Sunday, October 1, 2017

My last message

Everywhere you look around the world today, mother nature is behaving strangely, peace is vanishing and kindness is fading from people's hearts. We live in a time where it seems like just about anything could happen and it wouldn’t surprise us anymore. Why have things come to this? It really is sad, isn’t it, dear readers? Do you think it will be possible for us to ever go back to living like we did in more peaceful times? Whose fault is this? The wealth gap continues to grow and people show no regard for the lives of others. People are losing their empathy and choosing to look out only for themselves. Public resources and land that were meant to be shared by all citizens are increasingly being monopolized by just a few. Love has vanished; the world has become as cold as ice. There are some people who say we have entered a time of purification, a time of battle between our good angels and our bad angels. This may be the case. If this is so, we must be very careful not to let ourselves be dragged down by the bad ones.  


Today, dear readers, I must tell you something that may surprise you. For six-and-a-half years now, I have been absorbed in activities to provide support to the disaster-affected people of Fukushima. During this time, I have received lots of assistance and cooperation from countless individuals. It breaks my heart to have to say this, but I am no longer able to continue these activities, due to my health. I have begun to sense that the end of my life is near.


Each of us only have a limited number of days to spend on this Earth. Since I have felt that my time is coming to an end soon, besides thanking all of you, I would also like to take this opportunity to ask you all to please carry on my legacy.  


I think you all probably already know this, but the people of the Fukushima disaster-affected areas have been abandoned by the government. The affected areas have still not been adequately decontaminated, and there are still areas with high levels of radiation. The disaster-affected areas that have lain untouched for six-and-a-half years have become wild and overgrown. The houses are crumbling and the weeds have grown up around them like forests. The buildings have become the dwelling-places of wild boars, raccoons and other animals. There are neither stores nor hospitals; there is nothing there. At night the neighborhoods become pitch black and are a perfect target for thieves, making it less safe to live there.


One would have thought that it would only be common sense for the government to wait until after they had created a safe, habitable environment for people to return home to before lifting the evacuation order. But instead, the government set the issuance of the declaration itself as their goal, and made it their aim to send people home after just one or two decontamination sweeps. They didn’t come up with any funding or plans to provide for town-building expenses. They haven’t cut down the bushes and wild grasses that have grown up and haven’t made any plans for taking care of animal infestations. This hasn’t been included in town budgets. The reality of the matter is that the elderly people of the disaster-affected areas (many of whom are somewhere in their 70’s to 90’s) have all just been told to “Please take care of it all yourself”. They have essentially been abandoned. And because there are no stores, it isn’t even possible to buy food out there. This is what one of the disaster-affected people said about the situation: “I can manage to grow some of my own vegetables, but I’d really like to eat some meat and fish!”.  


Dear readers, this is the reality of the areas affected by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.


One individual from out there said the following: “It was the government’s plan to abandon us nuclear disaster victims from the very beginning. They wanted to hurry up and declare it safe to return home, have only the elderly go back to their homes and eventually die out, and thus turn Futaba County into a county of abandoned towns that would soon vanish from people’s memories. In this way people would forget about the incident and it would be as if it never happened. The government wants its citizens to forget about the nuclear accident. That was their plan from the start. They were afraid that news about our situation would get out, so they have kept us separated and isolated from each other and kept us shut off from information. We have prepared ourselves for the fact that we may never be able to go back to our homes because of the radiation.  We thought we’d be told by the government ‘move here and think of this as your second home’ and we would be able to go ahead and make a new town and community. We thought we would be able to make a new community together with the same families, town hall, schools, stores and hospitals, without having to break them up. We never imagined that so many families would be separated, nor that the evacuation would last this long, nor that we would be abandoned.”


Dear readers, isn’t this just too cruel? Whenever you gaze up at the bright electric city lights and neon signs, I would like you all to pause for a moment and remember the disaster-affected people of Fukushima who are still weeping in the shadows.


The temporary housing for Fukushima disaster-affected people ends next year, which means that the structures will be demolished. They’ve already demolished most of the temporary housing this year, but there are still many people without anywhere else to go. This is especially true of elderly people who live by themselves and don’t have any relatives.


The court cases that disaster-affected people from Fukushima have brought forward are progressing slowly and nothing is being accomplished. So, I ask you, dear readers, won’t you please lend a helping hand to these disaster-affected individuals who are receiving no compensation and continue to suffer? Won’t you please make a contribution?


I remember March 11th, 2011, very well. At the time, all the citizens of Japan, as well as people from all over the world, joined together as one to pray for the lives of those in the disaster-affected areas. The whole country and all of us did everything we could. We rose up out of concern for the well-being and happiness of those affected by the disaster. At the time, I had a bad leg and couldn’t leave my house. I thought: “What can I do for those suffering from the disaster? Well, I’ve still got a mouth, haven’t I? I can talk. I’ve still got my hands, haven’t I? And, I’ve got a telephone in my home. I’ll use my mouth and my hands to do whatever I can to contribute.”  


I started out by looking at a column in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. I decided to help out with the disaster aid, so I phoned the Fukushima Prefectural Office and asked about evacuation shelters. In this way, I was able to provide aid to disaster-affected people from the town of Okuma. I found out that disaster-affected people from Okuma had been evacuated to a hotel in Ura-bandai. I asked a friend to deliver the donated articles for me. The articles were able to be conveyed by volunteers from places as far as Hokkaido and Kyushu all the way to 5 different Okuma town evacuation centers, and this was all done by word of mouth. After that, we delivered aid donations to 19 different temporary housing locations where people from Okuma were living.


I gathered together information about the disaster-affected areas, then sent out hand-written faxes to the aid volunteers to let them know about the situation. Upon hearing that there were places in Fukushima that were not receiving aid because of fears of radiation, I reached out to the Prime Minister, each cabinet member, the leaders of every party, the management of most religious associations, and various other organizations I assumed would be involved in giving out support and aid. I wrote letters, made phone calls, sent out faxes, and used every available method of communication possible to send out the information. I went to my local supermarket and found out the names of companies that distribute and produce daily necessities such as food, underwear and such, then I wrote letters to the heads of those companies. I wrote to the chief editors of various newspapers, including: Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, Nikkei, and the Tokyo Shimbun. I also wrote to the heads of various television stations, including: NHK, Nihon TV, TV Asahi, TBS TV, TV Tokyo and Fuji TV. I told them that there were many people who had not receiving any aid and were still suffering and asked for their cooperation. I either received no response, or if I did it, it was something cold like: “We have already decided who we are sending aid to. We don’t intend to send anything to Fukushima.” To which I could only wonder: “Why?”


The only positive response I received was from Hirokazu Numata, company president of a food distributor in Kobe (a supermarket with company headquarters in the Kako District of Hyogo prefecture). He donated 300-million-yen worth of food to disaster-affected people in the prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima. Thanks to Mr. Numata, I was able to help send food products to temporary housing, various facilities and schools throughout all of Futaba County and get in contact with many disaster-affected people as well as various Town Offices. That effort is continuing even now.


It’s impossible to say just how much support I received from those who provided aid and volunteered for our cause. I am truly thankful. Because of this experience we were no longer strangers; we became comrades, like members of a big family. Both volunteers and disaster-affected people were brought together by the will of God. We became a family that shared one heart with the Lord. The values that we upheld were the same ones that God wants us all to follow: to love one another, hope for the happiness of others and to protect each other’s lives.


I am so happy I had the chance to meet and work with all of you.

I can’t even begin to express my gratitude.

Thank you so much.   


My only worry is about the future of the disaster-affected people. I ask you to please continue supporting them however possible. And to those of you who have helped us, thank you so much.  


Please take care of yourselves. And please forgive me for my many deficiencies. If you wish to, please pray for me. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.   


For my remaining days, I have decided to switch to Twitter to share my experiences. My twitter account (Japanese only) can be viewed here:  Feel free to view it, it would make me very happy.


     Have a thankful heart!

     Keep giving thanks to God. To Him be the Glory!


                                                                                                                      Momoko Fukuoka



Translation: Karen Carina Rogers

Editing: Rachel Clark

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Wars and disasters: Never Forget the Victims

Today – August 6th – is the anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. I pray for the souls of those who lost their lives and for the families they left behind. I pray for the health and wellness of those who even today are suffering from the after-effects of the bombing and pray for their health and recovery. I plan to spend this time in prayer, opening my heart to their suffering.

 In Japan, August is a time for remembering relatives that are no longer living, and for being thankful for their watchful protection. We also pray for their happiness in the world beyond. The fact that you and I are alive and able to live in peace is a testament to the efforts and struggles of our ancestors, and so I think sometimes we need to remember the long history of those who came before us, who protected our lives and made them possible. When I think about my own existence, I remember my parent’s lives and their love. When I think about all the people that cared for me since I was little, I realize that I could never have made it on my own. Behind every individual, there are many people acting as back-up and support, almost like loving guardian angels.  Dear readers, I suspect that all of you have someone who loved, protected and supported you as well. I believe that those who protected and helped me, but are no longer with us,  are still protecting me from heaven.
 After all, what is a memorial service for the dead, if not a time to think about those who helped you, reflect on your thankfulness, and ask for their continued protection. In my opinion, that is what they are for.

【Hoping for the abolition of nuclear weapons】

 Many people lost their lives in the war. The number of victims in the war was enormous. March 23rd  is Okinawa Memorial Day. Over 180,000 lives were lost there during the war. August 6th is the anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima, and August 9th is the anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki. Even now, many people are still suffering. I firmly believe that we must not forget these victims. One year ago, former president Obama offered flowers at the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Memorial, then closed his eyes and paused for a moment of silence. Afterwards, he gave a 17-minute speech.
 “Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become… our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction. …  
To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy but by what we build. And perhaps, above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race… Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it… That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” (May 28th, 2016, The Asahi Shimbun)
 On May 27th, 2016, the day before he visited the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Memorial, former president Obama visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There, he said “I made these, with a little help,” and presented two paper cranes (made of beautiful Japanese paper with patterns of plum blossoms and cherry blossoms). When we saw this on TV, we were deeply moved and filled with conviction, deciding to make a promise of peace and start a movement for the abolishment of nuclear weapons that would start in Hiroshima and spread out to the whole rest of the world.
 But what happened to that passion and conviction? I think the world was also expecting a strong conviction from Japan for the abolishment of nuclear weapons as well. Aren’t the aspirations of former president Obama, the expectations of the citizens of Japan, the wishes of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the suffering and sacrifices of those affected by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster all being ignored? Japan is unique in the world – it is the only place where an atomic attack has taken place. If this movement doesn’t start in Japan, then where will it start?   

【Voices of those affected by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster】

 <Okuma Town, a letter from a 79-year-old man>
“The evacuees are at their limit. We had been supporting each other and trying to be patient, but recently many people have reached their limit and passed away.  Over the past 6 years, my wife has lost 4 siblings and I lost my older sister. Everyone is under a lot of stress. It seems as if they have just evacuated to a different place to die. My friend had hoped to go back home to Okuma, but ended up dying without being able to go back. Lately, many people are dying. It seems like someone is dying every day. On top of that, many of the deaths are sudden – from things such as strokes and heart attacks. It’s because everyone is under so much stress. Most of my friends have died this past year. Even my closest friends have died. Just today I received news that my best friend passed away. It’s just so horrible! I’m lonely. All my friends are gone and it’s just me left. It makes me wonder if tomorrow it’ll be me next, and then I feel even lonelier. At night, sometimes I remember: even if I  keep living, there’s not a single good thing left in my life. I can’t live in Okuma because of the radiation, but once a month I go home to straighten things up at my house there. The trip to Okuma takes 4 hours roundtrip. It’s difficult for someone elderly like me, but what do I have to worry about anyway? That’s what I tell myself. When I look at my surroundings there, I remember the old times. I look forward to this and it’s why I go out there. Many wild boars, pheasants and monkeys live out there now. The thing I look forward to the most is that I can occasionally meet various people from back home.”

 <A 58-year-old housewife, from Namie>
“I haven’t visited the family graves even once since the earthquake. The reason why is that the gravestones are broken and I can’t even get into the cemetery because of the radiation. This year, we left our temporary housing unit and moved into recovery housing, but unlike in the temporary housing, we no longer have the chance to meet other people. There’s nobody to talk to and it’s lonely. You end up shut up inside. It’s lonesome. Also, my knees have become swollen since I don’t walk around as much.”

 <An 81-year-old couple, from Okuma>
“As our home is located only 6 kilometers from the nuclear reactor, it’s practically right in front of our eyes. As the radiation level is quite high, we can’t take anything out of our house. We were told it won’t be possible to move back to Okuma for 40 years! We were told to take pictures of our house for the TEPCO reparation money application, but we are unable to go take pictures since the radiation level is so high. Nowadays there are wild boars around there and it’s scary. We have a pear orchard as well as land around our house, so we would like to submit an application to TEPCO. However, neither TEPCO nor the town office have done anything to help us. It seems we have to do it all by ourselves. No matter how many times we ask, nothing happens, so we decided to give up on our reparation money application. The reason for this is that we are both elderly. My husband’s lungs are failing him, and both of us have leg and hip problems and can’t walk! We can’t do any of it on our own! They even told us to find a house on our own. Okuma doesn’t do anything for us!”   

 <60-year-old man, from Katsurao Village>
“Recently, I’ve had an ulcer in my mouth that has lasted 2 months. I haven’t been able to talk or eat. I feel that my immune system has been weaker since the disaster. I think it’s because of the radiation. At the time of the accident, some of my hair fell out, and more hair came off in the bathtub and floated on the top of the water. I’ve had a harder time recovering from colds and have suffered from nosebleeds. I have friends who have developed thyroid problems. Mrs. Fukuoka, do you think that you might have been affected by the radiation as well? Back at the time of the accident, there were radiation hotspots, and the wind blew the radiation all over Japan.”

【Don’t just follow your own selfish desires; be considerate】

 Dear readers, the people of Tohoku value their ancestors, families and friends. And so -especially during the season of O-bon, which is a celebration to honor one’s ancestors - they return to their hometowns to be with their friends and family. They gather together and invite a Buddhist priest to their home to pray with them. They visit family graves and sit around the dinner table sharing memories of family members who have passed on. They ask after each other’s health and share stories and information with each other. They have always had these traditions as a way to strengthen family bonds and wish happiness for each other. That was how O-bon used to be celebrated in the Tohoku region. However, the nuclear accident has broken some of the bonds that held these families together, physically keeping them apart from each other and separating them from that happiness. As long as nuclear reactors are allowed to exist, this same sort of misfortune will keep repeating. And perhaps next time it will happen where we live.

 Japan has many volcanoes. There are also many unexpected heavy rains, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and waterspouts, as well as rising temperatures and other significant environmental fluctuations. Progress and convenience are important to us, but we should strive to live a simple and peaceful life. Also, we shouldn’t only think about what we want for ourselves, but should also try to live with a caring heart full of consideration for others. Why don’t we get together and think about how we should live in this world?  We should talk about this face-to-face with our friends as well as with those on social media.
  I ask you to please extend a helping hand to those suffering as a result of  destruction caused by typhoons and heavy rains, and also to those lonely individuals affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

[Contant information]
Momoko Fukuoka
Fax:  047-346-8675
(I would like to request that calls be made between 11:00 AM 5:00 PM local time in Japan.  Depending on my health, it may take some time for me to respond. If this happens, please try calling back again.)
Translation: Karen Rogers
Editing: Rachel Clark

Friday, June 9, 2017

The suffering of the disaster victims

               I would like to express my gratitude to my readers from my heart. My apology for skipping this series for May due to my health reason with an intractable disease. As long as I live, I will continue this blog, "the Reality of Fukushima." So please be patient and stay tuned even when my health condition hinders with my blog writing once in a while. When that happens, please forgive me.


The significance and the ramifications of reputational risk


             My recent experience was quite shocking. Since I relocated, I knocked on the doors of my new neighbors and greeted them. They were quite friendly and one even said that she was looking forward to getting connected with me. However, a shocking thing happened when I revisited the friendly neighbor in order to run some errands.


             At the beginning, she was quite pleased with my revisit, and we did chit chat at her entrance.  After talking for a while, she asked me, "where are you from?" to which I replied, "I was born in Aizu, Fukushima."  As soon as I said this, her attitude changed completely. I felt that she was trying to imply that she did not want to deal with me anymore. Sensing her strong rejection and pressure, I immediately told her, "I've been in Tokyo for 50 years," in order to protect myself. However, it was obvious that she was not listening to my explanation. All I felt from her attitude was the message that she did not want to deal with me, and wanted me to leave her house as soon as possible. Having felt a grave shock as I was leaving, I realized the suffering and much deeper sorrow of the affected and relocated people from Fukushima.  I also became ashamed of what I said in order to protect myself.


             Why do people feel such a strong repulsion by hearing the word "Fukushima,"? I really wanted to know. At the same time, I felt the strong empathy with Fukushiman people's suffering and sorrow more than ever. The nuclear power plant's accidents have ruined their dignity, and labeled them, as much as inducing among non-Fukushiman people such strong disapproval. How horrible! I often hear the words "reputational risk" to which we really need to pay more attention to and understand the reality which left deep scars on the people affected by the disaster.

[Although they said "without Fukushima's recovery, Japan cannot revive"...]


             I would like to reiterate that the affected people in Fukushima does not consume TEPCO's electricity. It is people in "Kanto," the Metropolitan Tokyo area, who are the real beneficiary. In Fukushima, they have only been leasing their land to TEPCO, which resulted in their becoming victims of the nuclear disaster. Originally, when TEPCO proposed to build a nuclear power plant, local residents opposed to the construction due to strong fear. However, despite their strong opposition, TEPCO started to operate the number 1 reactor on March 26, 1971. Residents in Futaba were very much worried, so I heard. 40 years later, on March 12, 2011, the number 1 reactor exploded followed by the number 3 reactor's explosion on the 14th. Radio-active particles were then brought by wind to Fukushima, Kanto, and all the way off the Pacific coast of Japan, thus wide range radiation pollution took place.


              Please hear me out, ladies and gentlemen. The recovery of Fukushima has not progressed at all. Due to unsolved compensation issues, insufficient life lines such as gas, electricity, and water; affected people's home towns still look like ghost towns, inhabited by wild animals but not humans. Despite broken homes, lack of grocery stores, or having no doctors, the government declared that they could and should go back to their hometowns, by closing most temporary housing units on March 31st. Thus, those who had no means to sustain themselves had to go back to their hometowns and are now enduring difficult lives. Many of them are elderly with physical difficulty, who complain, "we have no hospitals, friends, or food in our hometown. How can we live like this? We can grow vegetables but have no meat nor seafood!"(87 years old, has bad hips and weak eyesight) This is the truth I heard from the other side of my telephone line. (so now I always buy and send some groceries to them.)


              Did the prime Minister, who declared that Japan could not revive without Fukushima's recovery, already forget about Fukushima? Or does he want to pretend nothing has happened? What happened with his promise that he wanted to save affected people by doing whatever the nation could do? My readers, please spread the reality of Fukushima as widely as you can, including the fact that people in Fukushima are not using the electricity from TEPCO, that they have just been leasing their land to TEPCO, that they were victimized without any improvement even now. Please understand that if the operation of the reactors are resumed, you may also find yourself in the same situation as the people of Fukushima.


              My dear readers, Japan has 20 nuclear power plants. According to the information I found through the internet, Japan ranks 3rd in the world for the number of power plants. Including the ones in Fukushima Daiichi, there are 54 reactors all together. Since the ones in Fukushima Daiichi are under decommissioning, I am not sure of the exact number of reactors. Some are still closed, some have been reopened, and some new ones are under way. Once reactors explode, radio-active particles will be spread not only over Japan but also all over the world.


[Voice of Victims]


60 years old, living alone in Namie


              "I see no one around my house. At night, it gets pitch dark outside. I do weeding alone since I'm all alone and weeds are growing like a jungle. I have to drive to a neighboring town for grocery shopping since there are no stores in my town. Ever since the disaster, I have not had a deep sleep, not even once. Sleeping pills did not work. Before returning to my hometown, I used to wake up almost every other hour during my sleep. Here I can sleep well at night. I am more comfortable at my own house. Although I am all alone, I will pull myself together and do my best. As I am talking with you on the phone, I feel like you are very close to me, which makes me relieved."


58 years old, single mother in Namie

              We were able to move into a recovery apartment. Our house is in a difficult-to-return zone. I haven’t visited or fixed our family tomb ever since it has been destroyed in the earthquake and tsunami. Recently, many TEPCO employees in their 50s have passed away. There are many thyroid cancer cases among children. One of my kid's grammar school mates has bone marrow carcinosis. Their school runs annual thyroid cancer screening. The town municipality operates annual health checks."


87 years old, living alone, weak hips and legs, weak eyesight, not able to identify faces, in Kawauchi


It has been 6 years since I was home last time. What I am doing now is like clearing wild nature since my house is covered by weeds. I can barely walk. Although I came back, my hometown Kawauchi is now a difficult place to live; no place to shop, nothing to eat! No milk, no fish, no meat is available! I was able to survive with some food donated by my neighbors. Those who have their own cars can drive to the store which is 4.5km (about 3miles) away. With no taxi service, my bad legs hinder me from going grocery shopping. I used to have friends but they all go off to day-time nursing home service. According to what I heard from the municipality, the service is only for those who are over 90 years old and frail, or those who have had leg operations. Since I can walk with a cane, I am not eligible for the service. I feel so lonely and sad.... I am going to grow vegetables in my backyard!"


72 years old, single dweller, in Kawauchi


              "Despite the return order by the national government, those who need dialysis are in big trouble since there are no hospitals anymore. Everyone's heart is completely worn out. They returned to their hometowns anyway, but they cannot think of what they should do next. They are too stressed out to think properly. There is only one ambulance in the village. If one person uses the ambulance service, the rest cannot use it. There are too many vacant houses in Kawauchi Village. In Futaba County, Kawauchi's evacuation order was the first one to be lifted. My house is outside the 20km radius from Fukushima Daiichi, which means that we are not eligible for the compensation. However, since rainwater leaks through broken roofs, we negotiated with TEPCO for compensation or reimbursement for the fixing cost. TEPCO's answer was that we should pay out of our own pocket. Our pension benefit is shrinking year by year. Even in the same village, those who are within 20km radius, can build a new house with the compensation, whereas those who are outside are in trouble, not being able to fix their broken home. We are experiencing new type of troubles we did not experience before the disaster, such as who gets financial benefits and who receives the decontamination works. We used to be friendly, however the disaster has divided us.


             My dear readers, the measures taken by the national government is horrible and cold, don't you think so? Please help raise awareness of what is going on to the affected people in Fukushima.


[Contact Information]

Momoko Fukuoka


Tel: 080-5547-8675

Fax: 047-346-8675


(I would like to request that calls to be made between 11:00 AM - 5:30 PM local time in Japan. Depending on my health, it may take some time for me to respond. If this happens, please try calling back again.)


Translation: Rachel Clark

Editing: Erica Kohagizawa


Monday, April 10, 2017

The Current Situation of the Disaster-affected Areas Where the Evacuation Order has been Lifted

 The season of beautiful cherry blossoms is here. It is truly mysterious how the simple act of looking up at the cherry blossoms always calms my heart and fills me with hope and happiness. For some reason, cherry blossoms fill me with nostalgia. I feel nostalgic for a time long ago that I never even knew, but feel as if I might be able to remember. It’s as if the flowers are trying to tell me a story. When spring comes, I can hardly wait for the cherry blossoms to open. When they finally arrive, I feel a sense of relief and think to myself: “They bloomed again this year!”. We Japanese love the slow flutter of falling cherry blossoms. In the old days, we found solace in discovering the beauty of impermanent and imperfect things, we loved the changing of the seasons, admired rock gardens, were modest and looked out for the needs of others. In the old days, we valued the goodness in people’s hearts.  But, as I gaze now upon the cherry blossoms, I ask myself: do I still retain all these values in my heart these days?
  It seems as if the news is filled with sad stories every day. Murders, missile attacks, and the like. Watching the constant stream of new information in these modern times, one can’t help but feel anxious. What is happening to this world we live in? Where are we headed?

【Voices from the disaster-affected areas where the evacuation order has been lifted】

 Let me tell you once more about the people from the places affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and their current situation.
 Individuals from the disaster-affected areas that the national government has declared safe to return home currently find themselves in a very difficult situation. No one outside a 20 kilometer radius from the plant is receiving compensation from TEPCO or the government. As a result, they are unable to repair their homes, which are still not in habitable condition. The houses have become infested with mice, raccoons, civets, and wild boars after being left untouched for 6 years. Their gardens and fields are overgrown with weeds and wild grass, some of which has grown as tall as the height of a person. Their land is in no condition for growing crops of any kind. These individuals will need a lot of money and help before they can rebuild their homes and start harvesting crops again. But, unfortunately, the people from the disaster-affected regions do not have money. So, they remain unable to rebuild, finding themselves faced with no choice but to live in their damaged homes.
Even if people return home, their villages and towns have no stores or hospitals. Getting around is inconvenient because of a lack of transportation. Also, as most neighbors have not returned home, the areas are dark and gloomy at night. The people living in these places say there are areas where robberies happen and people worry for their safety. These are currently the conditions that people have to live under in the areas where the evacuation orders have been lifted (with the exception of a few towns).  
It seems that the disaster-affected areas that appear in the media and have been visited by the prime minister have public facilities and are the lucky few. Please listen to the following stories of individuals who have now returned home.

 <Kawauchi Village, female, 80 years old, living alone>
“I came home on March 26th. Kawauchi Village is very, very cold, so I spend my time sitting at the kotatsu.” (note: a kotatsu is a type of heated table).
“There are some people who were originally relieved to come back home, only to be astonished by what they found. After I got back home and checked up on my neighbors, I found out that one of them had her husband die in December, and someone else had to be taken by helicopter to the hospital. It’s rough.”  

 <Kawauchi Village, female, 86 years old, living alone>  
“In 6 years, it’s changed so much. The road in front of my house has changed. In upper Kawauchi there are no shops, no taxis, no cars and no hospitals. Elderly people can’t get by without a hospital. If something happens, they won’t be able to get help. A hospital is the most important thing. Since there aren’t any stores, I wrote a letter to the town office asking for them to send out a mobile sales vehicle. I have a bicycle, but I can’t ride it anymore. It’s become a town of nothing but elderly people walking around slowly with the help of canes. All the houses of Kawauchi Village have used well water since long ago. Now, the well water still comes out in some places, but it is sometimes muddy and black. Only the top water is clean. At my house, things are just as they were at the time of the disaster. The house is just being held up by supports, so I’m afraid of what would happen if there were an earthquake. As I only received a 55,000 yen government pension (about $495 USD), I don’t have enough money to fix the house.”

〈Naraha Town, 76 years old, married couple〉
“Our house in Naraha was partially destroyed, so we did some renovations then moved back in. Besides our home, there is just one other house with people in front of the town office. Nobody else has returned. Since there aren’t any stores, we drive an hour by car to Iwaki to do our shopping. After the earthquake, my wife had a stroke. She was paralyzed on the left side of her body and has suffered from dementia. Once a month, I take her to the hospital. She is also under the care of elder daycare three times a week. We’re both doing the best we can under the circumstances.”

〈Futaba Town, married couple, in their 60’s〉
“It’s the anniversary of my father’s death, so we came to Futaba Town to visit his grave. The graves have been left untouched since the disaster, so some are knocked over and some have been crushed. It was heart-breaking to visit the graves while they were in that condition. As the graves are located in an area contaminated by radiation, I was told we can’t even move the remains. The radiation level inside the house is 3 microsieverts. The area around the outside of the house measured 20 microsieverts during a two-hour period. When you look out at the swamp, you can see they are burying contaminated materials out there. This worried me. I wondered to myself: “Won’t this be carried by the river out into the ocean?”

〈Ōkuma Town, woman living alone, in her eighties〉
“I moved into publically-managed disaster housing. After the disaster, I fell and broke my leg and pelvis, so I can’t move around much. Most of the people living in the same housing as me are from Futaba Town. The only other person from Ōkuma Town besides myself is someone in their 30’s. I want to know the whereabouts of the other people from my town. So, I asked about it at the town office. However, I was told that they can’t tell me their locations, as that is personal information. So, I’ve been unable to meet with anyone else from my hometown of Ōkuma and I have been very lonely.”

〈Ōkuma Town, house wife in her 40’s, with a family〉 
“The recovery housing where we had been living was suddenly taken away, so we moved to housing managed by the prefectural government. Even though we just moved in last year, our house has cracks in it that cause drafts, and the roof leaks. There are some places where the tatami floors have mold on them as well. We informed the Fukushima prefectural government about this, but have received no response.”
“I keep telling my children: ‘We can’t return to our own home. There are high levels of radiation, and no schools or shops back there. We have to be prepared for certain things. Some people around may look at us strangely and judge us. Learn to judge a person’s character wisely. Some people are kind, some people are different. Please realize this. Sometimes people’s lives can change a lot. Judge things for yourself.’ We have a different educational philosophy in our house than others.”

【A message from the heart】

 Wouldn’t it be difficult if you found yourself in the same situation as those from the disaster-affected areas? They have lost their homes and have been separated from their families. They are suffering from wounds that are both mental and physical. They are exhausted, but now that they are returning home things are becoming even more difficult. Because of this, I would like to propose that we reach out a helping hand to them. I hope that people don’t just assume that now that 6 years have passed and the government has told them to return home, that means that everything is fine and it’s okay to forget about them now.
In this day and age, new things keep happening one after another and our lives are filled with more worries than in the past. Precisely because of this, we should not cast our eyes away and pretend not to notice the suffering of those who were affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and whom the government has treated so unfairly.
Approaching the disaster-affected people can be as simple as sending out a letter or postcard that says: “Please take care. We have not forgotten about Fukushima.” It might also be nice to include a heartfelt picture or some origami. This sort of heartfelt message will undoubtedly gladden the hearts of those affected by the disaster and give them the courage to keep going on. Please lend some help to those who are suffering by sharing your kindness with them. I ask you from the bottom of my heart.

 For more information, please direct your questions directly to Momoko Fukuoka. Dear readers, your continued health and happiness is always in my prayers.  

[Contact Information]
Momoko Fukuoka
Fax: 047-346-8675

(I would like to request that calls to be made between 11:00 AM - 5:30 PM local time in Japan. Depending on my health, it may take some time for me to respond. If this happens, please try calling back again.)
Translation: Karen Rogers