Photo/IllutrationVolunteers serve meals to local residents on Sept. 9 at an evacuation center in Atsuma, Hokkaido, which was hit by an earthquake on Sept. 6 that reached a maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale. (The Asahi Shimbun)

In the Hokkaido town of Atsuma, which was jolted on Sept. 6 by a temblor with an intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale, a convenience store named "9.6" has opened in a corner of a shelter for evacuees.

There is no price tag on any of the store's merchandise. Anyone looking for daily essentials, such as bottled water, work gloves, newspapers and so on, can obtain them for free.

"This store was named for Sept. 6, the day of the earthquake," an evacuee told me.

Across Hokkaido, 41 people have died so far and nearly 2,000 are currently living in temporary shelters.

The heaviest concentration of quake damage is to be found in Atsuma. The town's shelter has added amenities such as a distribution center for hot meals, bathrooms, children's quarters and lavatories for the disabled.

A handwritten poster reminds shelter residents of "important things to bear in mind." There are three reminders--namely, "remain well-hydrated," "wash your hands and gargle" and "exercise your toes."

The handwriting warms the heart and brings a temporary sense of relief to the residents.

But aftershocks keep coming. Behind the shelter, I heard a woman talking tearfully on her cellphone, probably to someone close. “I can’t organize myself,” she said.

She may have been keeping a stiff upper lip in front of other evacuees. But I could imagine that once she was alone outside the shelter, she could not hold back her tears.

In other parts of Japan, too, there are survivors of other natural disasters who still cannot go home.

In western Japan communities that were hit by torrential rains earlier this summer, about 1,500 people will be remaining in shelters when autumn arrives.

And there are 28,000 survivors of the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, and as many as 58,000 survivors of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, who are still living in temporary housing.

It shocks me anew to realize that so many people have been denied, for such long periods of time, a place they can call a permanent home.

Looking at various bulletin boards hung on the walls of the Atsuma shelter, I smiled at amateurishly drawn cartoons of a round-headed tiger and human toes doing gymnastics.

Behind such expressions of the spontaneous humor and resourcefulness of the quake survivors, I saw their strength and resilience to overcome this adversity.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 11

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.