NAHA, Japan (AP) — Okinawa is about as far away as one can get from Fukushima without leaving Japan, and that is why Minaho Kubota is here.
Petrified of the radiation spewing from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant that went into multiple meltdowns last year, Kubota grabbed her children, left her skeptical husband and moved to the small southwestern island. More than 1,000 people from the disaster zone have done the same thing.
"I thought I would lose my mind," Kubota told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "I felt I would have no answer for my children if, after they grew up, they ever asked me, 'Mama, why didn't you leave?'"
Experts and the government say there have been no visible health effects from the radioactive contamination from Fukushima Dai-ichi so far. But they also warn that even low-dose radiation carries some risk of cancer and other diseases, and exposure should be avoided as much as possible, especially the intake of contaminated food and water. Such risks are several times higher for children and even higher for fetuses, and may not appear for years.
Okinawa has welcomed the people from Fukushima and other northeastern prefectures (states) affected by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that set off the nuclear disaster. Okinawa is offering 60,000 yen ($750) a month to help relocating families of three or four pay the rent, and lower amounts for smaller families.
"We hope they feel better, maybe refreshed," said Okinawan official Masakazu Gunji.
Other prefectures have offered similar aid, but Okinawa's help is relatively generous and is being extended an extra year to three years for anyone applying by the end of this year.
Most people displaced by the disaster have relocated within or near Fukushima, but Okinawa, the only tropical island in Japan, is the most popular area for those who have chosen prefectures far from the nuclear disaster. An escape to Okinawa underlines a determination to get away from radiation and, for some, distrust toward Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that operates Fukushima Dai-ichi.
Kazue Sato lived in fear of radiation because the roof of her home in Iwaki, a major city in Fukushima, was destroyed by the earthquake.
And so she moved with her husband, a chef, back to Okinawa, where she had grown up. She now lives in her grandparents' home and hopes to turn it into a coffee shop with her husband.
But Sato is still struggling with depression, especially because her old friends criticized her for what they thought were her exaggerated fears about radiation. She struggles with a sense of guilt about having abandoned Fukushima.
"Little children have to wear masks. People can't hang their laundry outdoors," she said. "Some people can't get away even if they want to. I feel so sorry for them."