Frozen food, frozen in time – the sad state of Fukushima

This part of our series on Fukushima – 10 Years Later details the abandoned supermarkets that stand frozen in time.

Abandoned during the aftermath of the tsunami that struck on 11th March 2011, due to the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, people still have not come back – 10 years later.

There are many supermarkets in the evacuated areas, the first one we will look at is in Tomioka:

Tomioka was severely affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Besides sustaining considerable damage from the earthquake, and the tsunami (which devastated the coastal area), the town was evacuated en masse on the morning of March 12 as it is located well within the 20 kilometer exclusion radius around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Only one man, 60–61-year-old fifth-generation rice farmer Naoto Matsumura, with his dog, refused to evacuate, and remained behind to feed the pets and livestock left behind in his neighborhood with supplies donated by support groups.

On March 25, 2013, the nuclear evacuation zone in Tomioka was lifted by the central government, and the town was re-zoned into three areas according to different levels of radiation. However, the town government elected to keep the evacuation in place for at least another four years due to the need to rebuild damaged infrastructure. In the zone with the highest radiation levels residents will not be allowed to return home at least for five years. People other than registered residents are banned from entry. This zone, which covers the northeastern part of the town, had about 4,500 people residents. The central part of the town, which used to have 10,000 residents was designated as a residence restriction zone, in which the residents could return during daytime hours but have to leave at night. The remaining zone, which mainly covers southern Tomioka had about 1,500 residents, and remaining restrictions are expected to be lifted.

However, in a survey taken in 2013, some 40 percent of the town’s residents responded that they had decided never to return, and 43 percent were undecided. Concerns over radiation exposure, and the loss of compensation money from TEPCO should they decide to return, coupled with uncertainty over whether or not they could make a living in Tomioka were major issues. On April 1, 2017, the evacuation order was lifted for most of the town except for the northeastern areas, allowing many residents to return.

The second Supermarket we visit is in another town, but is very similar to the first.

The electronic price tags still display the prices a decade later. Luckily for us, the smell of rotten food has disappeared over the years. The supermarket smelled musty, filled with stale air after years of abandonment.

The well-stocked shelves still carry every item you can imagine. Freezer chests filled with empty packaging; the food long decomposed and eaten by rodents. Crates of beer and soft drinks stand neatly stacked near the checkout kiosks.

As well as grocery items, this supermarket also sold household goods. There is aisle after aisle featuring toiletries, stationery, kitchenware, and other sundries. Towards the back of the supermarket are the deli, seafood and bread counters. At the front of the stall is a Fujicolor photo kiosk.

Some photos and text in this article are used with thanks to Janine Pendleton.

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