Would you go to Japan’s tsunami-hit beaches?
BEACHES destroyed by the devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake which struck under the Pacific Ocean in March 2011, resulting in the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, have reopened.
Soma Tourism Association secretary-general Hiroyuki Ito confirmed the news, saying, “I’m delighted because life in Soma had always been associated with the sea before the disaster.”
The Fukushima prefecture, located in the Tohoku region, is the third largest prefecture of Japan, behind Hokkaido and Iwate Prefecture.
The coastal region was known for its burgeoning fishing and seafood industries, as well as electric and nuclear power-generating industry, while the upland regions are more focused on agriculture.
Prior to the Great East Japan Earthquake which sent three reactors into meltdown and marred its vibrant reputation, Fukushima was also blessed with a variety of fruits such as pears, peaches, cherries, grapes, and apples.
In fact, the prefecture produced 20.6 percent of Japan’s peaches and 8.7 percent of cucumbers.
The Great East Japan Earthquake inundated about 560 square kilometers and resulted in a human death toll of about 19,000 and much damage to coastal ports and towns, with over a million buildings destroyed or partly collapsed.
It was the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes near the plant, and many are still living in other parts of the country, unable or unwilling to go back home.
“Even now, if you Google search images for ‘Fukushima’, the top search result shows a lot of photos of the nuclear plant and other negative images… but our everyday lives here are returning back to normal,” Ito said.
After years of reconstruction efforts, parts of Fukushima are ready for the public.
One of the reopened waterfronts is Haragamaobama beach, the first in the northern part of the prefecture to reopen after the disaster. It opened to swimmers on July 21, 2018.
Haragamaobama beach attracted about 56,500 people in 2010. However, 207 people in the area died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and the tsunami littered the beach with debris.
The beach is only about 45 kilometers north of the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant, Fukushima’s number one nuclear power plant.
It is with the hope that the reopening of the Haragamaobama beach would help change perceptions of the region, which has become inextricably linked with the 2011 disaster.
The beach in the city of Soma, located in northeastern Fukushima, has also reopened to much fanfare. Despite its proximity to the Daichii nuclear plant, Soma was not subject to mandatory evacuation.
“I used to play on the beach as a child every day… but I couldn’t let my daughter have the same experience, as she was a sixth grader” when the disaster hit the region, Ito said.
“We want people in foreign countries to know that Soma is a place to visit.”
Soma Tourism Association also uploaded images of the opening of the beach on July 21, 2018 (Saturday). To celebrate the occasion, colorful were released into the sky and a burst of fireworks lit up the night.
— 相馬市観光協会 (@somakankokyokai) July 22, 2018
Does this mean it’s safe to visit these Fukushima prefecture beaches?
Fukushima has been struggling to return to normalcy and this can be seen in its evicted towns, abandoned and damaged houses, empty roads, and scarred landscape.
But some parts, where evacuation was not needed, are safe to go to.
According to Ito, water quality inspection has not detected radioactive materials in the offshore seawater for years. Haragamaobama beach only reopened after tsunami evacuation routes and seawalls on the beach were reconstructed.
Two other beaches affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the tsunami in the Miyagi prefecture also reopened over the weekend.
However, the remaining 14 beaches remain closed in the aftermath of the disaster, and some will remain permanently closed.