International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Life slowly returns to normal for Fukushima tsunami survivors

The small town of Hisanohama in Fukushima prefecture was badly hit by the tsunami on 11 March 2011. In the days and weeks that followed, townspeople tried to salvage their valuables from the ruins but their efforts were mostly in vain, as almost everything they owned had been carried away and destroyed by the tsunami. 

“In the first few years following the disaster, I couldn’t sleep properly. Every night I was startled out of my sleep with a feeling that a tsunami was coming,” said Mr. Toshikatsu Endo, 51, who runs a small grocery store in the town.

He used to live on the second floor of his store, and when the tsunami hit the building, it not only destroyed his business but also his home. “Fortunately nobody in the family was killed by the tsunami, but my wife had just been admitted to the hospital when the disaster struck. Because of all the destruction and chaos she could not get the treatment she needed at the hospital,” Mr. Endo said. His wife died a few months later.

Five years on, Mr. Endo has opened a new shop in a temporary facility provided by local authorities. The shop is much smaller than the old one, but he is back in business and making a living for himself and his family.

“Most of my old customers moved out of town after the disaster so sales at the store are still much less than before,” he said.

Many of the inhabitants who were affected by the disaster were also elderly businessmen and women who had small shops and services in the old parts of the town, particularly in the low-lying areas close to the seashore.

One of them is 75-year-old Mrs. Makii Sugahara, who opened a new hair salon after losing her old one to the tsunami. Mrs. Sugahara had to get new chairs, scissors and other necessary tools for her new salon. The shop she and her husband previously owned was completely destroyed and they had to start their business from scratch in a small rented space. “We are always wondering how long we will be able to continue doing this work,” she said. “Despite everything we are still going strong, but we worry about how much time we have left on this world.”

Her neighbour, Mrs. Terui Sato, shares her concern. “I was fortunate to be able to rent this space for my new electric household appliances store, but I am getting old, and I worry about the future when I can no longer earn a living,” she said.

To help the communities affected by the tsunami, the Japanese Red Cross Society provided sets of electrical household appliances to over 133,000 evacuee families after they moved into temporary housing. Each set contained a microwave, rice cooker, hot water dispenser, refrigerator, washing machine and television.

“We lost everything in the tsunami including the everyday household items that we take for granted as an indispensable part of modern life,” said Mr. Endo. “When the Japanese Red Cross gave us an emergency relief package with all the most important electric household appliances, I was really happy. It was at that point that I felt that life had at last gained some semblance of normality.”

Equipment for measuring radiation in the air has been installed all over Fukushima to allow people to monitor the level of exposure.

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International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies