<< Back to Index

Refuge Life of Evacuees from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident
analysis of Okuma Town Survey based on human capital theory

The 2011 East Japan Earthquake Bulletin of the Tohoku Geographical Association
31 October, 2011
Yuzuru ISODA, Associate Professor, Tohoku University
Email: isoda(a)m.tohoku.ac.jp

Emerging stratification among the evacuees by their location specificity


Nuclear accident in Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station created an estimated 63 thousand evacuees (as of July 14, Oda, 2011), mainly from 8 municipalities of Futaba County and Iitate Village where most of their jurisdiction are designated as the evacuation zone or the emergency evacuation preparation zone. These municipalities moved their administrative base to other municipality in Fukushima, or in case of Futaba Town, to Saitama Prefecture (see Oda, 2011). Roughly a half of evacuees took refuge within Fukushima Prefecture, and another half outside the prefecture.

Fig 1. Nuclear radiation (interpolated from MEXT data)

The evacuation took place from the second day of the East Japan Earthquake Disaster, on the morning of 12 March 2001. Buses arrived to communities and evacuation centers of the Futaba County to transport citizens; most say they were initially not told of the crisis in the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station and had no chance to bring essential items such as bank account book and inkan, seal used for identification (based on our interview, described below). The buses brought citizens to primary evacuation centers, to gymnasiums, schools and local community centers in the neighboring municipalities in the immediate west. Then the citizens who remained with institutional evacuation scheme were designated of secondary evacuation facilities by each municipality, often in hotels. Hotels whose tourist reservations were almost fully cancelled by the disaster and off-season ski resorts offered their vacancies to municipalities to accommodate the evacuees.

Others who evacuated by their own, either because of missing the buses or chosen so as institutional evacuation did not allow pets or cars, sought refuge to relatives and friends, refuge facilities offered by governments in or out of Fukushima. The whereabouts of all the refugees were not known at the time writing of my previous article in mid-April (Isoda, 2011), but government efforts to gather information from the evacuees themselves enabled tracking of almost 100% of evacuees by the end of May. Geographical distribution of evacuees as of June 2011 can be found in Oda (2011) in this bulletin.

Isoda (2011) have shown selective migration by age and sex; disproportionately more children and females aged 30-44 (probably mothers of the children) fled to prefectures outside Fukushima, and especially males aged 45-59 and elderly aged 75 or more staying in Hamadori region, coastal areas of Fukushima Prefecture near to their home towns. However, livelihoods of the evacuees were not quantitatively reported. This article attempts to reveal housing and employment situations of evacuees all around Japan, based on gOkuma Town Resurrection Plan Citizen Surveyh( Okuma Town, 2011) conducted by Okuma Town, the municipality having the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant. Okuma Town sent questionnaire, due by end of June, to 4,500 households and 3,419 were returned. The survey is analysed with the aid of our own in-depth interviews at evacuation facilities in Aizu region in Fukushima, done in end of June to 28 households, which asked about themselves and also about 49 households of their family members evacuating separately.

Human capital theory in the context

Through interviews in Aizu region where Okuma Town have moved its function and where largest proportion of evacuees from Okuma Town took refuge, we found that human capital theory (Becker, 1962; Sjaastad, 1962) provide useful dimension to analyse diverse types of evacuees, and that is the theory we base our argument on.

On one hand, there are many evacuees who express strong attachment to their home town despite most them seem to be convinced that they would not be able to return for at least some years. Attachment to the home town arises, according to human capital theory, because previous location-specific investment accrue greater returns than anywhere else, and that such previous investment cannot be transferred to a new location. Such investments and returns include physical and human, pecuniary and non-pecuniary items (Table 1). Starting from the physical capital, owned houses are location-specific asset as houses are almost impossible to sell at a price high enough to buy a house of similar size and quality in Japan in general, but most certainly so for a house in a region contaminated of radiation. Employees in secure job or elife-timef employment in a firm of the region would find difficulty in finding employment that pays equivalent amount; although rapidly changing, long-term employment prevalent in Japan has corollary to severe immobility of labour across firms. Items difficult to quantify and unlikely to be fully compensated for are business networks for business owners and self-employed, and personal networks for all member of the community but these are perhaps the most important reason for citizens to continue living at a place.

Table 1. Examples of location-specific investment and returns

On the other hand, there should be many evacuees in search of new life at alternative location, for many reasons such as fear of health risks from the radiation or uncertainty as to how long the radiation problems persist. Those who would be able to move to alternative places will be selective, depending on how much pecuniary and non-pecuniary resource one can invest at an alternative location, determined by factors such as age, ability, and wealth. Thus it is expected that the young and able citizens are likely to move out and the old and the poor likely to stay, resulting in increasing the aged population rate and difficulties in rebuilding the economy of the region.

In our interview, we asked employment status before and after the crisis and found most of evacuees in Aizu were out of work, not seeking job either because of uncertainty regarding their immediate future or because of too few jobs available, further demotivated to seek by the preliminary compensation payment by TEPCO, the owner of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station. We also asked evacuees in Aizu about employment of family members who were evacuating separately and found some are continuing employment with the previous employer. There are diverse types of evacuees which can be listed as follows roughly in the ascending order of the level of previous investment in the location-specific capital.

Those invested least in location-specific capital are transferred personnel of nationwide corporation who might be renting a house and thus their losses might be only personal belonging left in the house. Local employees of firms outside the affected region might own a house but maintaining employment, although such employment may be later terminated. Local employees of the firms of the affected region who might own a house would likely to lose secure job. Business owners and self-employed (including farmers) in the affected region would lose means of production such as shop, factory and farmland, as well as owned house, business and personal network. Finally, retired who have already invested most of their resources in the affected region would lose much of their pecuniary and non-pecuniary asset.

While TEPCO should try to compensate for all the damage, loss of earnings and devaluation of assets, there are also items difficult to be quantified and to be compensated. The nuclear problems seem to last for a long time, but the compensation process could take much longer time, and still full compensation is unlikely.

Housing and employment

At the time of survey in June, largest share of evacuees are in evacuation shelters, mostly in hotels at hot spring area and ski resort that were designated by the Okuma Town as secondary evacuation center (Table 2). Fukushima Prefecture paid hotels 5,000 yen per person per day, and evacuees are provided with food as well. At that time, about 500 temporary housing for Okuma Town was completed and allocated to households, but their move-in has just started; most households were waiting for 6 essential household electronic items, i.e. washing machine, refrigerator, TV, rice cooker, microwave oven and electronic kettle, provided by Japanese Red Cross Society, and thus very few were in temporary housing yet; most evacuees in evacuation shelters should have moved in to temporary housing, at the time of writing. Fukushima Prefecture also paid rent to those renting a private rented house in Fukushima Prefecture.

Others found refuge in houses of relatives and friends, mostly at parentfs or childrenfs houses or in private rented housing by their own budget. There were various type of housing in the eOtherf category such as hospitals, public rented housing specially offered to the evacuees by municipalities in and out of Fukushima Prefecture.

Table 2. Accommodation Type of Evacuees

The survey does not ask economic activity of the evacuees but job availability and unemployment after the crisis can be gauged by cross-tabulating current employment by previous employment. Of previous full-time workers, 56% are still employed full-time but I presume most of them are with the same employer as before (table 3). Following cases should be born in mind: (1) employees of firms outside the affected region being transferred to other location; (2) employees of firms outside the region who maintains employment contract; (3) employees of the firms in the region which have yet closed and did not fire their employees. And thus this rate of employment does not reflect that evacuees are actually working. In our interview, those who were working after the accident were typically working with the same employer and was transferred to other branch within the organization. Notably, we found several cases of employees in nuclear related business transferred to Kashiwazaki City (Niigata) where Kariwa Nuclear Power Station, also owned by TEPCO, is situated. There is no information in the survey as to how much of those employed are with the employer before the crisis, but 95% in full-time job say they are in the same major industry division (see table 13). There had been very little shift from full-time to part-time, only 3%, and 40% of previous full-time workers are unemployed.

Table 3. Current Employment by Previous Employment

In the further analysis of job availability in this article, we use the rate of employment/unemployment of previous full-time workers. Looking at current employment by previous employment status of previous full-time workers, unemployment of previous self-employed workers are much higher than that of previous employee of private firms, while 90% of previous civil servants (municipal, prefectural or national) are employed. eOrganization personnelf in table 4 are those working in not-for-profit corporations, and their rate of unemployment is similarly low. We found a case of employee in Futaba Japan Agricultural Cooperative (JA) transferred to Fukushima JA or school teachers transferred to other school in Fukushima Prefecture, in the interview.

Table 4 Current Employment by Previous Employment Status (for full-time workers)

Cross tabulation of employment by accommodation type show that unemployment is highest among those in evacuation shelters, as hot spring hotels and ski resort designated as secondary evacuation facility were away from employment opportunities and local economy did not have (if any) job openings for suddenly increased job seekers (table 5). On the other hand, unemployment is lowest among those rented house by own budget. While this seem to indicate that those paid more for housing at locations with more employment opportunity actually got jobs, the causation is more likely to be in reverse. Those who are engaged in job through personnel transfer or found alternative job were able to rent house by their own expense while those who are not engaged remained in the evacuation shelters.

Table 5 Current Employment by Accommodation Type (of full-time workers)

Selective migration

This section turns our analysis to life of evacuees outside Fukushima Prefecture and selective migration. According to the registered evacuees (as of 16 July 2011) who had their usual address at Okuma Town in 11 March 2011, 4,127 persons (36%) of 11,509 evacuees are out of Fukushima Prefecture, mainly in East Japan, but in all over Japan (Fig 2) and 21 persons in other country. The spatial distribution of samples in the Okuma Town Survey roughly matches with this distribution, although the questionnaire responses seem to represent that of household head or other representative in the household.

Fig 2. Evacuees (persons) from Okuma Town (as of 16 July 2011)
(Source: Okuma Town, 2011)

For spatial analysis based on given samples from the survey, we use a custom regional division, set based on number of samples and conventional regional division (Fig 3). Simplified regional characteristics are for each region is given as follows.
(1) Hokkaido & Tohoku (N=93): Could have been more evacuees had there been not severely affected by the earthquake and tsunami
(2) Fukushima Pref. (N=1,583): Evacuees are mainly in Aizu region and Iwaki City
(3) Niigata Pref. (N=115): Adjacent and having transferred personnel of nuclear related workers
(4) North Kanto (N=168): Adjacent prefectures who offered various evacuation facilities
(5) South Kanto (N=498): Populous area roughly within Tokyo Metropolitan Area, assumed to have more employment opportunities
(6) Other Areas (N=108): Believed to be safer in terms of radiation

Fig 3 Regional division for analysis and number of samples in the survey

As demonstrated in Figure 2, the numbers of evacuees in various destinations are proportional to the size of the area and the proximity, as in the usual in migration patterns, so we will rather focus on selective migration. We analyse selective migration by cross-tabulating evacuees by various attributes and evacuating region, as exemplified in table 6 for accommodation type. The rates in table are proportion of evacuees in a category of an attribute in question in in each region. The colors in each cell represent high and low rates within each column, in red and green respectively, thereby indicating elocation quotientf of the rates (i.e. rates divided by a rate of column total). Rates colored in red shades indicate disproportionately more evacuees in that category in that region, and vice-versa for rates colored in green shades.

Table 6 Accommodation Type by Evacuating Region

The analysis for accommodation type (table 6) shows that obviously disproportionate share of evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture are in institutional evacuation facilities (accommodation type 1-3), while in other regions, majority are renting by own budget. In South Kanto, disproportionately more evacuees are with relatives and friends, probably because of higher housing rent there. eOtherf housing in eOther areasf include hospitals, public rented housing and employment related housing.

Looking at reasons for choosing the evacuation place (table 7), evacuees in Fukushima, many of which are in institutional evacuation facilities, replied predominantly because instructed so by government, but evacuees in other regions have chosen because it was near to relatives and friends. Disproportionately more evacuees in Niigata replied it is of work related reason and this reflects the fact that workers in nuclear related business were transferred to Niigata.

Table 7 Reasons for choosing the evacuation place by Evacuating Region

Table 8 Sex by Evacuating Region

Turning to selective migration, majority of respondents to the survey is male as the questionnaire were sent to the evacuation address of the household head, but there is a clear geographical pattern that disproportionately more female are responding in regions away from Fukushima. This may reflect that mothers of children evacuated to more distant (and safe from the radiation) separately with fathers, as suggested in Isoda (2011).

Table 9 Age by Evacuating Region

Disproportionately more young adults are in distant regions such as South Kanto and eOtherf regions, while mid-career age group in their 40s and 50s are staying in Fukushima, because prospects for finding a new life with a new job is much harder for mid-career workers (table 9). We see disproportionately more aged 30s and 40s in Niigata Prefecture, but examining the gender balance by age (table 10), we find that more males in their 30s and 40s are represented in Niigata, as nuclear related jobs in Niigata are predominantly male. There are gender imbalance in evacuation of over 70s to South Kanto where female are overrepresented. This is probably because widows who lost their husbands were adopted by their children who had previously migrated to Tokyo Metropolitan Area (there is more widows than widowers because of difference in life expectancy).

Table 10 Sex and Age by Evacuating Region

Turning to selective migration of previous full-time workers, we find disproportionately more employees in private firms have moved to eOtherf areas, South Kanto and Niigata, probably because of job reasons (table 11). Civil servants (predominantly municipal) are staying within Fukushima Prefecture and are engaged in municipal services that are preoccupied by allocation of evacuees to evacuation facilities and advisory to compensation since the disaster. For self-employed workers, they are spread evenly across the evacuating regions (i.e. proportional to total evacuees in each region) and there were no region having significantly more or less proportions than Fukushima Prefecture. Selective migration by previous industry indicate different destinations, disproportionately more previous full-time workers in Manufacturing and in Wholesale, retail and restaurant to North and South Kanto, those in Construction to Niigata, those in Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry and in Electricity, gas and water supply to North Kanto, and those in Other services to eOtherf regions (there were no statistically significant differences among other industries).

Table 11 Previous Employment Status by Evacuating Region (full-time workers)

Table 12 Previous Industry by Evacuating Region (full-time workers)

Notwithstanding the fact that majority of evacuees did not voluntarily choose or chosen freely the region of evacuation, we shall discuss which region had been better in terms of job prospects. Looking at unemployment rate of previous full-time workers, we find similar rates across regions, except Niigata where unemployment rate is significantly lower than Fukushima (table 13). However, looking at job prospects by previous employment status shows a very different picture.

Table 13 Current Employment by Evacuating Region (full-time workers)

Employment of previous full-time employees in private firms shows that employment rate is significantly higher in North and South Kanto, in addition to Niigata Prefecture, which seem to suggest prospects for finding a job had been better in Kanto region (table 14). However, the same statistics for previous self-employed workers, most of whose job have to be sought and hired, shows that employment rate in South Kanto is the lowest. The rate of part-time employment among previous full-time self-employed shows significantly higher proportion, so Kanto region does seem to have more jobs but not full-time jobs to speculative migrant who evacuated to the region without a job. The reason for higher employment in Kanto among previous employees in private firms is probably, again, because of contracted migration; employees transferred to a branch in Kanto within the same firm. For speculative migrant, as indicated by statistics for previous self-employed, no region has significantly higher or lower unemployment rate than Fukushima Prefecture.

Table 14 Current Employment by Previous Employment Status by Evacuating Region

Summary and Conclusion

The main findings from the analysis of Okuma Town Survey are summarized as follows: (1) Among the previous full-time workers, 56% were employed full-time after the accident but our own interviews suggested that those employed are either personnel transferred to other location or continuing employment contract with the same employer. In support of this, only 23% of previous full-time self-employed workers were on full-time employment. There had been limited number of shift from full-time to part-time employment, and almost no move from inactivity to employment.
(2) Largest share of evacuees outside Fukushima Prefecture were renting private housing by their own budget. Employment rate (of previous full-time workers) were highest for those renting by their own budget than those in other types of accommodation. It seems that engagement in job enabled or required to rent by own budget.
(3) Disproportionate number of young adults (in 20s and 30s) evacuated to distant locations such as South Kanto and Japan west of Kanto, while mid-career age groups (in 40s and 50s) tended to stay in Fukushima Prefecture. Disproportionate number of males in 30s and 40s evacuating to Niigata Prefecture is probably associated with personnel transfer of personnels in nuclear related businesses to there where Kariwa Nuclear Power Station, also owned by TEPCO, is situated.
(4) Employment rate of evacuees (previously full-time workers) were not much higher in Kanto region. For speculative migrant who evacuated to Kanto region without prior job contract, the job prospect there may have been worse, as indicated by low employment rate among previous self-employed workers in the same region.

In the beginning, all citizens were equally eevacueesf but soon later stratification occurred depending on individual or familyfs level of connection to regions outside the affected area. Working for a firm based outside the region, or having parents or child outside the region were advantages; and working in the local firm, or owning a house or land in the region became disadvantages. Those with larger share of the latter location-specific assets had no other option than to remain with the institutional evacuation scheme, now in mostly in temporary housing.

In parallel with the diverging fate among the citizens in diverse situations, there seem to be divergence in interests between the municipalities and the citizens. While the municipalities would like to keep citizens with them and eventually rebuild the local economy together after evacuation orders are cleared, citizens would want to have healthy and productive life wherever those are possible. Likewise, there is a dilemma in compensation scheme. While compensation should fully cover the pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses, compensation should not deter citizens from starting a new life for a healthier and more productive life.

TEPCOfs compensation scheme is gradually being set but, there are components that are difficult to quantify such as entitlement to elife-timef employment, business network and territory, and personal network and membership to a community. For mid-career workers, having a new secure job is very difficult. Job creation coupled with earnings loss compensation is probably necessary for displaced workers, and such jobs should be substantive ones for the region to become attractive to persuade citizens to come back.


I would like to thank Okuma Town for providing the individual responses to Okuma Town Resurrection Plan Citizen Survey and allowing its secondary analysis.


Becker, GS (1962) eInvestment in Human Capital: A Theoretical Analysisf, the Journal of Political Economy 70 (5, Part 2), pp. 9-49.
Isoda, Y (2011) eFukushima Hamadori Diaspora: age and sex of evacuees form the nuclear crisisf, The 2011 East Japan Earthquake Bulletin, URL: http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/tga/disaster/articles/e-contents12.html
Oda, T (2011) eGrasping the Fukushima Displacement and Diasporaf, the 2011 East Japan Earthquake Bulletin, URL: http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/tga/disaster/articles/e-contents24.pdf
Okuma Town (2011) Okuma Town Resurrection Plan Citizen Survey Result, URL: http://www.town.okuma.fukushima.jp/enquete_201106.html
Sjaastad, LA (1962) eThe Costs and Returns of Human Migrationf, the Journal of Political Economy 70 (5, Part 2), pp. 80-93.

Copyright(C)2006- The Tohoku Geographical Association