MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture—Umeo Sayama’s two-story home and barn stand isolated from civilization in the mountainous outskirts of this city. The snow that blanketed the area in the winter has long melted away, allowing for nature to bring renewed life to the hills and fields.
Sayama, 55, also felt he could start over when the central government in April revised its definition of areas in the no-entry zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to prepare the way for residents to move back home.
But Sayama, after seeing the state of his neglected house amid high radiation levels, abandoned plans of living in the only area he has called home.
"I felt that I would one day return here, but it is impossible," Sayama says. "I will move out of the mountain."
He is the only person with a home in the government’s new zone designated “difficult for residents to return to.”
Sayama’s house is located on an unpaved road about 3.6 kilometers from the Kanaya hamlet of the Odaka district of Minami-Soma. He had lived there with his 77-year-old mother, Hisa.
The area at one time was used as a route to transport salt from the coastal region to areas further inland.
The gravestones in the local cemetery show that at least five generations of Sayama's family have lived in the area.
Sayama recalls walking with his two younger sisters to the elementary school about 8 km from the home, even during the winters when close to a meter of snow covered the ground.
The home finally received electricity when Sayama was in junior high school. He had no telephone until he bought a satellite phone three years ago.
However, Sayama says he loved the environment, which allowed him to grow flowers as a hobby around the home, and he long felt this was the only place for him.
"I never felt inconvenienced living here," he says.
But all that changed by an event about 19 km away: the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that started on March 11 last year.
His home was within the government’s earlier no-entry zone, forcing Sayama to evacuate.
When the central government revised its definitions on April 16, the area that includes Sayama's home became the first, and so far, only one in which it would be difficult for residents to return to. The designation means the annual accumulated radiation level is expected to exceed 50 millisieverts, and that residents could not return for at least five years.
Indeed, the radiation levels around Sayama’s home are several times that of a hamlet lower along the mountainous area.
City government officials told Sayama that it would be difficult to decontaminate the mountain road in the near future.
But Sayama remained optimistic.
"Decontamination technology should make advances in five years. Even if it is not right away, I want to eventually return there," he said he thought at the time.
Sayama returned to his home on May 27 for the first time since the new designation.
After looking around, he glumly summed up his feelings: "My spirit has been broken. I don't think I can live here again."
Rain water was leaking from the ceiling above his work space on the first floor. The second-floor residential area was also flooded.
Weeds were overrunning the rhododendron, marguerites and primrose that had bloomed, drawing a sigh from the serious gardener.
"When I lived here, I did not allow a single weed to grow," Sayama says. "I want to pull out the grass."
But the high radiation levels forced Sayama to leave after about 40 minutes.
Sayama said he hopes to find a new home in a location not far from his old home.
"I want to rebuild my life after a decision is made on how much compensation I am to receive," he says.
Many homes that are even closer to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will likely also be designated as areas difficult for residents to return to.
"Decontamination will take so much time that it boggles the imagination," Sayama says. "I think many people will go through similar emotions as me."
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