School in Quake-Hit Japan Region to Reopen After 12 Years

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Manabiya Yumenomori, which provides elementary and junior high school education, is seen in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, in March last year.

AIZU-WAKAMATSU, Fukushima — A school in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is to reopen in April after a 12-year hiatus. Residents of the town were ordered to evacuate following the nuclear disaster triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Manabiya Yumenomori, which provides elementary and junior high school education, currently operates in Aizu-Wakamatsu City. Okuma moved its governmental functions to the city following the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that straddles Okuma and Futaba in the prefecture.

The reopened school will have a certified childcare facility and serve 26 children, providing them with their first scholastic experience in Okuma Town, where their families lived prior to the disaster.

In March 2011, the town’s two elementary schools and single junior high school had a total of about 1,100 students. The three schools subsequently reopened in Aizu-Wakamatsu, where many Okuma residents moved after the disaster. However, during the long evacuation period, many former Okuma residents have moved to other areas or left the prefecture completely, reducing the number of children at the schools.

In light of these circumstances, the town government integrated the three schools and opened Manabiya Yumenomori in April last year. The school, which currently has seven students, operates out of rented classrooms in an unused school building. Due to the small number of pupils, the teachers and staff are able to provide ample care.

The school allows the children to plan the class schedules with the teachers. For music classes, the students play their favorite instruments in an ensemble, regardless of their grade.

They also have opportunities to interact with people from outside the school, such as local residents who take part in sports days, and local farmers who help them grow vegetables.

Airu Goto, 10, a fourth grader at the school, moved to the neighboring town of Inawashiro with her family after the 2011 disaster.

Born with a hearing impairment, she wears a cochlear implant. Previously, she was prone to becoming nervous and felt uncomfortable in large groups. But since studying at the school, she has developed a positive attitude. “I want to try all kinds of things,” Airu said.

Since last year, she has been posting videos of her daily family life on YouTube, hoping to “help people learn about cochlear implants.”

“Thanks to the school’s efforts to accommodate my child’s growth, Airu is now able to do things in front of others confidently,” her mother, Hitomi, 41, said.

Airu plans to continue attending the school after her family returns to Okuma to live in municipal housing.

Other families with children are planning to return to the town in time for the school’s reopening.

Fifteen first- to sixth-graders, and three seventh- to ninth-graders — equivalent to junior high school years — are expected to attend the school after it opens its gates again in April. It is thought that eight children will attend the childcare facility.