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Fukushima evacuee shares her feelings via illustrated books

The cover of the picture book “Nagai Orusuban” (Long housesitting)

December 3, 2021

SAKAI–Nobuko Shiga is still working through the trauma from the Fukushima nuclear crisis that ruined her hometown and upended her life.

But she has decided to channel her pent-up rage into creating something positive that may help the healing process.

She has created two illustrated books with the hopes of sharing her feelings and experiences, and hopes to pass on stories from early in her life as well as what happened after that fateful day. 

When the magnitude 9.0-earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, Shiga, now 81, was living with her retired husband in Namie in eastern Fukushima Prefecture.

The accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, situated only 9 kilometers southeast of their residence, drastically changed the course of her life.

She left her house with her pet Shiba Inu dog, named Ran, a day after the disaster. She traveled by car and spent nights at a gymnasium in a mountainous area and at Fukushima Airport before she arrived in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, where her daughter lived.

Shiga was left reeling over the way she was treated while trying to open a bank account there for her new life. Clerks at two banks told Shiga that she could not have one, after learning that she was fleeing from Fukushima Prefecture.

The bank operators later apologized, but she was still left with no clear explanation why. Looking back on the incident, Shiga thinks the nuclear crisis was likely why the banks had refused, and she said she still feels her heart ache over it.

Radioactive fallout made it impossible for residents to freely enter Namie. Shiga had planned to enjoy her golden years with her spouse at their home. But the yard has been left to grow wild and her friends are forced to live far apart from each other.

But Shiga soon learned that Bungeisha Co. was searching for manuscripts for picture books. She quickly finished writing her first title, “Nagai Orusuban” (Long housesitting).

Nobuko Shiga shows off her two illustrated books on Oct. 15 in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. (Yasufumi Kado)

The book features paintings by Shiro Ishiguro. It went up for sale on an online book shopping site and elsewhere in 2019 for 1,210 yen ($10.50), including tax. A digitized version is available as well.

In the work, a dog named Ran, just like Shiga’s, suddenly becomes separated from his owner, a young boy. Ran spends days with a pig, chickens and cows, and they all join forces to work together.

While the real-life Ran passed away peacefully at the end of his natural life five years ago, many animals that were left behind in the region affected by the nuclear accident had starved to death.

Shiga said she cannot forget a pig emerging abruptly from a bush and coming close to her, as if it was pleased to have an encounter with a human, when she returned temporarily to Namie.

Her hope to console the souls of abandoned animals motivated her to work on the title.

Shiga finished a course at Fukushima University and once served as a Japanese language teacher in a junior high school in Fukushima Prefecture. But this was her first time creating an illustrated book.

Despite that, the publication received an enthusiastic response from readers. Muneyuki Sato, a renowned singer based in Sendai, said he “read it while shedding tears.”

In September this year, her second work, “Kaminari Ojisan” (Thunderbolt old man), illustrated by Kenji Tezuka, was released by Bungeisha for 1,100 yen, including tax.

It starts with the sound of wooden clappers made by the organizer of the “kamishibai” picture-card theater. Shiga said she ran to that kind of theater with pocket money in her hands during her childhood, every time she heard the unique clapping.

Reflecting the creator’s own days as a child in the eastern part of Fukushima Prefecture, the work portrays exchanges one summer between children and an old man offering kamishibai dramas in a somewhat mysterious ambience.

“Local acquaintances said the picture book rekindled fond memories from bygone days,” Shiga said shyly.

Shiga was born in 1940 and has lived in Saitama, Fukuoka, Fukushima, and Miyagi prefectures due to her father, who worked for the former Japanese National Railways, relocating several times for his job.

She said few children in distant Sakai know much about the nuclear accident.

“The catastrophe should not be forgotten,” said Shiga. “I want readers to understand such a thing can occur so long as nuclear plants exist on Earth.”

Speaking with friends of similar age from Fukushima Prefecture, Shiga cannot help but ask herself, “What have our lives been for?”

They spent their childhood days in the wake of World War II and worked hard, only to find themselves deprived of their normal lives by a nuclear disaster.

Shiga has yet to make up her mind on publishing her next book, but she said she has no plans to wait for her life to end just by doing nothing.

“I do not want to live dazed,” she said. “I will leave something as a legacy.”


December 5, 2021 - Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | ,

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