Sho Komine and So Sasaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi--More than six months after the March 11 disaster, Ishinomaki's residential district of Ogatsucho finds itself with no hospital, no supermarket, no gas stations, a declining population and little hope for the future.
The population of the district has gone from about 4,300 before the earthquake and tsunami to only about 1,000 today as residents continue to abandon the area.
The central area of the district, which was known for its production of Ogatsu Suzuri inkstones, was devastated in the tsunami, leaving 262 residents dead or missing. Much of the area is deserted, with weeds growing on empty land where houses used to stand.
The only hospital and only supermarket in the district were destroyed by the tsunami.
According to an Ishinomaki municipal government branch office in the district, the number of registered residents has been falling since the disaster and stood at 3,300 as of the end of August. But a worker at the office said the actual population is closer to 1,000 because many residents have moved out without reporting to the office.
The district was formerly a separate town but became one of seven municipalities that merged with Ishinomaki in 2005.
Its population has declined the most of all seven former municipalities.
Tomoko Watanabe, 67, a resident of the district who lives alone, said she likes her house, which is on high ground with a good ocean view. But she has decided to move to Kanagawa Prefecture, where her second daughter lives. "My neighbor moved out, so I feel lonely now," she said.
Watanabe said there are only two stores currently operating in the area, and they are about 10 kilometers from the center of the district.
Watanabe, who does not have a car, said the district is now a difficult place to live.
But even if she had a car, the district's three gas stations were closed after the disaster, and residents must make a one-hour round-trip drive to get gas.
In May, some district residents set up an association to discuss reconstruction.
When it conducted a survey of residents, including those who had moved out, 56 percent said they wanted to live in the district. But 60 percent of those who said they wanted to live in the district said whether they do so will depend on conditions there.
In response to requests by local residents to move to higher ground in groups so they can live near their neighbors, the municipal government branch office showed prospective sites to them on Thursday for the first time.
However, none of the places appealed to the residents. The topography of the areas would not allow large developments, so residents would be forced to live separately. Another hurdle is the prohibitive cost of relocation.
Kiyonori Naganuma, 52, a fisherman who remains in the district, has sought to resume his fishing business with other fishermen. However, their fishing boats cannot berth at the local port because of land subsidence.
Naganuma said: "Every fisherman was affected differently and has different family circumstances. We don't know what the future holds."
Toshiro Yamashita, 77, Ogatsucho's last mayor before the town merged with the other communities, said, "Our community will disappear if nothing is done."
The branch plans to listen to the comments of residents, including those outside the district, concerning whether they want to live in the district. It hopes to show the residents a reconstruction plan by mid-October.
A senior official at the branch said with a sigh: "Administrative authorities don't know when the town will be reconstructed. So, I'm afraid residents may not know what to do."
A senior official of the Ishinomaki municipal government also said: "Every place hit in the disaster is having a difficult time, but Ogatsucho is in especially bad shape. There doesn't appear to be any way forward. This situation may affect the reconstruction plan for the entire city."
(Sep. 20, 2011)