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Evacuated Fukushima town tour shows reality of ordinary life lost to nuclear disaster

Tatsuhiro Yamane, right, explains the current situation concerning the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, to participants during a tour around the town on June 19, 2021. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

FUTABA, Fukushima -- A tour in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba shows the reality of this area -- the prefecture's only municipality where all residents continue to be evacuated due to the 2011 nuclear disaster following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

    The tour, provided in both Japanese and English, was launched on June 19, and participants can walk around this northeastern Japan town, which houses the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, in small groups.

    Tatsuhiro Yamane, 35, who founded a tourism association after moving to the town from Tokyo, is the organizer behind the project. The tour, which will be held about once a month, puts a focus on walking around the community where dilapidated houses and vacant lots stand out. He said emphatically, "I hope participants realize that ordinary life took place in this town."

    Yamane left a video production company in Tokyo after the 2011 tremor, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster, and became a member supporting the town's reconstruction in 2013. He was in charge of newsletters, so he visited residents who had been evacuated to locations across the country and interviewed them about their current situation. Through this pursuit, he met his current wife, Mihoko, 38, and a desire to convey the daily lives lost to the nuclear disaster welled up within him, leading to the establishment of the tourism association.

    Tatsuhiro Yamane, right, explains the current situation concerning the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, to participants during a tour around the town on June 19, 2021. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

    On June 19, Yamane introduced the home of his wife's parents to two participants from the city of Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, also in northeastern Japan. Inside, moss had grown on a futon and weeds covered the floor, and he told them, "This is the reality of a place from which residents have been forced to evacuate." He also said, "In Tokyo, I also used electricity generated at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station." He showed pictures of a local festival and other photos taken before the earthquake and told them about how the residents he interviewed were carrying on with their lives.

    Since spring 2020, people have been allowed to enter part of the town, including the place around JR Futaba Station on the Joban Line, and evacuated residents are set to return to the town in the spring of 2022. Yamane said, "I hope that the tour creates an opportunity for new connections to arise." Hirohisa Takakura, 59, the chief priest of a shrine which was reconstructed after suffering damage from the earthquake, sent encouragement and said, "I appreciate that the tour shows the state of the town where we lived."

    ***

    The next tour is scheduled to be held on July 17 from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The tour starts and ends at JR Futaba Station on the Joban Line. Reservations can be made from the website of the Futaba County Regional Tourism Research Association at https://www.fukushimaseaside.jp/news/futabatowntour/ (in Japanese and English). The participation fee is 5,500 yen (roughly $49) per person, including lunch expenses and a bus fare to get around the town.

    (Japanese original by Shuji Ozaki, Minamisoma Local Bureau)

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