MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture -- Every day at 6 a.m., a man squats down and gives individual prayers in front of the 20 altars set up in an area devastated by the March 11 disaster.
As part of his daily ritual, which lasts for about an hour, he also picks up toppled vases and pulls out the weeds and grass.
Yet he remains perhaps the most detested person in the coastal community of Kaihama in Minami-Soma.
The man is an employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which lies about 25 kilometers from Kaihama.
The TEPCO worker did not lose any family members in the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. In fact, he is not even from Kaihama, where dozens of residents died in the disaster and families were forced to evacuate because of high radiation levels.
“There were many victims whose families could not come back here to look for them because of the nuclear accident,” he said. “There are also many bereaved families who were not allowed to be here when their loved ones were cremated. All I can do is to put my hands together to pray.”
In May, TEPCO dispatched him to Minami-Soma to work in customer support. His main work now involves answering phone calls inquiring about damages for the nuclear accident and briefing residents about the compensation procedures.
He says verbal abuse hurled from residents is an everyday occurrence.
But he understands why they may harbor such harsh feelings.
“Since I come here every day, I feel I’m able to catch a glimpse into the lives of people who used to live here,” the man said, adding that he once dug up a toy and many balls buried by the tsunami when he was tidying up around the altars.
When asked about working for the company responsible for the unprecedented nuclear accident in Japan, he said: “I am deeply sorry about having betrayed the people with our failure to fulfill our promise to the people about their safety and security.”
His words are the same as those given by top TEPCO officials at news conferences in Tokyo.
But the man's words, coupled with his actions, seem more sincere.
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