Ascending mount Fuji was exhausting yet I was able to recover within hours. What’s coming next in few days? Homestaying in Fukushima. Note that neither ascending Mt. Fuji nor homestaying in Fukushima was in my to-go list – these unexpected experiences made the most of my experience throughout my journey in Japan. Also, note that this blog and its sequel only consist of the summary of my experience throughout the program in general.
Once upon a day, SFSU Study Abroad sent me an email about this rare opportunity of a 12-day program of exploring and studying the impact of 3.11 in Fukushima under Fukushima University – called Fukushima Ambassadors Program coordinated by William McMichael and Akira Kanomata — they are amazing coordinators and super friendly. Once the email pulled out from my inbox and read the details, I was, in sudden, interested in the program offered with attached document of the list of activities we would be doing throughout the program as volunteer and ambassador. I did not know anything about Fukushima in great details besides the radiation disaster due to tsunami and earthquake on March 11 2011. And this would be a great opportunity for me to dig deeper about Fukushima in general and nuclear impact to the affected regions. So I applied for the program immediately without thinking any further and this would fill out my to-do activities during my long summer break until home in late August.
The program began in late July and ended about 12 days later. We met up with the fellow crewmembers and leaders in Narita International Airport to meet and received briefings and package of the plans and schedules of what we would be doing during the entire the program. I was excited to visit Fukushima and learn about the current issues and problems the Prefecture is still having.
By bus, it took us about four hours to be in Fukushima City from Narita Airport. We arrived at the hotel around bedtime so that we could take a rest overnight and prepare for the journey coming up the next day.
The sun rose super early in the morning, our first day started off with a courtesy visit at Fukushima University to greet the president of the university who invited and welcomed us to Fukushima in a hope that we study the post-3.11 impacts that affected the prefecture socially and economically. I was thrilled to hear his welcoming statement the fact that Fukushima is a beautiful prefecture of hope, love, and prosperity. Next, we had orientation and briefings held by our coordinators, made friends with the students — they are awesome and cool people –, participated in photo scavenger hunt, had a lunch, took Japanese crash course (language and calligraphy), and ended with a heartwarming welcome party. It was truly a giant smile throughout the first day.
The next day and so on, these were the days in which I thought they were completely upside down to the first day in Fukushima. It was quite gloomy. The days in which we had to visit abandoned kindergarten where the children and teachers were forced to be evacuated from the area due to high radiation spread from the explosion of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the city of Namie that was devastated by earthquake and tsunami– which is currently under the state of reparation and will open soon in mid 2017 –, the beautiful houses that sadly turned into ruins nearby the power plant, and the Tsunami Memorial Hall created a sense of darkness and distress.It sort of brought back to the memory of watching the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh 2007.
I knew all along that such things were expected to see. However, I did not realize everything was unimaginably too deep. And the visits mentioned above were just some visits of the first days of the program – not all of them and the list goes on. Of course, we had in-depth lectures and discussions about 3.11, the aftermath, and current goals. Yet, even the lectures and discussions prior to any tours and visits broke my heart hearing the fact that 3.11 was the second worst nuclear disaster in the world — after Chernobyl — that largely impacted the social and economic aspect of Fukushima Prefecture and Japan as a whole.
At the end of the day, we wrapped up the first half of the program with homestay (with a local family). Every night of the first half of the program, I couldn’t sleep and stop thinking about the horrible tragedy in Fukushima and its people from the tours and visits we did. Personally, the first couple days of the program were quite sad and depressing. And that’s how I learned Fukushima in reality.
Photographs: Immanuel A. M. Sinambela
*these photographs do have something to do with the content above. It is also for decoration purpose.
*the photographs below show that Namie, a town that was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami March 2011, is under reparation, expected to be open soon in mid 2017. This area is completely safe and visitors are welcome.