By Donican Lam
And while the numbers — including those who voluntarily fled without an evacuation order — have halved from their peak of 62,831 in March 2012, many of the issues facing evacuees remain unresolved.
Nakate, who was living in the prefectural capital of Fukushima when the earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, said the disaster had “pulled the rug out from under” him and left him feeling like he was “fading away.”
While the city was not designated for forced evacuations after the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant some 60 kilometers away, concerns over radiation led Nakate and his wife to decide two weeks later that she and their two children should move to western Japan while he stayed on in the city.
It was not until around a year and a half later that the family finally started living together again, setting up home in Sapporo, the capital of Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido, where they still remain.
Nakate, 60, currently co-heads Hinan no Kenri, a Hokkaido-based group fighting for the rights of Fukushima evacuees throughout Japan.
The movement was established in 2015 amid government efforts to promote the return of people to Fukushima — a drive that he says was conducted without consideration to the needs and desires of evacuees.
“It had been more than four years since the accident, and the central and local governments were moving forward with lifting evacuation orders, ending compensation, and promoting the return of evacuees as if ignoring our existence and will,” Nakate said.
His organization has a variety of demands for the central government, the foremost being a survey of the actual situation of evacuees, which he believes it has deliberately avoided doing so far.
Critics say the figures compiled by the central government do not accurately reflect reality as they are based on a system under which evacuees voluntarily register themselves as such with their new municipalities of residence.
In December last year, the Fukushima government, using central government data, reported that there were around 36,000 evacuees across Japan, including those within the prefecture. But the total reported by individual local municipalities in Fukushima added up to more than 67,000.
Yayoi Haraguchi, a sociology professor at Ibaraki University, said that while most Fukushima evacuees have settled into a rhythm, issues such as poverty, unemployment, a sense of alienation, and mental distress have continued over the past decade.
“It may look like things are alright, but many unseen issues lie under the surface,” said Haraguchi, 48, who also heads Fuainet, a local nonprofit organization providing support to Fukushima evacuees in Ibaraki, northeast of Tokyo.
Haraguchi said she has encountered evacuees in their 20s to 40s who have fallen into depression or become social recluses after they were unable to find a job. Yet others are struggling financially despite having received government compensation for a period of time.
“A study by Fukushima Medical University Hospital showed that those who evacuated to outside Fukushima Prefecture were more likely to suffer from mental issues than those who had evacuated to somewhere within the prefecture,” she said.
While the initial evacuations were often hurried, many of those remaining outside the prefecture have since moved in search of a better life, she said, often choosing to settle in Ibaraki Prefecture bordering Fukushima to its south.
Part of Ibaraki’s appeal to evacuees, she explained, is its cheaper cost of living compared to Tokyo and relatively mild climate.