Financial crunch time looms for Fukushima’s ‘voluntary evacuees’ via The Japan Times

This month, housing subsidies run out for those who fled the Fukushima nuclear disaster from areas other than the government-designated evacuation zones, and as the clock ticks down, evacuees have had to decide whether to return or move once again.

Many of these so-called voluntary evacuees are mothers seeking to avoid risking their children’s health while their husbands remain in radiation-hit Fukushima Prefecture, according to freelance journalist Chia Yoshida.

This is why the term “voluntary evacuee” is misleading, as it gives the impression that they fled Fukushima for selfish reasons, Yoshida told a news conference in January in Tokyo.

At the same news conference, another journalist proposed using the term “domestic refugee” to describe them.


The number of evacuees from the disaster, including those from mandatory evacuation areas, peaked at 164,865 as of May 2012, according to the prefectural government.

Its latest tally, conducted earlier this year, shows that 11,321 out of the 12,239 voluntary evacuee households had already decided where to live after April, while 250 had not.


Many voluntary evacuees are financially struggling as they have to cover the double living costs in their hometowns, where typically the fathers remain, and the new places where the mothers and children moved.

In that sense, the free housing has been a “lifeline” for them, particularly in the Tokyo metropolitan area where housing costs are high, according to journalist Yoshida.

In an attempt to extend support to those families, Makoto Yamada, a veteran pediatrician in Tokyo, established a fund with ¥3 million out of his own pocket to help them rent new houses, for example by covering the deposit.

The initiative was the latest example of the support he has been providing to evacuees. Three months after the disaster, he held a counseling session in the city of Fukushima that attracted some 400 people concerned about radiation exposure. He has continued to hold similar sessions in Tokyo.


In one high-profile case, a first-year junior high school student in Yokohama was called a “germ” at school, in reference to his supposed exposure to radiation.

Society appears to generally feel that voluntary evacuees have received a lot of money on top of the one-time compensation payment made by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the operator of Fukushima No. 1.

Yamada says if people understood that voluntary evacuees had no wish to leave but felt they had to, such bullying would disappear.

The first financial support from Yamada’s fund went to 10 mothers and their children on Jan. 15. He was surprised to see the recipients shed tears of joy upon receiving ¥200,000 or ¥300,000 each.

Yamada said the government has tried to reduce the number of evacuees from Fukushima in order to claim that their ranks have decreased and that the disaster has been overcome.

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