Fukushima’s On-going Repopulation is ignored by the Press

Fukushima’s On-going Repopulation is ignored by the Press

The slow, but steady, repopulation of Fukushima’s former “no-go” zone is an undeniable fact. By all indications the return of former residents will continue well into the foreseeable future. However, most of the Japanese and International Press outlets are not reporting on it! Why?

Every time a municipality has its Tokyo-mandated evacuation order rescinded, the Japanese Press points out that less than 10% of the original population immediately goes home. Most of the immediate repopulation seem to be retired people, and the majority of the younger evacuees are posited to be staying away. Families with children are said to be unwilling to return because of lingering fears concerning the extremely low post-decontamination levels of radiation. There’s also those who don’t trust Tokyo, Tepco, or the Fukushima government. Other reluctant evacuees say they fear yet-another nuke accident.

A handful of the evacuees are cited with their reasons for not repopulating. One former Iitate farmer asks, “Would you bring children here and let them roam in the fields and forests? It’s inhuman to make people go back to this.” He compares psychological damage to radiation because it is invisible, thus, “A lot of people are suffering in silence.” A grandfather says his grandchildren should not have to live in such a dangerous place.

Japan Times has run an article that makes the notion of repopulation seem fly-by-night. (1) Iitate village’s evacuation order was lifted on April 1st, but 70% of the town’s evacuees polled by the Times say they are not going back. The Times contests Tokyo’s lifting of the evacuation order because the forests were not decontaminated, so wind and rain might cause recontamination of homes and schools. The Times also infers that those who do return are merely succumbing to the government stopping all compensation checks and free housing next April 1st, alleging a subtle form of social blackmail.

A gloomy picture indeed…if it were all true.

But, it is not!

What has happened over the months (and in some cases, years) since the lifting of the orders is largely unreported in Japan, and never broadcast internationally. Evacuees have continued to return home after the orders were lifted, albeit at relatively low pace. This includes numerous families with children! Furthermore, a significant number of voluntary evacuees say they will eventually return home! But, this information is rarely broadcast, and then mostly by outlets with a limited audience such as Fukushima Minpo and JAIF.

Let’s begin with 80% of Hirono Town’s population having already returned home. (2) The entire town was told to evacuate on March 13, 2011. That order was lifted in September, 2011, because nearly all of the town was not located inside the Tokyo-mandated no-go zone. But, the return of residents has been at a snail’s pace since. In February of this year, only about 2,900 of the evacuated 4,932 had come back. With the termination of the government’s free housing stipend for evacuees from communities where evacuation orders have been lifted, more than a thousand additional residents decided to return. The town’s current official population is 3,900, of which 440 are age 18 or younger! More than 800 of the remaining evacuees remain residents of Fukushima Prefecture, mostly living in nearby Iwate City. 

Then there’s the Odaka District of Minamisoma City. (3) Before being ordered to evacuate, the district population stood at a little over 9,000. When the evacuation order was lifted in July, 2016, the number of residents that had returned home stood at 311; or 3.5% of the original population. What has been ignored by nearly all news media is that as of March 31, 2017, the population had swelled to 1,488! This marked a five-fold increase in only nine months. It was shared at a Press conference on April 12th, but unreported.

Minamisoma’s Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai says the population rise includes numerous school children. Four elementary schools have been reopened along with a junior high school, plus a new high school has been built. More than 100 children are now going to school in the former Odaka “no-go” zone. Sakurai added that an increasing number of businesses have also restarted, further making the repopulation experience easier for those returning home. This suggests that a slow, steady repopulation of the district will proceed well into the future.

Next, we come to Naraha Town. The population before its forced evacuation was almost 8,000. Because of its coastal location, much of the town was physically devastated by the quake and tsunami of March, 2011. The evacuation order rendered in 2011 was lifted in September of 2015. As of October, 2016 - nearly a year later - only 976 had returned, and widely reported by the Press. However, the reopening of schools, a convenience store, and a child-raising facility caused the population to swell. As of April 1st, the population had grown to 1,616! This was reported only by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum. (4)

It should be mentioned that the earlier-mentioned Japan Times article said there were reports of 1,600 people returning to Naraha, but states that returnees are “mainly elderly” and the total is “likely inflated”. However, the JAIF posting reveals that only 38% of the returnees are elderly; 621 out of more than 1,600! 9.5% (154) are under 20 and 15.7% are in the 20-30 demographic. So much for the correctness of the Japan Times report!

The NY Times’ Asia Pacific outlet also admits to these figures (5), but adds, “So far, only one in five former residents has come home”, then focuses on the huge piles of bags filled with decontamination refuse, the radiophobic fears of some of teachers in the new school, and alleged “lingering anxieties” of those returning. The article also attempts to make the reader believe that repopulation was hasty by citing a Temple University (Tokyo) professor who said, “I don’t want to accuse anyone of being consciously disingenuous,” but government officials “have every incentive to downplay the level of risk and to put a positive spin on it.”

Buried near the end of the lengthy NY Times report, the Naraha mayor, Yukiei Matsumoto, says surveys showed that just under three-quarters of former residents wanted to eventually return. He added, “In order to clear the stigma that people have. We are back now to show the rest of the country and the rest of the world that we are doing well.”

There is no reason to think that the repopulation experiences of Hirono, Minamisoma, and Naraha are statistical outliers! Of the dozen-odd towns and cities that capitulated to the 2011 evacuation mandates of Tokyo, only Okuma and Futaba remain so-restricted. Nearly two-thirds of the mandated evacuees are now allowed to go home, and it seems that an overwhelming majority will do-so over the next few years.

Return is also in the cards for thousands of non-mandated evacuees. Buried at the end of a Mainichi Shimbun article headlining that 80% of the voluntary evacuees have no intention of ever going home, (6) we find telling tidbits of a converse nature. 18% of the voluntaries who fled to places outside Fukushima Prefecture say they intend to return! However, a whopping 67% of the voluntaries who fled to places inside the prefecture say they intend to eventually go home! Why did the Mainichi submerge this important discovery in the near-netherworld of its report?

Regardless, it seems that contrary to the on-going impression provided by the popular Press, the slow return of Fukushima evacuees, after evacuation orders are lifted, should continue for quite a while. Further, future repopulation will include thousands of so-called “voluntary” evacuees.

It must be mentioned that many voluntaries who remain in Fukushima Prefecture are upset with their farther-emigrated counterparts who say Fukushima is too dangerous for them to ever go home. (7) One woman living in Fukushima City says, “We reside in Fukushima Prefecture, and I would like them not to speak ill of the prefecture.” One Fukushima mother explained, “Many mothers who have returned to the prefecture after fleeing outside are worried about whether they will be able to restore ties with their peers who did not evacuate.” Thus, there is a real risk of social alienation for voluntaries returning from outside Fukushima.

To try and counteract this disturbing trend, a non-profit group has put together a booklet containing messages from 31 mothers who decided to return. It asserts, “Those who have evacuated voluntarily have had to make countless decisions over the past six years. The mothers who have had such experiences feel that whatever the decisions the other mothers made, they are not wrong.”

But, let’s to return to our original query. Why has the continuing repopulation of the old “no-go” zone been largely ignored in Japan, and completely disregarded by the International Press? This reporter believes it all comes down to money! The Press is a finance-driven enterprise. It will focus on topics that have regularly boosted its life-blood; advertising income. In order to keep conceptions alive that will likely boost advertising revenue, the Press often chooses to ignore those stories that might diminish the impact of the money-makers; if not render them vacuous! Case-in-point…Fukushima! Fukushima-negative articles are sure-fire profit-boosters, and the Press will literally bend over backwards to keep it that way! Focusing only on the low immediate repopulation percentages is a sure-fire money-maker; reporting that people continue to return will thusly hurt the profitability of the cash cow concept!

Sometimes, we shouldn’t meekly devour what the Press decides to tell us. In the case of Fukushima, we should look into what is being intentionally withheld by the Press that might harm their financial bottom line!


References –

1 – In Fukushima, a land where few return; The Japan Times, May 13, 2017. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/05/13/national/social-issues/fukushima-land-return/#.WRhkLKOwcdU

2 - Hirono Town Back to 79.1 Percent of Its Original Population; Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, May 17, 2017.  http://www.jaif.or.jp/en/hirono-town-back-to-79-1-percent-of-its-original-population/

3 - Residents in Odaka up 239 to 1,488 as of March 31, 16.4% of registered population; Fukushima Minpo News, April 13, 2017.  http://www.fukushimaminponews.com/news.html?id=815

4 - Increase in Young Persons and Those Raising Children among Returnees to Naraha Town; Atoms in Japan, Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, May 16, 2017. http://www.jaif.or.jp/en/increase-in-young-persons-and-those-raising-children-among-returnees-to-naraha-town/

5 - The Children of Fukushima Return, Six Years After the Nuclear Disaster; NY Times Asia Pacific, April 21, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/world/asia/japan-fukushima-nuclear-disaster-children.html?_r=1

6 - 80% of voluntary Fukushima disaster evacuees outside pref. won't move back; Mainichi Shimbun, April 25, 2017. http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170425/p2a/00m/0na/003000c

7 - ‘Voluntary’ evacuees torn by decision to flee from Fukushima; Asahi Shimbun, April 25, 2017. http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704250040.html