National | Regional Voices: Fukushima

Foggy Fukushima river tour draws influx of visitors

Fukushima Minpo

A river tour conducted by rowboat in the town of Kaneyama, Fukushima Prefecture, is becoming popular with tourists for its scenic views of the thick fog covering the quiet waterway.

During the Mugenkyo no Watashi tour along the Tadami River, local photographer Kenko Hoshi leads his guests past the Mifuke district — a community that was lost following a massive landslide over 50 years ago.

Under favorable weather conditions, visitors can travel through the serene setting and take in views of the beautiful fog that blankets the river.

Thanks partly to photos posted on Instagram and other social media sites, visitors to the area had jumped threefold through August compared with a year ago.

The tour was also covered by a major travel magazine, leading to an increase in both individual and group travelers. A further influx is expected in autumn, when the leaves begin to change.

Rowboats were used by Mifuke’s residents to cross the river daily. But a landslide in 1964 destroyed the community, turning it into a ghost town.

Deserted houses and abandoned statues of the bodhisattva Jizo still stand untouched 54 years on.

The round-trip crossing, which lasts an hour, includes a short tour of Mifuke during which visitors can experience a kind of time warp back to the lost village.

Kaneyama residents started the tour in 2010 with two boats as a step toward revitalizing the economy. But they were forced to suspend it in July 2011 because of torrential rain that damaged the region.

After a rebuilt dam stabilized the water levels, the tour finally resumed in April 2017.

Hoshi, 69, is from Mifuke. He has dedicated himself to taking photographs of the Tadami railroad line and the surrounding areas. During the tour, he discusses the Tadami River’s charms and the history of his abandoned hometown.

An official at Fukushima Prefecture’s tourism promotion office said it is important to note that the town tapped local resources for the project and saw it succeed through social media.

Aizu Bus Group, a local transportation firm, is cashing in on the river tour as well.

In August it launched a new bus route called the Tadami River line and made a bus stop specifically for the Mugenkyo no Watashi tour.

Accommodating the surge in visitors, however, is a challenge. Large tourist buses come on weekends but there are no parking and toilet facilities for the tour, forcing them to rely on a nearby hot springs facility.

Moreover, there are only two skippers for the boats, forcing them to turn down some reservations. As the fog often appears early in the morning, it is not unusual for Hoshi to start rowing at 6 a.m. and continue until sunset.

Train runs on the Tadami Line are expected to fully resume in fiscal 2021 after a partial suspension caused by rain damage. Officials say local resources must be developed further to attract rail passengers.

“There is a limit to our work. We need to get more skippers and need more infrastructure development,” Hoshi said.

This section features topics and issues from Fukushima covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on Sept. 6.