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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. 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 100 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. People’s written declarations often differed substantially from their spoken comments.<br />
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Yukiko Endo has found a job in Naraha, working as a waitress at the newly reopened Tenjinmisaki hotel. After work, she often stops at her empty house nearby before commuting to her temporary apartment in Iwaki, an hour away. She plans to move back to Naraha in 2016, bringing her parents with her. She writes, “I hope Naraha town has lots of beautiful nature.” When asked, she declines to add anything more specific.<br />
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However, a few days after interviewing her, she leaves us a long letter, which reads in part: “Since I am not good at talking, I am worrying if my story helped you or not. After the disaster, I lost the ability to believe people. So many things happened and I was about to have depression. I thought I would be spoiled at this rate, so that I decided to go out and work... I decided to smile all the time in orde
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.

A massive effort is now underway to decontaminate towns in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Thousands of laborers are cleaning or demolishing every building, and removing and incinerating all topsoil in inhabited areas. In the adjacent forests and mountains,...
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