"What I really want is to once again have a 'my home,' " said Migaku Suzuki, a 69-year-old farm worker in Rikuzentakata, who lost the house he had just finished building in the disaster. Suzuki also lost a son in the tsunami, which obliterated much of the city.
Further south, in Fukushima prefecture, some 160,000 evacuees are uncertain if they will ever be able to return to homes around the nuclear power plant, where the meltdowns in three reactors spewed radiation into the surrounding soil and water.
The lawsuit filed by a group of 800 people in Fukushima demands an apology payment of 50,000 yen ($625) a month for each victim until all radiation from the accident is wiped out, a process that could take decades. Another 900 plan similar cases in Tokyo and elsewhere. Managi said he and fellow lawyers hope to get 10,000 to join the lawsuits.
Evacuees are anxious to return home but worried about the potential, still uncertain risks from exposure to the radiation from the disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
While there have been no clear cases of cancer linked to radiation from the plant, the upheaval in people's lives, uncertainty about the future and long-term health concerns, especially for children, have taken an immense psychological toll on thousands of residents.
"I don't trust the government on anything related to health anymore," said Masaaki Watanabe, 42, who fled the nearby town of Minami-Soma and doesn't plan to return.
Yuko Endo, village chief in Kawauchi, said many residents might not go back if they are kept waiting too long. Restrictions on access are gradually being lifted as workers remove debris and wipe down roofs by hand.
"If I were told to wait for two more years, I might explode," said Endo, who is determined to revive his town of mostly empty houses and overgrown fields.