• Noto Peninsula Earthquake

Families in Earthquake-Hit City Face Tough Decision on Plan to Move Students 100 Kilometers Away

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cars of evacuees are seen parked in a schoolyard in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Jan.2.

WAJIMA, Ishikawa Pref. – Junior high school students and their families in the earthquake-devastated city of Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, have been faced with a difficult decision over a plan to transfer the students en masse to temporary housing 100 kilometers away.

Should they stay or should they go? They have been given all of three days to decide.

Authorities say that transferring the students is an emergency measure that is looking after their best interests, given the instability of life in Wajima even if it means separating them from loved ones. Each family has to take their own circumstances into consideration.

“Thinking it over, I want to be with my friends. I’m going to go,” said Kokoro Sakaguchi, 15, a third-year student at Wajima Junior High School, which has been serving as an evacuation center since the powerful earthquake hit the Noto Peninsula on New Year’s Day. She is among the hundreds taking shelter there.

When the earthquake struck, the shaking caused the first floor of her house to collapse. It is coming up on two weeks now that she has spent in the evacuation center, which has been packed with over 600 people at one point.

Sakaguchi keeps busy preparing for an upcoming high school entrance exam, but with the classrooms packed with evacuees, she hesitates to go in to get necessary textbooks. She happens to have English materials that she had with her for a winter holiday homework assignment, so she studies from them. She plans to take the entrance exam for the local public high school.

When she takes a break and goes for a walk in he area around the school, she burns into her memory aa hometown where life was turned upside down by the earthquake, such as the Asaichi-dori area that was leveled by a fire and the sandy coast that suddenly became wider.

“It will be sad to leave my hometown, but I will definitely be back,” she said.

The decision is also hard on the parents. A mother, 39, was originally against her 13-year-old son, a first-year student at the junior high school, joining the mass transfer. “To send the children on their own to such a far place, out of the eyes of their parents…,” she said. “I’m worried.”

But she eventually acquiesced. Of about 90 first-year students at the school, only about five are staying in the shelter because most moved to relatives’ houses or other places. “I want to see my friends. I want to study,” her son pleaded, and she decided to respect his wishes. Jun looks forward to possibly resuming practice with others in the soft tennis club.

Some families considered having their children go but were forced by circumstances to abandon the idea.

Shoji Yamashita, 59, and wife Shizuko, 49, had a tough decision to make about their twin sons, who are in their second year at the junior high school.

One twin has a congenital condition that requires a strict diet and other health measures. “We don’t know if there will be individual support for children with conditions,” Shizuko said. “We are worried whether he will be alright in the new place.”

Conversely, there are concerns whether children remaining in disaster-hit areas can receive a proper education. On Wednesday, the Wajima Board of Education sent a message to the couple asking their intentions on the mass transfer. It wanted an answer by Friday.

“It was such short notice, and we were forced to make a difficult decision,” Shoji said.

Currently, there is no timeline for the reopening of the school. “We want to avoid a gap in learning opportunities,” said Tadashi Ogawa, the head of the board of education.