By Philippe Mesmer

Posted today at 6:04 am, updated at 6:13 am

It is a small bench of gray wood, placed between young cherry trees, facing a grassy expanse yellowed by the drought of the Japanese winter. Shinichiro Raku, in his seventies with a rare smile, anchored him where his house stood ten years ago, on a plot of 1,500 tsubos (5,000 square meters). “A large traditional residence. Beautiful weddings were organized there. “ The grandchildren lived with parents and grandparents, brightening up the building of Kawahara, coastal area of ​​the village of Odaka, in Minamisoma, commune of the department of Fukushima, shaded to the west by Mount Kunimi and opening to the is on the vastness of the Pacific.

The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011 changed everything. The wave swept away the house. Explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, 15 kilometers further south, left farmland with radioactive fallout. The Raku, like 80,000 people – including 14,000 in Odaka – who lived within a radius of 20 kilometers around the power station, had to flee.

Shinichiro Raku, seated where his tsunami swept away home was located in Kawahara on March 3.
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Ten years later, Mr. Raku symbolizes the dilemma of these evacuees, confronted with the question of returning to their homeland. Impatient to collect “On the graves of ancestors, on the lands we have inherited”, he chose to come back. From his bench in Kawahara, he draws with his hand what his neighborhood was like. “Here there was a house, there a paddy field. There, people died in the tsunami. “

Remains of missing houses

Nearly 700 people perished in Minamisoma in a disaster that left 22,500 dead and missing all along the eastern coast of the archipelago. Today, the ocean is hidden behind an imposing gray concrete dike. Of Kawahara, only the old man’s bench remains, a few remains of missing houses, and the small neighborhood temple, renovated in 2014 by a company from Kumamoto, a town in the southwest of the country.

Mr. Raku lives a few kilometers away, near Odaka station. The village has benefited from a vast decontamination operation – removing 5 centimeters of soil, pruning trees, passing buildings with a high pressure cleaner – to reduce exposure rates to 1 millisievert per year (similar to those recommended by France for the population).

In the summer of 2016, the authorities lifted the ban on living in the area. Housing has been built for survivors who have lost their homes and wish to resettle. Mr. Raku moved into a new house in 2018, “Really small” and modestly furnished. A few memories from before the drama add color to the pale walls. There are pictures of smiling people, “Recovered from the rubble by the soldiers of the self-defense forces”. Other pictures date from six years spent in prefabricated housing.

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