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Fukushima evacuee fulfills dream to become school teacher in Tohoku

This March 11, 2018 file photo shows Asana Ikezoe, right, talking to a resident living in temporary housing during a commemoration for the Great East Japan Earthquake, in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. (Mainichi)

A woman who fled to Kobe following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster in 2011 has achieved her dream of becoming a school teacher in the Tohoku region.

    Asana Ikezoe, 35, was hired this spring by a public junior high school in Miyagi Prefecture. Ikezoe had previously worked as a volunteer for the Hyogo Prefectural Government, supporting those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, with the role being based in Kobe, she occasionally felt guilty, thinking to herself, "I've run away, whereas the others have stayed."

    "You should fulfill your dream and become a teacher," said workplace friends -- victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 -- as they encouraged Ikezoe to return to Tohoku.

    Spurred on by her friends, Ikezoe decided to become "someone who helps others," a message she intends to deliver to future students at her new school.

    At the time of the nuclear disaster in 2011, Ikezoe was working as an instructor at a junior high school in the town of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture. However, an evacuation order was promptly issued across the entire town, and about two weeks later, she fled to Kobe with her parents, who were living in the prefectural city of Minamisoma.

    Making use of a Hyogo Prefecture employment system aimed at people affected by disasters, she began working for "Hyogo Voluntary Plaza" in May 2011, an organization that supports volunteer groups.

    "There's loads of work to do," said Morio Takahashi invitingly, the current head of the organization and a disaster support adviser at the time.

    In summer that year, Ikezoe proposed a "hometown volunteer bus" scheme, under which evacuees carry out voluntary support work in disaster-affected areas. The scheme enabled Ikezoe to be reunited with pupils at evacuation sites in Fukushima Prefecture, who were initially from the town of Tomioka. The kids instantly relaxed upon talking with her, prompting them to make comments such as, "I really want to return to Tomioka."

    At that particular point though, she had given up on becoming a teacher, due to concerns about her age and physical condition.

    However, her friends in Kobe then came to the fore. They listened to her stories about the nuclear disaster and the earthquake. Her colleague, Chizuyo Nakamura, 64, whose relative's home was completely burned as a result of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, says, "I want to do something for her (Ikezoe). I want to listen to her, although admittedly she might find this to be a painful process."

    As she talked with friends, she found herself speaking about teaching before long. "Everyone was supporting me, saying that teaching is 'my role' in life."

    In autumn 2016, Ikezoe moved to Miyagi Prefecture where her older sister lives, and started work as a full-time instructor at a junior high school. In autumn 2017, she sat the teacher employment test and passed. As of April 3, she is officially a teacher at a junior high school in the city of Tagajo in Miyagi Prefecture, in a region which was 30 percent flooded by the 2011 tsunami.

    "There's nothing that can be done alone. I want to keep spreading the message that we are able to live our lives thanks to mutual support with others," Ikezoe says.

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