Rina Tsugawa recalls a charmed childhood amid rice paddies in northern Japan, hopping on bicycles with her sister and roaming the streets of their village, where monkeys sometimes descended from the mountains and neighbors offered the girls sweets as they popped into their homes.
The sisters were the only children in their hamlet in Fukushima Prefecture, living with their mother and grandparents in the house where their grandfather was born. On that terrible day a decade ago when Fukushima was struck by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, setting off a triple meltdown at a nuclear power plant, a 12-year-old Ms. Tsugawa was at school 90 miles inland. As the powerful shaking jolted her sixth-grade classroom, she and her classmates hid under their desks, crying in fear.
In the years since, many of her peers have left for jobs in Tokyo and other cities, an outflow common to rural Japan but accelerated by the disaster in Fukushima. Ms. Tsugawa has different plans. After graduating this month from nursing school, she ultimately wants to return to her hometown to care for the aging residents who helped raise her.
“They gave us so much when we were little,” said Ms. Tsugawa, now 22. “I want to help these elderly people stay healthy longer.”
several towns near the nuclear plant remain uninhabitable.
many graying and shrinking communities, where jobs are sparse, the lifestyle is inconvenient and birthrates are low. The town’s population, which peaked at close to 20,000 in 1950, has fallen to 6,000. Aging residents are close to half of the population, and health care workers are in short supply.