We stepped out of the minibus in crisp, seven-degree weather, and found ourselves plunged into the unfamiliar. There was nothing technically wrong with the scene. A lean road, patched with peeling white dividers, ran towards the powder blue Iide mountains in the horizon. Over our heads, electric wires hung like cat’s cradles, splitting white clouds into fluffy slices. A lone car sat parked by a uniform row of white-and-brown stucco. All signs pointed to life, that this street was populated, but save for the wind, and the furious scratch of hands rubbing together for warmth, silence was its most defining quality.
Japan is synonymous with animation and activity. Every square inch of its major cities typically assault you with noise, sights, lights, and moving bodies. Your eyes and mind will never have the bandwidth to absorb it all. Here, on a road in Kitakata, a city in the Fukushima Prefecture, we faced the opposite. As urbanites who thrive on bustle, we couldn’t help but feel a little unsettled.
The placid land grew on us as the trip progressed, but also stood as testament to the scars Fukushima still bears after the Daiichi nuclear disaster almost seven years ago. Japan has invested rigorous environmental and bureaucratic efforts to revive its third largest prefecture since the brutal incident, but stereotypes about radiation and its potency still linger. One ought to note that the defunct power plant and its debris lie far from the mainland. Radiation levels have also stabilised beyond the plant’s coastal exclusion zone, at a low 0.15 μSv/h. To provide some perspective, 0.2 μSv/h is well within safe levels of radiation. A representative from its tourism board told us that visitors are back on the rise as well.
Sensationalism and a lack of awareness are what hinder Fukushima’s return to its peak, but take a chance on the town like we did, and you’ll witness a completely different side to high-octane Japan. The prefecture is a seamless blend of natural formations, like pristine rivers and lush cliffs, with the quaint appeal of a small town. It is also the hotbed of Japan’s ramen culture, with over 130 different ramen shops around its cities flaunting various styles and broths of the national dish, and is the producer of the nation’s finest sakes across its sixty-odd breweries.
If you crave a serene holiday that delivers something new, then Fukushima ought to be next on your travel bucket list. To get you started on where to go, and what to see, here is our guide to Japan’s northeastern treasure.
This trip was sponsored by Japan Airlines and the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism and Local Products Association.