Sayuri Kindergarten sits next to Haramachi Church in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture, around 25 kms from where the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant disaster occurred last year. Since then, time allowed for children from Sayuri to play outside has been strictly limited, so this month the kindergarten opened a new indoor playground and held a ceremony to mark its completion. The disaster in March, 2011, forced Sayuri to close completely for a time. Strenuous efforts to decontaminate the area of radioactivity following the leak, including the removal of the topsoil from the school grounds, allowed it to reopen in September. Many families fled the city to avoid radiation poisoning and the number of students dropped accordingly, but the kindergarten staff were anxious to try and keep the school open for those who were still in the area. The new indoor playground occupies a space created by tearing down walls and joining three classrooms into one. One of the main features is a large sandbox for children to play in. The funding required for the playground came in part from assistance provided by Caritas Japan. The playground is surrounded by wide, bright windows and a skylight, intended to give the children the feeling that they are playing outdoors, says Father Raymond Latour, the Dominican priest who serves as principal at Sayuri. “When we saw the kids come into this place and get totally absorbed in their games, we were all moved. This really is exactly what they needed. I am so thankful to Caritas Japan. For so long after the disaster, there was nothing but sadness, but now we get to celebrate something good, which makes me very happy.” The playground is also open to the public several times a week, so other children in the area can come and play, too. “This kindergarten has existed for over 60 years now. I think it’s great that [the new playground] can benefit the whole neighborhood,” says Fr. Latour. “There is a degree of uncertainty right now, so what will happen to the kindergarten in the future isn’t clear. But no matter what, I want to give these kids a good environment. It would be even better if their parents get some comfort too. “It’s too early to say [to those who fled], ‘Everything is just fine, so come on back [to Minamisoma].’ Even if everyone came back today, there’d still be reason to worry. So right now, we’re just working to help the children who are here.” Still, one child who had left the city did return recently, bringing the number of children now at Sayuri to 21.
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