FUKUSHIMA -- Yasuko Sasaki's house lies just 30 kilometers away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, where a meltdown took place following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. On Feb. 1, Sasaki temporarily returned to clean up leaves that had fallen on the grave at the back of the property.
Once a month, the 66-year-old visits her house in the Tsushima district in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Namie from the prefectural village of Otama -- 50 kilometers away -- where she is currently evacuated to. It has been almost 10 years since she became unable to live at her own residence.
Due to high radiation levels, Tsushima was designated a "difficult to return" zone, where restrictions for entering are in place, and people are barred from living there. Homes without their owners living in them have been ransacked by wild animals. While Sasaki has been away, wild animals chewed up stuffed turtle and bird specimens kept at her house. She continues to clean her house so that she "can return at any time."
In the grave are the bones of her husband Kenji, who died of illness at age 57 in February 2011, just before the disaster struck the area, her youngest son Shinji, who passed away at 21 due to cancer in August the same year, and her parents-in-law. Sasaki was born in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, and married her husband and moved to the Tsushima district when she was 33. The couple raised their two children in the house, using mountain stream water in everyday life and boiling the bath with firewood.
"The memories that I have of spending time together with my family are here and only here. I want to come home while I can move my body," Sasaki explained. A calendar at her house still shows March 2011, when the earthquake and tsunami hit.
The Reconstruction Design Council in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, an advisory panel to the prime minister, deemed that "recovery from the devastating disaster will not be completed until Fukushima soil recovers." The government has set up Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Bases within difficult-to-return zones and is carrying out decontamination work and developing infrastructure so that people can reside in the area once again. It aims to lift evacuation orders for the bases in between 2022 and 2023.
However, the areas designated as reconstruction bases are limited. In the Tsushima district, a 153-hectare space surrounding the town hall's Tsushima branch is designated -- just 1.6% of the whole district. Of the 532 households in the district at the time of the disaster, 80% including Sasaki's house are not included in the reconstruction base area, and there are no prospects for these people to be able to return to their homes.
Sasaki said, "Everything's still the same, even 10 years after the (nuclear) disaster. I wonder for how many more years I'll have to continue cleaning (my house)."
(Japanese original by Rikka Teramachi, Fukushima Bureau, Suyeong Kim, City News Department)