Fukushima Schools Frozen in Time

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A classroom is seen at Kumamachi Elementary School in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 4, with schoolbags and school supplies that have been left there since March 11, 2011.

The municipal Kumamachi Elementary School in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is the only school in the area with many interim nuclear waste storage facilities nearby, where soil from decontamination is temporarily stored.

The school is located in one of the difficult-to-reach zones designated after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. The Yomiuri Shimbun visited this school and Okuma Junior High School on Feb. 4 with the permission of the town’s board of education, on the condition that photographs be taken from only outside the buildings.

On March 11, 2011, the elementary school was hit by a violent tremor as teachers were meeting with the students before they were set to go home for the day. The children fled to the schoolyard and huddled together in the snow.

The following day, the entire town was ordered to evacuate due to the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The classrooms were left with textbooks scattered on the floor and schoolbags on desks.

A graduation ceremony had been held on the morning of March 11 at the gymnasium of the junior high school, but the place was turned into an evacuation center later that day. The next morning, residents left the town in large buses and other vehicles.

While the school has fallen silent, the interim storage facilities are buzzing with activity as large trucks come and go to unload contaminated soil.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Empty folding chairs are set in a circle with blankets piled up in the center against the backdrop of a celebratory red and white curtain hung for a graduation ceremony held at Okuma Junior High School’s gymnasium on the morning of March 11, 2011.