Translated by Sandy Lau
Why We Live In Fukushima: Interviews With International Residents
Fukushima tourists increase every year and have recently exceeded 100,000 people annually. There are also international residents who choose to live in Fukushima. Why did they decide to do so? We traveled to Fukushima to ask them ourselves.
Written by MATCHA-PR
Why We Are in Fukushima
Pictures courtesy of Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association (top left, bottom right)
Fukushima is a prefecture with varied landscapes and seasonal beauty. The cherry blossoms bloom in spring, red and yellow foliage comes in fall, and winter welcomes blankets of snow.
The number of international tourists enchanted by the classic Japanese nature in Fukushima is rapidly increasing. In recent years, the total number of international guests exceeds 100,000 people per year.
There is also an international population living Fukushima. Why do they choose to live here?
We listened to the stories of two international residents of Fukushima.
1. “If I'm Living Here, It's Fine!” Zoë, Sharing the Appeal of Fukushima
The first person we’ll be introducing is Zoë Vincent.
She is originally from Britain and is currently in her third year of living in Fukushima.
A map of Fukushima Prefecture and Fukushima City
Ms. Zoë works at the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association located in Fukushima City. Fukushima, as pictured on the map above, is located in the northern part of the prefecture.
Her job is to invite and bring in international tourists to Fukushima.
Her position includes a variety of roles, but one is managing the website Rediscover Fukushima.
Rediscover Fukushima is a blog run and written by Ms. Zoë in English that covers and features photographs of various areas in Fukushima.
A Blog Written for Travelers
Picture courtesy of Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association
Her motto is “to write about the places I’ve visited exactly how I’ve experienced them.”
The blog has over 130 articles, many of them introducing places that Ms. Zoë has visited herself and had great experiences at.
“Fukushima has several mountain climbing and hiking areas, but when I write an article, I make sure to hike it myself at least once. This is so I can confirm what the routes are, the travel time, and difficulty levels as there is still very little information on these hikes in English.”
In her articles, she includes basic information such as whether or not English is available, and the timetables for buses and trains. She also creates her own maps and illustrations, providing very precise, detailed information.
Picture courtesy of Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association
These diligently, persuasively-written articles receive many comments.
“I’m going to Fukushima soon, but will there be taxis at the station?”
“Are there English descriptions available in the art museums?”
“I’m bringing my child with me, but is it safe?”
Ms. Zoë replies to each and every one of the comments she receives, answering the questions that travelers have before their trip. The number of comments continue to grow, which make her very happy.
Improving the Travel Experience with Visuals
Currently, Ms. Zoë is focusing on helping the prefecture better receive international tourists.
“There are still very few ryokan inns and hotels that are able to provide support in various languages in Fukushima, so we create visual communication boards and distribute them to inn and hotel employees.
This tool allows those using it to convey what they need and want, from both the hotel (precautions during the stay, etc.) and the guest (allergies, etc.), just by pointing to what is printed.
Ms. Zoë told us, “We’re continuously adding improvements while meeting with the inns and hotels beforehand or incorporating the opinions of those who have used the boards themselves.”
"If I'm Here, You Can Be, Too!"
Ms. Zoë often participates in meetings overseas for work. She told us that some people worry about the effects of the nuclear disaster that occurred in 2011, often asking, “It’s safe to visit Fukushima for sightseeing, right?”
“When I find myself in these situations, I answer I’m living here, so it’s fine! There are still few people that are informed about Fukushima, so they feel relieved once I explain to them that everyone here is living their lives normally.”
Ms. Zoë has a wonderful smile. She continues to share information so that international travelers can fully enjoy traveling in Fukushima.
“Fukushima is still not as known overseas compared to Kyoto and other popular areas. However, it is a prefecture where you can experience gorgeous scenery and traditional Japan beauty and culture. It is not crowded here, either, enabling you to enjoy a relaxed, fun trip. I truly want visitors to enjoy all that this country has to offer through experiencing the outdoors and tasting delicious Japanese sake in Fukushima.”
Rediscover Fukushima: https://rediscoverfukushima.com/
2. “I’m Already a Fukushima Person” Quanyi Xu, Shaped by the Region
Next, we headed to Mishima.
A map of Fukushima Prefecture near Mishima
The mountainous Mishima is located an hour and a half by train west of Aizuwakamatsu, a sightseeing area in western Fukushima. In the winter, the area is heavy with snow, sometimes exceeding over two meters in snowfall.
Quanyi Xu, originally from Shanghai, China, is living here. He is active as a part of the Community-Reactivating Cooperator Squad (CRCS) (*1) in the Oku-Aizu area where Mishima is located.
*1 Community-Reactivating Cooperator Squad (CRCS): an organization of people from outside regions that conduct regional cooperative activities while living in Japanese towns suffering from increased population decline and aging.
Mr. Xu lives in Mishima, a town far from the city deep within the snow.
He answered, laughing, “Sometimes I’m asked, isn’t it lonely? But I’m tired of crowds since I’m from Shanghai.”
“Mishima is a town where you can clearly feel all four seasons. Being raised in Shanghai, this is my first time living surrounded by nature, so I feel like it was worth coming to Japan. Residents are also friendly to me and others like me who come from overseas, making it very easy to live here.”
Visiting Fukushima A Day Before the Earthquake
Mr. Xu at the Fukushima Prefectural Shanghai Office (top right). Picture courtesy of Quanyi Xu
The first time Mr. Xu visited Fukushima was March 10, 2011. It was one day before the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. At the time, Mr. Xu was employed at the Fukushima Prefectural Shanghai Office in his hometown.
On that day, he had just helped take the children of Japanese parents residing in Shanghai to their hometown of Fukushima. He was heading towards Kansai by train when the earthquake struck.
“I had left Fukushima, leaving the kids behind. I felt like I had betrayed Fukushima. I wasn't there when the disasters occurred, so it felt like I couldn’t understand the true feelings of the people nor could I sympathize with the feelings of the victims.”
The feelings of deep regret that plagued Mr. Xu gradually transformed into strong feelings for Fukushima. Someday, he wanted to work for Fukushima’s sake.
Mr. Xu doing promotional work for Fukushima Prefecture in Asakusa, Tokyo. Picture courtesy of Quanyi Xu
It was at that time that Mr. Xu learned of applicants being accepted for the Coordinator for International Relations position in Fukushima. He immediately applied.
He officially became the Coordinator for International Relations and worked to share information and other such duties to his home country.
“I wanted to learn things about Fukushima that even residents didn’t know about.” With that goal in mind, he acquired his driver’s license and traveled all over the prefecture.
His term as Coordinator for International Relations ended in May 2018, but Mr. Xu did not return to China.
I Want to Work in Fukushima Once More
Mr. Xu told us, “My five years as Coordinator for International Relations mainly involved translating information on Fukushima into Chinese; I didn’t receive any tourist groups from China as a result of the earthquake and nuclear disaster.”
“I still feel like I’ve done nothing for Fukushima.” Mr. Xu, who held onto these emotions, applied for the Oku-Aizu CRCS at the same time his term as Coordinator for International Relations ended.
Currently, Mr. Xu develops products for the Oku-Aizu area and provides support to those moving to the region as a member of the CRCS.
“Upon actually living here, there haven't been only been good things necessarily. I’ve also realized issues in the difficulties of creating unique products and the few incoming residents.”
Sometimes, he frets about the meaning behind his being in Fukushima. However, Mr. Xu had said this with a steady gaze.
“I met the greatest source of happiness in my life in Fukushima: my wife. Fukushima is also where we had our children.”
Mr. Xu currently lives in Mishima, raising his two children together with his wife.
There are both things about Fukushima that he loves and things that he wishes could change. However, it’s because he became a “Fukushima person” that he contemplates these things.
“I probably think about Fukushima more than the typical person.”
The Landscape that Enchanted Mr. Xu
On the day we interviewed Mr. Xu, he was visiting the regional snow festival.
He participated in a traditional event called “dango-sashi” (*2) as he talked with the locals.
*2 Dango-Sashi: a traditional event in Aizu, Fukushima that consists of putting dango on tree branches to wish for a good harvest.
How did Mr. Xu come to know about Fukushima in the first place?
“I learned about the Tadami Line in a book when I was a student. I had wanted to ride it someday..."
The Tadami Line is a railway that travels from Aizuwakamatsu into the Niigata area through Mishima.
Reputed as “the world’s most romantic railway,” people from all over the world visit to see this train.
The Tadami Line is said to be “seen at its most beautiful” in a spot three minutes by car from the venue of the snow festival. It was this view that triggered Mr. Xu’s fascination for Fukushima.
Here is that very view.
A train slowly appeared from between the trees in a landscape covered in snow. The sound of the rumbling train echoes through the mountains as it crosses the bridge.
Once the train passed, the landscape returned once more to a quiet, snowy Fukushima.
The Reason I Live in Fukushima
Finally, we asked Mr. Xu once more about what is special about Fukushima. He answered, “the fact that you can feel the warmth of the people.”
“I continue to live in Fukushima because of the warmth I feel from each and every person that lives here.”
The venue of the snow festival echoes with the voices of children
Both Mr. Xu and Ms. Zoë told us that they have been asked by friends if it’s safe to visit Fukushima. Mr. Xu said this as he looked ahead:
“Both myself and everyone else are healthy. Everyone is living well in Fukushima. I feel that that is enough.”
Search for the Charms of Fukushima
Picture courtesy of Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association (bottom right)
Ms. Zoë and Mr. Xu come from different circumstances, but what they have in common is that they are taking what they’ve experienced here personally and putting it into words.
They also both stated that there is still much in Fukushima that has yet to be discovered.
They are confident that it’s safe because they’re here. This is a prefecture where you’ll feel the warmth and friendliness of its people. Come here for yourself to find all of what this Fukushima has.
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In cooperation with Zoë Vincent, Quanyi Xu, Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association, Mishima Tourism Exchange Center “Karankoron”, Mishima Tourism Association
Pictures by Eri Miura
Sponsored by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry