Photo/IllutrationChildren heading home have 10 different destination buses to choose from. Onagawa Elementary School in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, is the town's only elementary school after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011. (Harufumi Mori)

With the start of a new academic year, schools in areas of northeastern Japan devastated by the triple disaster brought on by the Great East Japan Earthquake 2011 are bracing for yet sharp downturn in attendance.

The number of children scheduled to attend publicly run elementary and junior high schools in coastal and surrounding municipalities of Iwate and Fukushima prefectures is down by almost 30 percent compared with before the catastrophe. The figure for Miyagi Prefecture is nearly 10 percent.

The Asahi Shimbun contacted 42 local authorities in those hardest-hit prefectures to gauge what the situation is like this year.

Destruction due to the tsunami generated by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and unlivable conditions created by the related accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused an outflow of job opportunities, which accelerated dwindling population problems that cities and towns in the region had already been facing. The phenomenon could result in a shortage of manpower for reconstruction efforts in the future.

Schools in 12 municipalities of Iwate Prefecture will have 16,302 children enrolled this year, a decrease of 6,124, or 27.3 percent, from 2010.

The situation is especially serious in small municipalities in central and southern areas of the prefecture. For example, the town of Yamada is bracing for a 38.5-percent decrease, from 1,655 to 1,017. In the town of Otsuchi, the drop is 37.9 percent.

Miyagi Prefecture will experience an overall drop of 8 percent. Sendai, the prefectural capital, accounts for more than half of public school pupils and students. If Sendai is excluded, the overall figure will be a 15-percent decrease to 48,487 from 56,948.

In the town of Onagawa, which suffered greatly in the tsunami, the figure drops from 730 of 2010 to less than half.

In 15 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, where evacuation orders were issued, the number of children will drop by 29 percent to 37,122 from the 2010 level.

The town of Namie, which had its evacuation order partially lifted on March 31, had 1,800 children enrolled in six elementary and three junior high schools before the quake. Of them, three town-run schools which were relocated to another town within the prefecture, will have a total of 13 students this April.

As attendance at elementary and junior high school nationwide usually decreases by around 1 percent each year, according to the basic survey of schools by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the decrease due to the disasters is quite significant.