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Tsunami survivors: For a rice farmer, obstacles still ahead

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Katsushi Haga, 67, looks out window of his temporary house in Koizumi district of Kesennuma in Miyagi prefecture, Japan on Feb 27, 2012. The tsunami on March 11, 2011 flattened the district, destroying 266 of its 518 households and killed about 30 of its estimated 1,800 residents, including Haga's 87-year-old mother, Tomiko.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Katsushi Haga relaxes in his temporary house as his wife, Eiko, cooks in the kitchen in the Koizumi district of Kesennuma in Miyagi prefecture, Japan on Feb 27, 2012.

Kyle Drubek for msnbc.com

Rice farmer Katsushi Haga looks at the wiped out town of Koizumi, Japan, from a nearby hillside on June 8, 2011.

Kuni Takahashi reports:

Rice farmer Katsushi Haga, 67, and his wife, Eiko, 61, live in a temporary house built by the local government in Koizumi, a district of Kesennuma in Miyagi prefecture.

“We are settling down and slowly getting comfortable for now,” Eiko Haga said. “On the other hand, we began realizing that there are many obstacles still ahead. The biggest concern is how will we rebuild our houses? We can’t stay in this temporary house forever.”  

“Also, recovering the rice paddy is another issue. The local government (Kesennuma city) announced that they will try to clean up certain districts, but it’s a lot of work. First, you have to get rid of debris, then remove sand and grass and, lastly, remove the salt from the soil. If they can do it by June, we may be able to plant rice, but there are serious shortages of machines and tractors. I ordered a used tractor but it’s taking forever to get it.”

Last year, Katushi Haga was working with other leaders to move his community uphill, but that has not been progressing as he had hoped.

“Younger people formed a group named ‘Thinking about tomorrow’ to move the community up the hill but it’s not going as fast as expected,” he said. “Our community was one of the first to take action after the tsunami and it’s a bit disappointing to see that things haven’t moved fast. I suppose that people have jobs and it’s not easy to put all your time and effort into one issue. I don’t know the details because I am retired now and I’m letting the young ones dealing with it,” he said, laughing.

“There are a few problems under the local government (rebuilding) plan. They only allow a resident to have 100-tsubo (3,555 square feet) in the new plot. It’s enough for regular people but not for farmers like us. We need extra storage space for tools and tractors.  Because of this, many farmers are reluctant to move forward.

Asked about the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Eiko Haga said, “In a way, it’s far more serious in Fukushima. We are having tough time here but people in Fukushima are worse off. They can’t go back to their land for a long  time.”  

Her husband  chimed in, “The government for such a long time kept telling us it’s safe, but look at what happened. There is always the possibility that another accident will happen again somewhere. What are they going to do? No one even took responsibility. It’s an issue of human lives.”

When we spoke to Katsushi last year, he said that no longer wanted a view of the ocean. How does he feel about it now?  

“I still have strange feeling about the ocean,” he said. “Before the tsunami, the ocean wasn’t visible from the bridge near my house because of all the building around. Now everything has gone, including the bridge and you see the ocean right there. It was soothing to see the ocean before, but no more. I feel like a tsunami may occur again.” 

Eiko Haga added, “Some fishermen said that they hate earthquakes but not the ocean. The ocean is not guilty. But we are farmers and aren’t tied to the ocean like they are.”

Katsuhi’s mother, Tomiko, 88, was killed in the tsunami, but her body wasn’t found until Jan. 18. It had been hidden under debris near a mountain. Katsushi said, “I often walked nearby. … It was a bit of surprise. We buried her on Feb. 12 and it was sort of a relief.”


Kuni Takahashi, a photojournalist based in Mumbai, returned to his native Japan in 2011 shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. He recently revisited some of the people he met there— as well as some of the people that msnbc.com profiled in its After the Wave series -- to find out how they were doing nearly a year after the devastating natural disaster.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

A photo of Katsushi Haga's mother, Tomiko, is placed at a shrine in Katsushi's temporary house in the Koizumi district of Kesennuma in Miyagi prefecture, Japan on Feb 27, 2012. Haga's 87-year-old mother perished when the tsunami struck their village in 2011.
Photo by Kuni Takahashi

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Katsushi Haga sips a cup of tea with his wife, Eiko at their temporary house in Koizumi district of Kesennuma in Miyagi prefecture, Japan on Feb 27, 2012.