Author Akiko Morimatsu(written in May in 201２)
I evacuated from Koriyama city in Fukushima to Osaka, after the Golden Week (note from translator: holiday period in Japan, from the end of April to the beginning of May).
My family members are the husband, four-year-and-four-month-old son, and a-year-and-eight-month-old daughter.
I am here in Osaka with my two children.
My husband stays in Fukushima alone and works for us.
On March 11th 2011, the day of the earthquake, I was alone with my five-month-old daughter at home, an apartment house.
Our unit in the ten-storied apartment house was at the eighth floor.
My daughter and I were relaxing in the afternoon as usual.
My son who just became three-year-old was out for the kindergarten that he was to enter in the April next year, for he had been going there already from when he had been two years old. He got on the bus to the kindergarten at 8:00 a.m. as usual, too
At 2:46 p.m., I, who felt an intense quake, immediately recognized it was an earthquake.
First, I thought of my daughters’ safety, held her head to protect her.
It was quite different from quakes of level 3 or 4. The quake was just increasing its intensity, so I couldn’t keep standing up there.
I felt the danger of my life for the first time.
At the same time, I felt the danger of my daughter’s life, too.
The period of quake of level 6 was only a moment, but I lost my composure and was almost panicked.
Terrible sound and intense quake. Since I couldn’t stand there due to the too intense quake, I laid my daughter under a low table.
The daughter who just became five months old was laughing loud with joy, misunderstanding the quake as something cradling her.
Now that her life was saved, it is just a funny story, but it was far from it at that time.
It was a pretty long quake.
What I saw in the living room was the scene that heavy furniture like cupboard or sofa went off from the wall, jumping like a slow motion, and get close to us at the center of the room.
I am appalled to recall it even now.
To be honest, I thought it was something much greater than an earthquake, for it was so intense and terrible.
The too long quake filled me with fear that this might be endless and I might be shaken forever.
Fortunately, my daughter and I both weren’t injured.
I didn’t know when the quake stopped. When I noticed it, my house is full of rubbles and there was no space to walk.
The fear I had was, however, hadn’t ended yet.
I looked at the door of the living room to find somewhere to escape, to saw water streaming in like ameba from around passage.
The apartment house is an old-fashioned, completely-electric one.
Each unit has a tank that can keep warm water for about two days. The tank seemed tipped or collapsed by the quake of level 6, and the distributing pipe was cut, broken.
Water streamed out from living room to each room, and whole the unit was under water about ten to fifteen centimeters depth after a hour or so,
I took the daughter to the bedroom and into bed clothes.
But, after a while, water started to drop from the ceiling, wall, and beams. In short, the tanks of upper units, the ones of 9th and 10th floor were also broken.
At the beginning, it was like leaking due to rain.
Rusty-colored water dropped in all of the rooms.
I was worried about the house’s strength, for afterquakes of level 4 or so were occurring often.
There was no dry and safe place where my zero-year-old daughter can lie in the house, because of flood and dropping water.
It was still in a cold season. I didn’t want to make water touch her.
Although it was snowy a little outside, I made up my mind to go out of the house.
I carried my daughter on my back for the first time at her fifth month after birth.
The explanation of the baby sling, a present from someone celebrating the birth of my second child said it was to be used after his/her head becomes stable, six months or so after birth. It was bran-new, never used yet.
But I tried it on in hazard.
Elevator of the apartment house was down. And I didn’t know how many times I would go up and down the stairs between the eighth and first floor. So I judged it was impossible to do it holding her in front of me.
I took the risk to carry her on my back, praying that her head was already stable.
Besides, I had to walk to search my son who I thought stayed at the kindergarten.
I have never forgotten about my just-three-year-old son even a moment from the beginning of the quake.
The building of kindergarten was newly built in previous summer…
But it was attacked by this intense quake…
He might be not OK…
I was thinking of the worst case of him already in the middle of quake.
On the other hand, I was praying, “Kindergarteners are (must be) protecting him.”
I wasn’t able to go to the kindergarten soon to meet him, because my house was dipping in water and I had to keep my daughter’s security, and so on.
When I noticed, two hours had passed since the earthquake occurred.
It was the time when kindergarten’s bus was to usually arrive at the house’s entrance, but it didn’t
I didn’t want to go wrong with my son, and there was no safe place for him, even if he came back.
So I was just hesitating without knowing what to do or where to go, holding her on my back.
Then, a nursery house across the street from my house opened its large room, and kindly let people with babies in.
I got a place to keep my child safely. I could go search my son. When I tried to do so, it was before 7:00 p.m., already after dark.
I was lucky enough to meet the car by which kindergarteners were taking children to home instead of their parents who couldn’t go to the kindergarten to see them. At last, I got together with my son in peace.
He was fortunately not injured.
He, who was in daytime nap, woke up to the level 6 of quake. So the quake didn’t seem to become his trauma, and he seemed to have no fear for earthquakes after going through afterquakes. It might be a blessing in disguise.
My husband went to work as usual in the morning, saying “I am going to go on a business trip to Sendai at night.” at that day.
It takes an hour or so from Koriyama where we were in to Sendai by Shinkansen.
When the earthquake occurred, I instantly thought “It is bad for him, if he is on Shinkansen now, for it stops.”
I wasn’t informed of his time schedule. I got worried. “If he is already in Sendai or he is in Shinkansen, can I meet him today?”, “Above all, is he OK?”
I later learned that he finished his work at usual time and was on the way to Shinkansen’s station, when the earthquake occurred.
He seemed to go back to the office soon. Fortunately he was not away from Koriyama.
After treating the afflicted office, getting on the car parked at the office, he came back home around at 11:00 p.m.
I wrote “Kids are OK! We are all at the nursery house across the street.” on two pieces of papers with a felt pen, and stuck them on the entrance door and the mail box down on the first floor.
He looked at them and sought us out. Thus, we could get together in peace within the day.
We experienced the life in an evacuation center for a month after that.
In this way, we lost the house and all of household belongings.
Radioactive pollution by NP-plant accident just after the earthquake was so serious that it was impossible to rebuild the life in Fukushima.
It forced us to choose a double life apart in Fukushima and Osaka.
It was in May, last year.
Almost one year has passed since we came to Osaka.
I still feel as if I am dreaming a dream. I do hope to settle down.
But this double life seems to be a burden in my mind. So I haven’t got back a stable life, ordinary days as we had before the disaster.
Although we decided to take a double life in order to keep our young son and daughter’s health, the evacuation life is harder than expected.
Economic weight due to maintaining the double life (double payment of house rent and utilities) and travel cost for husband to come to Osaka to meet his children makes our family finance tight.
However, we aren’t receiving any subsidy from the government or local one. It is because Koriyama, about 60 km away from the NP-plant, is out of the area covered by evacuation call or evacuation order, so our evacuation is completely voluntary.
Nonetheless, the numerical value of the quantity of radioactivity that indicators show in Koriyama, Fukushima pref is too high to watch, even in the spots decontaminated well.
In reality, playing in the sandbox in play ground is out of question. Even letting children go out for shopping or for kindergarten is fearful. It can’t be an environment where you are able to usually grow your children.
Such a situation hasn’t changed even after a year.
On the contrary, we can’t take our eyes off of the reality, for even the general public possesses indicators now.
I think things are really serious.
Forcing expectant women and mothers with infants alone to evacuate might be better…
I don’t remember how many times I thought so.
They are wasting human resources and money only on decontamination that looks unscientific even to my amateur eyes, and just dispersing rubbles nation-widely.
I think it couldn’t be more irrational.
I think that taking people (children who have futures) out of polluted areas is much better than taking rubbles out. I think so from bottom of my heart.
It has been a better case for him to be able to see his children once a month in this year. He couldn’t do it for longer than a month, as the worst case.
I am taking care of my children, persuading myself “This is same as the case of families who have father living apart in Japan or abroad for business.
But there is no fixed term for it like business case. When I consider that it will probably continue for a pretty long time, I get worried about its influence on children’s mentality.
I can’t remember how often I wondered if it was good for us to go out of Fukushima, in this year.
Was it really right that I separated the son who loved his father from him?
My daughter, who was five months old at the disaster, is growing up without knowing about her father. Doesn’t it give any bad influence on the relationship between father and daughter from now on?
Above all, I worry about the mental health of my husband, who stays alone at Fukushima for the sake of us and can’t see even children’s sleeping faces every day. Is he really OK?
On days off, he drives the car more than 700 km to Osaka to see them, but he doesn’t (can’t) stay here for 24 hours. He returns the same way without enough rest.
Although he came all the way to see them, I yell at children, “Dad is tired with job and drive.” “Let him sleep!” I wonder what I am doing in such a case.
Ever since the disaster occurred, no one of my family havs felt rest or calm mentally, physically.
We are frightened with the fear of invisible radioactivity in Fukushima. Outside Fukushima, we are forced to live an unstable life, apart from my husband.
The ordinary life as a resident in Fukushima prefecture changed drastically after that day.
Still, a year after evacuation, I’m gradually trying to walk looking forward, accepting the present state. Indeed, it is gradually, though.
More than a year after the disaster, while official supports are being terminated one after another, we, a mother and two children, have managed to do so far in Kansai. For one thing, it is because I understand that we have to accept the present state. But, above all, it’s because there are many people who don’t forget about the afflicted and evacuees, keeping them in minds.
I am really thankful to any kinds of support. I am simply grateful.
Let me mention the one I was thankful especially about, please.
My children love playing outdoors very much.
But, since I am managing to live daily life, it was impossible for me to take them somewhere out even on Saturday, Sunday, or holidays.
In such a situation, volunteer college students, men and women, played with children. This kind of event was really good. Children and I both were deeply grateful.
In summer, they invited children to a camping-out.
Children are very happy to play with men or women in around their twenties or so.
I have a baby. So it is impossible for me to take them out for camping or playing in the river, and so on, even we are in Osaka, unpolluted by radiation.
I am deeply grateful about them.
Although I am the only one who can concern my children in daily life, I am too busy with managing our life itself to do it.
I have been suffered from guilt feeling. I feel sorry for them.
Being helped from everyone, having a lot of people play with them, these things can be the greatest support we hope.
Thank you very much.
In addition, members of the social welfare council helped us who had no male family to transport heavy furniture.
While I was unpacking after move, childcare volunteers in the area kindly took care of the baby…
Indeed, I have been helped by various people in various ways.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the supports I was given in Kansai area.
I have no word to appreciate them.
Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart.
A magazine toward the afflicted that the social welfare council gives us told me there was an exchange party for the afflicted and evacuees.
Taking part in it and sharing common troubles or worries are my heart and soul, and an emotional support.
I met people in the same circumstances at the exchange party and learned I was not alone.
I don’t know how much I am relieved to talk about my problem that I sometimes feel isolated and can’t ask anyone for advice.
I have managed to get through so far, because of the organization that held such a party and childcare volunteers.
Now, I am thinking I have to get through also from now on.
A year ago, I was always spending an evacuation life with an inconsistent mentality, which means “Was evacuation really right?”
But now, I think we who were able to go out of Fukushima are rather lucky, even if the evacuation with mother and children has big troubles.
As many kinds of facts come out, and as I witness the reality that there are this many people who are sometimes called refugees or something, my inconsistent mentality over evacuation has disappeared almost completely.
On the contrary, now, I am sure that our evacuation is right.
As long as I know, there is no mother who has an infant, living in Fukushima, and has no worry.
They are always looking for a place where they can let children play outdoors.
They are always seeking for somewhere as a getaway in their long vacation.
However, they can’t go out of Fukushima even for a short time, for all of their relatives live in Fukushima…There are many families in such a case.
I have also thought considerably and most deeply in my life about rebuilding our life in Fukushima for a month, while I was not able to move anywhere in the evacuation center in Fukushima.
I was thinking it out, keeping the idea of rebuilding our life in Fukushima in my sight, with a feeling of anxiety about radioactive pollution in the situation where information about it was confusing much more than the present one.
My result was, “If there is a place to evacuate to, and if it is possible for us to evacuate, we should do so. Doing so is the best way for our children.”
Nothing is as stressful as spending a life in eerie worries and fears, and being regulated in a lot of things.
I used to always dry futon (note from translator: Japanese-style bedding) outdoors, in order to put it under sunshine.
But I had to do it with futon-drying-machine after the accident.
Washed clothes also had to be dried in doors, although my house was not so large.
It is pretty cool in the morning and at night even in summer in Fukushima.
So people were doing almost without using the air conditioner even in summer.
They can do it by opening the window, for wind strongly comes in.
But they have to make the air conditioner work in summer and winter after the accident.
It might be nothing for those who are used to doing so.
But people in Fukushima have to change such small customs one by one, considering the damage radiation might give to children in the future.
The above is nothing but an example in their lives.
Indeed, literally one by one, each of small things.
Radioactivity is invisible.
Honestly speaking, I easily imagined myself who thought “Forget about radioactive pollution. Take it as something that didn’t happen. Think it is OK.”
However, when I considered my children’s health, I couldn’t compromise. At the same time, thinking about it seriously was likely to make me become neurotic.
Thus, I was agonizing every day.
What I dislike most is, we have to be nervous about small points in our lives in general due to quite ambiguous worries or fears. That is to say, not that you have to do it as a prevention, for it is certainly harmful to your health, but that you’d better do it, for it might be harmful.
This really shatters us and makes us mentally exhausted.
I think it is easy for mothers to understand.
No mother chooses an option that looks harmful to the children even if a little.
My son, now that he has become four years old, goes out to the playground in front of the house every day. Once he goes out, he is never back until sunset.
He was too young to ride a bicycle a year ago.
Although my head knew that playing outdoors is important for children, the embarrassing thing is that I have never thought they love it so much.
He, who is being let play outdoors enough in the kindergarten, goes out again to the play ground soon after he is back home. Seeing him do so makes me think that it was right to have come to Osaka, every day.
My one-year-old daughter likes playing in the sand in the play ground very much.
Only infants aged 0 can stay inside the house for as little as some months.
Once they began to walk, it’s completely impossible for them to spend their lives just indoors.
Now, she plays in the sand every day, and loves taking walks outdoors, toddling.
When she walk on the road, she does it on the small side ditch or roadside, where radioactive materials tend to gather to make what is called a “hot spot” in radiated areas.
While she is walking, she tumbles at least once.
Every time she does it, she naturally lands her hands.
Then, I only have to worry if she gets injured on her face or not, now.
I don’t have to worry about the health damage by radioactivity in a usual event for a-year-old child, tumbling on the road.
An ordinary life that I mean is such a really simple one.
Having gone through the earthquake and the NP-plant accident caused by that, my idea about what is natural, what is usual has changed.
My sense of value, view of life, and valuation standard on things, they have drastically changed.
I would like my children to acquire an ability to live and to live on in the real sense of the term.
I would like to educate them so that they can do it.
I think we are now in the trying times for it.
Last of all, please let me introduce the subtitle of a book I read to you, for it is very sympathetic.
“The best crisis management is to think with your own head.”
Despite that Japan caused as a big NP-plant accident as that, this nation steered toward rebooting of other NP-plants while it hasn’t looked out any means or countermeasure, and without any investigation into the cause, first of all.
Having noticed that this nation learns nothing while people in certain areas are being sacrificed, I got appalled and deeply disappointed.
I am taking it into my heart every day that we have to eventually make self-judgment, self-decision, and self-responsibility.
I became aware of it again through the damage.
Even so, my children and I are able to spend the days supported by the warm kindnesses and thoughtfulness of those who have minds, volunteers, and local people in the area.
I really like to thank them. I deeply appreciate them.