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In Small Numbers, Visitors Are Returning to Fukushima


Tourists from Tokyo's universities plant rice seedlings in a paddy field, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, during a rice planting event in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, May 19, 2018.
In Small Numbers, Visitors Are Returning To Fukushima
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It has been more than seven years since the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan.

Now, tour organizers are bringing tourists to the area.

People are slowly returning to the area where the disaster struck. Many hope that visitors will help bring back towns there and increasingly ease fears of radiation.

Tourism in the Fukushima area

Takuto Okamoto operates tours through the area. He brings groups two times a month to places like Tomioka, a town 10 kilometers from the wrecked power plant.

“The disaster happened. The issue now is how people rebuild their lives,” Okamoto said.

He wants to increase his tours to twice a week.

A tour guide and a tourist check radiation levels at Joroku Park, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture in May..
A tour guide and a tourist check radiation levels at Joroku Park, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture in May..

The area around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is not fully back to normal.

Electronic signs on the highway to Tomioka show radiation levels 100 times normal background levels.

Louie Ching is a 33-year-old programmer from the Philippines. He, two other Filipinos and a Japanese man who visited Chernobyl each paid about $209 for the trip from Tokyo.

Ching said about his visit, “For me, it’s more for bragging rights, to be perfectly honest.”

Few people return to Namie

The group visited another town, Namie. It is only four kilometers from the disabled nuclear plant. Residents began returning after officials lifted restrictions. But only 700 of 21,000 people have returned.

Mitsuru Watanabe is a former resident who owned a restaurant in town. He is 80 years old now. He and his wife Rumeko have no plans to return. They returned only to clear out the restaurant which is the same as it was when they fled the area in 2011. But he did not want people to forget about the area.

“We want people to come. They can go home and tell other people about us,” he said.

Okamoto’s tour group also traveled to the coast where the deadly tsunami killed hundreds of people.

Empty rice fields, empty houses and a school were all that remained.

The area is at the edge of the restricted radiation zone. A new sea wall has been built to replace the one destroyed by the tsunami.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to build a memorial park there. It will have a center that will show videos and exhibits as well as hold records related to the earthquake and ocean waves of 2011.

Kazuhiro Ono is the prefecture’s deputy director for tourism.

He said the Japan Tourism Agency will fund the project while TEPCO, Tokyo Electric Power Company, will provide materials for the archive. He said, “It will be a starting point for visitors.”

Ono wants foreign tourists to come to Fukushima. While Japan has seen a 200 percent increase in tourism from 2011, the area has seen very few visitors.

Hidezo Sato is the first person to return to the town. He hopes more tourists arrive.

“If people come to brag about getting close to the plant, that can’t be helped, but at least they’ll come,” he said. Sato said the archive center will help ease people’s fears about radiation.

But Mayumi Matsumoto is uneasy about the park and archive plans. The 54-year-old lives in a rebuilt farmhouse with her family.

“We haven’t gotten to the bottom of what happened at the plant, and now is not the time,” she said.

The cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi plant including removing the nuclear fuel could take 40 years and cost billions of dollars.

Matsumoto had come back for a day to hold a rice-planting event for about 40 university students. Later they toured Namie on two buses. And they visited the place where the park is expected to be built.

Matsumoto described her feelings about Tokyo Electric as “complicated.” She feels the company was responsible for the disaster. But, it also helped her family afterwards.

One of her sons works for the company and he has faced angry residents.

She said: “It’s good that people want to come to Namie, but not if they just want to get close to the nuclear plant. I don’t want it to become a spectacle.”

Okamoto is the only guide offering tours to the area. And there are very few visitors. But Okamoto says he hopes that the people he brings will not only take pictures but understand the extent of the damage caused by the disaster.

I’m Mario Ritter. And I’m Caty Weaver.

Reuters reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tour n. an activity in which you go through a place (such as a building or city) in order to see and learn about the different parts of it

bragging rights expression a good reason to talk with pride about something you have done

resident n. someone who lives in a particular place

tsunami n. a very high, large wave in the ocean that is usually caused by an earthquake under the sea and that can cause great destruction when it reaches land

prefecture n. any one of the areas into which some countries (such as Japan and France) are divided for local government : the area that is governed by a prefect

archive n. a place in which public records or historical materials (such as documents) are kept

spectacle n. something that attracts attention because it is very unusual or very shocking — usually singular

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