While holding my son
2011.10.20 update 2011.08
When the earthquake happened, Fumiko was at the community center near the Fukushima train station with her one-year-old son, Sousuke. Her husband, Tsutomu who works as a civil servant called and told her that he wouldn't be able to go back home since he had to take care of the chaos from the earthquake. The aftershock continues. Fumiko got together with her friend and decided to stay over at the home of her friend's parents.
Her mobile phone's battery run out so she couldn't get any information about what was happening from the earthquake that night. She spent the night talking and laughing with her friend while being anxious every time the aftershock struck. Fumiko thought Fukushima City area had the biggest shake. Fumiko thanked her friend's parents preparing a nice cozy room and she went to sleep with her son that night.
Fumiko went back home next morning, then she found out how big the impact from the earthquake was. Tsunami on the coast. Nuclear plant accident. She was horrified.
"The situation in Iwaki City where my parents live is very serious! Is it going to be ok? What would happen to my parents? Shouldn't they evacuate? I have to take my parents and relatives to somewhere safe as soon as possible." She thought.
She didn't care about the aftershock anymore. She was so anxious about Iwaki City that she wasn't be able to sleep at night. She was listening to the radio all day long to check about the situation in Fukushima. On the radio, she heard disaster information and words of encouragement. Those encouragement words made her feel a bit better.
Fumiko's husband, Tsutomu was checking disaster information through internet and said, "Fukushima City might not be safe either. We shouldn't do anything that might not be safe for children. We should close windows and curtain and try to stay at home as much as possible." After that weekend, Tsutomu started to work dealing with disaster issue and at shelters.
She was alone with her son at home. She saw people had been dried the laundry on the balcony as usual. There were children lining up with bucket in the rain to draw water because of water outage. "I don't need to worry about (radiation) too much. We are 60km away from the nuclear power plants. It will not reach this far. What I need to do is to make sure my parents evacuate since they live only 35km away from the nuclear power plants," she thought.
Fumiko's parents and 15 other relatives were staying at her grandmother's home where was at different area of Iwaki City. Since there were many people in the small house, they had to sleep on the floor. They brought their dogs and cats as well. Fumiko's cousin drove all of them to her grandmother's home right after the nuclear power plant accidents happened. Fumiko also asked her parents in law in Koriyama City to let her parents stay for a while, so her parents moved again. One of her relative family and her grandmother decided to stay in Iwaki.
"Now that I know it was fine this way but I had no idea what would happen to Iwaki that time. I was very scared. If I were them, I would choose to leave Iwaki. One of my relative family decided to stay because they couldn't leave her grandmother alone. It hurts so much when I look back and think about that time." Fumiko said.
On March 15th, Fumiko and her family went to Koriyama City to visit her parents. At that evening, they heard the news saying that the radiation amount exceeded 20μSv/h in Fukushima City. Koriyama had lower number of radiation compare to Fukushima City. Fumiko decided to stay with her son in Koriyama and Tsutomu went back to Fukushima City alone since he had to work.
However things didn't get better. On March 24th, the radiation amount was suddenly going up in Koriyama. "What? Going higher?" Fumiko started to check the radiation on internet. Each area had a different observation point before but now it unified to 1m above ground. In Koriyama, they had been observing at the 3rd floor of buildings. "This number isn't safe!" Fumiko contacted her husband right away.
However Tsutomu's response was unexpected. He said, "It's ok because the people who came here for screening from Nagasaki prefecture told me that there is no need to worry about at the level of micro sievert." He was very cautious about radiation however that feeling was changing as time goes by. Also, he was exhausted from day-to-day overwork and there was no energy to even talk to her. Fumiko felt that Tsutomu was trying to convince himself the situation wasn't that bad. After all, he didn't agree with Fumiko's idea to evacuate out of Fukushima prefecture.
Fumiko saw high school students playing sports outside, young children playing skipping rope outside, and few children wearing mask to cover their mouth and nose. It seemed like not only her husband but also many other people weren't so sensitive about the radiation, nevertheless, she tried to stay at home as much as possible. She also wiped with cloth everywhere inside the house and when she went out, she held her son in her arm, covered him with bath towel and run to the car.
"People must have thought I was extreme but there was no guarantee that we were safe so I wanted to protect my son in every possible way. I told my mother in law that I was over cautious but I couldn't help it. She said to me that I need to trust my feeling and do what you think right. It was great feeling that someone understood me. If she told me that I was too extreme, I would feel like fool worrying for nothing," said Fumiko.
The more she researched about radiation in Koriyama, the more worries she got. She tried to convince Tsutomu again to leave Fukushima prefecture. However his response was the same. He said, "You are worrying too much. Fukushima City became shelter for the people from Iidade village and Koriyama is even safer than Fukushima City. You evacuated to Koriyama already, so you don't need to worry and move again." Fumiko was frustrated and couldn't stay calm to talk to him. Now they don't have the same opinion about radioactivity, they repeated fighting every time they talked about evacuation.
On day, Fumiko sent a text message to Tsutomu.
Fumiko: We both know that we want to protect our son.
Tsutomu: Me too. I feel the same but I am overwhelmed right now.
Fumiko: I am so worried about Sousuke, so if I have a chance, I want to evacuate.
Slowly, they started understanding each other.
In April, there was a big aftershock. At the same time, much more information about radioactivity that people didn't know came out. It made Tsutomu worry too and he told Fumiko, "I want you to evacuate, if you can." Fumiko decided to move to her friend's place in Gumma prefecture. It was on April 14th.
Fumiko and her son took a bullet train from Koriyama to Gumma. She felt a big relief. "Finally we could move away for a safe place."
Fumiko opened the window freely and vacuumed her room. She felt joy being able to do simple day-to-day chores without feeling any stress.
Her friend offered her to stay as long as she wanted. "I knew it was troublesome for her and selfish of me but protecting my child was my top priority that time," said Fumiko.
Next a few months, she had to move around from her friends house to her relatives house and stayed out from Fukushima prefecture.
As time goes by, she started feeling calm about all the situation and she was thinking about weather she should continue living like this or go back to Fukushima. One day her friend from Iwaki contacted her saying "we are very careful about what to eat and when we go out but other than that, we are fine to live here in Iwaki."
In the middle of July, Fumiko and her son moved to her parent's house in Iwaki. Iwaki is close enough for Tsutomu to visit on weekends.
Right after the earthquake, Fumiko was trying so hard to make her parents and relatives to evacuate from Iwaki and now she decided to stay in Iwaki. "It's kind of ironic," she murmured.
"Even though we didn't go outside a lot when we were in Fukushima City and Koriyama City, I was still worried how much affect we had from the radiation. I tried not to think about it too much because it gave me so much stress. At the same time, I had diarrhea and bruise occasionally and my son had fever quite often. My friend from Fukushima City told me that her child had nose bleeding and my husband complains not feeling well. Normally I would think it's just cold or nothing serious but I can't help thinking that maybe it's because of the radiation."
Fumiko continues, "it's not just about now. These children will grow up with fear of radiation affect in their mind. When I was a child, I used to play in the forest and river without any worries. Children like to play that way but now these children can't do that anymore. When I think about how they have to live with this fear, it breaks my heart.
I wish I could tell my friends in Fukushima City to evacuate. I'm sure they always have fear in their mind although they seem to live in normal lives. If it's possible, they all should move to somewhere safe. However, each one of them has their own reason that they can't leave Fukushima and I know that telling them to evacuate would just give them distress. If I tell them that it's not safe there in Fukushima, it will just hurt them because they are aware of the situation but they can't move out. This is why I can't say it (to evacuate).
Some people say they can't decide to move out from Fukushima when they see their children going to school or kindergarten so happily. Others moved out once but they came back because their children cried everyday saying that they wanted to see their friends. People have these dilemmas. The children can't understand what radioactivity is and radioactivity being invisible is making it worse. The children want to play outside but they cannot and they are apart from their friends. I heard some children lost their smile after evacuating. I guess evacuating from where they are is not the best decision for everyone.
My husband is in the same situation. He says he is doing fine but I'm sure he is overwhelmed staying in Fukushima City all by himself and has to work. Sometimes I wonder why we have to be apart like this but when I think about my son, I feel at ease not to live in Fukushima City than living there all together with fear.
I can tell that my husband is taking his job like a big mission to change Fukushima better place as they recover from this disaster. Therefore although I am worried about the radioactivity, I understand how he feels and I want to support him. Our son's safety is the priority for him too, so he is entrusting the responsibility to me completely. He has been always great father to Sousuke. Now he is feeling even stronger to protect our son as much as I do. If he starts thinking Fukushima City is safe for children, then we would probably have conflict again. He told me that I shouldn't stay too long at other people's house. It is troublesome for them, but on the other hand he respects and understands my decisions to stay there. At least he doesn't have to worry about his son, so he can concentrate on his work.
I see my husband every weekend, so I finally feel our lives are a little bit stable back here in Fukushima prefecture. If someone asks what we are going to do next, we wouldn't be able to answer that. We did talk about moving to different prefecture, Sendai, Miyagi, but we still have my parent's place where I feel safe. So for now we are not in a hurry to move out.
I truly wish three of us could live together. In the beginning, I was desperately moving from one place to another for my son's safety. As time goes by, living this way is unbearable.
I am oppose the nuclear power plants that give people suffering and fear. There are some people saying that it would affect employment and our economy if we don't have nuclear power plants. However, an explosion from just one nuclear power plant has caused so much damage on the surrounding environments and on people both physically and emotionally. It's impossible for me to accept this. Now I realized how people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been feeling about nuclear power plants. This incident really has opened up my eyes.
If this disaster didn't happen, I would be living in Fukushima City, meeting up with my friends, join activity group, going on a trip, and just live my normal life. Now, I don't really care how I look and I don't spend time to take care of myself, what matters are my son's and family's safety and health. Each day all I do is taking care of my son and family, making sure that they are alright.
At least my son seems healthy and he smiles everyday, so I just want to keep seeing this smile for now."
Since that day Fumiko hasn't gone back home in Fukushima City, except for only once to clean up her house.
(Translated by Chie Kinjo)