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Fukushima Pref. residents see cherry blossoms in off-limits area for 1st time in 9 years

A bus carrying residents runs slowly alongside a row of cherry blossom trees in a zone evacuated following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, in the town of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 6, 2019. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

TOMIOKA, Fukushima -- Residents of this town in northeastern Japan were treated on April 6 to a tour to see cherry blossoms in a zone that has remained evacuated since the March 2011 Fukushima meltdowns.

An evacuation order over the town, which is located near the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, was lifted for the most part in April 2017, but there remain areas designated as "difficult-to-return" zones, which people are not allowed to enter.

This year the town government negotiated with the national government and organized a set of bus trips to the town's Yonomori district to coincide with a local cherry blossom festival.

The district is a prominent place to see cherry blossoms in the prefecture, with total of about 420 cherry trees planted along a street extending for approximately 2.2 kilometers. Roughly 1.9 kilometers of the street falls within a difficult-to-return zone, meaning people have been not able to see most of the blossoms since the disaster.

On April 6, the town government chartered 10 shuttle buses for residents. Rikiya Hirako, 79, who has evacuated to the city of Iwaki, said, "It's good that everyone could gather to see a symbol of our hometown."

(Japanese original by Toshiki Miyazaki, Fukushima Bureau)

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