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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

A look at Fukushima (NHK videos)

April 21, 2017

Reinvigorating Tohoku: A look at Fukushima Prefecture

 

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/nhknewsline/34/alookatfukushimaprefecture/

 

 

Iitate Junior High was a manufacturing factory that was turned into a makeshift school after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Its students are evacuees from a village that became a no-entry zone.

This week, NHK world has been providing in-depth coverage of Japan's Tohoku region. For the final day, NHK World's Minori Takao introduces Fukushima Prefecture.

The nuclear accident that followed the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, made the word "Fukushima" known around the world. This report explores people's stories to show the realities and the recovery of Fukushima.

Minori Takao spoke with Daniel Kahl, a TV personality who has deep ties to the Tohoku region. Watch the video for their discussion.


One school is located in Iitate village, which is about 40 kilometers north of the Daiichi nuclear plant. The village's roughly 6-thousand residents were ordered to evacuate.

A hallway in the school shows lots of messages of encouragement sent from around Japan and overseas.


The school principal, Ms. Setsuko Wada, spoke with Minori Takao and Daniel Kahl about it. Watch the video for their discussion.


Chihiro Kan-no of NHK's Fukushima bureau reports on how events unfolded since the disaster.

On March 11th, 2011, a tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Hydrogen explosions destroyed buildings. 3 of the reactors went into meltdown and spewed radiation on the surrounding area.

The government ordered people to evacuate. More than 160,000 left their homes.

Because of the radiation, recovery work in much of the prefecture couldn't begin right away. Prosperous communities were left empty.

Those unable to return to their homes had to make decisions. Some moved into temporary housing, while others settled in new places.

Meanwhile, the world's most extensive nuclear cleanup began. Crews started removing radioactive soil and debris.

Bags with contaminated waste have been piling up everywhere. While there are plans for temporary storage facilities, there is no final disposal roadmap.

Gradually, evacuation orders have been lifted. Since 2011, the no-go zones have decreased considerable.

The cities and villages that have been given the green light are facing many challenges.

In the city of Minamisoma, 18 percent of those who evacuated have returned. The majority are elderly. Many young people are reluctant to return because of radiation fears and a lack of medical services.

So the challenge for communities is to help ease those concerns. They need to adapt and hopefully prosper under their new reality.


Watch the video for more of Takao's and Daniel's discussion of the situation facing residents affected by the disaster.


Evacuation orders have been lifted for many towns. But the order remains in place for a few areas. One of those is the town that hosts the Daiichi nuclear plant, Futaba. Ninety-six percent of it is still off limits for people to stay any longer than a few hours.

The so-called "no-entry zones" remain fenced off. At the screening gates, you're given disposable protection gear to wear over your clothes. Most places have been left untouched such as collapsed buildings and a clock that stopped at 2:46pm--the moment the big quake struck in 2011.

Along the farmland, flags are posted to show radiation levels: blue for low, red for very high. Takao placed a dosimeter near one of the red flags and got a reading of over 20 microsieverts per hour.

The Japanese government sets the yearly dosage at 1 millisievert, which translates into 0.23 microsieverts an hour. So that reading was about 100 times higher.


Decontamination work in Futaba is an ongoing process. And some municipalities at so-called "no-entry zones" basically block anyone under 15 years old, citing health concerns. NHK World's Minori Takao met a girl who waited patiently for her 15th birthday so she could visit her hometown.

Miu Sawagami is on her way to Futaba. Something she longed to do since the 2011 disaster--see the town with her own eyes.

Looking around, she asks, "Is that decontamination work? Debris?"

The area used to be lined with homes, but the tsunami wiped them out. Now there are only bags of contaminated soil.

"So this is what happens when no one's around," Miu says.

For Miu, it's a hometown, lost.

Her desire to visit Futaba grew from her experience at school. Miu's junior high has been holding classes in a city 40 kilometers away. There are now only 12 students.

The students have been too young to visit. So, the teachers give them updates about their town, like showing them photos they've taken in Futaba.

The photos follow the changes from the day of the disaster. One in particular grabbed Miu's attention. It shows an ostrich walking freely on one of the town's main roads.

"I found out what Futaba's like," Miu says. "The more I learn, the more I realize it's my hometown and I need to go back."

Miu lives with her grandparents and her mom in the same town her school evacuated to. She asked her mom to let her visit Futaba, as soon as she turned 15.

Her mother says, "I know it's not a very good environment to go to, but I want to respect my daughter's feelings."

The place Miu wanted to go to most was the house she grew up in.

Looking inside, Miu's mother says, "What a mess."

Miu says, "The wild animals came in."

They see where the family used to gather for meals.

Miu says, "I remember how we used to celebrate birthdays and Christmases here together."

Looking around, she recalls, "My cousins and I played on that swing!"

Miu was only 9 years old when she was forced out of her home. But her fondest memories are embedded there.

At the end of their visit, they went to where the disaster began.

Looking out, Miu says, "We can see it."

They are one kilometer away from the Daiichi nuclear power plant.

"I can't say I was never frustrated with what happened, but there's no point in feeling that way now.," Miu says. "It'll take a while before we can return, but I want to keep on visiting."


Watch the video for more of Takao's and Daniel's discussion about the town's road to recovery.


The students at the school here are around the same age as Miu. And like Miu, they've also lived away from their village for the past 6 years. The school’s been working to help students maintain ties to their hometown.

The school has a special class called Furusato Gakushu or Hometown Studies. The first year they focus on experiencing the village's traditional performing arts.

They also study the challenges Iitate village faces, and have in-depth discussions about the reconstruction efforts. One student is Yuta Kumashiro.

Daniel: What did you learn from these projects?

Yuta: By learning our village's rice planting dance, I realized that our culture and arts have been cherished for many generations. It made me more determined to pass these traditions on to the next generation. We discussed how we could contribute to rebuilding Iitate. We gave presentations, and came to realize that we actually have an important role to play in the recovery of our village.


Watch the video for a rice-planting dance performance.


Another student is Ami Sato, a 3rd year student who's been studying English.

Daniel: Is there anything you want people outside of Japan to know about Iitate?

Ami: We want others to know how hard the people of Iitate have worked to keep the community together. I am proud of my village and don't want others to think of us as evacuees. I will continue to study different languages, so that I can talk about Iitate to people around the world.

Takao: The evacuation order for Iitate was lifted at the end of March. That means the junior high is getting ready to move back. Classes will start next April.

For 3rd year students like Ami and Yuta they will have graduated by then. But because of the programs here they will leave with a much closer connection to their hometown.

It's not just young people who have adapted to change in Fukushima. Industries have also had to overcome problems. Reporters from the NHK Fukushima bureau, Taku Hasegawa and Chihiro Kan-no, covered the story.


For the first in over 6 years, a fishing boat is welcomed into the port town of Namie.

On board, fisherman Ryohei Komatsu says, "I'm finally back."

Komatsu used to go out every day from here. He is finally allowed to fish from Namie again.

After the nuclear accident, most fishing off Fukushima's coast was restricted because of radiation. In the beginning only 3 kinds of fish were allowed to be caught and sold. This year, that number is about 100.

Officials there are screening fish. They say all the samples last year met the government's standard for the first time since the disaster. They say the fish is safe to eat.

Compared to before the disaster, last year's catches were 8 percent of what they used to be. But Komatsu believes things are on track for recovery. He says, "I want people to understand that fishery products from Fukushima are safe."

Komatsu says he will take things one step at a time.

There are also challenges on land. Farmers in the town of Naraha harvested rice last fall for the first time since the disaster.

Fukushima is one of the largest rice producing regions in the country, but it took a major hit in 2011.

When production slowly got going again in 2012, farmers screened every bag of rice for radiation. Over 40 million bags have been tested each year. If a bag fails the test, it isn't sold.

The safety precaution is seen as a must-do to ease concerns of consumers.

And when it comes to the region's sake brewers, spirits are high. Their bottles have won the most gold medals at Japan's national sake competition 4 years in a row.

Fukushima has about 6 dozen breweries up and running. They all worked together to rebound from the nuclear disaster.

Sake brewer Hiroyuki Matsuzaki says, "I want to strengthen techniques of the brewery. I can't do it without our teamwork. I want to make high quality sake and win another award."

Fukushima's top labels are even winning international acclaim, and have been served at global summits.

While producers in the Fukushima region say they've made great progress, they also say more work is needed to move past radiation concerns.


Another industry that's trying to recover is tourism. Most of the prefecture was not directly affected by the nuclear accident. Nonetheless it suffered a drop in the number of visitors. One famous tourist spot is Aizuwakamatsu. NHK World's Kanako Sachno reported on the situation there.


At Tsuruga-jo Castle, things are looking rather spring-like thanks to the cherry blossoms.

Originally built at the end of the 16th century, the castle was destroyed during a battle in the mid-19th century and rebuilt decades later.

There are 1,000 cherry trees around the compound.

NHK World was there since early in the morning and saw plenty of visitors coming to check things out, including tourists from overseas.

Kanako Sachno spoke with Zoe Vincent, whose job it is to promote Fukushima abroad. She's from England and is the 1st non-Japanese to be hired by Fukushima Prefecture Tourism Association.


Watch the video for their discussion of promoting Fukushima Prefecture.


Cherry blossoms are also blooming in another part of Fukushima.

For the first time since the disaster, people are back to cherish the view of the cherry blossom trees in Tomioka. The evacuation order was finally lifted for most of the town earlier this month.

It used to be popular with tourists so residents are hoping visitors will return.

 

 

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