PEOPLE in Japan have started returning home for the first time in three years to an area evacuated after the Fukushima disaster.

The reopening of the Miyakoji area of Tamura, 140 miles northeast of Tokyo and inland from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear station, marks a tiny step for Japan as it attempts to recover from the 2011 disasters.

But the event is a major milestone for the 357 registered residents of the district. The trickle of returnees highlights both people's desire to return to the forested hamlet and the difficulty of returning to normal.

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"Many of our friends and neighbours won't come back," said Kimiko Koyama, 69, speaking on her return to the large farmhouse she had occupied for 50 years, while her husband Toshio, 72, tried to fix a television antenna on the roof. "There are no jobs. It's inconvenient and young people are scared of radiation," she said.

"My daughter won't bring our grandsons here because of the radiation."

Miyakoji has been off-limits to most residents since March 2011, when the government ordered evacuations following a devastating earthquake and tsunami which triggered a triple meltdown at the power plant on the Pacific coast about 12 miles away.

It is the first area in the 12-mile Fukushima exclusion zone to be reopened as decontamination was completed, paving the way for more towns to be resettled.

Schools open later this week but only seven children came to the local pre-school as volunteers from nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power removed ice and snow and fixed their playground.