Near-empty classrooms marked the start of the new academic year in municipalities where evacuation orders dating from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster were recently lifted.
Fourteen public elementary and junior high schools in five municipalities reopened their doors in April for the first time in seven years, but only 135 youngsters showed up.
The figure represents just 3 percent of the 4,000 or so children who were enrolled at 21 local schools prior to the disaster.
The low return rate highlights the daunting task for officials trying to revitalize local communities, given fears that an absence of children offers only murky prospects of survival.
Municipalities where evacuation orders were lifted refurbished school buildings and constructed new swimming polls and gymnasiums to attract more children.
Schools reopened in Namie, Tomioka, Iitate and the Yamakiya district of Kawamata, where evacuation orders were lifted in spring 2017 with the exception of difficult-to-return zones, as well as in Katsurao, where most of the village was deemed safe to return to in 2016.
Those municipalities had set up temporary schools at locations where many residents evacuated.
After the lifting of the evacuation orders, the percentage of residents who have returned to their former communities range from 3.5 percent in Namie to 33.9 percent in Kawamata.
Most of the returnees are senior citizens.