IWAKI, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Many Chinese tourists on a just-completed tour of Fukushima Prefecture think the area is a wonderful and safe place to visit, after seeing with their own eyes that life in many ways has returned to normal despite the nuclear disaster.
“There were big differences between hearing and actually seeing. I’m convinced of the safety by seeing Fukushima people doing well,” said one of the roughly 40 members of the group, the first from mainland China to visit Fukushima since the March 2011 disasters.
The group from Shanghai, organized by budget carrier Spring Airlines, traveled to the hard-hit city of Iwaki and the Aizu region, both outside the evacuation zones linked to the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The areas are struggling with both rumors and concerns sparked by fallout from the plant, which tainted the food chain and wide areas of Fukushima’s northwest.
News of the tour drew some criticism in China. One comment on the Internet accused the organizer of using the tourists as “guinea pigs,” but the Japanese and Chinese promoters both declared the initiative “a success,” given the positive responses.
“Fukushima is a very nice place, blessed with hot springs and nature. Its value cannot be understood without actually seeing it,” said Chen Dawei, 55, who said her children had opposed her decision to join the tour.
Tang Yiwei, 64, also appeared convinced of Fukushima’s safety after asking about radioactive contamination and hearing a local tourist official at Tsuruga Castle in Aizuwakamatsu say: “Each person has a different opinion, but I am not worried.”
Spring Airlines Chairman Wang Zhenghua planned the tour after conducting his own study on the prefecture and concluding the radioactive material spewed by the plant for months posed no threat in the areas his tour would visit.
“Fukushima’s biggest challenge is damage from harmful rumors,” said Wang, who personally led the tour, which was also intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between China and Japan.
Of the participants, half were ordinary citizens and the rest connected with the Chinese tourism industry.
The tour’s first stop was Spa Resort Hawaiians, a leisure complex in Iwaki where they attended a welcome ceremony by the prefectural government Sunday night.
“This tour will be a tailwind for Fukushima’s tourism,” said Vice Gov. Fumio Murata during his address at the ceremony.
After observing the annular solar eclipse in Iwaki on Monday morning, the group traveled by bus to scenic Lake Inawashiro in the Urabandai area. On the way, participants could see evidence of the road damage caused by the March 11 earthquake.
Some participants, however, were still skeptical that China’s free-spending tourists will return to Fukushima.