Japan's nuclear disaster still affects thousands

  • Greens sprout in hydroponic culture in Rikuzen-Takada, Iwate, by “Granpa”, Feb. 17, 2016.
  • Reconstruction in Yamada-cho, Miyako in Iwate, is still behind. Feb. 16, 2016.
  • Tsunami survivors relax in an onsen, or hot spring, in Rikluzen-Takada, Feb. 18, 2016.
  • A truck passes through in Rikuzen-Takada, Iwate, as rebuilding from the tsunami continues, Feb. 18, 2016.
  • Ryo, 5 and Haruto, 9, on the right, members of Asanuma family, stay in small temporary housing, even five years after Japan’s 2011 monster earthquake and tsunami. Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Feb. 20, 2016.
  • Fishermen take care of the farmed shellfish, called Ezo-Ishikage-kai, in Rikuzentakada, Iwate. Farming has started fine in recent years, and is one of the rare, great achievements after the devastating tsunami, Feb. 20, 2016.
  • The rebuilding of the sea wall is still left behind in Rikuzen-takada, where the whole town was virtually eliminated 5 years ago. Rikuzen-takada, Iwate, Feb. 17, 2016.
  • Kids play in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Feb. 20, 2016.
  • A woman walks in the depopulated village of Kesennuma, Miyagi, five years after the 2011 tsunami, Feb. 19, 2016.
  • The staff of Hotel Kanyo, a luxurious hotel in Minamisanriku, send off guests. Although the hotel is very famous, it has still suffered economically due to a lack of tourism after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in this part of Japan. Minamisanriku, Miyagi, Feb. 20, 2016.
  • The town of Rikuzen-Takada in Iwate prefecture, destroyed by the 2011 tsunami, is seen from a cemetery, as the 5th anniversary of the disaster approaches, Feb. 17, 2016.
  • Schoolchildren play baseball at Yuriage elementary school in Natori, Miyagi, Feb. 21, 2016. The school was destroyed in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake disaster and doesn’t hold classes anymore. Although the playground is now usable, the baseball team has barely enough members because so many people left the community after the March 11 disaster in 2011.
  • Elderly tsunami survivors attend an event at a cafe, “Cafe de Monk” at a temporary housing complex in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Feb. 19, 2016.
  • Visitors are reflected at a memorial monument for the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Arahama, Sendai, Miyagi, Feb. 21, 2016.
  • Students of the rebuilt Rikuzen-Takada high school commute to play baseball as their recreational spaces were destroyed in the 2011 tsunami, along with the rest of the town (in background), in Rikuzen-Takada, Iwate, Feb. 18, 2016.
  • A shellfish farm in Minamisanriku, Feb. 20, 2016.
  • Wakiko Fujiwara, 89, walks through a temporary housing in a compound in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Feb 19, 2016.
  • Elementary school children of Otsuchi school play soccer in the playground of the temporary-prefabricated school, as repairs on the real rebuilding lag behind. Otsuchi, Iwate, Feb. 16, 2016.
  • The scene in Onagawa, Miyagi, where recovery is behind, Feb. 15, 2016.
  • Students of the rebuilt Rikuzen-Takada high school in English class. This school is one of the great achievements in the post-tsunami region, opening in the spring of 2015. However, the playground is still unsuable, since it is being used for a temporary hosing compound for the victims. Rikuzen-Takada, Iwate, Feb. 18, 2016.
  • The tsunami-destroyed Okawa elementary school. More than 74 school children were killed due to the disaster in 2011. Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Feb. 20, 2016.
  • School children of the rebuilt Rikuzen-Takada high school in English class, Feb. 18, 2016.
  • A silhouette of a construction worker at a convenient store in Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi prefecture, where there are not enough workers and the rebuilding falls behind, Feb. 19, 2016.

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Five years ago, a powerful earthquake and tsunami sent the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan into multiple meltdowns, resulting in the worst nuclear disaster in a quarter century. More than 160,000 Fukushima residents fled their homes in the wake of the disaster, and the effects of the seaside towns now leveled, the schools still shuttered, the once-famous destinations all but vacant, and the nearly 19,000 lives lost weigh heavily on survivors.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction, onsite and in the towns that surround the power plant, has been painstakingly slow says Q. Sakamaki, who has been photographing the affected areas and recently returned to create this series as the anniversary of the disaster approached. Almost half of the 94 municipalities in Fukushima have yet to complete decontamination, and nearly 100,000 residents are still displaced as depopulation rates continue to accelerate despite the fact that the region’s, and the country’s, road to recovery lies in a return to these areas. Those who have stayed are committed to their homes, their families, and the continuing effort to rebuild and reclaim their communities. This is a look at the people who still hope to find what they lost in the water. 

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography.  

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