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[Tohoku] Interact with the People of Fukushima’s Hamadori and Experience the Path Towards Reconstruction – A Tour of National Route 6
A one-day bus tour that introduces the food and the current state of the reconstruction of Fukushima's 12 municipalities. There are 9 courses in total, but this article will focus on a tour called "Feel Today's Hamadori (National Route 6 - Southern Course)".
Feel the Strength of the Local Community in Odaka
A tour that heads south on the National Route 6 from Haranomachi to Iwaki, which spans a region called Hamadori.
Hamadori is an area that suffered all three disasters of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: the tsunami, the earthquake, and the nuclear disaster. You can see the damage and reconstruction of the area as you go down Route 6.
The first location we visited on this tour is Odaka Ward, in the city of Minamisoma. Odaka is located within about 20km of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and is one of the locations that was evacuated. In July 2016, the evacuation order was lifted for most of Minamisoma, and Odaka is now gradually trying to regain its former prosperity. Many people in Odaka created spaces for the community, with the purpose of making the area a "scenery with people inside".
A coffee stand by the roadside, the Odaka Micro Stand Bar Omusubi, is a place where local regulars gather to drink coffee.
On the same road is Odaka Platform, a free rest area where anyone who is visiting Odaka can freely interact with locals.
Yuko Hirohata, who manages Odaka Platform, told us of her story up to this day: "In the first three months since we opened, no one came. However, even during that period, I silently kept showing that there were people here, that if anyone came here they would find someone. I let them know by always leaving the light on".
To Feel the Bustle of People, Go to Marche no Hi
Eat lunch at "Machi - Nami - Marche" (Town, Waves, Market) in Namie! Machi - Nami - Marche, opened in October 2016, is a commercial complex based on the concept of a town market where people gather and enjoy themselves. In addition to restaurants, it houses 10 shops, including a dry cleaner's , a cafe, a general goods shop, and a convenience store.
On the second Saturday and Sunday of every month, an event called "Marche no Hi" takes place, bringing in the hustle and bustle of a lively town.
Know the Current Condition of the Difficult-to-Return Zones
The difficult-to-return zones are the areas that, after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, were forced to be evacuated because of the extremely high radiation level. They have since remained uninhabited, with the houses and commercial facilities left behind still standing there, just as they were on that day.
The sightseeing bus passed through an area of the difficult-to-return zone that can be entered only by car, allowing us to observe its present appearance from the windows.
It might also be noted that the level of radiation you are exposed to on this tour, even after 10 round trips from Haranomachi to Iwaki, would be similar to the amount of radiation received from getting an X-ray of your teeth. Knowing the reality of this area is very important as it is also a way to support the reconstruction of the region.
The guide explains everything in detail during the tour, so it is possible to not only look at the scenery, but also to cultivate a better understanding of the current situation.
Soccer Can Be Played Again on Sports Grounds
Fukushima Prefecture also houses Japan's first National Soccer Training Center, J-Village, which opened in 1997. With practice grounds inside and outside, a conference room, and an accommodation facility, the center can be used not only for sports, but also for company employee training and so forth.
After the earthquake, the spacious natural grass ground was used as a parking lot and a standby position for fire trucks. It is said that in one day, the parking lot housed up to 2,500 cars, and the center was used by up to 7,000 people.
The center was used as a base until 2017 and is now back to its original function as a training center.
All the participants of the bus tour visited the facility, and we were given special permission to stand on the ground. Looking at the spacious ground, my thoughts went to how serious the situation must have been to force this place to become a parking lot, and I shuddered once again at the thought of the magnitude of the damage.
Experience Rare Tomato Picking!
The last stop was Wonder Farm, a tomato theme park in Iwaki. Guests can try tomato picking, during which 9 kinds of tomatoes, all different in shape and color, can be freely harvested and stuffed in the provided plastic bag. We were told that it was okay to taste them, so I accepted the offer and walked down the lane while eating one of each kind.
Easy to live in and with a mild climate, Iwaki is also the second most populated city in Tohoku after Sendai. The tomatoes made using Iwaki's climate, with its warmth and sunlight, were very sweet and had a strong taste.
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*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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