Fenikkusu-Ten years after the Tohoku Tragedy (Fukushima Disaster: Part 1)
‘Fenikkusu’ is the Japanese word for the Phoenix bird. This article is dedicated to all those souls affected in any way due to the Tohoku tragedy, 2011.
On the 11th of March 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 occurred in the Pacific Ocean which triggered a tsunami that struck almost 20 prefectures across the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. It led to excessive flooding which further resulted in power outages, hence halting the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini nuclear plants and that eventually resulted in a deadly explosion of radioactivity.
Millions of precious lives were lost and the aftermath of these disasters was exponentially worse than the disaster itself. Mental and physical health issues continue to pester those affected. To make the matters worse, a major chunk of the Japanese population got displaced. If you visit some of the disaster epicentres today, you will notice nature taking over the signs of human existence. While these facts break your heart, you would be relieved to know that the measures taken up during the course of reconstructing these areas are indeed going to help control the loss, if a similar tragedy ever strikes again.
The coastal areas of Tohoku used to be extremely fertile but the saltwater that flooded these fertile fields during the tsunami damaged its quality to an unimaginable extent. The agricultural sector here was hence adversely affected- But, the farmers and the locals here turned this disaster into an opportunity and collaborated at the Ichigo world (owned by GRA&GREEN Inc)- a farm housing the greenhouses which produce Japan’s most luxurious and expensive varieties of strawberries. The variety of “Polished strawberries”- which are the most premium strawberries that you can buy here are sold at a rate of US$ 50 for 12 strawberries! While this sounds exorbitant- it is important to note that these are a handcrafted variety which are reared for perfection and hence the costs are indeed justified. Tohoku strawberry farms used to be a local name before the disaster. But today, they also export to far-off nations which makes them an internationally successful brand-town.
It is an obvious statement that most of the coastal areas have a thriving fishing industry. But, this thriving industry spread across the Tohoku coastline was badly affected by the tsunami. 90% of the fishing vessels were either lost or badly damaged and 319 fishing ports, worth almost US$ 80 billion were washed off the map. To add on to these problems, the fishermen were unable to recruit many people as this sector was stigmatized to be primitive and old fashioned -But wait till you hear about the cool fishermen from the city of Ishinomaki. They grouped and formed a company called “Fisherman Japan” to support each other. One of their viral marketing campaigns was the “Fisherman Call”. Imagine how cool it would be to get a wake up call from a fisherman who is fishing out there in the sea instead of the usual boring alarm- you’re now waking up to the stories all the way from the high seas! Several such initiatives led to over 6,000 people signing up for the post of a fisherwoman/ fisherman within almost a year after this campaign was initiated! This company has also opened a restaurant in Tokyo where they serve all the fresh sea produce and hence connect the dining experience with the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into sourcing these ingredients. They also meet and hangout with their customers in the Tokyo restaurant which takes this experience to a whole new level.
Moving on to the Fukushima exclusion zone, the first thing that strikes you is the fact that instead of seeing the usual signposts, you see the Geiger count boards which ominously display the increasing levels of background radiation that slowly creep up as you go further inside the exclusion zone. Huge piles of radioactive soil are stowed alongside this highway, taken off their roots in an attempt to decontaminate the region. Yes, the picture is grim- but things have started looking up.
Inside the exclusion zone, lies a successful horticulture business which was incorporated by one of the first returning evacuees. As mentioned before, all of this region’s fertile soil was either damaged due to the sea water or was contaminated with radioactivity- but efforts for restoring the soil are on and with the aid of modern technology, it’s possible to grow beautiful flowers which are a refreshing sight to see after the catastrophe. Life is- quite literally- blooming in these areas.
Many of the sterile fields here have now been put to use as the site for creating a solar power plant. This is a great way to generate clean electricity and employment as well for the locals and is hence a major step towards restoring the local economy.
Now, let’s travel to the town of Onagawa which was on the front line of the 2011 tsunami. While Japan received international aid for battling the aftermath of this tsunami, India was the first international responder and sent a team of the NDRF (National Disaster Relief Force) to Onagawa and the famous Mayor of Onagawa (Mr Yoshiaki Suda) has seen this as a chance for building a strong Japan-India bond. Under Mr Suda’s able leadership, the town of Onagawa- 70% of which was destroyed by the tsunami has now taken a new face. The local authorities ensured that the financial aid received from all over the world was spent to build a town that has a connection with the future generations. They also worked with the students of the local junior high school and took their opinions for the rebuilding process.
In the nearby town of Kesennuma, Ken Watanabe (an internationally acclaimed Japanese actor) has opened a cafe called K-Port in the years after the tsunami.
Many people have had a celebrity encounter with Mr Watanabe in this cafe and even on the days when he’s shooting in some other location, Mr Watanabe manages to preserve a personal touch with everyone in this cafe by sending a personalised, handwritten fax everyday for all the employees and customers to read. It goes without saying that this cafe is now a popular hangout spot here.
Along with this cafe, there are several shops lined throughout the promenade- indicating a wave of change which soars way higher than the waves of the tsunami which threatened this town a decade ago.