Takahashi Fujiko’s story as told to Guadálupe Gonzalez

Takahashi Fujiko works at Ka-Chan No Chikara, a bento-box cafe and handicrafts boutique that was started in the downtown area of Fukushima city to benefit people like her who were evacuated from Iitate village. After much moving around as evacuees, she and her husband have secured a small, second-floor apartment. Her mother has an apartment on the ground floor. Takahashi has a pensive, almost stressed look on her face, but she smiles politely when she sits down to tell her story.

Ka Chan front door

At the time of the nuclear disaster I was working in a small office in Takahira. I was in disbelief because (people) were told to evacuate from Minamisoma (on the coast) to Iitate … 800 or 900 people … During that time we took them in and were using the schools and community centers.   We were doing takidashi (cookouts) and things like that.

And then‒the wind direction changed‒and now they tell us to evacuate, so‒ugh!‒ we have to do this too? We were in disbelief. It was a shock.

My son was in Saitama, so that’s where I went. I stayed there a little less than a month, but it took me eight and a half hours to get there (giggles) because the traffic was (unbelievable). And then, gasoline was not available. So we saved as much as we could in the tank, and then went on. Yeah, I got to Saitame and it took me eight and a half hours. Yeah, that was a lot of work.

There were just so many things to take of at that point. Like, where should I evacuate to? Where can I take my things? And all the sort of work-related things: cleaning up and all those things. So, I came back to Fukushima at one point to take care of all those things.

This first place we evacuated to was in Fukushima City. It was the only place we can go. We just had to go somewhere. And it just so happens that my mother lives there. So we decided to live there, but it was such a tiny place, it was such a small place and there many problems we had to deal with. And it was in the fifth floor without an elevator and we stayed there about a year but there was no room for our things there. No place to put anything. So every summer we would bring out summer clothes there and store our winter clothes there. Just to find a place to put one stove heater was a problem.

And then there was a place in Toyama that we went to live. I mean there are no open places for people can go there either, but we just happened to know someone. And they were kind enough to contact us. But in the beginning of the evacuation it was just so difficult. I’m sure it was like that for everybody…

I’ve been working for 20 years every day. (Now,) all of a sudden the day starts with you waking up and realizing you are not in your own house.

And you can’t sleep at night. And once it starts getting dark, you start thinking: “This is no good.” And I would think, “God what’ going to happen to Japan?” And all these things, and I’m sure it’s like that for everyone.

At this point, everyone is starting to worry about the future. About moving forward. They start selecting places to go and things like that, and I, myself, I’m still a blank white sheet. I have to worry about the well-being of my mother, where to settle down, how long is this living situation going to last. The anxiety used to be strong in the in the beginning.   Not knowing how long things are going to last, if we are going to be evacuated for one year or two.   If we at least knew if it was 2 years, I think it would at least calm us down. So not knowing how long things are going to last, and those kinds of fears and anxiety is a lot to deal with. And the village where I am from, there were like 11 houses, and, I just found this out, that no one goes back! (Laughs.)

And it just makes me wonder if I should just go back and decide to live there and stay there, or keep on going like this. I could fall asleep (now), but just to get to the point to fall asleep it takes so long. Because of my personality, I didn’t think I was on of those people who have those type of problems but I didn’t expect this thing to happen so there is no way to tell.

There are all these other places I could have gone, but I don’t know anyone there. (But) in the place I’m staying at now, I don’t know anybody. It’s very, very lonely. I don’t know anyone, and I rarely see people from Iitate, and when I do see them all we talk about is, “Where did you evacuate to?” That’s all we talk about! (Laughs.)

The people from my village I might not even see them once a year. I really don’t see them at all. And then when I do see them, they all live in such tiny, tiny places without even a parking space, so I don’t even know if I should say hello or not. To feel that kind of distance between people from own village, is a really lonely feeling. Everyone is all scattered everywhere.

There is still a lot of hardship, but it’s very fun working here. Everyone is positive, and looks forward, and they are all nice. And it’s a good place. Just meeting different people, and the back and forth between the customers, is really good. The location itself is very nice. And people use this as a meeting place. I would wish people would use this as some sort of gathering place, especially the younger people.

We talk a lot about how there are not a lot places for the evacuees to gather and hang out, be together. And, to provide the kind of place and have people come from far away, just to come here, is really nice. So when we get together we talk about, we share our stories, about what happened to us, tell each other about the things we have been enduring, and those are the conversations that we have.

That’s one of the reasons I can’t sleep. When I start thinking about that, I can’t sleep.

Even if I went back, I know that I can’t go back to my old life. Even if I go back, there are no young people around, there is no work, I can’t grow any vegetables. And my neighbors are no longer there, so even if I would return to a place like that, I don’t know what I would do.   So now I think about, “Where I should go next, where I should live next?” So it’s not a decision that’s easy to make. And my son, I’ve thought about moving in with my son, but there is no way I cannot go back to Iitate, because the butsudan (altar) is there and the family plot is there. And all my belongings are there because all I took was the minimum of what I needed. And there are community meetings going on for former residents of Iitate, so all those things are still there. And I have to worry about my mother, where she is living, and I don’t want to move to a place where I don’t know anyone there. So all those things I think about. And on my days off, I go around looking around for housing and things like that but it seems that is what everyone is doing as well.

As someone that went through this, to realize you just lost your furusato (homeland) and to have to tell your daughter that her inaka (where you came from, grew up) so to know what all the people that protected our homeland, our uncles and aunties, they’ve also lost their home. So to realize that is not just you that lost something but all these people as a whole, we all lost the same thing, and realizing that is very hard.

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