The city of Hiroshima has launched a new tourism campaign designed to encourage visitors to stay longer and explore its atomic bomb heritage.
The Hiroshima Peace Tourism guide map, launched on Monday, aims to help tourists understand the history of the city and the devastation of the 1945 bombing.
Tourists can choose from 6 sightseeing routes on the campaign’s official website, one of which passes by buildings that survived the attack, including the Atomic Bomb Dome. Another route revolves around the revival of civic life in Hiroshima in the aftermath of the bombing. Each route is accompanied by a map and tourism information in both Japanese and English. On Monday, city officials placed campaign leaflets at a tourism information center in the Peace Memorial Park.
At the city’s iconic Atomic Bomb Dome, visitors were seen scanning a campaign board with their smartphones in order to see inside the remains of the bomb-hit building.
A 37-year-old man from Tokyo, who was visiting the site for the first time, said he was able to gain a deeper understanding by exploring the interior three-dimensionally.
Earlier, Even now, almost eight years after a deadly earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the disaster’s physical legacy is impossible to avoid.
The shells of gutted homes stand in barren rice paddies that lay in the path of waves that killed more than 18,000 people across three prefectures in north-east Japan – including 1,600 in Fukushima – on the afternoon of 11 March 2011.
The Fukushima brand may forever be associated with nuclear catastrophe, but some residents, angered by persistent rumours about the dangers of even making brief visits to the area, are turning to tourism to show the world that, for some, life in Fukushima goes on, report agencies.
“The people around here aren’t happy with the idea they live in a ‘dark” place,” says Shuzo Sasaki, a prefectural government official who also works as a guide for Real Fukushima, one of several organisations offering tours to small groups of visitors.
“The idea that because this is Fukushima it must be dangerous is completely wrong,” adds Sasaki, who has guided students from the Georgia Institute of Technology and will host a group of Danish high school pupils next year.
The challenge facing residents desperate to change the Fukushima narrative was highlighted this summer with the release of “Dark Tourist”, a Netflix series hosted by the New Zealand journalist David Farrier.
In one episode, Farrier and several foreign tourists were shown glued to their Geiger counters as they were driven around the area in a minibus, with some becoming visibly distressed when radiation readings spiked.
When they reluctantly ate lunch at a restaurant, Farrier speculated that his meal might be contaminated, even though the official threshold for radioactive substances in food from Fukushima is much lower than those in the European Union and the US.
In some decontaminated parts of Fukushima, radiation levels have fallen to the government target of 0.23 microsieverts an hour, or 1 millisievert a year assuming that an individual spends eight hours outdoors and 16 hours indoors each day.
By comparison, the global average exposure of humans to ionizing radiation is between 2.4 and 3 millisieverts a year.
Karin Taira, a Real Fukushima guide who runs the Lantern House, a guesthouse in the Odaka district, claims the Netflix documentary overstated the risk posed by radiation and painted an unrelentingly negative picture of the area. “It gave the impression that this place is hopeless,” she says. “But there is hope here.”
But there are also reminders of the devastation unleashed by the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown.
On a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a memorial lists the names of 182 people who were swept away to their deaths in the town of Namie. Inland, just beyond the tsunami’s destructive reach, is evidence of a different kind of tragedy. At Kumamachi primary school, just two kilometres from the wrecked nuclear plant, classrooms appear frozen in time, with books, bags and other possessions abandoned when the order to evacuate was given. Outside, wild grass and weeds are reclaiming streets where wild boar and raccoons roam, untroubled by humans.