Timothy Mousseau, a biologist at the University of South Carolina who has studied how radioactive contamination has affected animals and plants in Chernobyl and Fukushima.

As the disaster unfolded, Ms. Tsugawa did not learn just how devastating it was until her grandparents turned on the television later that afternoon. Like a horror movie on an endless loop, they watched scenes from the tsunami as it devoured the coastline. The next day, they learned of an explosion at the nuclear plant. A wall of water had knocked out the reactors’ cooling systems.

Although the residents of Nishiaizu never evacuated, Ms. Tsugawa began to read news items and social media posts insinuating that Fukushima was tainted. “There were these rumors that everyone in Fukushima was dangerous,” she recalled. “And that if you got close to them, you might get radiation sickness from them.”

When her mother, Yuki Tsugawa, took a business trip outside the prefecture about a year after the nuclear accident, someone scrawled the word “baka” — “stupid” — on the side of the car she had been driving. Ms. Tsugawa, 47, said she wondered if her Fukushima license plate was the reason.

Her elder daughter said she had no qualms about the safety of her hometown, where she hopes someday to raise her own family. “Just because there are some areas that are not safe,” she said, “doesn’t mean that all of Fukushima is unsafe.”

With her decision to become a geriatric nurse, Ms. Tsugawa is giving the prefecture exactly what it needs.

The demand for nursing care across Japan is so great that before the pandemic, the country began to relax its longtime insularity and allow more workers to be hired from other countries. In Fukushima, there is already a shortage of doctors and nurses. Kiyoshi Hanazumi, chief of the prefecture’s social welfare division, said that based on current trends, it will meet only about three-quarters of its needs for health care workers for older residents by 2025.

Ms. Tsugawa said she had wanted to become a nurse ever since she was 3 years old. Her grandfather had been hospitalized with lung cancer, and she observed the kindness of the medical staff who treated him.

Her interest in geriatric nursing developed over time. While their mother worked as a welfare coordinator in Nishiaizu, Ms. Tsugawa and her younger sister, Mana, 19, would accompany their grandmother, Haruko Tsugawa, 74, to visit neighbors.

“Everyone treated them as honorary grandchildren,” Mrs. Tsugawa said.

A year after the 2011 disaster, Yoshihiro Yabe, 42, also wanted to reclaim this kind of community. Mr. Yabe, a landscape architect, decided to return to Nishiaizu, where he was born, and start a family.

At one time, Mr. Yabe had planned to escape. But now he wants to reverse the migration that is all too common from his hometown.

When the earthquake and tsunami struck, Mr. Yabe was training in Canada and hoping to find a job in the United States.

“I was watching media in Japan and all over the world, and I felt that Fukushima was labeled as a contaminated prefecture,” he said. “So who would come here to create new businesses or want to start agriculture or raise their babies?”

Mr. Yabe said he felt he had to return, and he moved into his ancestral home — it has been in the family for 19 generations — and renovated some old storage warehouses for miso and soy sauce, converting them into a small inn.

He took over a local arts center and established an artists’ residency. Over the last eight years, he said, he has recruited 60 people to live in Nishiaizu, some from Tokyo and others from different parts of Fukushima Prefecture.

The town is far from resuscitated. Near Mr. Yabe’s home, half of the houses are abandoned. Aside from his 8- and 3-year-old daughters, he said, “I am the youngest guy” in the neighborhood.

Ms. Tsugawa, who starts a residency at the hospital connected to Fukushima Medical University in April, is also likely to be the youngest person in Sugiyama — population 21 — which is the enclave of Nishiaizu in which she grew up.

Even her mother had not originally intended to raise Ms. Tsugawa and her sister in Nishiaizu. Yuki Tsugawa attended technical college in Koriyama, more than 50 miles away, married and gave birth to Rina and Mana. Only after divorcing did Yuki move back in with her parents in the 100-year-old wood and slate-roofed home where she had been raised.

“If I stayed married, I probably would have stayed out” of Nishiaizu like most of her childhood classmates, Yuki Tsugawa said. “I often think ‘wow, nobody ever came back,’” she said.

Rina Tsugawa, who said she wanted to specialize in caring for patients with dementia, knows her town may struggle to survive.

“Of course, I don’t want my little village to disappear,” she said. “But even if we do things to try to get new people to come, that isn’t really happening. It’s difficult to make progress.”

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