Photo/IllutrationHinata Kanno receives his graduation certificate at Yamakiya Elementary School in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 22. (Satoru Iizuka)

  • Photo/Illustraion

KAWAMATA, Fukushima Prefecture--Five sixth-graders bid their elementary school a fond farewell here on the morning of March 22, during the school’s graduation ceremony, an event which won't be held next year.

Only a year has passed since the school reopened last spring after an evacuation order for the area issued over the 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the prefecture was lifted.

It's set to shut again at the end of March.

Yamakiya Elementary School will temporarily close its doors from then since no students will be attending classes there as there are no other students and no new students are expected to enter.

Its five graduates had commuted by school buses from their homes located outside the town, where they evacuated after the earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear disaster eight years ago.

About 60 people, including local residents, attended the ceremony, which began at 10 a.m.

“We have many memories, all of which are full of our friends’ smiles,” said graduating student Hinata Kanno, 12, during the address, mentioning events where all the sixth-graders performed a local traditional dance called “Sanbiki Shishimai” (dance of three fictional animals).

They were the children's first performances in eight years.

The school's principal, Jindo Saito, asked the children to continue to cherish their hometown, the Yamakiya district.

Fourteen elementary or junior high schools in Kawamata, Tomioka, Namie, Iitate and Katsurao in the prefecture reopened in April 2018 after the evacuation order was lifted.

At an elementary school in Iitate, which consists of what were three separate schools before the 2011 disaster, 14 sixth-graders graduated at a ceremony on March 22. The number of graduates there is the highest of all the 14 schools.

The sixth-graders recalled how they encouraged each other in the past six years and said they would never forget their experiences in the new school buildings.

From April, 13 schools in the five areas will enter their second year since reopening. Children at those schools are able to receive a sufficient degree of educational support. However, the schools have faced problems securing a satisfactory number of students.

(This article was written by Hiroki Koizumi and Hiroshi Fukatsu)