The city of Iwaki lies 30km south of the Fukushima Daiichi just outside of the evacuation zone created after the nuclear disaster struck.  As such it has become home to approximately 25,000 displaced people from Futaba District, where the Daiichi reactor is located.

On 9 April, Iwaki Mayor Takao Watanabe had this to say about the evacuees: “With the compensation money they received from TEPCO, most people are choosing not to work.  The pachinko parlors, however, are packed every day.”  Pachinko is a highly popular game similar to pinball that is often used for gambling much like slots or video poker in other parts of the world.

Although this may sound like another case of a Japanese politician putting his foot in his mouth, it appears Mayor Watanabe is not alone with his opinion.

“These refugees never work, they just play pachinko.” is among the comments of Iwaki residents.  Ever since the influx of evacuees arrived tensions have been gradually rising.

At the center of townspeople’s concerns is the effect this surge in population is having on their quality of life. As the mayor points out, “For the refugees, medical costs are completely free which is creating a huge burden on our city’s hospitals and clinics.  The number of patients currently is overwhelming and I’m worried how well we will be coping a year from now.”

Long-time residents of Iwaki also share concerns about the effect of thousands of non-paying patients will have on the quality of health care which they themselves have to pay for.

At the same time, Futaba’s government is working on a plan to establish a “temporary city” for all the people to live together in with Iwaki as a prime candidate. In an interview, Mayor Watanabe expressed an understanding of their choice, saying that the two regions share much in terms of history and culture. However, he was also dismayed at the lack of inclusion his office has in a decision that in his words “will have a big impact on our city and its surrounding area’s future.”

Source: Kahoku Online Network (Japanese)