TOKYO — It's moving day for Masamichi Kanari, again. He travels light, toting a blue backpack and brown gym bag stuffed with donated dress shirts and a few personal possessions.
The 58-year-old teacher is leaving the Tokyo hotel-turned-refugee-center where he has lived on and off since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant near his home in Iwaki City.
Though Iwaki City is not within the government's mandatory evacuation area, the subsequent release of radiation from the plant -- and the fear of a full-blown nuclear meltdown -- prompted Kanari and his wife to flee.
The latest relocation means another soulless hotel room, for how long, Kanari can't begin to guess. He has been turned into a vagabond, without full-time work and no fixed address. But he remains philosophical, even buoyant, about his question-mark future.
"Wherever I put down my travel bag, that's my home," he said. "My spiritual home will always be Iwaki City. But as long as the radiation looms I can no longer imagine myself living there."
The earthquake and tsunami, among the worst disasters in Japan's history, left more than 27,000 dead or missing. Entire towns may have to be rebuilt away from the crippled nuclear reactor. Thousands of people still languish in evacuation centers.
But Kanari says he hopes to turn the disaster into an opportunity. Leaving the town where he was born and where he patiently cobbled together a life as a teacher, husband and father has led him to reexamine the existence he led before the earthquake.
"I know people have suffered terribly and I have so many unsettled things about my life now," he said. "But in a strange way, it's been a positive experience. It's made me rethink my life."
Among the lessons learned: Possessions are fleeting and can be snatched away by a single swipe of nature.
And though Kanari has abandoned the house he built by hand in Iwaki City, he has forged a deeper relationship with his two grown children in Tokyo.
Kanari was a business/theater major in college, and had always planned to work in the arts. But the only work he could find was teaching high school. The tsunami ended that career, he says. He has spent his days checking a job board at the refugee center for part-time work to make ends meet while plotting his next move.
And now Kanari thinks he has a new direction: Recently, he became the subject of a documentary film on the human toll of the tsunami. Cameramen followed Kanari as he made a last visit to his hometown, taking viewers on a tour of the place he has decided to give up forever.
His work on the project has inspired him to follow his long-latent dream of working in film. Government aid and free housing, along with his part-time jobs, will keep him going for the time being as he looks for full-time "work that I love to do, not just a job I can get hired to do."
Such insights were not evident until March 11, when the magnitude 9 quake struck northeastern Japan, followed by a devastating tsunami. Built on solid rock, Kanari's house was undamaged by the temblor and the floodwaters stopped two miles away.
Still, Kanari and his wife, Sachiko, weren't safe. They watched TV reports of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster less than 20 miles away. The couple's 29-year-old daughter called from Tokyo, warning them to flee.
"When I left my house, I looked back," Kanari said. "Something told me it would be the last time I'd ever live there."
When they arrived at their daughter's apartment, she opened the door a crack, but left on the security latch. She eyed her parents suspiciously; they couldn't come inside until they stripped naked and left their possibly contaminated clothing in the hallway.
While his wife stayed with their daughter, Kanari moved into his 27-year-old son's apartment, sleeping on the floor for weeks. Although the apartment was small, with leaky pipes and unreliable electricity, Kanari views the experience as a gift: rare time spent with his grown child.
"People get their happiness in different ways," he said. "I should have been miserable. My life was falling apart. But I realized that even if I have nothing, I'm spending time with my boy."
On Father's Day, he woke to find that his son had placed a small package of cookies by his head before heading off to his job as a university researcher. It was the first gift he'd ever received from his son.
The gift was simple, yet it left him choked with emotion.
Sachiko was having her own post-earthquake epiphany. After time with her daughter, she moved into a shuttered high-rise hotel with other displaced people. A lover of the arts, she had never been able to satisfy her cravings for live performances in tiny Iwaki City.
But in Tokyo, many people donated tickets to the shelter for plays, films and ballet performances.
"She's watched a year's worth of plays in a just a few months," Kanari said.
Meanwhile, Kanari continues to run odd jobs for producers on the film project. The still-unreleased documentary is called "The Man Who Returned," but Kanari found the brief homecoming less than satisfying. He visited his old house but left with little aside from pictures his children had drawn decades ago.
There are tensions in Tokyo. Sachiko is nervous about the future and calls him constantly about his whereabouts. Sometimes, he yearns for the fresh-caught fish or an impromptu ocean swim he enjoyed back home. But those feelings pass quickly.
"I don't know if I'll ever again have a fixed address," he said. "But I still feel richer. I'm free to try and become the person I always secretly thought I wanted to be."