October 21, 2017 #Fukushima update: I wasn't planning on being in #Odaka again on this trip, but I'm glad I came for a couple more days before taking a few days off and heading to a few much needed onsens next week.
Today Odaka had its annual #autumn festival and many people came, mostly former residents who wanted to revisit their town, see friends and listen to music as the man was doing in the rain, squatting on the foundation of where a building used to be giving him now a clear view of the stage down the street. Since I arrived on this trip there have been small transformations and this festival with people in the town I have known mostly as an empty place is another transformation which also gives me conflicting emotions: I'm glad to see people enjoying themselves here and local businesses starting to make some income. On the other hand though I hope that the trauma and pain the meltdown forced upon so many people is never forgotten. With so many buildings gone here and in Namie I realized that the photos I've taken now sere as that memory of once was—the first time that I've seen my photos in the context of not just documenting the moment but having a place in history.
And so, this photo too then is a part of that, history combining with the present and giving a clue about what we might expect for the future. At present Odaka only has 20% of the people who were once here living in the town. Neighboring #Namie has a slim 2%, the only hope I can see there is that perhaps a few very limited people will return around the government offices and a little market that serves workers making it truly a tale of 2 cities (or towns). After the hydrogen explosions sent radiation into the atmosphere the wind blew the isotopes over Namie and into the north wester interior mostly missing Odaka. In the time that Odaka remained int eh exclusion zone though immense damage was done as homes fell into disrepair and people moved away. Still, it opened earlier than other towns and enough of it was saved so that three's a fighting chance that it will make a recovery, albeit a really difficult one as there is so much that the town still needs, from better shopping options to more robust social institutions.
Odaka's residents were also relocated to nearby towns whereas Namie's residents were much more spread out over Japan. The combination of their dispersal with the town being closer to teh plant and therefor deeper into the exclusion zone with (still) higher radiation meant that the town was opened later. The fat that its open at all many think is just a ploy by Tepco who owned the plant and the government because with it open means that compensation payments will end and thus people will have no choice but to return. But to return to what? There's nothing to return to.
In the aftermath many spoke in terms of legacy, something I thought was irresponsibly rushed because by definition a legacy cannot exist in such a short time, but the word has a certain drama to it and sells papers and time slots on tv.
We are just now, 7 years on, beginning to see the legacy and that its towns like Namie are unlikely to ever return to what they once were while some places like Odaka are struggling mightily to hold on. With the atmosphere here today light and enjoyable, despite the rain, I look forward to returning to Odaka and seeing what it will be in the future. Last night I had a lovely meal in a newly opened sushi restaurant (the fish is caught in the north far away from the power plant) and this evening I'll head to an izakaya (an elegant neatly run place with superb food) that wasn't here when I was last in town.
The sushi restaurant is a quarter of the size it once was and the owner, in his 70's runs it with his sone, wife and one other worker. He gets up early every day and does the work that he used to have assistance with, but with it so difficult to find skilled chefs and staff he takes on the work himself. Many businesses face such challenges, but at the very least here in Odaka people have made it this far to actually face every day challenges. But at the very least thigns are lookign up: I sat next to a couple in their 60's last night who were drinking highballs and had the spirt of young lovers. Before the meltdown they'd come to to the restaurant every Friday, laugh and shake off off the week. After a long and hard exile they moved back and with the restaurant opened they're back to their old routine with a bottle of chilled whisky on the table and smooth sushi with scallion and shrimp soup for dinner.