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Forever tied to nuclear disaster, Fukushima residents hope for PR boost from 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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Participants of an event to promote the “reconstruction Olympics” theme for the 2020 Tokyo Games hold balloons at the J-Village national soccer training center in the town of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 1.
September 27, 2019
SUKAGAWA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Two softball games and one baseball game in Fukushima next summer may be little more than an 2020 Olympic cameo, but local fans are thrilled to have them, largely in the hopes they will give their prefecture a badly needed public relations boost.
Fukushima was one of the three northeastern prefectures that bore the brunt of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, along with Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, and will be part of the focus next year given that Tokyo Olympic organizers have dubbed the games “the reconstruction Olympics.”
In addition to the games in Fukushima, Miyagi Stadium will be one of the Olympic soccer venues, while all three prefectures will be focal points of the Olympic torch relay, which officially starts in Fukushima.
The 2011 disaster killed over 15,800 people and forced the evacuation of up to 470,000, while triggering a triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Even eight years later, Fukushima suffers from the suspicion that food from the prefecture might be contaminated. And locals see the Olympics as an opportunity to show off their region the way they see it.
Koki Unuma, a resident of Koriyama and a baseball fan who follows the local independent minor league club, expressed hope that the Olympics will put Fukushima Prefecture in a good light.
“It’s a chance to show that Fukushima has become vibrant again,” he said at a game in Sukagawa between the Fukushima Red Hopes and the Tochigi Golden Braves. “I wonder how foreign people will view us.
“I want the place to be packed with foreign visitors, so that people will see we are doing well, and that they tell others. I’m excited to have the games here.”
One man, who declined to give his name but said he had worked until recently not far from the stricken nuclear plant, said Fukushima had largely recovered but felt the symbolism of being included in the Olympics had value.
“There is basically one area that is not back (around the damaged plant), but by and large Fukushima has recovered,” he said. “I think as a symbol the Olympics are a good idea. What they mean by ‘the reconstruction Olympics’ is a little vague to me. That area around Soma is hard hit, but as a whole Fukushima Prefecture is doing very well.”
The plight of the prefecture encouraged former major leaguer Akinori Iwamura to help start up the Red Hopes, where he serves in a dual role as manager and team president.
“People living in Fukushima have suffered the most. It’s almost as if they are being treated as wrongdoers. The rumors are terrible,” he said in a recent interview. “Some evacuee children have been bullied in the towns they’ve been relocated to. That is the most intolerable.
“The (evacuee) kids going back to visit Fukushima might receive some kinds of gifts to take back with them, but some must feel those things, candy and the like, are troublesome, because at rest areas along the expressway people find uneaten candy from Fukushima thrown into the garbage bins.
“It makes you realize people don’t know how many of the things they hear they can actually believe.”
Iwamura said that consumers outside Fukushima have second thoughts about the safety of the food from there and local farmers cannot get fair value for their products. But he said the Olympics are a golden opportunity to change peoples’ perceptions of Fukushima.
“For us baseball people here, we want to make the baseball and softball games held here a success,” Iwamura said. “If we can be wildly enthusiastic about them and show that to the people coming from abroad, then they will tell others that Fukushima is safe, that the people here are living good lives.”
Naomi Nukazawa and her daughter Aya are fans of the Red Hopes and are keen to see the local Olympic competition, but so far have been unable to secure tickets.
“We’ll apply again, but right now it is like the people here are getting left out,” Nukazawa said.
“I work at a hotel. This is a chance to get different kinds of guests — I’m really excited about that. People will visit Fukushima (for the Olympics), but once it’s over that will likely be the end of it. Perhaps some people will be moved by their time here and that will have a lasting impact in some ways.
“Maybe other Japanese will be influenced by foreigners’ positive responses to us and will remember us, remember Iwate, remember Miyagi, remember our local specialties, because it seems we’re forgotten now.”
Another Koriyama resident, Yuji Amaha, echoed other locals’ complaints that people outside Fukushima don’t realize that most of the region is safe from radioactivity.
“Having a big international tournament here in Fukushima Prefecture is getting people excited,” he said, referring to Iwate hosting games for the Rugby World Cup and Miyagi hosting Olympic soccer. “In a sense, these things are connected to our recovery and are therefore meaningful.
“The people who live in Fukushima think it’s safe. I want those people who … question how safe it is to come. I want people who study the data to say it’s safe. Those who doubt the safety should come and see for themselves.”
Iwamura expressed optimism for next year and for the future.
“Most prefectures will have no Olympic sports,” he said. “That Fukushima is going to have baseball and softball is a thrill, something to be really happy about. Twenty or 30 years down the road, nobody will remember what it is like now.”

October 7, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima evacuees resist return as ‘Reconstruction Olympics’ near

d520a6c4bb0a9433b4bc87354e1290900e85f0ef.jpgKazuko Nihei, who fled her home in Fukushima city with her two daughters after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, at her apartment in Tokyo

 

March 11, 2019

TOKYO – With Japan keen to flaunt Tokyo 2020 as the “Reconstruction Olympics”, people who fled the Fukushima nuclear disaster are being urged to return home but not everyone is eager to go.

Tokyo and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) plan to use the global spotlight from the Games to showcase the recovery of the region devastated by the 2011 nuclear disaster and the tsunami that triggered it, killing 18,000 people.

But Kazuko Nihei, who fled her home in Fukushima city with her two daughters in 2011, insists she won’t return, even though government subsidies she once received have now ended.

“I’m not wavering at all,” she told AFP in Tokyo, where she relocated with her daughters, now 11 and nine, after the disaster.

Japan ordered more than 140,000 people to evacuate when the Fukushima Daiichi reactors went into meltdown, but many others living outside the evacuation zones also opted to leave, including Nihei.

Her husband and in-laws stayed in Fukushima city, and living apart has come with emotional and financial costs.

“I have to work with every ounce of energy,” said Nihei, who works seven days a week to help keep the family afloat.

For six years, she and her daughters lived in free accommodation supported by government subsidies, but support for “voluntary” evacuees ended in March 2017.

She moved and now struggles to pay the 130,000 yen monthly rent.

But she insists she is not ready to return to Fukushima city, despite government assurances the area is safe.

Japan’s government has pressed an aggressive decontamination program involving removing radioactive topsoil and cleaning affected areas, and evacuation orders have been lifted across much of the region affected by the meltdown.

But the program has not swayed everyone, with a poll conducted in February by the Asahi Shimbun daily and Fukushima local broadcaster KFB finding that 60 percent of Fukushima region residents still felt anxious about radiation.

Nihei worries about “various health risks for children, not only thyroid (cancer) but others including damage to their genes.”

“If there was a comprehensive annual health check, I might consider it, but what they are offering now is not enough, it only concentrates on thyroid cancer,” she told AFP.

Part of the doubt stems from Japan’s decision in the wake of the disaster to alter its own standards for what it considers acceptable levels of radiation exposure.

It changed the level from 1 millisievert (mSv) a year to 20 and says that level of exposure carries far lower cancer risks than smoking or obesity and “can be comparable to the stress from evacuation”.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection sets a maximum dose of 1 mSv/year in normal situations and a range of 1-20 mSv/year in post-accident situations, though it has urged Japan’s government to choose a target at the lower end of that range.

Despite the uncertainty, Fukushima prefecture plans to end almost all housing subsidies by the end of March 2021, with a goal of having no evacuees by the time — a target some fear will have disastrous results.

Read more :

https://japantoday.com/category/national/fukushima-evacuees-resist-return-as-‘reconstruction-olympics’-near

 

 

March 18, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment