ph005_01.jpgNana went straight home after her school as usual and sat at her desk to do her homework. Nana lives in a municipal apartment on the 3rd floor with her parents and her 6 siblings. On March 11th, two of her younger sisters, her 2nd oldest brother and her mother were staying at home. There was a sound coming from TV and it seemed to be just another usual afternoon.

Suddenly, the earth quake struck them. The shelves fell over, their things were thrown all over across the floor, the wall made loud squeaky noises, and a crack formed on the ceilings across the rooms.

Nana ran to the living room where her mother was. Her mother was holding the little sisters under her arms and shouted, "Not safe here, put your shoes on and we'll go outside!" Nana staggered in the shaking room. She tried to stay close to her mother and brother and walked toward the front door. She put on her shoes and went outside. They went to a safe area and looked for her two other brothers who were on the way coming home from school. They found the two brothers, both were safe.

"If there is another big shake, our home might collapse." they thought. They decided to go to an evacuation area instead of going home. The people there were saying Tsunami would come. Mother tried to reach Nana's father and called him many times. Nana's father works at a nuclear power plant company by the sea. "Please stay safe!" they all prayed.

When the earthquake occurred, her father was still at work. He was told to evacuate immediately. He got into a car leaving most of his belongings behind. All the phone calls he made to home did not go through. Nana's father was already nearby when the call finally went through. Nana's family was relieved to find out everyone was safe.

But the situation at the shelter was not as good as they hoped. The shelter can only spare either one rice ball or one bread, the children were hungry, there is also possible danger of the house collapsing, water or other supplies cannot come and news of the nuclear accident terrifies them. "Radioactivity can't reach over here so we are fine," said people at the shelter, trying to console Nana's mother. She was having headache and nausea from the shocks and those words didn't help her to calm down. "The aftershocks keep happening. I am worried about the radioactivity. There is not enough food... how am I supposed to protect my kids?" Nana's mother thought. Her family then decided to stay with their relatives in Yokohama.

As soon as they arrived in Yokohama, they heard news about the Unit 3 explosions. "This may be bad. If it gets worse, we might not be able to go back home for 10 or 20 years," said the father, who has experience working inside the nuclear power plant. "We can't go back to Fukushima anymore?." The family was stunned by the thought of it. The father's colleague contacted him. He said, "I was taking care of the explosion. I had to leave because it exceeded the allowable limit (of radioactivity)." Nana's family was afraid that the father might have to go to the nuclear power plant as well if his company asks him. Not long after, the company contacted him. It was an order to go to a thermal power plant.

Father and mother went back to Iwaki (in Fukushima) first without the children. The house was left as it is after the earthquake. Mother didn't want this mess in the house to remind children about the earthquake. So she threw away all the broken objects, cleaned up the rooms and put everything back to the way it was as if nothing ever happened. When she felt the house was ready, she went to Yokohama to bring her children back home.

However, only a few days after Nana and her family returned to Iwaki, another major earthquake occurred again. It was raining and there was lightning on that day. Nana immediately ran outside barefoot in the rain. "I don't want to go home! I'm scared!"

The family decided to go to a shelter with Nana who was still frightened by the earthquake. They went around several shelters, asking if they could stay although their house wasn't collapsed. They managed to find a shelter that would take them in.

Every time there was a rumor among children that said, "There will be an earthquake on this day", Nana was filled with anxiety. Lightning or raining also made her anxious and made her cry. "I don't want to go home," said Nana. The family comforted her and took her home, but Nana would wake up alone in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep. When Nana's little sister or brother jumped around the house and shook it even a little, Nana would get frightened and cried. Because of this situation the family had to go back and forth the shelter.

Whenever a doctor came to the shelter, the mother consulted about Nana's situation. Some doctor would say, "It's the parents' fault. You should just go back and stay home" and other doctors would say, "Forcing and taking her back home would make it worse so give her some time to adjust." The only thing the mother could do was to wait and see.

There was also another concern. It's the impact of the radioactivity on children. The fact that radiation is not visible made their fear it more.

Even though the parents told the children, "Don't touch dirt or water. No more playing with water", the children often forgot and played with them the next day. It was very hard to say "No more dirt, water or flower", since it is young children's normal behavior to play with them. However, Nana's parents had to make sure that their children would have a future. They later learned about what happened to the people of Chernobyl. They were not worried about themselves, but they don't want the same fate to happen to their children.

Nana said, "Since people tell me not to go outside, I play cards, games or make our own card games and play with them inside. But I'm not scared because the number of radioactivity is low in Iwaki. Only small children wear masks in my school. There are some children who were wearing masks because of hay fever but not for the radioactivity. I can't do anything if I worry too much."

The mother continued, "Even though it says the radioactivity number is lower in Iwaki, it is not a usual number. I think there is quite amount of radioactivity and I am cautious about it. I would like to move to safer place for my children. But when I think of how Fukushima people are discriminated outside, it discourages me to move out from Fukushima. I'm afraid to go to Tokyo because I heard the news about the bullying in Tokyo towards kids from Fukushima. No one is to be blamed but I am very reluctant to move now. I want outside people to know what we are going through in Fukushima. If all the people in Fukushima were told to evacuate, I would be happy to do so. However, I am afraid how people would treat us if my family moves to other place on our own." There were tears in her eyes as she was talking.

The mother added, "I want the children to know that they have done nothing wrong to deserve this."

The shelter became a place that people get together, unite, and comfort each other for both adults and children while they are still facing anxiety. It seems like children are at ease while they are playing together. The children also started to volunteer taking care of others and assisting cooking. They learned about caring for others and the importance of working together through this experience. It is clear that something changed inside of them.

After living in the shelter for quite some time, Nana met a boy of the same age. He became her boyfriend, a puppy love. The positive experience in the shelter has slowly transformed her fear into strength, Nana is now ready to get her life back.

Nana said "We can go home! The person who check houses came and said it's ok. So it is ok now!"

During the holidays in May, the family finally returned to their own home.

(Translated by Chie Kinjo)