TAMURA, Japan - People in Japan on Tuesday began their first homecomings in three years to a small area evacuated after the Fukushima disaster, but families are divided as worries about radiation and poor job prospects have kept many away.
The reopening of the Miyakoji area of Tamura, a city 220km north-east of Tokyo and inland from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear station, marks a tiny step for Japan as it attempts to recover from the 2011 disasters. But the event is a major milestone for the 357 registered residents of the district.
The trickle of returnees highlights both people's desire to return to the forested hamlet and the difficulty of returning to normal.
"Many of our friends and neighbours won't come back," said Kimiko Koyama, 69, speaking on her return to the large farmhouse she had occupied for 50 years, while her husband Toshio, 72, tried to fix a television antenna on the roof.
"There are no jobs. It's inconvenient and young people are scared of radiation," she said. "My daughter won't bring our grandsons here because of the radiation."
Miyakoji, set amid rolling hills and rice paddies, has been off-limits to most residents since March 2011, when the government ordered evacuations after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the power plant on the Pacific coast about 20 km (12 miles) away.
"The evacuation period was long, but I am happy that we can finally return home," said Tamura Mayor Yukei Tomitsuka. "For Tamura and its families, this is a fresh start."
SCHOOLS OPEN LATER THIS WEEK
It is the first area in the 20km Fukushima exclusion zone to be reopened as decontamination was completed, paving the way for more towns to be resettled. The government had planned to lift the Miyakoji ban in late October but opposition by residents delayed the move.
A few cars streamed into the town, where several TV news vans were set up. Some elderly women sat by the roadside, but there were no children or families in sight outside.
Schools open later this week, but seven children came to the local pre-school and four older children were also dropped off, as volunteers from nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power removed ice and snow and levelled the playground.
Children in temporary homes outside the evacuation zone got 30 minutes to play outdoors each day, but how long they will spend outdoors now they are home has yet to be decided. "We explain to them, 'There are bad germs outside and if you stay out too long, the germs will get inside your body,'" one teacher said. "Most of them understand."