A woman holds a group photo and high school diploma taken in Fukushima before the evacuation. She sometimes looked at the photos at the beach when she was having a hard time.

March 11, 2022

Serialization “At the End of the Tunnel: Trajectory of the Girl and Her Family” (1)

On her last day of high school, a girl (18) nearly burst into tears when her name was called by her homeroom teacher at the presentation of her diploma. The teachers and friends at this school made me smile from the bottom of my heart. I was sad to graduate. I didn’t think so when I was in elementary and junior high school.
 On March 11, 2011, just before the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant occurred, the girl was 7 years old and entering the second grade of elementary school. During the summer vacation after moving on to the next grade, she evacuated from Koriyama City in Fukushima Prefecture to Niigata. In the place where she sought a safe haven, she was bullied, saying “Fukushima is dirty” and “radioactive,” and cried out repeatedly that she wanted to go back to Fukushima. When she was in high school, she even attempted suicide.
 Days went on in a long dark tunnel with no way out. Now, under a clear sky, I feel as if I have finally escaped from that exit. Whenever you feel lonely, come back to us. From April, she will attend a vocational school in Niigata Prefecture to fulfill her dream.
Classmates transferred one after another… “It’s my turn now,” she said.
 March 11, 2011, 2:46 p.m. I was watching TV with my grandfather at home in Koriyama City. Furniture fell over and dishes broke as a result of the violent shaking. The cell phone was beeping incessantly with earthquake early warnings. I hit my head and body hard against the leg of the sunken kotatsu and the desk I was squatting on, and cried out in fear. I’m going to die, aren’t I? When she ran out of the house, she found a blizzard.
 At the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, hydrogen explosions occurred at the Unit 1 reactor on March 12 and at the Unit 3 reactor on March 14. A relative who had family members in the Self-Defense Forces told her father, “I heard the nuclear power plant is dangerous. We’re going to run away,” and her parents decided to evacuate temporarily.
 In the early morning of the 16th, the car with the family of four, including her one-year-old sister, headed for Niigata. At the shelter where they took shelter, there was hot food and hot spring baths. A private room was prepared for the family’s young child, and the mother was small, saying, “Even though we are not from the evacuation zone. Every day was fun because I could play with other children who had evacuated.
 When she returned to Koriyama in time for the new school term in April, she found her days suffocating. The children wore long sleeves, long pants, hats, and masks to avoid exposure to radiation, and the classroom windows were closed. The school building was covered with blue tarps, and the topsoil in the schoolyard had been stripped and piled up for decontamination. The homeroom teachers told us not to touch the soil.
 In the middle of the first semester, one by one, her classmates moved away from the school. I think it’s dangerous here, so I’m thinking of going to Niigata. When my parents asked me about it, I thought, “My turn has come.
 I was sad to leave my beloved father and grandparents who remained in Fukushima for work, but I knew that my parents were trying to protect me and my sister. So I thought positively and answered cheerfully. ‘That’s fine. You’ll just make more friends.”
 At the closing ceremony of the first semester, I was filled with sadness when my friends told me, “It will be okay wherever you go,” and “I’ll be waiting for you to come back to Fukushima again. That day, we took a group photo in class. It is a treasure that I still look back on from time to time. (Natsuko Katayama)
 Based on more than a year of interviews, this report tells the story of the girl and her family over the past 11 years in four installments.