IITATE, Fukushima Prefecture--Tsuyoshi and Hisano Sato celebrated the New Year's holidays in the same way they have done for years.
They warmed their leg sitting at a "kotatsu" (a small table with an electric heater underneath), drank together and burned firewood to heat up their bath to fight off the typically frigid weather of a Fukushima Prefecture winter.
But this time was different. Tsuyoshi, 84, and Hisano, 87, were the only people to ring in the new year in Iitate village's Iitoi district, normally home to about 460 households.
In April last year, Iitate village, located about 30 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, was designated a planned evacuation zone, where all residents are required to evacuate although staying behind will not lead to any legal punishment.
"Rather than living separately from my wife, I choose to live here to take care of her. I have no intention of going anywhere," Tsuyoshi said.
Hisano has had difficulty walking since three years ago when she started suffering pain in her legs. Her husband now does all the cooking and laundry.
Tsuyoshi said if they fled to an unknown place, Hisano's physical condition could deteriorate further.
Most of the 6,200 residents in Iitate village have left. However, 13 people in eight households have stayed. Some said they have to take care of their pets. Others said they simply want to live in a familiar environment.
The Satos, who have been married for 60 years, have been living alone since their four children moved out of the village.
Although Iitate is largely deserted, the elderly couple can still use electricity, water and gas as before.
A nearby store suspended operations. But every once in a while, the couple's children or evacuees who used to be their neighbors bring food to the Satos.
They wake up around 6:30 a.m. every day and spend much of the day sitting at the kotatsu.
In previous winters, Tsuyoshi cut down trees in the mountains to sell for the cultivation of "shiitake" mushrooms. This winter, however, he has not gone to the woods because he thinks no one will buy the trees due to fears they have become contaminated with radioactive materials.
Iitate government officials have repeatedly asked the couple to evacuate.
However, the husband has rejected those requests, saying: "It is better to live in a house that we are accustomed to. Even if we evacuate, we will not be able to live long and have an enjoyable life."
He also said he does not care about the high radiation levels in the village.
"We cannot do anything since radiation is invisible," he said.
Tsuyoshi had visited temporary housing facilities in Fukushima city. But he found that the two-room units were too small.
The larger room was six tatami mats, while the smaller one was four-and-a-half tatami mats.
The Satos' house in Iitate has four rooms, each the size of 10 tatami mats.
Tsuyoshi also heard that some of his acquaintances who moved into temporary housing facilities ended up hospitalized.
The couple is not always alone. In late December, their daughters and grandchildren visited them, but only briefly. They gave the elderly couple "soba" noodles and sake, and then left the house.
"Although the new year has come, nothing has changed. (Government officials) say they will decontaminate the area. But we don't know how many years it will take to decontaminate the entire part of our village," Tsuyoshi said.
On Jan. 5, with the snow falling outside, Tsuyoshi and Hisano found themselves in the familiar surroundings of their living room.
Asking his wife, "Will you drink this one?" Tsuyoshi opened a bottle of a nutritional drink and handed it to her.
He said that when spring arrives, he will grow vegetables to feed himself and his wife.
"The current situation is better than the period immediately after the end of World War II, when there was little food to eat. We will continue to live here," he said.
(This article was written by Kosuke So and Yuichi Inoue.)
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