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Fish store operators in Fukushima to reopen shop for the love of it

Shigeichi Yachi chats with one of his regular fish delivery customers at a temporary housing facility in the city of Minamisoma's Kashima Ward in Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

MINAMISOMA, Fukushima -- In the hopes of bringing people back to their hometown, fish shop owners Shigeichi Yachi, 68, and his wife Michiko, 64, will return from temporary housing to reopen their store here in the beginning of June for the first time since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

    The Yachi Fish Shop, which is located near JR Odaka Station in the city's Odaka Ward, will be the only such business in the city, as no fish stores have been in operation following the long-term evacuation of city residents due to the nuclear disaster that occurred five years ago.

    On one recent day, Shigeichi drove his pickup truck to a temporary housing facility in the city's Kashima Ward. Stopping in front of each individual unit, he called out, "Fish, here!"

    One elderly woman emerged from her doorway, murmuring as she perused the offerings in the refrigerator of the truck bed, "My husband died last year, and since then I've lost my enthusiasm for cooking. Lately, I haven't been eating much."

    Looking at Shigeichi, she then added, "Hey, your belly has been getting a bit rounder, hasn't it?"

    "Yeah, around here they call me the fat evacuee," he shot back. "But you know, calories are not a bad thing."

    A smile crossed the woman's face at the straightforward banter. Purchasing some marbled flounder and boiled beans that Shigeichi had recommended to her, she asked him, "When are you coming next?"

    A smiling Michiko Yachi is seen in front of the minivan that her husband Shigeichi bought her for her birthday. (Mainichi)

    Shigeichi first began his sales of fish to the temporary housing residents in July 2011. After initially evacuating to Tochigi Prefecture in March 2011 when evacuation orders were issued following the nuclear accident, he later moved to temporary housing in Kashima Ward, which was outside of the zone stipulated for evacuation, and is located near the nursing home where his mother lived.

    In the beginning, he restricted his sales to people he already knew who had evacuated from Odaka. He was, he says, also uneasy at first, with respect to local fish shop owners with businesses near the temporary housing unit.

    Many of the temporary housing residents were people from coastal regions who had lost their homes to the tsunami, however, and after a while, Kashima residents started telling him that they wanted to buy his fish.

    Now, five years after the disaster, some of Shigeichi's customers are those who have left the temporary housing and rebuilt their own homes in the city.

    Every morning, he goes to get fish from a market in the city of Soma, and visits 25 different locations with his pickup truck before evening.

    Repairs to the building that houses the Yachis' home and business began at the end of March, and are expected to conclude shortly.

    The shop will no longer resume selling to previous customers such as Japanese-style inns, which formerly ordered fish for hundreds of customers at a time. Instead, its base of business will be those elderly residents who are expected to return after evacuation orders for the city have been lifted in June.

    Shigeichi says that he also plans to take custom orders such as delivering pre-grilled or stewed fish for customers who should so desire. And with Shigeichi handling the deliveries and Michiko taking care of the shop, the business truly is going to be a two-person effort.

    However, he says, he feels no pressure. "It's going to be hard to make a profit -- but if we stay in the red, I don't really mind."

    For Shigeichi, who represents the third generation of the family business -- which his grandfather started during the war -- the image of his parents working as hard as they could in order to raise him and his four younger brothers is etched into his memory.

    "If I am not working, I cannot relax," he says.

    "Some people from Odaka died in the tsunami," he adds. "And when I think of it that way, I know that this fish business is going to be my life's work -- regardless of whether or not it turns a profit."

    He smiles, and his wife nods quietly beside him.

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