A family business in Fukushima gets back on its feet

People have been trickling back to the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture since an evacuation order was partially lifted three years ago. A local electrical store that reopened in June last year is back to business.

Proprietor Akutsu Masanobu runs his small operation from the town center. It’s the only business of its kind so he enjoys a busy trade from a customer base who are mostly familiar.

Akutsu’s work schedule is almost full and his services are in high demand from people who’ve returned home. They are ordering household appliances, and asking for repair work. "I’m very happy I could restart my business in Namie, and I’ve been getting more jobs to do," he says.

The business has been running for 50 years. Akutsu inherited it from his father and used to employ four people. But when the Japanese government issued an evacuation order for Namie after the March 11, 2011, accident at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, he shut the doors and left. The building that housed his shop was later demolished.

Akutsu Masanobu
Akutsu Masanobu runs an electrical store in Namie town.

After the partial lifting of the evacuation order, Akutsu started to get inquires, mainly from firms that had resumed operations, about installations and purchases of electrical equipment. He decided to return and restart the business.

"Mr Akutsu’s shop is very helpful. He takes quick action whenever a problem hits," says the owner of a barbeque restaurant who needed to replace ventilators to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Coming home

Most of Namie remains designated as a no-go zone. As of August 31 this year, only 1,467 of about 16,843 registered residents had returned.

This summer, Akutsu was busy replacing and repairing air conditioners. "I think the residents return home and stay there every now and then. Probably that’s when they use air conditioning," he said.

A survey conducted in January found 54.9 percent of respondents have decided not to come back to Namie. Just 11.4 percent said they want to return, while 26.1 percent were yet to decide. About 60 percent of those who planned to return hoped to move back into their former residences.

Akutsu thinks those who have settled elsewhere still think fondly of Namie: "Many evacuees want to keep their homes in good shape so that they’ll be able to come back one day."

Namie’s no-entry zone
More than 80 percent of Namie town remains designated as no-entry zone due to the nuclear accident.

Akutsu also works outside the town for evacuees who continue to live away. He reports back to them about what life’s like. "I know the situation in Namie before and after the accident. So I want to keep looking towards what it will be in the future."