The second section of this chapter addresses the formation and transition of communities of evacuees who were displaced by the nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohoku occurred on 11 March 2011 (see also Chap. 2). According to the website of Fukushima Prefecture (2013), approximately 154 thousand residents of Fukushima Prefecture were evacuated, of which 109 thousand were mandatorily evacuated by 19 February 2013. The number of evacuees of the Prefecture as of January 2017 was approximately 81 thousand (Fukushima Prefecture 2017).
In this section, we detail results of interviews and document analyses related to the impacts brought by the relocation or resettlement processes on the disaster-impacted people’s everyday lives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with community members and stakeholders from Namie, Naraha and Tomioka towns and Iwaki city in Fukushima Prefecture (Fig. 11.2). Each of the semi-structured interviews focused on the disaster and the recovery processes. Namie and Tomioka towns are different in location and land size, but both were under evacuation order (which was partially lifted in March and April 2017) and contain areas where residents will not be able to return at least for five yearsFootnote 6 (Cabinet Office 2013). Naraha town lifted its evacuation order in September 2015. Iwaki city did not issue an evacuation order, but experienced severe tsunami damage on the coastal areas and received influx of evacuees from other towns.
11.5.1 Formation of Residents’ Groups During First Year After the Disaster
The neighbourhood councils called jichikai are a form of self-organised groups in Japan who are officially recognised by local governments and have a lobbying role for the residents living in their respective neighbourhood. Evacuees also established their neighbourhood councils at each temporary housing units (kasetsu in Japanese) where they have been evacuated, to liaise between the residents of their unit and their local government. Some interviewees highlighted that the effectiveness of these bottom-up organised groups was more effective compared to individual voices when negotiating and working with authorities. For example, a temporary housing council leader stated that he officially established the evacuee’s council in July 2011, which was the first official group of evacuees from Namie. He recalled that his requests on temporary housing conditions were all rejected by the local government when the requests were made as individuals, but then, were mostly addressed after the establishment of evacuee’s council. The official jichikai (neighbourhood council) status increased the validity of the residents’ collective voices for the local government to recognise the raised issues as more community-based rather than individually generated.
Temporary housing for evacuees from Naraha became available in July 2011. However, initially, Naraha evacuees in some of the temporary housing units did not establish their neighbourhood councils, because decisions on the establishment were left to the residents. Eventually, each estate formed its evacuee’s councils once both the town office and the residents recognised the necessity of an official liaison. In Tomioka, the town office maximised its pre-existing ties with residents to establish temporary housing evacuee’s councils (kasetsu jichikai-s), consulting with local leaders in the early stage of evacuation. Therefore, the establishment of such councils in Tomioka (May 2011—only two months after the disaster) was quicker than that in Naraha. This led to the outcome that the scattered Tomioka residents played a leading role in establishing these evacuee’s councils. In any case, evacuee’s councils were expected to process requests and announcements from both the government and residents, although the focus was mostly on dealing with residents collectively rather than individually. With the help of town office meeting venues for evacuee’s councils, which became available from October 2012, extensive networks among these councils were quickly and successfully enabled.
The evacuee’s council (jichikai) structure was also helpful for those who lived outside temporary housing units, including evacuees who were living in rental housing subsidised by local governments (kariage in Japanese).Footnote 7 Namie set up evacuee’s councils for themselves in various locations following the series of establishments of temporary housing councils. Many interviewees highlighted the importance of looking after the evacuees outside the temporary housing units as much as those inside. This is because, in general, people outside temporary housing units attracted less attention than those inside due to their less visible presence. Temporary housing units were physically visible and identifiable living as clusters (see Chap. 2, Fig. 2.4), but subsidised rental accommodations (kariage) were geographically woven into host communities. The situation of public housing evacuees from Naraha and Tomioka was similar to that of Namie evacuees. Evacuees living in subsidised rental housing received services such as town magazines, rental tablet devices and regular visits of social welfare council staff to maintain basic communication.
Staff members of the social welfare council of Namie pointed out the challenges of sharing information evenly and timely with evacuees scattered in subsidised rental housing. Because of unfamiliar surroundings that these evacuees suddenly faced, they often became reluctant to go out, and they eventually became isolated. According to Shinmachi-Namie, a citizen-led support group of Namie, these kariage evacuees had little opportunities to gather or interact with other Namie residents and share their feelings and experiences. It was one of major challenges for Namie community in the early stage of temporary settlements.
Retaining broader connections between evacuees was an important issue too, because several residents evacuated to not only within the Fukushima region but also across Japan and beyond. Shinmachi-Namie was established by some members of the local merchants’ association of Namie. According to a leading staff member of Shinmachi-Namie, the organisation adopted a form of NPO (Non-Profit Organisation) to maximise the social and financial opportunities in recovery such as grant application. It held evacuees’ networking events and supported the establishment of evacuee’s councils for those living in subsidised rental housing in the cities of Nihonmatsu, Koriyama and Sukagawa and set-up of a community-based recovery committee of Namie.
11.5.2 Emerging Communities and Issues in Recovery—Second and Third Years Post Disaster
Many interviewees living in temporary housing units strongly valued the sense of belonging to their new communities at each estate. These emerging communities were the place where they could live together after being transferred from one place to another many times. While this sense of community developed, various changes kept widening gaps between individuals and communities despite that evacuees’ everyday lives seemed less chaotic than the initial phase of evacuation.
Staff members of the Namie social welfare council were concerned that some residents at temporary housing units, particularly the most vulnerable, were feeling left behind. These residents often would have nowhere to go when, one day, their units were closed, while others gradually started moving out from these estates. Adding to this view, a staff member of Shinmachi-Namie warned that this does not mean that those who moved out from the estates achieved their recovery because moving out was simply one of several stages that they would still have to go through in their recovery. Evacuees’ views on receiving external supports also varied. During the interview sessions in 2012 in Naraha and Tomioka, evacuee’s council leaders often focused on self-reliance in their management, anticipating their future lives after moving out from temporary housing. However, some other temporary housing residents demanded more external supports. This shows that the views on their future lives already varied between residents at this stage.
The Namie social welfare council staff achieved trustful relationships with many evacuees through their long-term regular visits but also identified that some requests from the evacuees were becoming overly reliant on external supports. For example, some family members refused to take care of their elderly parents for nursing. This was because they feared that they might get too impatient and aggressive with parents as a result of excessive stress from their recovery issues. Such problems previously were dealt with from within local communities, but the former neighbourhoods disappeared. As a result, their mutual support at a micro-local scale did not function as effectively as it once had.
Of course, some residents retained their sense of community both before and after the disaster. They often kept community-ties having regular meetings and events during the post-disaster. This seemed to ease residents’ uncertain feelings over prolonged evacuation to some extent. Some of the evacuee’s councils developed friendships with their host communities, co-organising socialising events and festivals. Based on this development, new neighbourhood ties were established between evacuees and host communities. Some other evacuee’s councils, such as Namie So-So Jichikai participated in and facilitated cleaning activities in the local areas. Aizu-Miyasato Jichikai joined local sporting events. Evacuees’ Namie Sasaya-Tobu Jichikai and host communities’ Fukushima Kita-Nakajo Jichikai jointly held regular socialising events.
However, in general, some of the evacuee’s councils maintained regular meetings and gatherings with their host communities. Tanaka et al. (2013) pointed out that local communities existed but did not exist in Fukushima. This meant that although the communities existed in local people’s post-disaster lives, pre-disaster personalisation of people’s lifestyle continued to diminish their community lives.
Regarding the development of broader works on evacuees’ connections, the citizen-based NPO Shinmachi-Namie further expanded its projects with other support groups such as academics and businesses. For example, the NPO and a research group at Waseda University, Tokyo, jointly introduced a semi-public transport system for Namie evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture and beyond using large passenger vehicles funded by external businesses.
At the same time, the NPO started experiencing a new difficulty in maintaining the organisation as a result of the prolonged uncertainty in recovery. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of staff at the NPO dropped from ten to three. One main reason pointed by some of the members were that many evacuees could not settle in one area to work for the NPO because of their unstable life circumstance. Prolonged evacuation without certainty discouraged them working, when budget for personnel costs was often unavailable due to the organisation’s status as NPO. Therefore, even if the organisation won valuable project grants, they often could not work on those projects due to staff shortages.
11.5.3 Return or No Return with Widening Gaps—Four Years After the Disaster and Beyond
The unstable situation in recovery developed further, although reconstruction progressed and lifting of evacuation orders came into affect (at least politically). In addition, effects of a serious lack of sharing information, projects and goals in recovery started unfolding between authorities, support groups and residents. Political uncertainty further complicated to the situation.
A big gap in recognition of and expectation for the future between governments and the residents of their jurisdiction emerged in case of Namie. Generally, two major ideas of semi-permanent residence had been publicly discussed and shared in parallel: (1) to collectively settle outside the disaster-impacted town and redevelop evacuees’ everyday lives there; (2) to build public apartments inside and outside the disaster-impacted areas and return (Namie Town 2012). However, in 2015, the central government (and the local government) was almost solely focusing on the latter idea of ‘return’ and the local government followed it, although this shift of focus was not clearly announced. Namie and Tomioka lifted their evacuation orders (except the difficult-to-return zones) on 31 March and 1 April 2017, respectively (Namie Town 2017; Tomioka Town 2017).
This shift of focus also showed in Namie town office’s responses to residential developments. According to a Namie town officer interviewed, the town office approved Namie residents to move into public disaster housing provided by Koriyama and Fukushima. There were also extension plans to build more public disaster housing on the same site. However, Namie town office did not approve another extensive residential development plan, which was a non-governmental project but endorsed by Fukushima city office. Possible factors that contributed to the difference in Namie town office’s decisions were the driving factors of the projects (either government-led or others), scale of the projects (about 20 houses in Koriyama, 400 blocks in Fukushima) and items that they were dealing with (either public housing or land blocks). This seemingly relates to the government’s current intention to lead Namie residents to return in a coerced manner.
Regarding the residents’ view on returning or not returning, a member of the NPO Shinmachi Namie pointed out that, in 2015, 80% of the recent government survey respondents said that they would or could not return anytime soon for various reasons such as safety and availability of social services (Reconstruction Authority et al. 2016). However, another town officer, during the interview, interpreted this survey result differently; that 80% of non-returning did not necessarily mean giving up on the town. The officer also explained that building Namie communities in other cities and towns would have several difficulties such as taxation, public services and facilities to use.
In Tomioka, the evacuation order (except for the difficult-to-return areas) was lifted in March–April 2017. Public housings for returning evacuees were being built; infrastructures such as medical and commercial facilities were being redeveloped. However, similar to Namie, many of the residents already secured their houses outside the town. Therefore, it would be difficult to expect a high return rate.
In Naraha, the whole town evacuation order was lifted on 5 September 2015. However, the return rate as of September 2016 was less than 10% of the pre-disaster population. One of the potential reasons for this low return rate is that there was no any difficult-to-return area designated in Naraha (unlike Namie and Tomioka). Because of the absence of the difficult-to-return areas, Naraha residents are not entitled to the disaster public housings located outside the town, while utilities and essential services have not been organised sufficiently. At the same time, approximately 80% of the town’s population evacuated to the nearby Iwaki city, and they often live their lives in Iwaki without too much inconvenience. These factors may have prompted Naraha residents to individually secure their houses outside the town, which caused low return rates (see Fukushima Minpo 2016).
Evacuees at subsidised rental housing also started accepting the reality and trying to find ways to cope with challenging situations to settle in their current places of living, although they often faced difficulties living in and with the host communities. For example, host community members reportedly criticised Namie evacuees for daily issues (such as managing household waste dump sites). A leader of their evacuee’s council explored, at their regular socialising occasions, with other evacuees how they would better deal with such situations so both the evacuees and host communities could maintain and improve their lives rather than conflicting to each other. Media have reported increasing cases of bullying and discrimination against Fukushima evacuees across Japan (see Japan Times 2017; Asahi Shimbun 2017).
Conflicting relationships between evacuees and host communities in Iwaki city were being moderated due to better mutual understanding brought by progress of time and interaction, according to the interviewees. This moderation was also facilitated by the city’s recognition of an important challenge to restore its decreased population after the disaster. Iwaki lost its large coastal population following the severe impacts caused by the 2011 tsunami, similar to the coastal areas of Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures in the Northern Tohoku region.
In exploring the evacuees’ connections, a number of interviewees (mainly residents) expressed their dilemma that they wanted to return, but knew practically that they cannot. This was mainly because there would not be the everyday community lives that they had become use to. Furthermore, some reported that those who were determined to return often changed their minds at some points, because the evacuation was going on for too long. They could not decide, because they didn’t know when or if they could return. They often could not help thinking about it and got depressed, because there was no clear answer available.
A Namie interviewee stated that she was feeling guilty because realistically she could not return. Another interviewee identified uncertainty as the most difficult issue of Namie’s recovery, because local people’s recovery and re-establishment of lives were heavily and repeatedly affected by the factors that were beyond their control. These included environmental conditions that brought radiation to Namie and the decisions and intentions of authorities at the time, whose information was often not clearly announced to or shared with public, most importantly with the local residents.
In Naraha, where the evacuation order was lifted for the entire town in September 2015, interviewees’ attitudes varied roughly in three categories: (1) return, (2) do not return and (3) have no means to return. The ‘do not return’ group often had already bought houses outside the town such as Iwaki and secured foundations of their everyday life including schools and jobs. The ‘have no means to return’ group included those who ran out of compensation money and only hoped public disaster housings in Naraha to be available (see Sect. 11.4.2). This group would likely stay in the emergency housings as long as these are available, which is likely to become a social issue later on. Considering these stories in this sub-section, lifting evacuation order may also be a trigger point that divides residents into a greater number of different groups and widens the gaps between them.