'I couldn't tell you then'
As a bride from the neighboring village of Iitate, Yasuko Sanpei came 55 years ago to live in the Akogi district of Namie.
She knows Mizue Kanno as they are in a folk song group at the community center.
Until early August, Sanpei, 77, lived alone in a house at the top of a narrow mountain road.
Right after the March 11 earthquake, she fled with her oldest daughter and grandson who lived in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, to her granddaughter's one-room apartment in Kanagawa Prefecture.
However, she could even hear noises from next door when the neighbors ate meals and felt she had to be careful of others.
"At my age, living in a big city is uncomfortable," she said.
She also worried about her dog and cat, so she returned to Akogi in the end of April.
Around that time, there were still a few families remaining in the district, but after a while first one, then two, and finally all the other families left. When the police began restricting traffic near the 30-kilometer border from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, cars stopped driving by.
It was lonely. Nights were pitch black. Even when she tried not to think about anything, her hands would shake, and she would have trouble swallowing her food.
To distract herself, she would go for a drive, but the houses along the road were dark. Those drives became scary when she thought that no one would come to her rescue if she were to drive off the mountain road.
On Sundays, men wearing work clothes with the logo "Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology" on the back came to the district to measure radiation levels. Sanpei would leave the house to meet their car and ask them, "What's the reading today?"
"15 microsieverts (per hour)," one of them would casually said.
"Will you measure my home, too?"
On a different day, the man took measurements around her house. The reading outside the house was at 10 microsieverts/h, and was 5.5 microsieverts/h in the living room. The levels were much higher than normal.
The man wrote the numbers down on a piece of paper and handed it to Sanpei.
One Sunday in early June, out of the blue, the man said, "I can finally tell you this, but the radiation level at first exceeded 100 microsieverts/h in this area. I couldn't tell you then. I'm sorry."
After that, the man gave Sanpei a map of different districts that noted radioactive levels "for her reference."
Still, Sanpei remained in Akogi until early August.
"You can't see radioactivity, and even when told the readings, I couldn't understand what they meant."
In the beginning of August, Sanpei left Akogi after she was selected to live in temporary housing in Nihonmatsu in the prefecture.
However, she still travels the approximately 25 km by car to her home every two days to feed her dog and cat.