The Future Teacher

By Deborah Svoboda

Nanako looking out a train window

Nanako Imai, 19, a Fukushima University student looks out the window as she travels by train to Fukushima City. Imai experienced the earthquake from Fukushima City and it left a big impact on her. She remembers the fears that her family felt immediately following the three disasters. Consequently Imai joined the Kakehashi project, which began after March 11th in order to build connections between the United States and Japan. August 22, 2014.
Photo by Deborah Svoboda

A slim woman with smooth skin, long black hair and big eyes, Nanako Imai is 19 now. She tells people who don’t speak Japanese to call her Nana. She stands tall and is very friendly, easily meeting people’s gaze with a reassuring smile.

Nana was born in Tokyo and moved to Fukushima City when she was eight. Her English is excellent, even if she doesn’t like to admit it. She’s a sophomore at Fukushima University, studying English linguistics and education. Someday soon she’ll be an English teacher.

Nana’s mood changes, her eyes cast down and the tone of her voice becomes somber as she begins to recount the day of the earthquake in Fukushima, more than three years ago. At the time Nana was 16 and in high school. March 11 fell during an entrance exam school holiday, so she was at home.

Her words are drawn out and come slowly as she remembers that she was sitting next to her grandfather, watching TV at her home, when the room started to shake. They got on the floor and her grandfather held the TV in place. Nana thought that was dangerous and worried about him.

“It was so scary, when it stopped… it started again,” Nana said the earthquake seemed really long.

Once the earthquake stopped Nana tried to call her mom at work but the telephone lines were so busy that she couldn’t reach her. She and her grandfather left her building and went to the grandparent’s house, about five minutes away, to check on Nana’s grandma. Fortunately her Grandma was okay.

Nana recalls that they all went back to her home and her mother came home from work. Nana was relieved that she was fine too.

Her building had no electricity, gas or water. They couldn’t watch TV so they listened to the radio and heard about the tsunami but had no idea how bad it was. The next day they heard about the nuclear explosion.

The electricity returned and so did TV watching. People on the television were saying no one should go outside.

“It was so scary,” she recalled.

They had to go to the grocery store, so they wore long coats, hats, glasses and masks. “We didn’t know how much radiation there was, so just in case…” Her voice trails off, and she clasps her hands together.

The supermarket was dark, and there was no electricity, so no refrigerators. The lines were long, but Nana said people were nice; they cooperated and helped one another. She heard they weren’t so nice in Tokyo.

Their water stayed off for a week. Nana’s Dad works in Sendai, an hour away, in construction. He was okay and he went to help on the coast. Nana was worried about him but also knew that he wasn’t near the nuclear plant.

“I was very optimistic. Even if it’s dangerous we have to live here because all of our relatives and grandparents live here. It’s not realistic to move.”

A week after the earthquake Nana’s Dad came home. He asked her to get him a blanket. She asked him “why?” and he said “to carry dry ice to keep the corpses okay.” Nana got the blanket and remembers that moment clearly; it shocked her.

Nana’s high school turned into an evacuation center. The students had no classes for a month. When classes begun again she said they didn’t have P.E. because there was concern that there was too much radiation on the ground and in the pool water.

Nana’s family didn’t think of leaving.

“I was very optimistic. Even if it’s dangerous we have to live here because all of our relatives and grandparents live here. It’s not realistic to move.”

At first Nana said their family stopped buying Fukushima produce. Then they saw on TV how Fukushima farmers were suffering. They thought, “We have to eat Fukushima food, so that others will.”

Nana finds the positive in the situation. She acknowledges that it was “of course a tragedy.” She also recognizes that because of this tragedy she joined the Kakehashi project, which began after 3/11 in order to build connections between the United States and Japan. Nana traveled to the United States and gave presentations in schools about Japanese culture.

Nana met many people in the United States and asked them not to forget about Fukushima.

Nana’s dream is to become an English teacher in Fukushima. She says, “Children have to continue to talk about the Fukushima reality and the radiation problem, because it will last so long.”

She does not think that Nuclear Power Plants should continue.

She regains her smile and says that she wants everyone to know that “Fukushima City is a clean, beautiful, great city.”