Youngsters visit deserted hometown schools in Futaba after 9.5-year hiatus

In the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba, young people took out school supplies and other articles on Aug. 22 from their alma mater, deserted almost nine and a half years ago following the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Holding memorabilia, the former students of a junior high school, two grade schools and a kindergarten recalled their bygone days at the facilities. The facilities are located within the government-set “Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base,” where entry restrictions were eased on March 4 this year, allowing access without a permit to part of a “difficult-to-return zone” still covering most of the town area. Joining the hometown visit were about 170 people, including parents. Yoshimasa Yamamoto, 23, a part-time worker who lives in Yokohama, visited Futaba Junior High School, about 4 kilometers northwest of the crippled plant, together with two of his childhood friends, company employee Naoki Idogawa, 24, and public servant Kenta Sakakura, 24. The three were second-year junior high schoolers at the time of the accident. They had a chat in a classroom while nostalgically flipping over the pages of Yamamoto's tidy file of test answer sheets. "My English score was good, but my math...," he said. "Lessons given by that teacher were fun." The trio strolled as time permitted in the gymnasium, music room, schoolyard and other places full of memories of their youth. One of Yamamoto's female classmates who belonged to the same school volleyball club passed away due to illness this year. "She was looking forward to coming here, too. She must be looking around together today," he said, looking at a ball left inside a gym storage room. "I'm looking forward to telling my friends who were unable to come this time about today's experience," Yamamoto said. As the trio left for home, each held an identical school cap inscribed with "Futaba Junior High," worn until that tragic day. Visiting nearby Futaba Minami (south) Elementary School was Yoshiyuki Hasegawa, 16, a high school junior from Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, who could attend the school only for a year. Hasegawa came across a female classmate during the visit and shyly gave her a bow. He could not recall what they talked about at their alma mater. He felt time passed quickly indeed. "I wanted to study at this school for a full six years," Hasegawa said, carefully holding a keyboard harmonica, picture diary and other objects left in his former classroom. "We were able to return memorabilia to the children at long last," said Akio Tateshita, 61-year-old head of the town's education board which organized the trip back to school. "We would like to use this visit as a stepping stone to the next phase of reconstruction for the town and school education." The following day, Aug. 23, about 120 people visited the schools. The education board is scheduled to organize another visit in or after October for those unable to join the trip this time. It will discuss how to use the facilities in the future by setting up a committee, as soon as September, comprising town officials, parents and other concerned parties. (Translated by Kyodo News)