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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: 5 years post-disaster, we need 'fellowship'

Five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a welfare worker and municipal employee who continue to visit the disaster-hit areas and work hard to help local residents.

    One town, located within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, has moved all of its governmental functions to other municipalities such as the city of Iwaki. Last year the town's evacuation order was lifted, but less than 10 percent of the population returned. Supposedly many residents hesitate to come back, as the town has not resumed the operation of its hospital and shopping facilities, and radioactive decontamination work has not been completed. The town government functions remain spread out among the city of Iwaki and other municipalities. When I asked a town employee if things were tough, they gave me this response:

    "Yes, sometimes we get phone calls from someone saying, 'The evacuation order for your town has been lifted right? How much longer do you plan on being here?' I don't know who they are, but we must look like we are imposing on the places we have evacuated to."

    The employee tried to show understanding of such critics, saying, "That person must have their hands full with their own lives, and without meaning they tend to direct their criticism at us," but surely it must be hard to be on the receiving end of such a phone call.

    The employee continued, "The temporary housing units for refugees are only being lent out until the end of March next year. We are telling each of our residents who are still living in evacuation, 'You have to make a decision about this way of life. Please think for yourself whether you will establish your life outside of our town, or whether you will come back.'" Being the one to tell the evacuees this must also be hard. Hearing this, I felt embarrassed at having been ignorant of what was going on, as well as frustrated by my inability to do anything about it.

    After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the word "fellowship" was used so much, there was a time when I was saying, "Overemphasis of 'fellowship' will actually become a source of burden and stress on disaster survivors and those supporting them." However, I feel that afterwards, that "fellowship" quickly weakened, and the idea of "self-responsibility," that "each area should think for themselves and take care of their problems" has been imposed on the disaster areas.

    Now is the time for fellowship. People may laugh and consider me behind the times to suggest that now, but I don't mind if people laugh. I want people to stop pretending they can't see the situation in the disaster area, saying "They've already recovered quite a lot, haven't they?" and "The evacuees of Fukushima could go back if they wanted to," and instead look again at the current situation, and the problems facing the disaster survivors. Then, I want them to remember that day when they said, "I'll forever support you." I want to say now is the time for fellowship, both to myself and to those around me. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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