Japan’s government indecision leaves disaster victims in limbo

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FUKUSHIMA CITY, JAPAN FUKUSHIMA CITY, JAPAN — Disaster survivors in northeastern Japan are demanding that government officials spend more resources on them instead of focusing on political squabbles in Tokyo, where Yoshihiko Noda took office this week as the country’s sixth prime minister in five years.

From the tsunami-ravaged towns of Ofunato and Rikuzen-takata to the radiation-troubled city of Fukushima, residents of Japan’s wide-ranging disaster zones told The Washington Times that Japan’s weak national leaders have left their lives in limbo.

Nearly six months since a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear reactors, Fukushima residents said they are still waiting for the government to provide Geiger counters and to test their children for exposure to cancer-causing radioactive isotopes.

“Decisions are not being made fast enough because of the political problems,” said Ayako Okada, who is raising her 5-year-old child in Fukushima city. “Many mothers are worried about what they should do for their children, and whether they should move or stay in Fukushima city. But they aren’t getting proper direction from the government.”

Daisuke Okamato, a teacher at a private school in Fukushima city, has been living in a sort of limbo since the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis.
He and his wife recently moved from Iwaki city, about 30 miles south of the damaged nuclear reactors, to the outskirts of Fukushima city farther inland, only to discover that his new neighborhood has higher levels of radiation than he expected, though not high enough to warrant immediate evacuation.

“Nobody knows what is really happening to us right now,” he said. “It’s surreal, like living in a mystery movie. This could go on for the next 10 or 20 years.”

Disappointment and frustration over the government’s performance run deep and wide in Japan, a recent survey shows.

According to an Associated Press-Gfk poll, nearly 75 percent of Japanese citizens doubt the government can handle another major disaster. About 67 percent believe Japan is weaker internationally than it was 10 years ago.

Some 44 percent believe children born today will be worse off when they grow up than people are now, the AP reported.

In coastal areas of Iwate province devastated by the tsunami, many survivors say they can’t make plans because the government still hasn’t figured out where and how to rebuild destroyed towns.

Yasuo Shimizu, 64, a barber in the port town of Ofunato, said his family of four is desperate to build their own home in order to get out of a hot and cramped temporary house at an elementary school.
But the government hasn’t determined where they can build or whether they will be compensated for the loss of their former home.

“We have dreams of the home we would like to build, but it could be a long time before they can become a reality,” Mr. Shimizu said.

Yutaka Kinno, 34, an employee at the Japan agricultural cooperative in the devastated city of Ofunato in Iwate province, said Tokyo politicians have been too busy grappling with their own problems to solve issues in the disaster areas.

“We often feel sad and forlorn here because the leaders in Tokyo aren’t coming here to visit us,” he said, near a damaged port area that still reeks of leaking chemicals.

“We’re not very much concerned about what’s happening in politics in Tokyo. All we know is that the leaders haven’t been doing what they are supposed to do for us,” Mr. Kinno said. “We really need them to come here and listen to us, and then we can all make important decisions about the future of our children.”

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