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Fumiko Yokota, a widow and retiree, was eager to return to Naraha after living as in temporary evacuee housing in Iwaki city for four years, but she doesn’t think her neighbors will be so quick to return. “Now maybe this is the twisted idea of an old lady, but I think for some young people the disaster was a stroke of luck,” she says. It gave them the opportunity to move from a rural village to a booming city, as youth have been eager to do for generations.<br />
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In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan and destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Some 488 thousand people evacuated from the three-part disaster; in 2015, nearly 25% remain displaced.<br />
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A massive effort is now underway to decontaminate towns in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. In Tomioka, 5 to 8 miles from the nuclear plant, thousands of laborers are cleaning or demolishing every building, and removing and incinerating all topsoil in inhabited areas. In the adjacent forests and mountains, radiation levels remain higher and will not be cleaned.<br />
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Naraha, 12 miles south of the nuclear plant, is the first town to reopen after the disaster. Residents were allowed to return home full-time on Sept. 5, 2015. To date, an estimated 440 residents have returned, out of a pre-disaster population of 7,400. <br />
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I returned to Fukushima one week after Naraha reopened and spent a month there, interviewing and photographing returnees and decontamination workers. I asked portrait subjects to write down their hopes and fears for their hometowns, and then discuss these thoughts about their future. Many of the subjects spoke openly but were very circumspect about what they were willing to put in writing.<br />
© Michael Forster Rothbart Photography<br />
www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893<br />
34 Spruce St, Oneonta, NY 13820<br />
86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989<br />
info@mfrphoto.com<br />
Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart<br />
Date: 10/3/2015<br />
File#:  Canon — Canon EOS 5D Mark III digital camera frame A27976
Fumiko Yokota, a widow and retiree, was eager to return to Naraha after living as in temporary evacuee housing in Iwaki city for four years, but she doesn’t think her neighbors will be so quick to return. “Now maybe this is the twisted idea of an old lady, but I think for some young people the disaster was a stroke of luck,” she says. It gave them the opportunity to move from a rural village to a booming city, as youth have been eager to do for generations.

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