- Experience report
Fukushima University Exchange Students ～Our Fukushima～
We climbed a 7m high seawall to reach the beach that is right across the street from Ukedo Elementary School.
The sea wall is there to protect the coastal area from another tsunami related disaster. Behind it, many trees are being planted to further stop the waves.
Even though the beach is only about 4km away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Powerplant and you can see the towers of it in the distance, the radiation we measured at the beach was lower than it is in Tokyo, or most other major cities around the world.
In March of 2017 the government lifted the evacuation order for the centre of Namie Town that is located near the coast and since then are working on new infrastructure to appeal to people and repopulate the area.
However, at the time of our visit only about 800 people out of the 20,000 people registered as residents of Namie had returned to live inside these re-opened areas. Furthermore, a large area of Namie in the mountainside is still under evacuation in the “Difficult-to-Return Area,” which the government plans to re-open by 2023.
Before the 3/11 disaster the Ukedo community in Namie was known for its vibrant fishing industry, which is slowly recovering, but the misconceptions about radioactivity is still a huge challenge to overcome for the locals. Even though ever since 2015 not a single caught sample exceeded the national standard limit for radioactivity, exports from Fukushima are still banned or simply unwanted around the world.
Therefore, the locals are also opposing TEPCO releasing a safe amount of the treated contaminated water into the ocean, since it would further damage the image of Fukushima’s marine products.
On November 9th, 2019, we joined a tour organized by the Fukushima Prefectural Tourism and Local Products Association took us to the coastal areas of Fukushima.
The building you see in this picture is Ukedo Elementary School, located in Namie Town. The coastal community here was devastated by the 311 Tsunami, and 182 lives were lost. The time on the clock tower shows 15:40, which is the time right after the tsunami hit the school. The clock stopped working at that moment and since then the school has been frozen in time.
When the earthquake happened, the teachers of the elementary school acknowledged that a tsunami was coming, but they couldn’t decide exactly what to do, although some of them were thinking of going up the clock tower to avoid the tsunami. At that moment, a local fisherman came rushing to the school to advise them to evacuate immediately, and the teachers started giving instructions to the students to evacuate to a nearby hill 2km away. Teachers carried children who couldn’t walk on their backs, while older students guided the way to the hill.
It was this quick decision making and team work that miraculously saved all the lives of the children studying there.
Unfortunately, many other schools on the coast lost lives that day.
The town of Namie decided this year to preserve Ukedo Elementary School as a memorial of those lost that day, and to remind future generations of the Miracle of Ukedo.