Written by MATCHA-PR
Fukushima, Up-Close: 2-Day Tour Through Disaster And Recovery
Fukushima's Pacific Coast Hamadori area is known for the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown of March 2011. The area is now partially visitable for travelers as of 2020. Take a tour and meet Fukushima locals, see post-disaster towns, and learn about prevention disaster for the future.
See Fukushima Today, for Yourself
March 11, 2011 marked a triple-disaster for the Pacific coastal Hamadori area of Fukushima Prefecture, with effects unprecedented in human history. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear reactor leakage of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station created serious problems. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed homes, properties, and took many lives, while the nuclear reactor leakage forced long-term evacuation, raising questions about energy use, recovery, and disaster prevention.
As of 2020, however, post-contamination and reconstruction have made parts of this area safe to visit again by the general public. Local municipalities, prefectural, and the national government rushed to aid the area, but recovery is still underway, and restoration is expected to take decades. However, seeing Fukushima firsthand is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn about natural disasters, how to deal with the aftermath and an important lesson for rebuilding communities.
Two Days in Fukushima with Japan Wonder Travel
Japan Wonder Travel offers an overnight trip in the areas affected by the March 11 disasters in Fukushima. For two days, participants can see Fukushima's Pacific coastal Hamadori area, explore previously-evacuated towns, visit informational facilities, and directly meet locals passionate about their community. Participants will be able to learn firsthand the issues facing the prefecture with rebuilding.
See details and book:
Fukushima Disaster Area 2-Day Tour
Below is the tour experience of an editor at MATCHA from California, who has visited Fukushima Prefecture three times since moving to Japan. Please note that the actual facilities visited and people available to meet during the tour vary.
Day 1 - Encounter Fukushima's Past
The tour leaves from Tokyo via bus in the morning. After gathering outside of Tokyo Station, the tour guide, fluent in English, will lead you to the vehicle. From Tokyo, it is around a three-hour drive to the first destination in Fukushima, but the bus makes breaks at rest stops.
On the bus, the guide will introduce facts about Fukushima and the triple-disaster of 2011, and current decontamination and area revitalization efforts. Everyone gets a Geiger counter to measure the doses of radiation received to use anytime during the trip; all the stops on the trip are in safe places where evacuation orders have been reversed.
TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center
The tour stopped first at the TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center in Tomioka. Tomioka was part of the evacuated zone during the nuclear leakage accident, but the orders were revoked for some areas in March 2017. The information center houses text, video, and other exhibits information on the nuclear meltdown and the decommissioning work of the plant. Information is available in English and Japanese.
Lunch at Sakura Mall
After the Decommissioning Archive Center visit, lunch was at Sakura Mall, the only shopping center in Tomioka. The inside of the supermarket is large and there is a food court with restaurants, but the building is open only from 11:00 to 19:00.
The bus will pass through no-go zones (*1) on Japan National Route 6 (*2) for a few minutes. You can check the radiation on your monitor on the bus. The meter above reads 1.1 microsieverts, which is much less than the amount of getting a chest CT scan and many radiology medical procedures. (*3)
*1 Areas where the radiation levels are relatively high. People are prohibited from entering these areas in without special permission.
*2 A major highway that connects Tokyo to Sendai.
*3 Please refer to publications by the United States EPA and the Japanese Ministry of the Environment (Japanese).
Interim Storage Facility Information Center
The Interim Storage Facility Information Center is an educational facility for the temporary storage of contaminated soil and waste. The interim storage facilities themselves are located in the prefecture, with some near this information center.
A short video and explanation are available, providing a glimpse of some of the work towards dealing with the waste. Interim storage facilities will be used for around thirty years in Fukushima, but the final destination for the waste is not determined.
Explore Tomioka with a Local
After seeing the storage facility, we met Mr. Watanabe, a previous resident of Tomioka. Relocating twelve times since evacuating from his home, he settled in nearby Koriyama with his family. Mr. Watanabe remains connected to the area by giving guided tours about his previous hometown, with the hopes of helping prepare for a brighter future.
We visited major parts of Tomioka, such as the main street, famous for cherry blossoms (pictured above). The sakura festival began again in 2017, attracting many to see the flowers illuminated in the evening in spring.
The talk provided a mix of past, present, and future of the area. Mr. Watanabe's passion and knowledge about the area was inspiring and will make you want to visit Tomioka again.
Community Building at Naraha CANvas
After saying goodbye to Mr. Watanabe, we headed to Naraha CANvas, a community center in Naraha. The architecture stands out, resembling a large house with a traditional engawa veranda outside (opposite side of building).
The inside is very welcoming, featuring warm touches like decorations and art created by residents. Town events, workshops, and parties are held here regularly.
J-Village - Lodge with International Athletes
Tour participants stay the night at the J-Village National Training Centre, a sports practice and tournament facility in the towns of Naraha and Hirono, which also has a hotel. It is one of Japan's most state-of-the-art facilities for soccer, rugby, and other sports, and anyone can lodge at the hotel. During the 2019 World Rugby Cup, the Argentina team lodged and practiced here, and the Torch Relay for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics begins here.
While many athletes come to J-Village, all are welcome to stay here. The hotel is spacious and comfortable, and the all-you-can-eat-style meals are delicious (pictured above is the vegan dinner; please consult about special dietary needs when making a reservation).
Day 2 - Meet the Future of Fukushima
Walk through Namie
On the second day, we visited Namie, a town that had part of its evacuation orders revoked in March 2017. Ukedo Elementary School by the coast in Namie remains as a memorial on the plains area.
On the day of the tsunami, the schoolchildren convinced the teachers and staff, who thought the school (normally designated as places to evacuate to) was suitable to stay at, to leave after the tsunami warnings came. Due to this, everyone escaped safely to higher ground.
Next, we explored the area near Namie Station. Here, you can see buildings still in the same condition as they were after the March 2011 disasters. Most structures will be torn down.
As of January 2020, Namie Station (bottom-right) runs north, towards Sendai, only. Reconstruction of the tracks heading south towards Tokyo, connecting the tracks with Tomioka, is ongoing, but expected to be fully completed March 2020.
For lunch, we ate at Machinami Marche, a temporary food and shopping space in Namie. Japanese comfort food like yakisoba noodles and a charming cafe are some food options to choose from. For shopping, stop into one of the gift shops.
Residents of Fukushima's Future - Fukushima Cattle and a Flower Shop
In the afternoon, we met with two more residents who provided more perspectives on the issues surrounding Fukushima's past and future.
We first visited Mr. Yoshizawa, whose ranch is within the 20 kilometer-zone of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station reactors. He was ordered to evacuation but did not. Then, two months after the nuclear meltdown, his cattle were ordered to be exterminated by the Japanese government, but he did not comply and continues to care for them.
Mr. Yoshizawa, a rancher with decades of experience, uses his stories and his animals to bring awareness to the triple-disasters, the issues of nuclear power, and the work still required to help restoration in Fukushima. He started a non-profit organization and works to support farmers. His talk was full of energy and passion.
The final resident we met was Mr. Arakawa who returned to Namie in 2017. He used to work in agriculture prior to March 2011 and decided to become a florist, to help create a brighter place for his friends and relatives to come back to.
Due to the soil decontamination work, the land is no longer suitable for growing flowers, resulting in extra work. However, we were able to pick some gorgeous lisianthus flowers and even take them back with us.
After saying goodbye with the flower bouquets we received from Mr. Arakawa, it was time to head back to Tokyo on the bus.
Fukushima Has a Message for All
Traveling to Fukushima's Hamadori area is, without a doubt, a special experience that goes beyond ordinary travel. Radiation doses are within safe ranges, and reconstruction efforts have progressed since 2011, but there is still a long way to go before these towns and the residents will be normal again.
A trip will surprise you and perhaps make you feel happy, sad, and hopeful, all at the same time. No matter what, though, Fukushima will leave a lasting impression on you, making you want to visit once more.
See this part of Fukushima for yourself.
In cooperation with Japan Wonder Travel, KNOT WORLD
Sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
Written by Jasmine Ortlieb