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3/11 Fukushima disaster evacuee has been 'wandering' for 11 years while growing vegetables

Hisae Unuma is seen in the city of Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, on Sept. 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

KUKI, Saitama -- It will soon be 11 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. A woman who lived near the nuclear plant continues to live as an evacuee in Saitama Prefecture, saying, "I am still in temporary housing and wandering around with no place to return to."

    Hisae Unuma, who leads a displaced life in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, works hard every day as a vegetable farmer, something she had no experience doing before the disaster.

    The 68-year-old woman's home was located in the Fukushima prefectural town of Futaba, 2.5 kilometers from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. She was a farmer who bred the Japanese Black cattle and grew rice. She was particular about the grass she used to feed the cattle, and recalled that the conception rate of her cows was "one of the top three in the county of Futaba." The farmer believes that "land is the source of life," and she had put compost in her rice paddies and also made efforts to grow delicious rice. All of this was lost in an instant.

    After the disaster, Unuma evacuated to the city of Kazo, where the Futaba town hall was also temporarily moved. In order to "build up her strength for when she returns to Futaba," she learned to grow vegetables from scratch and rented farmland to start growing them.

    Hisae Unuma is seen in the city of Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, on Sept. 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

    Unuma now delivers vegetables she grows to local schools for lunches and sells them at a market. Her husband, whom she shared her life with, passed away from cancer in 2017. People tell her, "We are waiting for your vegetables," and that is a big support for her.

    Her home in Futaba is located in a "difficult-to-return" zone with high radiation levels, and she is only allowed to return home on a temporary basis. When she visited in February, it looked as if her home would collapse at any moment.

    "Even if I wanted to go back, I can't. I am not young enough to want to go back," Unuma said.

    (Japanese original by Yoshiya Goto, Photo and Video Center)

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