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10 Years after the Great East Japan Earthquake: Child of Hope Will Soon Turn 10

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nozomi, left, plays with her younger sister Misuzu on a horizontal bar.

FUKUSHIMA — Ten years will soon have passed since the massive tsunami and the accident at a nuclear power plant that occurred in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

There was sorrow and anger on that day in the quake-stricken areas, but there was also gratitude and hope. Yomiuri Shimbun reporters revisited affected people who were covered in the newspaper at the time.

As her birthday on March 26 approaches, Nozomi Aita, a 9-year-old girl from Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, always gets a warm feeling in her heart. That’s because her mother tells her about what happened when Nozomi was inside her mother, why she was born in Saitama Prefecture, and how she got her name.

When the big quake occurred, Nozomi’s mother Kumiko was pregnant with her. She was due to give birth just three weeks later.

Furniture had fallen over inside their devastated house, built just seven months earlier, in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. Kumiko and her husband Kazuki had to sleep overnight in their car. The following day, a building that housed a nuclear reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings’ Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant exploded, a mere four kilometers from their house.

Counting on their relative, they went to Koriyama, an inland city in the prefecture, and tried to find a hospital with an obstetrics and gynecology department. But they were turned away, with hospitals telling them an evacuation order might be issued for that area as well. Kumiko ultimately gave birth at a hospital in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, that had been found by another relative.

With no sign of the nuclear accident coming under control, they wondered, “What will become of us?” The couple chose Nozomi as the name for their baby girl, born weighing 2,845 grams, a homonym for hope in Japanese. They hoped she would grow up kind and beautiful, and be a source of hope in their post-quake days.

Living in an unfamiliar place with no acquaintances nearby must have been tough. But the couple said they were able to get by because of Nozomi.

Nozomi has grown up to be a considerate child. After her younger sister, now 5-year-old Misuzu, was born, Nozomi began to help her mother cook. During the Christmas season last year, she wrote a letter to Santa Claus saying, “I don’t need any presents because you might get infected with the coronavirus.”

She has come to understand little by little about the disaster and the nuclear accident that occurred in the wake of the big quake, which she could barely comprehend at first. Her mother told her, “We were given water and onigiri rice balls sprinkled with salt at our evacuation site,” and “Baby toys were sent to us from all over the country.” Nozomi was deeply touched that people with kind hearts extended a helping hand to those in need.

On their way to her grandparents’ home in Fukushima Prefecture, they pass near the old house in the town of Okuma, where her family of four might have been living now. The evacuation order is still in place for the areas surrounding the house.

Nozomi knows one of her mother’s friends died in the tsunami and that some children were bullied at the places they evacuated to, with others saying they were contaminated with radioactive materials.

Nozomi has come to think that “I could have been one of those children. I want to cherish my life and everyone else’s, thinking about the people who died and those who had to evacuate.”

That day is approaching again this year. Nozomi thinks, “I was born because many people protected me.”

A new arrival

Kumiko was first interviewed by The Yomiuri Shimbun while holding Nozomi in her arms at the Saitama Cooperative Hospital in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, just five days after she gave birth in March 2011. Looking at her daughter, who was yawning with her mouth widely open, she said: “I want to lavish her with as much love as I can. She must have felt frightened inside my body.” (This article was carried on April 1, 2011.)