FUTABA, Fukushima -- On June 29, 15-year-old Daichi Obata and his mother Akemi travelled from Saitama Prefecture to their hometown here to return his father's ashes; it was the first time they had been able to enter Futaba since being forced to flee by the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
Daichi, now a third-year junior high school student, and his family moved to the city of Kazo north of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture. This is where his father Kazuhiko died two years ago at age 54.
Daichi was just about to finish kindergarten when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear accident, and he and many other townspeople made the journey to Kazo. Daichi entered a local elementary school from the beginning of first grade.
In June 2016, his parents decided to put down roots in Kazo and build a home after Daichi said he did not want to change schools. However, the stress of life had taken their toll on his father. Kazuhiko developed liver trouble, and passed away in May the following year.
Almost all of Futaba is still classified as a "difficult-to-return" zone with high radiation levels. The visit Daichi and 52-year-old Akemi made home was their first in 8 years and 3 months. Inside, the house had been turned over by wild boars, but there were still toys and picture books from his childhood left in the living room. On being back in the house, Daichi said, "I remembered that on his days off, dad would have a drink with the windows open, so he could see me playing in the garden."
Daichi and his mother had a ceremony to inter Kazuhiko's ashes, carrying them to the cemetery just five minutes away on foot and placing them under his tombstone.
The Futaba Municipal Government allows its residents to re-enter the town temporarily. However, people under 15 or pregnant women are asked not to enter due to radiation concerns.
"Dad stayed in Saitama because I said I wanted to stay," said Daichi. He waited in anticipation until he turned 15 in June, finally old enough to go to Futaba and return that favor.
Daichi said of his future, "Even though I was going to school in Saitama, I was still an evacuee, and this made me feel uncomfortable. But I've been able to draw a line between my memories of Futaba and the way it is now by seeing the actual situation. I want to continue to live fully and emulate my dad who knew so many people."
Akemi said she realized during their visit to Futaba how much her only child had grown up.
She stated, "He appeared very strong when returning the ashes, as if my husband was walking together with him, and I felt at peace."
(Japanese original by Tatsushi Inui, Iwaki Local Bureau)