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Catastrophe to the destination: Fukushima uses snow to attract tourists

BANDAI (JAPAN) – Tourist Benjamin Tuffy’s family spent their winter vacation in Japan’s scenic snows. But they weren’t at the country’s famous ski resorts in Hokkaido or Nagano – they chose Fukushima.

It’s a choice officials hope will gain popularity as they market the region’s winter resorts and try to shed the stigma that lingers more than a decade after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Fukushima’s ski industry was already grappling with warm winters and a drop in local visitors when a tsunami triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Officials worked hard to attract foreign visitors despite the disaster, but then the pandemic struck and border closures kept tourists out for more than two years.

Tourism resumed as normal in October, and Fukushima is again aggressively promoting its attractions, including at industrial exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne.

Tuffy, a 40-year-old Australian, chose the area’s Bandai Resort to vacation with his wife and two children.

He told AFP that the resort’s location, about 100 kilometers from the coast, helped allay any concerns.

“You’ve got some distance, you’ve got mountains and you’ve got reach, you’ve got a lot of clean air and clean life over here,” he said as he stripped off his snowboard gear.

“We are aware of this, but we are not concerned. It was more like understanding the situation.”

It has been 12 years since the three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant melted down after an earthquake-triggered tsunami that left 18,500 dead or missing.

There used to be evacuation orders within a 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius of the facility, but most of the prefecture was never affected by radiation.

And after extensive decontamination, only 2.4 percent of the region remains closed.

But “Fukushima’s popularity remains low among foreign tourists, ranking 43 out of 47 prefectures in Japan,” said Go Morimoto, general manager of Bandai Resort.

– “Unlikely” tourism comeback –

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, before Covid 2019, nearly 50 percent of inbound tourists visited Tokyo, 30 percent traveled to Kyoto, and eight percent visited Hokkaido, far north.

Only 0.3 percent went to Fukushima, which is just 90 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train.

The US investment fund that once owned Bandai Resort decided to sell it in 2015, believing “it’s just unlikely that tourism will make a comeback,” Morimoto said.

Still, Fukushima, inspired by the success of winter destinations like Hakuba in Nagano and Niseko in Hokkaido, has tried to promote its abundant white stuff.

“Japan’s powder snow, popularly known as ‘Japow,’ is a world-class tourism resource,” said Morimoto.

“Niseko and Hakuba have benefited, but Fukushima not so much, despite the potential.”

It was the main attraction for Anne Cathcart, 68, on her third trip to Fukushima. Before her first visit, however, she admitted some reservations.

“I was like, ‘Um Fukushima? I heard about the nuclear disaster,'” said the Australian.

But she found the snow in the region “so great” that she has returned several times.

“It has never disappointed,” she said.

– Instagram-savvy visitors –

The influx is a welcome relief for locals like Miwako Abe, who has been running a gift shop in Ouchijuku, an old traveler rest stop, for around three decades.

“At one point I didn’t know what to do because we didn’t see anyone here at all,” said the 59-year-old, as tourists snapped selfies at a row of traditional thatched houses under heavy snow.

The area is particularly popular with tourists from areas of Asia with little or no snow.

“I see more people from Taiwan… They buy stamps from my shop and send postcards,” Abe said.

It’s something of a vindication for local authorities in a battle they’ve been fighting to keep a small railway running through a picturesque gorge alive.

The Tadami Line was badly hit by torrential rain just four months after the nuclear disaster.

But a report suggested that before the disaster, just 49 people a day were using the flood-affected portion of the route, and operator JR East was planning to scrap it.

Local authorities were convinced it could attract tourists and agreed on an investment program if JR East kept the route.

It only fully reopened last October and has been inundated with Instagram-savvy visitors, said Tetsuya Sato of the Yanaizu Tourism Association.

“Once the line started operating again, the carriages were full of passengers even on weekdays,” said Sato, whose association’s website is now available in English, Chinese and Thai.

“We never expected this trend, but we are so happy.”

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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