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The city of Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture has seen an uptick in school trips through October and November, as numbers of COVID-19 infections have fallen.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, schools usually planned educational excursions in June or September. But the Aizu-Wakamatsu City Tourism Bureau says that while 69 schools visited the city in September, the number increased to 226 in October and then to 290 in November.

Forty-five schools plan to send their students for school trips to the city in December, a period when few schools normally plan trips, the tourism bureau said.

Tsurugajo Kaikan — a tourism hall located next to Tsuruga Castle, one of the city’s most popular tourism destinations — saw about 5,000 visitors in September. But numbers of visitors were much higher in the months that followed, rising to about 23,000 in October and a projected 25,000 in November.

The number of school parties staying at Harataki — a traditional Japanese inn in Higashiyama Onsen, a historical hot spring village on the outskirts of Aizuwakamatsu — has also increased since October, and students from 20 schools were expected to stay there in November.

“We are fully booked for November,” said Shoichi Nagayama, 36, manager of the inn’s sales team.

The local tourism bureau has already distributed about 18,000 coupons for students staying in the city during school trips, most of the 20,000 the city prepared.

“The number of school trips from the northern part of the Kanto region has risen compared to (before the pandemic),” said Shizuya Sano, 55, an official at the tourism bureau. “We hope to make it (joyful) so that they will come again next year and beyond.”

School trips have been a key source of income for local businesses. But a Fukushima Prefecture survey released in late October showed that only 1,823 schools came to the prefecture for school trips in fiscal 2020, which ran through March. That was a record low, and fewer than when Fukushima experienced a triple meltdown in March 2011.

During the period, 2,684 schools canceled trips to the prefecture that would have involved 337,581 students staying overnight, due to COVID-19. In fiscal 2019, the prefecture saw cancellations from only 406 schools for 29,893 overnight student stays.

When many prefectures in the Tokyo metropolitan area were under a state of emergency, some schools in those prefectures rearranged school trips to stay within their prefecture.

The survey was conducted on 562 private and public facilities in Fukushima Prefecture, with responses received from operators of 485 facilities, or 86.3% of the total, about school trips from elementary schools through universities, including training camps for sports and cultural clubs.

Amid the pandemic, Fukushima Prefecture has been promoting remote tours to travel agents and school officials in place of educational excursions. It is also planning to offer visitors subsidies for bus fares and ski trips to help support the resumption of such activities.

This section features topics and issues covered by Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original articles were published Oct. 26 and Nov. 18.

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