Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.9 Mr. Masahiro YUNOKAWA

Yonezawa City in Yamagata Prefecture is only 50 km away from Fukushima, but I learned that there were not so much flying radioactive substance. I contacted the Crisis Management Office of Yonezawa City. “You can come anytime” was the answer. The City accepted evacuees outside the designated evacuation-zone and offered the employment-promotion housing. However, we were not allowed to choose rooms. If it was acceptable with us, we could live there. We immediately decided to evacuate from Fukushima. Since my mother is old and I have a shop, it seemed difficult for her to leave the house, and decided to remain alone in Tatsugoyama. I took my wife and three children to Yonezawa City after the holidays in May 2011. Children were reluctant to leave, because they had to change their schools. I persuaded them to move for the moment, although we didn’t know how long we should stay in Yonezawa. The fact is that four years have passed since then.

Fukushima is approximately 50 to 60 km away from Yonezawa City, an hour- and half by car. It is not very far, but when it comes to a daily trip, it is quite hard, especially during the winter. One day, I met indescribable difficulties; icy roads, poor visibility due to blizzard and frozen wipers. The worst was that traffic was blocked by stalled lorries, cars skidded at a notorious accident black spot, Kuriko Toge Pass. I encountered such dangerous scenes quite often. My car skidded and went straight into the piled snow walls frequently. Or I got my car stuck in the snow rut and could not move an inch.
Employment-promotion housing was poorly equipped –no light fittings, no curtains, no refrigerators, no washing machines, no televisions, etc. — only with a bathtub. We brought necessaries from my house in Fukushima little by little. However, Mom lives there, we could not take them all. We bought a minimum of the necessaries and managed somehow to live on our own.
Later, the Japanese Red Cross Society provided us with a set of electric appliances. It was only in December that a supporting organization sent us water heaters. Till then, we had washed dishes with water. There was no shower in the bathroom either. Even if I wanted my children to take a shower during summer, they could bathe only with warm water. That was our life.
When I started my life in Yonezawa, I left home early in the morning and came back late at night. No holidays, and my time with children ran extremely short. Besides, children found it difficult to adapt themselves to new schools. An apartment of three rooms was too small for five and we were under constant stress. Children became emotionally unstable. My wife was saddled with too many problems; radiation exposure, emotionally unstable children, considerable inconveniences which came from unusual evacuation life, etc. One day, she suddenly collapsed because of high blood pressure and was taken to the hospital by an ambulance. It happened six months after our evacuation, and it really and truly was the hardest time for us.

Those who evacuated on their own initiative from outside the designated evacuation zones are called “voluntary evacuees,” and they are excepted from compensation, unlike those in the evacuation zones such as Namie, Futaba and Okuma towns on the Hamadori Coastline. Moreover, they have lived for a long time with little emergency supplies. There are many who are forced to live a double life – the rest of their families remain in Fukushima and only mothers and children are evacuated. Being self-employed, I can work flextime—free to fix my own working hours. But company employees must go to work at a fixed time in the morning. They work overtime from time to time, not knowing until when. After all, most of the fathers, decided to stay in Fukushima on weekdays, and visit Yonezawa only on weekends to join their families. They rarely see their children. They consequently became unstable emotionally. There are many who evacuated to towns and cities farther away to Yamagata City or even to Kanto and Kansai areas.

In a situation like this, my wife and I, particularly my wife, couldn’t sit still not doing anything, and began a variety of activities such as PTA and local community activities. As for myself, I served, for six months, as a president on the committee of the residents. Also, I launched the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Evacuees Association, and made an appeal time and again, mainly to the local and national governments to acquaint the officials with the situations that evacuees were put in. Yonezawa citizens are warm-hearted and we lived together in friendship. Their friendship and support is very encouraging, and I think I can keep going on.
We lived in the employment-promotion housing for two years, but it is getting harder to live in a small apartment, because my children are a boy and girls and the elder girl became a junior high school student. I requested a move to the officials of Yonezawa City and Yamagata Prefecture. It was accepted as a special case, and we could move to a house in Yonezawa City where we currently live.
I set up a new group “Heart Wedge Fukushima” in April 2014 together with fellow evacuees. It is a small association of fellowship activities for us, evacuees and with those who support us. Last year (2014), we hosted a get-together in Nagai City in cooperation with CTVC, Catholic Yonezawa and Nagai Churches, savoring local specialties of Yamagata, and this spring, a cherry-blossom viewing party in Yonezawa.