suffering that interviewees were forced to endure as a result of the nuclear accident. For example, one dairy farmer was forced to kill his cows because there was no one who would take care of them. Another man said that he moved from one evacuation center to another seven times with his wife who was wheelchair bound. She had lost her leg in an agricultural accident involving machinery.
However, all of the 16 evacuees had a strong desire to someday return to live in their homes in the district.
One was Yoichi Konno, 73, who has suffered from a kidney disease for more than 30 years. Because of his illness, he was unable to properly work. Therefore, he often spent his time at his hobby--gardening. He also built five fish ponds where he kept carp, goldfish and rainbow trout, which his neighbors enjoyed.
Since the nuclear accident, he has returned to his house several times when allowed to do so.
His fish ponds now lie empty. The birds have since eaten all of his fish.
Before the nuclear accident, he also received dialysis treatment three times a week. Immediately after the disaster, however, due to crowded conditions at hospitals that provided the service, he could only get treatment twice a week. The time per treatment was also reduced by one hour. Due to the decrease in his treatments, his health took a turn for the worse. One time at his eldest daughter’s house in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, where he lived at the time, he was so sick that an ambulance was called to take him to hospital.
At present, he is living with his wife, Kazuko, 69, in a temporary housing facility in Nihonmatsu, also in the prefecture. Sometime this summer, they will move to a new house that is being built next to their eldest daughter’s house.
Still, Yoichi Konno says, “The scenery (of the Tsushima district) from the land I was born in remains fixed in my head. I want to live there again, even if the radiation levels remain high.”
SUFFERING FROM CANCER
Meanwhile, farmer Yoshimi Saito and his wife, Taka, both 83, have been living in a temporary housing facility in Nihonmatsu since September 2011. The facility is the fifth one they have lived in since they evacuated.
Before the nuclear accident, Yoshimi was healthy and had never been hospitalized. However, it was while he was moving from evacuation center to evacuation center that doctors discovered he was suffering from prostate cancer.
Their children proposed they move in with one of them. However, Taka said with a sigh, “We have much baggage. In addition, my husband is suffering from a disease. It is hard to move again.”
Yoshimi also said, “I don’t know whether I can return (to the Tsushima district) while I am alive. But I hope that people from my grandchildren’s generation will be able to return someday.”