About half the workforce in Okuma is employed at the nuclear plant next door, according to residents. It is a company town, where almost every family has someone on the payroll.
“Where I come from, it is quite natural to work there,” says Mitsuo, who has worked for a Tepco subsidiary at the plant almost all his adult life. Bonds with the company are strong. “Everybody said it was safe, so I believed them.”
He remains loyal to his employer. “The reactors stood up to the earthquake,” he points out. “It was the tsunami that did the damage. But the government’s at fault too. They haven’t solved the problem as quickly as we expected.”
Reminded that it is Tepco, not the government, that is running the emergency operation, he grudgingly allows that the company too shares some blame.
His wife is just as loyal to her hometown in its darkest hour. “Okuma is a nice place to live,” says Takako, using the present tense. As in much of the rest of rural Japan there are not many young people in town, she concedes, but since she moved there after her marriage 32 years ago “I’ve been getting older myself, so I don’t notice so much, and I’ve got all my friends.
“It’s a green town, and the rice they grow around there is delicious,” she boasts. “I’ll send you some if you like, but I don’t suppose you’d eat it now, seeing as how it comes from Fukushima.” She laughs, ruefully.
The only rice the family is eating at the moment, sitting cross legged on the patch of school-provided blankets laid over judo mats that is now their home, comes cold in vacuum-packed individual servings donated by regional governments elsewhere in the country and by private companies.