Seven years has passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and there remains some places in Fukushima prefecture where the time has stopped ever since then. Student members of Habitat Japan Campus chapters visited Tomioka and Minami soma, two of the areas in Fukushima where the evacuation orders were lifted by April 1 st 2017. The students from 10 campus chapters in Kanto region, who took over this volunteer activity from elder students, stayed there for three-day volunteer activities from March 1 to 3 .
The students first visited Tomioka in Fukushima prefecture. The town’s population was 15,960 before the earthquake but only 458, or less than 3% of the pre-earthquake population, are back to the town after the evacuation order was lifted. As they headed to the center of the town, they saw many flexible container bags full of radioactive wastes from decontamination process piled up near the JR Tomioka station which resumed service last October. Debris processing was also still underway near the station. After seeing such reality of the affected area, they arrived the town center, where public housing for affected people were built. Construction of new buildings for elementary and junior high schools which are targeted to open in April 2018 were also in progress. On the other hand, some places remained in the same state as the day of the earthquake. The students interviewed residents as they walked through the town.
An elderly man said “While I was in the shelter, I was always determined to come back to Tomioka if the evacuation order was lifted so I came back in May after the order was lifted in last April. But no one else in my neighborhood is back nor I can enjoy gardening. I wish if I could return to pre-earthquake Tomioka,” reflecting back on the town where he used to enjoy beautiful cherry blossoms. Another resident commented “this town used to rely on the nuclear power station but now we have to find a way to live without it.”
There is only one supermarket in the town. No chain restaurants, no karaoke. Convenience stores close at 6pm. The residents live inconvenient life in the town with no hospital, no clinic, no dentist and no barber. However, local people are making self-supporting efforts to revive the town despite such situation, believing that collective efforts of residents are essential. A resident asked the students to tell others about the town saying, “people outside our town may think that Tomioka is an uninhabitable place. But I want them to remember that there are people who returned to the town with a determination to make efforts and reconstruct Tomioka.”
The student took part in a volunteer activity next day in Odaka district, Minamisoma city in Fukushima. The evacuation order to the district was lifted in July 12 th 2016. About 20% or 2,460 out of 12,824 residents who had lived there have returned as of January 31 st 2018. The students helped cutting down unnecessary trees in a bamboo grove near Odaka shrine which was left untouched for more than five years. The locals decided to cut down the bamboos so that neighbors can feel safe in restarting their lives back in where they used to live. They put safety boots and leather gloves to cut down bamboos with a handsaw. This activity is handed over from and volunteers who come to help from all over the country and coincidentally, this particular bamboo grove cutting activity was handed over to a group of volunteers from another campus chapter next day.
The relay of volunteer activities carried out by will to support affected area is still in progress in various parts of Tohoku region after seven years from the earthquake. We will introduce voices of the students who took part in this volunteer activity.