Evacuees allowed temporary home returns for "Bon" holidays in Okuma town

Some residents in the wholly evacuated town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, returned to their homes for temporary lodging from Aug. 11 under a special program timed with the midsummer "Bon" Buddhist holiday season. Allowed to return were residents in a zone being prepared for the lifting of an evacuation order, imposed after the 2011 nuclear accident, as well as in a residency-restricted zone. Other parts of Okuma, one of the two towns hosting Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, remain off-limits due to still high levels of radiation from the accident. It was the first time for the town to permit temporary home lodging. On the first day, 12 residents from six families applied for the program. One of the residents, Hitoshi Izumisawa, 65, decorated a family altar with new flowers and offered incense sticks at his home in the Okawara district where residency is restricted. The altar has a spirit tablet dedicated to his mother who died at 90 last year. Izumisawa lives in temporary housing for evacuees in Aizuwakamatsu city. He was to spend the first night at home since the accident with his 70-year-old wife and eldest son, 41. "I believe my mother would have wanted to come home, too," he said. "Let’s sleep together tonight." Ahead of the temporary home stay, Izumisawa had repaired damaged parts of his residence and brought in a refrigerator, a washing machine and a microwave oven, among other household items. "It's cooler here than in Aizuwakamatsu because of beach winds and, what is more, I feel most comfortable at home," he said with a sigh of relief. "But I cannot feel delighted straightforwardly," he added with a complex look. He was referring to the "difficult-to-return" zone that still occupies more than half the town area and where temporary home lodging is not allowed. Also, there are other townspeople who are outside the zone but who cannot return home due to a project under way to build an interim nuclear waste storage facility encompassing their residential areas. Special lodging is permitted in line with major holiday seasons, including year-end and New Year holidays, and the Bon and equinoctial Buddhist memorial service seasons. The temporary homecoming program in Okuma was until Aug. 16. A total of 40 people from 13 households applied for the program, according to town officials. (Translated by Kyodo News)