Many people visited a daruma fair to buy Futaba darumas in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 7.
Daruma dolls, traditional round-shaped representations of the Indian priest Bodhidharma used as charms for the fulfillment of special wishes, are typically painted red, the color of his religious vestment, and have black eyebrows and a wispy beard painted on a white face.
But Futaba daruma, produced in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, feature blue-rimmed faces. The blue represents the Pacific Ocean, which stretches to the east of the town.
On the New Year’s Day, many of the townsfolk would go to the seaside to watch the first sunrise of the year turning the vast expanse of water into a sea of shiny gold.
But the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which generated massive tsunami and the catastrophic accident at the nuclear power plant partly located in the town, drastically changed the fate of Futaba.
All of the residents were evacuated. Even now, 6,000 or so townsfolk live in 38 prefectures across the nation.
When I asked evacuees what they missed about life in the town before the nuclear disaster, they cited tea they would drink together with other members of the community after farm work, the local Bon Festival dance and local “kagura,” or sacred Shinto music and dancing. They also talked nostalgically about the rice and vegetable fields which they took great care of, the croaking of frogs, flying fireflies and the sweet taste of freshly picked tomatoes.
What was lost is the richness of life that cannot be bought.
Kaori Araki, who has just celebrated reaching adulthood, cited the smell of the sea. “But what I miss most is my relationships with people,” she added.
After leaving Futaba, Araki lived in Tokyo and Fukui, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures before settling down in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. Her current residence is her seventh since she left an evacuation center.
On that day in March 2011, Araki, then a second-year junior high school student, escaped the tsunami with a friend. At a Coming-of-Age ceremony on Jan. 3, she met the friend, who also ended up living in a remote community, for the first time in about six years.
The government plans to ensure that some areas in Futaba will be inhabitable in five years. The municipal government has estimated that the town’s population a decade from now will be between 2,000 and 3,000.
In a survey of heads of families from Futaba conducted last fall, however, only 13 percent of the respondents said they wanted to return to the town.
A daruma fair to sell Futaba daruma started in front of temporary housing in Iwaki on Jan. 7.
The fair has been organized by volunteers since 2012 to keep this local New Year tradition alive. On Jan. 8, special buses brought people to the event from various locations both inside and outside the prefecture. There must have been many emotional reunions at the fair.
There were some green-colored daruma dolls sold at the fair as well. Green is the color of the school emblem of Futaba High School, which is to be closed at the end of March.
I hope that the daruma sold at the fair will help the purchasers fulfill their respective wishes.