IWAKI, FUKUSHIIMA PREF. – A group of Chinese tourists arrived in the city of Iwaki on Sunday, becoming the first tour group from the mainland to visit Fukushima Prefecture since the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The group flew into Ibaraki airport in Ibaraki Prefecture from Shanghai earlier in the day and transferred to buses for the ride to the resort city.
The group, consisting of about 40 participants, including 20 or so from China’s tourism industry, is scheduled to visit Fukushima’s Aizu region. The prefecture has been struggling with radiation rumors sparked by the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, which tainted much of east and northeast Japan with fallout after a massive quake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the poorly maintained Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
Prefectural officials are hopeful the visit will help reduce all the negativity there and attract more Chinese tourists.
Wang Zhenghua, chairman of budget carrier Spring Airlines, is personally leading the group, whose visit is also intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between China and Japan. About 20 of the 40 or so participants work in China’s tourism industry.
Spring Airlines conducted a preliminary study of the prefecture and determined there are no nuclear contamination issues, Wang said.
After arriving from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, the group headed to Spa Resort Hawaiians, a leisure complex in Iwaki, and attended a welcoming ceremony hosted by the prefectural government and saw a performance of the Hula Girls, which the resort is known for.
“While Fukushima is steadily recovering and reconstruction work is under way here and there, it is also suffering a big blow from harmful rumors centering on tourism. This tour will be a tailwind for Fukushima’s tourism,’ said Vice Gov. Fumio Murata in an address to the ceremony.
Wang promised to try to increase the number of Chinese tourists to the prefecture, saying, “Fukushima is a beautiful, safe and wonderful tourist destination. The tourists here will be a seed of friendship (between the two countries).”
Starting Monday, the group will visit scenic sites, including Lake Inawashiro in the Urabandai area and Tsuruga Castle in Aizuwakamatsu, before returning to Shanghai on Thursday.
If group tours from China to Fukushima resume on a full scale, they will become a gift to Japan, Wang said, expressing his enthusiasm for expanding tours to the prefecture.
According to Fukushima Prefecture’s Shanghai office, group tours from Hong Kong and Taiwan have also resumed.