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Overnight visitors to Fukushima from H.K. swell 2.5 times to 2,670 in Jan.-Oct.

29 January 2019

Overnight visitors from Hong Kong to Fukushima Prefecture reached 2,670 in the January-October period of 2018, about 2.5 times more than the previous year’s same period, Fukushima Gov. Masao Ushibori reported at a regular press conference. The total, including tourists, exceeded for the first time the level before the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

Viewing the recovering travel demand as a toehold to dispel the bad reputation stemming from the nuclear disaster, the prefectural government is set to step up efforts to attract more visitors from fiscal 2019 beginning next April, including the transmission of tourism information in traditional Chinese widely used in Hong Kong and calls for airlines and travel agents to operate charter flights to Fukushima.

Prefectural officials attributed the growing number of overnight visitors from Hong Kong to promotional campaigns undertaken in July 2017 by the governors of Fukushima and five other prefectures in the Tohoku region and Niigata Prefecture as well as local tours by influencers invited from Hong Kong such as media representatives and bloggers. The Aizu western inland region, known for its nature and landscapes, is particularly popular.

The Fukushima government intends to closely examine information acquired from Uchibori's visit to Hong Kong and successful publicity programs carried out for Taiwan, the same traditional Chinese language-speaking bloc. Factors to be tracked down include ways of sending out information in a manner appealing to Hong Kong residents and tour plans matching their tastes.

Details are yet to be worked out but they will focus on Fukushima's ongoing initiatives designed to ensure product quality, safety and peace of mind regarding agricultural produce, forestry products and seafood produced in the prefecture. Fukushima will also publicize in an easy-to-understand manner its tourism resources such as autumn foliage, snow landscapes and hot springs. Moreover, it will consider taking such measures as another promotional visit to Hong Kong by the governor to help resume Fukushima-Hong Kong charter flights, suspended since the quake and nuclear accident. In 2007, 115 such charter flights were operated.

Hong Kong’s population is about 7.4 million and its nominal per capita gross domestic product is some US$46,000, more than Japan’s. Consumption power of Hong Kong travelers is high, particularly among wealthy people. Japan Tourism Agency statistics show overnight visitors from Hong Kong to Japan totaled 6.25 million in 2017. But Fukushima is hovering low in the rankings of their prefectural destinations, suggesting lingering adverse effects of the disaster.

Citing that dissipation of anxiety and qualms harbored by general Hong Kong citizens toward Fukushima will also lead to the eventual removal of import restrictions on prefectural farm, forestry and fishery products in the future, the prefecture has judged it necessary to take more aggressive initiatives to draw visitors from there.

Referring to Hong Kong’s recognition of Fukushima's present status, Uchibori told the press conference that "the image of the quake and nuclear mishap remains strong there." Against this backdrop, he underlined his willingness to take actions. "What is most effective to dispel bad rumors is to have people visit Fukushima. We will send out information broadly on the allures of our food and tourism, thus paving the way for the expansion of tourists."

(Translated by Kyodo News)

28 January 2019

Delegation from Kawamata town joins music festival in Cosquin, Argentina

Fukushima children are peppy...was the message from a delegation from Kawamata town, Fukushima Prefecture, which took part in a "Cosquin Folk Festival" parade in Cosquin, Argentina, on Jan. 26 when the nine-day event kicked off. The 19-member delegation, including 12 junior and senior high school students, conveyed to local people to the tune of folk music the strength of prefectural residents moving toward reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

The sun remained strong even at 6:30 p.m. when the parade started, with faint traces of sweat glistening on the foreheads of participants. The visitors from Fukushima, wearing "yukata" summer kimono, began walking from Plaza San Martin, named after Latin American independence hero Jose de San Martin. The Kawamata delegation was sixth from the front among some 130 groups gathered. Five junior high school students, carrying long Japanese and Argentine national flags and a "Cosquin flag" spread across with their hands, walked behind deputy delegation leader Hiroyuki Saito, chairman of an executive committee for building a town with the echo of "quena" recorder sound. They were followed by high school and adult members playing quenas and "charango" stringed instruments.

"Japon! Kawamata!" blared loudspeakers installed along the parade route, referring to the special guests from Japan. Amid applause, sounds of flutes and general uproar, a large crowd of spectators lining the street welcomed the "amigos" from 18,000 kilometers away with great enthusiasm.

Playing "Carnavalito Quebradeno" (carnival in the valley) and "El Humahuaqueno" (flower festival), the delegation walked some 600 meters in about 30 minutes on the route to Plaza Prospero Molina, a main festival venue. Some spectators chimed in with the two tunes, both folk music familiar to local people. Delegation members, asked by local people to join them for commemorative photos, struck poses and smiled.

After the parade, the visitors witnessed the opening ceremony. They were scheduled to have some other events, including an exchange program with local junior and senior high school students on Jan. 27.

It was the first delegation from Kawamata to Cosquin since 2006. Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake daily, commissioned a "Fukushima reconstruction ambassador" to the delegation.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

19 January 2019

J-Village seen fully reopening April 20, natural turf restoration nears completion

Coordination is under way to fully reopen the J-Village sports complex on April 20, officials concerned said on Jan. 18. It was partially reopened last July after being closed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, in 2011. Also planned are commemorative events to mark the reopening J-Village is one of Japan’s largest soccer complexes straddling the Fukushima Prefecture towns of Naraha and Hirono. Organizers hope to attract 10,000 people on the day by encouraging them to use the new J-Village Station, being built on the East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) Joban Line, and to partake in a range of activities, to celebrate the full resumption of the complex, symbolizing Fukushima’s recovery from the 2011 disaster.

After its use as a forward base to battle the nuclear accident, restoration work -- including turf replacement -- began in April 2017. On July 28 last year, 80% of J-Village facilities reopened, including a 5,000-capacity stadium, new accommodation, and pitches combining natural and artificial turf. On Sept. 8 last year, other facilities became available for use, such as an all-weather practice field. Work to restore the remaining two natural grass-covered pitches is to be completed by April for the complex’s full reopening.

Details of commemorative events will be fixed by an executive committee to be organized by the prefectural government and other relevant parties. Organizers are planning such events as ceremonies and stage performances in a bid to send out a positive message in and outside Fukushima about the prefecture’s ongoing post-disaster reconstruction. They also want to hold events featuring hands-on experience in soccer and other events for children and their parents. Prefectural specialties will also be on sale, such as those from the Futaba coastal region, to publicize Fukushima's attractions to visitors.

The new station being constructed by JR East is expected to open at the same time as J-Village becomes fully operational. Event organizers intend to call on visitors to use the Joban Line.

The prefectural government and organizations concerned intend to further promote the use of J-Village by professional sport athletes as a practice hub, and for the nurturing of young athletes following its full reopening. It is expected to be used as a camp for the Argentina team at this year's Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in Japan in September, and as a training base for Japan's men’s and women’s soccer teams ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The complex was used for training by Shoshi High School in Koriyama city before the 97th All Japan High School Soccer Tournament, in which the Fukushima Prefecture team placed third for the second time in seven years.

One challenge that remains is to promote the use of J-Village for non-sporting purposes. A panel set up by the prefectural government, J-Village, local municipalities, JR East, the Japan Football Association and other relevant parties is looking into the use of the facility for concerts and regional exchange programs, among other ideas. The group is set to seek the establishment of a framework for increasing the range of J-Village users on the basis of panel discussions.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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