Forced out by tsunami, Japan sushi chef dreams of home

Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:01am EST
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By Chris Meyers

TOKYO (Reuters) - When the tsunami roared through his northern Japanese hometown of Ofunato last March, sushi chef Sanichi Niinuma managed to escape with his life, but his shop was battered and badly damaged by the raging waters.

In the aftermath of the disaster, which killed over 400 in the city, the 47-year-old Niinuma went as far as starting to rebuild his shop -- only to be told by the city that the area was off limits since the land had sunk and power and sewage systems were destroyed.

After several months of part-time work, he accepted an offer to take over a sushi shop in Tokyo, becoming one of thousands of people forced out of their hometowns across northern Japan by the disaster in order to make a living.

Most, like Niinuma, have no idea if they will ever go home.

"There was definitely the feeling that I had lost a place to go back to, so there was a moment where I thought I might just stay in Tokyo," Niinuma said amidst the gleaming wood of his shop in western Tokyo, some 350 km (217 miles) south of Ofunato.

"I'll be 60 in not so long and so I'd like to return in about five years, but one has to think about whether it's possible to go back or not, whether the disaster areas will be ready to eat this kind of sushi again."

His home untouched, Niinuma was luckier than many. But with years left on the mortgage, few jobs in the area and his shop scheduled for demolition to make way for city development projects, he was left with little choice but to leave.

Though the worst of the debris has been cleared away from areas devastated by the massive tsunami set off by the 9.0 magnitude offshore quake on March 11, reconstruction has yet to begin in many due to the vast scale of the destruction and the overwhelming financial burden of rebuilding.   Continued...