In Japan, Life In Limbo

Even those who live and work a good distance away from the badly damaged Fukishima Dai-ichi plant are still concerned about the threat of exposure to radiation. Members of the Holland family have a home and business in Aizuwakamatsu, a small country town in northern Japan.

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Even those who live and work a good distance away from that badly damaged Fukushima plant are still concerned about the radiation exposure.

Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao has spent time with a family in a small town in northern Japan. She has this report.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: Meet Oliver, the Holland Family's Shetland sheepdog. He's the family's early warning system. When the Magnitude 9.0 quake hit, Oliver's barks signaled danger was imminent

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Ms. SOPHIE HOLLAND: I have another pretty dress. Look, look.

XAYKAOTHAO: Stephen and Junko Holland's little girl, Sophie.

Mr. STEPHEN HOLLAND: Well, little Sophie, bless her heart, she's only three years and three months old. So, she doesn't quite - she doesn't understand what's going on.

Ms. JUNKO HOLLAND: Earthquake is not so scary right now; nuclear is quite scary for us, I mean, for everyone.

XAYKAOTHAO: Earthquakes you can feel, even see, but radiation, that's invisible. Officially, radiation levels in Aizuwakamatsu, where the Hollands live, are low. But Stephen Holland, who grew up in Britain and who's lived in Japan for 21 years, is worried what will happen if the Japanese government expands the evacuation zone.

Mr. HOLLAND: If those instructions come through, then, so everyone's going to be evacuating, and there will be just traffic jams everywhere. The dilemma is do we stay or do we go.

XAYKAOTHAO: Junko Holland says she also doesn't want to leave her family, her neighbors, her community.

Ms. J. HOLLAND: Yeah, that's quite difficult. Right now, I don't feel like leave here immediately, because we are still 100 kilometers from nuclear place. But if government said you have to leave, I think, yeah, I'm going to decide to leave here.

XAYKAOTHAO: In the meantime, they check radiation levels daily and follow the news while working to keep their language school going.

Mr. HOLLAND: What we're trying to do is we're trying to get back to normality, so we're trying to carry on our school of English and run it as if this event had never happened. And I think a lot of people here in this community, in Aizu, are also trying to carry on working as normal.

XAYKAOTHAO: So, for the last few days, they've been getting Sophie up every morning to go to school.

Mr. HOLLAND: Sophie, do you want me to take you?

(Soundbite of crying)

XAYKAOTHAO: When Sophie is off to class, Stephen and Junko prepare for the arrival of teachers and students to their own school, the Windmill English Centre. Junko manages the school.

Ms. S. HOLLAND: First, we talk about, oh, how are you doing, and we worry this and stuff. But in the class, I think they just focus to study English, and I think it's actually good for us to forget about our worry and do different things.

XAYKAOTHAO: Maeko Kato is one of the teachers. She too is trying to get back into her routine, but she has a friend, Emi Narita, who remains missing.

Ms. MAEKO KATO (Teacher, Windmill English Centre): I got to know her when I was in college in Sendai. And I've been trying to contact her, contacting my friends in Sendai, but I still haven't heard anything from her yet or from her family yet.

XAYKAOTHAO: Where was she staying?

Ms. KATO: Some part of Ishinomaki.

XAYKAOTHAO: Ishinomaki is a seaside town on Japan's northeastern coast. Much of it was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami. Earlier this week, an 80-year-old grandmother and her teenage grandson were rescued there after nine days crushed underneath their home. Ishinomaki is also where the body of Taylor Anderson, an American teacher, was found the same day.

Again, Maeko Kato speaking about her college friend.

Ms. KATO: I don't want to imagine. I don't want to think that. Sorry, I want to believe that she is still alive. I feel very sorry for lots of people who died.

XAYKAOTHAO: But you're coming to work, and you're trying to get back to normal.

Ms. KATO: Yeah, I'm trying, I'm trying.

XAYKAOTHAO: Maeko and the rest of the staff at the Hollands' school say they know things are not normal, that life is in limbo, but they've got kids eager to learn English, kids with hope for a better tomorrow.

Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR News, Aizuwakamatsu, Japan.

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