Waiting for things to get better

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Hikaru Onishi visits a gymnasium in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, and recalls his three years of life as an evacuee on April 16. The gym, which once served as an evacuation center after the 2016 earthquake and where Onishi evacuated, is now surrounded by fences due to a renovation work.

By Daisuke Urakami/Yomiuri Shimbun PhotographerHikaru Onishi’s home in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, was destroyed in a foreshock to the Kumamoto Earthquake that struck the night of April 14, 2016.

Unable to find his shoes, Onishi, who is blind, put on five pairs of socks before escaping to a nearby parking lot, where he spent the night.

Onishi, 75, recalled that he “did not feel the earthquake” three years ago. He said he hardly remembers what happened in the immediate aftermath, but he has clear memories of the hard times he spent in the town’s gymnasium, which served as an evacuation center.

At the gymnasium, people and their belongings were overflowing into the aisles and he was ashamed to use his white cane to walk. He could not use his cane when he had to use both hands to carry the tray on which his distributed meal was served.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Onishi navigates a surface with cracked pavement using a white cane on April 17, 2016.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Takako Suzukawa, right, and her husband, Shoji, return to the place where they lived in their car after the earthquake in Nishihara, Kumamoto Prefecture, on April 16. They said they also used to brush their teeth at the site.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    This photo, taken June 16, 2016, shows Takako and Shoji Suzukawa living in their car at the Nishihara village government office’s parking lot.

He is currently living in a temporary welfare housing facility the town created for disabled and elderly people.

The place has no steps so it is comfortable for him, but residents in the facility have little contact with each other. “Some days I don’t talk to anyone,” he said.

Shoji Suzukawa, 45, and his wife, Takako, 44, live in a temporary housing complex in the village of Nishihara in Kumamoto Prefecture. Their home was destroyed by the main quake that struck on April 16, 2016. For about three months, the couple was forced to live in their car because Shoji, who cannot walk well and uses a wheelchair, thought he would inconvenience others at an evacuation center, where there were many steps.

But things have not been all bad during the three years after the earthquake. Village civil servants and volunteers helped make their lives as evacuees comfortable. Shoji currently serves as a chair of the temporary housing complex’s residents’ association. His goal is to make the housing site easy to live.

“We lost a lot of things, but we’re happier to have met a lot of people,” he said.

Sayaka Abe, 29, is a part-time clerical worker from Mashiki whose home was destroyed by both the foreshock and main earthquakes of the Kumamoto Earthquake. Her oldest son Motoharu, 11, has a developmental disability that made it impossible for the family to live in an evacuation center. After spending a few nights in their car, they moved into housing temporarily leased by the local government. The aftershocks would terrify Motoharu, sending him into his mother’s arms.

Sayaka and her husband divorced while the family was living as evacuees, and she now lives with her two sons. In late June, the family will have to leave their temporary housing unit because their term of residence will expire. While they plan to move into municipal housing, they will have to pay rent, unlike their current arrangement. Sayaka is anxious about how she will handle the increased financial burden.Speech

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