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No. of overnight foreign visitors in Fukushima jumps 2.4-fold in Jan., fastest regional growth in Japan

30 March 2019

The cumulative number of overnight non-Japanese visitors staying one or more nights in Fukushima Prefecture in January totaled 17,700, about 2.4 times the level recorded a year earlier, the Japan Tourism Agency said in a preliminary survey report released on March 29. The rate of increase was the fastest among the country's 47 prefectures. It was the first time that Fukushima logged the sharpest pace of growth in a single month. On the back of regular charter flights to be operated year-round between Fukushima airport and Taiwan, starting this spring, the prefectural government intends to put greater energy into sending out information on local tourist attractions and improving services for travelers from abroad.

The report involves two kinds of surveys on the cumulative number of overnight non-Japanese travelers. Fukushima topped in survey data combining both -- lodgers staying at accommodation facilities with 10 or more employees and those at smaller ones with nine or fewer employees. Numbers are collected from all lodging facilities in the former category while random sampling is used in the latter.

According to data limited to facilities with 10 or more employees, Fukushima had 6,160 overnight visitors from Taiwan in January, about 5.1 times the level recorded a year before, followed by 1,200 travelers from Thailand and Australia each, up about 3.8-fold and 3.1-fold, respectively.

Analyzing the data, the prefectural government said travel packages using charter flights from Taiwan to Fukushima airport and back have increased along with those involving regular flights via Sendai airport in the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi as a result of campaigns conducted in Taiwan to encourage local travel agents to come up with new tour products. In Thailand, spreading recognition of the "Diamond Route" of travel going through four prefectures -- Fukushima, Tokyo, Tochigi and Ibaraki -- and other attractive tourist travel itineraries has drawn attention to the region's winter scenery, including the view from the Tadami River Daiichi Bridge in the Aizu area of Fukushima. Awareness of the region has also risen among snow-seeking skiers and snowboarders from Australia.

The cumulative total of overnight non-Japanese visitors to Fukushima in 2018 reached some 120,000, the largest annual number since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The number of such travelers showed increases of about 40 percent in November and about 80 percent in December last year, showing an uptrend.

Cumulative visitor numbers also rose sharply in January in other prefectures, including Miyagi and Niigata. The Fukushima government attributes the growing number to overseas initiatives jointly undertaken with other prefectures to promote wide-area tourism, including a publicity campaign being conducted with Miyagi and Yamagata in Taiwan for trips featuring hands-on experience, and a promotional tour for Thai travel agents organized by three prefectures in the southeastern part of the Tohoku region -- including Fukushima -- plus Tochigi.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

11 March 2019

Lifting of evacuation order eyed for parts of Okuma town in late April

The central government has begun considering lifting an evacuation order as early as late April in parts of the Fukushima Prefecture town of Okuma, which remains wholly evacuated due to the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi power plant caused by the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, officials said March 10. It will be the first time for an evacuation order to be removed in the two towns -- Okuma and Futaba -- hosting the crippled nuclear power plant.

The government is seeking to time the move with an opening ceremony for a new Okuma town office building under construction in the Ogawara district where residency is restricted. "The town authorities intend to synchronize the removal of the evacuation order with the opening ceremony as much as possible," Hideo Yura, deputy head of the Local Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, told reporters after attending a briefing session conducted by the government and town for residents on March 10 in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki.

About 50 people attended the gathering. Some expressed concerns over radiation levels, while others called for the need to deal with mobile phone companies not covering some areas with their wireless networks and for measures to prevent wild boars from causing damage. During the two-day briefing, no explicit objection was expressed against the proposed elimination of the evacuation order.

The order is to be lifted in the Nakayashiki district, designated as a zone preparing for the termination of evacuation, as well as in the residency-restricted Ogawara district. Residents registered as of the end of February are 21 people belonging to 11 households in Nakayashiki and 353 belonging to 129 households in Ogawara. Of them, 48 people in 21 households have registered as townspeople allowed to stay at their residences overnight in preparation for a permanent homecoming.

The town office is set to discuss the timing of evacuees returning home with the municipal assembly on the basis of the outcome of the briefing sessions. It will then coordinate its schedule with the national government, which will make a final decision. "We would like to see the evacuation order lifted as soon as possible in order to take a step forward toward our town's rebirth," Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

1 March 2019

Composer Koseki, Fukushima native, to be featured in NHK’s morning TV drama series

Public broadcaster NHK announced on Feb. 28 that it will air a morning TV drama series next year modeled on Yuji Koseki, the late composer of popular songs hailing from Fukushima city, and his wife Kinko. In the drama titled “Yell,” actor Masataka Kubota will play the lead role. Beginning in the spring of 2020, the six-month drama will provide a nationwide audience with a story set against a Fukushima backdrop in the year of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The central character will be known as Yuichi Koyama, born to a generations-old kimono merchant family in Fukushima city. A timid youth, Koyama comes across music one day, learning composition through self-education and eventually bringing his music-making talent into full bloom.

High hopes have been placed on him as heir to the family business and he initially works at a commercial bank but is unable to abandon his longing for music. He gets acquainted with a female student hoping to be a singer and their feelings for each other develop via correspondence. Eventually, they decide to tread a musical path together. The drama follows the couple as they overcome various hardships, including being forced to compose popular songs lauding patriotism during World War II, before turning their talents to writing music to encourage people in the postwar period.

The drama will remake the Kosekis’ story as fiction, portraying them as a couple who cheer people up with music and capture their imagination, according to NHK. The script will be written by Koji Hayashi, who is known as a screenwriter for such dramas as “Code Blue: Doctor Heli -- Kinkyu Kyumei (Emergency Lifesaving),” “Iryu: Team Medical Dragon” and “Hagetaka (Vulture).”

“I will act with all my strength and all my heart,” actor Kubota told a press conference at the NHK Broadcasting Center in Tokyo. “I wish I could ‘yell’ support for people in Fukushima.” Katsuhiro Tsuchiya, NHK executive producer, said he “wanted to show support for Fukushima before a decade passes since the Great East Japan Earthquake” of 2011 and “was searching for a drama theme” associated with Fukushima.

The role of the drama’s heroine, to be modeled on Kinko, will be played by a successful candidate to be chosen by June after a round of auditions scheduled for March to April.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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