Nuclear power plant in front of you The smallest number of residents in Japan And the last departure Futaba Town's challenge March 3 24:14

There are about 60 people living here.

The nuclear power plant that caused the accident is located nearby, and most of the town is still a "difficult-to-return zone."

There are no schools, supermarkets, or convenience stores.

When I heard that companies from outside the prefecture were going to venture into such a place under such adverse conditions, I headed to Futaba Town, Fukushima Prefecture, the last town of departure.

(Fukushima Broadcasting Station reporter Seitaro Dehara)

Uninhabitable for nearly 11 and a half years

Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located in Futaba Town.
The Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear accident that occurred on March 2011, 3 completely changed the lives of more than 11,7000 residents.

The nuclear power plant lost all power to cool the nuclear fuel due to the huge tsunami, and three reactors melted down. Amid a series of hydrogen explosions, all residents were forced to evacuate, and the evacuation lasted for nearly 3 and a half years until August last year.

It is not easy to restore human activity in these areas.

Buildings that have been exposed to wind and rain for many years and ravaged by beasts are demolished and radioactive materials are removed. In addition, all the neglected and damaged infrastructure must be rebuilt.

In the "Designated Reconstruction and Revitalization Base Area," which accounts for 1% of the town's area, these efforts were carried out ahead of others, and the main office building of the town hall, which had its main function in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, 60 kilometers away, has also returned to the town.
In October, people began moving into disaster public housing on the west side of Futaba Station on the JR Joban Line.

"The town with the smallest population in Japan"

About 1 people live in the town as of one month after the start of their return.
Six months later, the number of employees had increased to more than 30 as of March 3.

Double in 1 months.

It sounds good, but in urban schools, there are usually only two classes.

As you can see from this table, the residents of Futaba Town are less than 4% of the population of Aogashima, an isolated island in the sea. The number of registered residents still exceeds 5500,<>, but most of them continue to live as evacuees all over the country, so it is effectively "the city with the smallest population in the Japan."

Okuma Town, where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is also located, began to welcome residents back three years earlier than Futaba Town, and nearly 3,1000 people live there. On the other hand, in Futaba Town, the last of them, the Reconstruction Agency conducts an annual survey of residents and found that 56.1% of them would not return, with more than half giving up on returning.

It is not realistic to aim for "reconstruction" to return the town to the place before the nuclear accident, and it is necessary to "build a new town from scratch."

"Futaba Town disappears from the map"

Over the past nearly three years, I have been following Futaba's efforts to return home, and I have heard Mayor Shiro Izawa say many times at residents' briefings that the town will disappear if things continue as they are.

The evacuation order has been lifted only in the white and light blue areas shown in this figure. The remaining 85% remain under evacuation orders as difficult-to-return zones, and no concrete prospect of lifting them has been given.

There are no schools, and you have to go to the next town to shop for the necessities of life.
The fact that more than 60 people will live in such a town in the first six months of their return is a situation that was expected from the beginning.

Even so, 7% of the residents are not former residents, so it may be said that Futaba's approach to community development to "attract new residents" is working.

Attracting companies for the survival of the town

The core of this strategy is to attract companies.

This is because, in order to get people to return from evacuation sites and to attract new people, it is essential to have "work" that makes life possible, as well as basic infrastructure.

The 50-hectare industrial park that the town has been developing along the coast has so far concluded location agreements with 24 companies in and outside the prefecture, and more than 300 people are working.

A particularly eye-catching building has been completed there, and new companies will enter the market from April.

Gifu Prefecture's textile company "Asano Twisted Thread".
The company plans to produce yarn with excellent water absorption and quick-drying properties, which is also used by luxury fashion brands, and to sell skin-friendly towels made from that yarn.

The company's president, Masami Asano, is a graduate of Fukushima University.

When I asked, "Why Futaba by a small and medium-sized enterprise with about 4 employees located 450 kilometers away, even though it has a connection to Fukushima,"

I received a surprising answer.

Masami Asano: "I felt that my sense of smell was amazing, so I decided to enter the market. As was the case at our company, a pendulum that swings to the left always swings to the right, so I felt a great energy when I heard about the country, prefecture, and town. We have a cause of reconstruction, but since we are a company, we have to make money, and since we are about to launch into the world, we want to ride the momentum of Futaba, the momentum of Fukushima, and the momentum of the country to rebuild this place."

After all, it's "people"

The scale of the new plant is more than double that of the head office plant in Gifu.
It is said that it was Mayor Izawa, who was growing with a growing sense of crisis, who moved President Asano to choose Futaba Town, which was the town that was the least backward in reconstruction, and launched a project that bet on the company's fortunes.

It all started four years ago. When I was thinking about rebuilding the management of the company inherited from my father and expanding outside the prefecture, I was invited by the government to visit the area around the nuclear power plant.

Masami Asano: "I visited 12 places, and out of the various ways to score points, Futaba had the lowest score, but among the people who came to explain, only Futaba Town was the one where the chief came out. Many people from the town hall also came, and the mayor honestly said, "We are Vili." Initially, we planned to see only the industrial park, but the mayor of the town asked us to do so, so we got permission and entered the difficult-to-return zone to see the current situation. After all, it's people. I thought I could do it with these people. It wasn't a score, it was an emotion. No. 1 in emotion."

Was that the deciding factor?

President Asano said that he dared to choose Futaba Town, which has the worst conditions.
In addition to the government's support measures to subsidize part of the construction cost of the plant, the town also supported the expansion of the plant by providing its own subsidy, so the decision was made to increase the scale of the new plant to 10 times the original plan.

What moved my heart was the enthusiasm and sincerity with which the chief himself moved.
In the hope of hearing such a story, I asked Mayor Izawa and the two to look back on those days ...

Mayor Shiro Izawa:
"President Asano first came to the town eight years after the earthquake and nuclear accident. As the head of the town, I thought that I had to move to get such a good company to come, which I think was a bit of a consideration for the score."

Masami Asano: "At first, we were planning on a smaller scale, but I thought this was also destiny. After all, if we make a solid profit and make this project a success, it will surely lead to the reconstruction of Futaba. I don't know how much I would drag my feet if we were to withdraw, so I was determined and confident that we would definitely succeed as a company."

Shiro Izawa: "The president and I are close in age and have similar hobbies, so we had a lot of fun talking about professional wrestling. They have similar personalities. I'm quick to judge, or rather, I'm impatient. That's the kind of personality I and the president have."

Mayor Izawa is a big pro-wrestling enthusiast, and when he chats in between interviews, he often talks about pro wrestling.

For me, who knew the figure, it was a strangely convincing episode that showed that the horses really matched and formed a relationship of trust, rather than a superficial story that was familiar to me.

I fell in love with the potential of Futaba Town

One of the great business opportunities for companies is this unique environment, which is just three kilometers from the nuclear power plant where the accident occurred, and there is a vast interim storage facility in front of it that collects soil and other waste from decontamination.

With the passage of time, "Hope Tourism" initiatives have been implemented to learn lessons from seeing Fukushima, which has experienced a complex disaster unprecedented in the world, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear disasters, and the "proximity to nuclear power plants" that has been holding back reconstruction will become a weapon in the future, says Asano.

President Masami Asano
: "In this area, the word "tourism" used to be a forbidden phrase, but now it is different. Because of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, people from all over the world come here as much as Kyoto and Tokyo. If you come, you will definitely come to our factory. And people all over the world can also learn about our company's yarn and towels. The revival and growth of a town where 96% of the population was in a difficult-to-return zone due to the nuclear accident is truly a Japan cultural mass. I'm sure the whole world will be surprised. I think Futaba has the most communication power."

How much will it lead to an increase in residents?

The new plant has 25 staff. More than half of them are new hires, five of whom are local youths who graduated from high schools and universities in Hamadori.

One of them, Mizuki Tsurugi from Iwaki City, applied to this company that makes towels that are gentle on the skin because of his experience suffering from atopic dermatitis.

He was surprised by his friends when he decided to work in "the town with the least residents in the whole country," which had not yet been prepared for living conditions.

Mizuki Kan:
"To be honest, my first impression was that I wondered what would happen in the future without anything, and since various buildings and companies will be built, I am looking forward to seeing Futaba Town grow tremendously in 1~2 years from now."

However, he commutes from his parents' house in Iwaki City.

It does not lead to "attracting companies = increasing employment = increasing residents" as in ordinary towns.

Nevertheless, at the end of February, there was an event that made him want to live in Futaba.

Thread of Hope

A towel sales event was held to unveil the new factory and staff. Before the start of sales, a line of more than 50 people formed at the entrance.

People who have returned, people who rushed from evacuation sites, and people who came to Futaba for the first time. It was crowded with many visitors.

The response from the customers was excellent. Mr. Kan, who helped serve customers, also said that he felt a sense of satisfaction.

Mizuki Kan:
"It's not a thread of hope, but I feel like I can see the first thread. In the future, I would like to eventually live in Futaba and work with the residents to liven up this town."

Challenges for the survival and future of the town

Municipalities where evacuation orders were lifted relatively early are approaching their pre-earthquake populations, but even 12 years after the disaster, only about 1% of municipalities have been delayed in lifting evacuation orders, and only 1% of Futaba Town has had to wait until the end. This is the reality of the areas affected by the nuclear accident.

How far can we catch up from here? Mayor Izawa has set a goal of 2030,2000 residents by 2.

Those who have returned home, those who have found business opportunities in this town, and those who are about to enter the town anew. In this "Japan small town" that is about to be reborn from scratch, anyone can play a leading role.

Beyond the efforts to attract companies for survival is not the sad end of the hometown disappearing from the map, but the new Futaba Town that gleams in a different form than before.

Covering a drama without a plot woven by two wrestling lovers and a hopeful young man, I felt that I could see such a future.

Seitaro Dehara, a reporter at the Fukushima Broadcasting StationBorn in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, he joined the police in 2018 and was in charge of police justice,

and then worked at the Iwaki Branch Office covering the disaster-stricken areas, and is currently in

charge of the Yu Army.
He is also studying professional wrestling.