Naraha has been at the heart of media coverage since it was the first town to lift the post-disaster evacuation order in 2015. The town piqued the interest of people around the world once again, in April 2017, when it opened a new elementary and junior high school and invited families and children to come home.
In the wake of the triple disaster of March 2011, many students from Naraha moved to Iwaki where they attended school in an abandoned warehouse for three years. A temporary school was built for them in Iwaki in 2014, but it was never home for these students.
The opening of the new school in Naraha meant a chance for families to go home and enroll their children. Currently 108 students attend - about one third of the enrollment before the disaster.
But as the media focused its attention on the new school, the principals fought to protect their students. Evacuees are stigmatized by those outside the nuclear fallout zone, and school leaders closely guard the identity of these children. They don’t want their students to be traumatized again by discrimination.
When we visited the school on June 1, 2017, administrators immediately made their rules clear. We were welcome to bring in cameras as long as we understood that no photos were to be taken of students’ faces, nor anything that might clearly identify them.
Many of these student evacuees were bullied at their temporary schools, and principals and teachers are well aware of the harm that could come from appearing in the newspaper or on the evening news. The people of Naraha are standing up to protect their children, and anyone who faces discrimination for moving back to a place once tainted by radiation.
Photos and text by Parker Seibold