The road that winds up a narrow gorge of roaring rapids from the main town seemed idyllic on a recent visit, except for the bleating of a radiation-measuring device. Cleanup here was always expected to be harder, given the difficulties of trying to scrape whole mountainsides clean.
Near the entryway of her three-
century-old farmhouse, 84-year-old Jun Owada swept her tatami floor clean of the droppings from the mice that moved in when she moved out. She had returned this day to perform a traditional mourning rite, washing the grave of her husband, who died before the earthquake.
Unlike the Watabes, she has decided to move on and is living with a son in suburban Tokyo even as she comes back to honor a past she is putting behind her. Every time she visits, she said, she receives a dose equivalent to one or two chest X-rays even if she remains indoors. As she pushed her broom, she pointed out things she could not fix.
The terraced rice patties are overgrown, and although her home’s thick wooden beams have held out longer than her neighbors’, they, too, are starting to rot.
“One look around here and you know right away that there is no way to return,” she said.
Additional reporting by Makiko Inoue