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Coming-of Age Day for Fukushima evacuees

 January 12, 2015
Fukushima evacuees pledge to rebuild communities on Coming-of-Age Day




IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture--Outside of their hometowns and a day earlier than usual, hundreds of evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture celebrated Coming-of-Age Day with the nuclear disaster still looming large in their thoughts.

The evacuees, who have turned 20 or will do so over the next three months, had their later teenage years shaped largely by the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

They are entering adulthood with the nuclear disaster still unresolved and reconstruction efforts blocked by high radiation levels.

“We face many issues, and the rebuilding effort will take many years,” Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said in a speech to 101 celebrants. “It is important to continue to hold passion and hope.”

The Coming-of-Age Day ceremony was held Jan. 11 at a hotel in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, about 40 kilometers south of Okuma, a now-deserted town that hosts the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Although Jan. 12 is the national holiday, seven cities, towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture that have some parts of their jurisdiction designated as evacuation zones because of the nuclear accident held their ceremonies in the middle of the three-day weekend to make it easier for evacuees to attend.

Some of the local governments were also forced to hold the ceremonies outside of their jurisdictions.

Yota Watanabe, 20, who works in the taxation section of the Okuma town government, attended the ceremony in Iwaki.

Watanabe was in his first year of senior high school when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. He began working at the Okuma government in spring 2014.

“I wanted to work on behalf of the town because it is my birthplace,” Watanabe said.

He took the mayor’s words to heart because he knows how busy the town government is in dealing with the problems and attention from the nuclear accident.

After the ceremony, Watanabe talked about the lengthy process of decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

“I will fulfill my responsibility as a town government employee to see that process to completion over the next 40 years,” he said.

All residents of Tomioka, a town directly south of Okuma, are also still living in evacuation. The town held its Coming-of-Age Day ceremony in Koriyama, where the Tomioka government has set up temporary offices. The ceremony was attended by 156 people.

Homes in Tomioka that were destroyed by the 2011 quake and tsunami remain untouched because high radiation levels are preventing any reconstruction work.

“I want to become an adult who can contribute to rebuilding my hometown,” said Masato Kujiraoka, 20, who is studying architecture at university.

For the ceremony, Kujiraoka resuscitated a band with junior high school classmates for the first time in five years. The band had played at the junior high school cultural festival.

On Jan. 11, band members performed the same song they did five years ago, a tune by the popular group flumpool. That stirred nostalgia among some participants who were hearing it again.

(This article was written by Yoshitaka Ito and Naoyuki Takahashi.)



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