Families in Japan inching towards recovery after Fukushima

Girls look at candles at a park in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 11, 2012. Some 3,000 candles with messages written mainly by children lit the park to commemorate the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Jeremy Hobson: It has been a year since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan. And the economy there is finally starting to look better. As for the people --

Well, Marketplace's Scott Tong recently visited the country to check back in with some who had to evacuate their homes after the Fukushima disaster. He filed this report.


Scott Tong: Last year, I ran into some first grade girls at an evacuation shelter. They skipped rope. They sang the school song from the hometown they fled.

One mom, Emika Shiga, wondered at the time about her job at an auto part factory near Fukushima: Would it start up again? Would they keep her on the payroll?

Fast forward a year, and she's fired.

Emika Shiga: The factory resumed production, just outside the nuclear zone. But I'm here with my family and my husband's job. It's too far away. So as of March 10th, I'm fired.

The boss gave workers exactly one year to return, or else. So Emika Shiga's thinking of another line of work, perhaps part-time. For now, though, family is Job One. They've moved four times since the tsunami. Her son and daughter have a new school, with a new song.

She is a busy mom. She drives the kids to school, and hustles grandparents around town -- they evacuated, too. And she wades through official papers to get reimbursement from the nuclear plant, whose meltdown kicked them out of their homes.

Probably forever, says her husband.

Mr. Shiga: The whole town has to be decontaminated to a low level of radiation before anyone moves back. I doubt that will happen. It's sad, but we can't look back.

If anything good has come of this, Japan has shown it takes care of its own. The Shiga family's received ten months of unemployment pay, two years' worth of rent stipends, and an army of volunteer helpers.

Emika Shiga: All these people sharing their generosity. It's far more than I'd imagined.

And she didn't imagine the family dog would be here. When the family fled, they left it behind. But a month later, they made a quick trip home. And somehow, without any food, the hound survived.

In Saitama, Japan, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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