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Non-Japanese visitors staying overnight in Fukushima reach 78,680 in Jan.-Oct. 2017, topping pre-disaster level

8 January 2018

The cumulative number of non-Japanese travelers who stayed overnight or longer in Fukushima Prefecture totaled 78,680 in the January-October period of 2017, recording an increase of 790 over the same period of 2010, the year before the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The 2011 nuclear disaster had lingering adverse effects on inbound travelers due to safety concerns. It was the first time that the number of non-Japanese lodgers in the first 10 months of any year exceeded the comparable 2010 total. The momentum of growth was so strong that the total for all of 2017 is estimated to have surpassed that for 2010. Prefectural government officials attributed the growth to the effects of measures aimed at attracting visitors such as the dissemination of tourism information. The prefecture is poised to redouble efforts to draw travelers in the upcoming new fiscal year beginning April 1.

The cumulative figures of non-Japanese visitors spending one night or more were based on the Japan Tourism Agency’s accommodation survey on such travelers, updated at the end of last year. The statistics cover lodgers at accommodation facilities with 10 employees or more each. In October last year, Fukushima saw 14,290 non-Japanese travelers staying overnight or longer, about 1.7 times the 8,471 visitors from abroad in the same month of 2010, boosting the 10-month total of 2017. The prefecture believes the hefty number resulted from tourist-attracting campaigns such as publicity through social networking services and other channels about autumnal tourism resources, including beautiful colored leaves.

Visitors from Taiwan topped the list of non-Japanese travelers to Fukushima in last year’s January-October period, totaling 18,390, about 1.7 times the 2010 level, followed by those from Thailand at 7,360, some 6.2 times as large. Travelers from Australia, where skiing in Japan is popular, grew approximately 12.6 times to 3,150 while those from Vietnam showed some 1.8-fold rise to 2,780 as compared with 2016 (no pre-disaster data available for Vietnam).

On the other hand, South Korean travelers, whose number was more than 40,000 in 2010, plunged to 4,270 or 10% last year due to the suspension of flights between the prefectural capital of Fukushima and Seoul as well as harmful rumors stemming from the nuclear mishap.

The prefecture set aside about 50 million yen in a supplementary budget adopted in December to fund a non-Japanese traveler-attracting program. Featured in the program are tourism promotion measures such as the development of tourist resources conveying the “culture of samurai warriors,” as represented by historical legacies in the Aizu region, and the spread of tourism information to Thailand under a joint initiative of prefectures in the southern Tohoku region.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

13 December 2017

Fukushima farmers looking for authoritative ways to shed nuclear stigma

In light of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the Fukushima Prefectural Government is hoping to find a new, faster and easier way to certify the safety of homegrown rice to ease the burden on local farmers.

The blanket radiation-screening method used in Fukushima is not known for being quick and efficient, yet the government and farmers are stuck with it for the time being until an alternative that is equally assuring to consumers can be found.

Struggling to counter misinformation about locally grown produce stemming from the core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, farmers are looking to the globally recognized Good Agricultural Practice system, a third-party standard that certifies adherence to the standards recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The farmers hope GAP can help convince consumers that their products are safe, and holders of GAP certification are rising nationwide.

In addition to the GAP auditing system, there is a Japanese version dubbed “JGAP” recommended by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry to verify that farmers have recorded their production processes and had their products screened and certified by designated firms and groups. As of 2016, about 4,000 JGAP certificates had been issued.

In May, the Fukushima Prefectural Government vowed to make itself the prefecture with the most GAP certificates. As of Nov. 20, Fukushima had acquired 17 GAP and JGAP certificates. The prefecture plans to acquire more than 140 certificates by the 2020 Olympics.

Separately, Fukushima designed its own verification system (dubbed “FGAP”) to reflect its experience with the nuclear crisis. In addition to the list of items inspected under GAP, such as food safety and environmental protection, FGAP adds a category pertaining to countermeasures for radioactive substances.

FGAP calls for the management of rice paddy radiation levels and for voluntary radiation screenings before shipment. To promote this GAP variation, the Fukushima Prefectural Government plans to cover all expenses linked to the acquisition and renewal of FGAP certificates.

An official from the farm ministry’s Agricultural Production Bureau called GAP an “effective method to raise confidence” in food safety.

The Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, which assesses cost allocations for the blanket screening method, said the two systems are “different in nature but looking in the same direction.”

In 2012, the Fukushima Prefectural Government began screening all rice grown in the prefecture after excessive levels of radioactive cesium were detected in the previous year’s crop.

The number of samples exceeding 100 becquerels per kilogram — the government’s safety limit for the isotope — has dropped each year, and no samples tested since 2015 have been found over the limit.

Blanket screening costs an estimated ¥6 billion per year, and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc, which runs the Fukushima No. 1 plant, shoulders at least ¥5 billion of that. The remainder is covered by state funds.

The prefecture’s environmental protection and farm division said it is keen to speed up efforts to quell false rumors about rice contamination.

But gaining GAP certification is no small feat. For example, farmers have to clear a checklist of 209 items, though there are none pertaining to radiation measures.

JGAP, which has a checklist of 131 items, urges farmers to check the safety of their soil, water and fertilizer, in addition to their rice, via inspections or other means.

As for FGAP, 30 of its 97 categories deal with measures to address radioactive substances.

Chuji Kuroe, a 61-year-old rice farmer in Kawamata, is hardly excited when it’s time for the fall harvest.

Every year, Kuroe produces about 30 tons of rice. For the safety checks, he has to pack them into 30-kg bags for storage, which means about 1,000 bags each year. These bags are then inspected by a series of measuring instruments before shipment.

It is time-consuming to label every bag with a bar code for inspection, and carrying and preparing each one for analysis has taken a physical toll on Kuroe.

In addition, the lack of consumer and retailer awareness regarding certification frustrates many farmers.

“Despite all the trouble I went through, if the consumers do not know much about what GAP is, it will not lead to an understanding of the safety of agricultural products,” said a 57-year-old farmer in southern Fukushima.

According to the nonprofit GAP Research Institute’s survey covering about 1,000 people in Japan, 58 percent did not know what GAP is and 33 percent said they had only heard of the name. Only 9 percent said they knew what GAP was.

6 December 2017

Exports of Fukushima-brewed “sake” up 30% in FY2016, double FY2012 level

Exports of “sake” rice wine brewed in Fukushima Prefecture totaled about 160 kiloliters in fiscal 2016 ended last March, almost double the level in fiscal 2012 when the Fukushima Trade Promotion Council began collecting such data. Compared with fiscal 2015, the total represented an increase of some 30%. In value, the fiscal 2016 exports exceeded 200 million yen for the first time. Prefectural government officials and other parties concerned attributed the outcome to activities aimed at dispelling harmful rumors stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Capitalizing on the growing popularity of Japanese cuisine worldwide, the officials said they plan to ramp up efforts to send out information overseas.

The council, comprising the local government as well as prefectural economic and agricultural organizations, among others, tallied the figures by surveying exports by 58 brewers belonging to the Fukushima Prefecture Sake Brewers Cooperative. The fiscal 2016 export volume was 37.7 kl more than the previous year. The export value stood at 216.80 million yen, up 58.38 million yen.

The United States topped the list of export destinations with 76.9 kl, accounting for 48% of the total, followed by Canada with 10.6 kl (7%) and Hong Kong with 9.4 kl (6%). The exports to the two North American countries doubled from five years before. Exports to Europe’s Britain and France and to Southeast Asia’s Singapore and Thailand showed two- to four-fold rises.

Brands of newly brewed sake from Fukushima won more gold prizes than from any other prefecture in the Annual Japan Sake Awards for the fifth straight year in 2017 while some Fukushima brands were awarded prizes in the sake segment of the International Wine Challenge, a global wine competition. These developments appear to have contributed to improving the reputation abroad of Fukushima-brewed sake, according to the Fukushima prefectural government’s section in charge of strategy for promoting prefectural products, which assumes the role of a secretariat for the council. Also believed to have been effective are events held in foreign countries by the prefecture to help dissipate unfounded rumors.

With locally brewed sake attracting attention year after year, the Fukushima government places the alcoholic beverage as a “driving force” in overcoming unfavorable rumors and, based on that position, is set to draw up a new strategy within the current fiscal year aiming to step up exports of prefectural products. Given the Economic Partnership Agreement between Japan and the European Union set to take effect soon, the prefecture intends to beef up sales promotion efforts in the EU’s member countries.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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