Fukushima aims to boost school-trip visitors with new plan focused on teaching about 3/11 disaster

26 May 2019

[Translated by the Japan Times]Disaster areaIn an effort to increase the number of students visiting for school trips, Fukushima Prefecture has created a series of travel routes it will propose this fiscal year to schools outside the prefecture to provide them with an opportunity to learn about the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent nuclear meltdowns.

In the past, educational tours that focused on the 2011 disasters — promoted by the prefecture as “Hope Tourism” — were offered mostly to high school students, while plans focused on history and nature were tailored to children in elementary and junior high schools.

By combining the two, the prefecture hopes to provide students with a more comprehensive experience and hopefully dispel any prejudice they may have about Fukushima. The plan also involves having officials visit high schools in other areas to talk about the importance of visiting Fukushima Prefecture.

For example, the prefecture proposed to a high school a three-day trip: On the first day, students will visit the Hamadori coastal region damaged by the 2011 tsunami, experience nature and wildlife in the Urabandai region on the second and study history in the city of Aizuwakamatsu on the third.

Sites like J-Village, which fully reopened on April 20, along with the Tepco Decommissioning Archive Center in the city of Tomioka and the prefecture-run archive facility on the March 2011 disasters — which is set to open in July 2020 — will serve as central locations for the tours.

The prefecture is looking to use such locations to highlight travel routes that will bring visitors to the region and promote them by collaborating with organizations like Fukushima Prefecture Tourism and Local Products Association.

“The truth is we haven’t been able to bring back the levels we saw before the disaster. But we’re determined to revive the educational trips that appreciates the local area,” an official at the prefecture’s tourism department said.

Before the disaster, the number of annual visitors participating in educational trips from outside the prefecture who stayed overnight was 710,000. In fiscal 2011, that number sharply declined to roughly 130,000. In fiscal 2017, the figure recovered to about 490,000.

Most of the trips focus on the history and nature of the Aizu region.

A series of routes will take visitors to locations in the city of Aizuwakamatsu including Tsuruga Castle and Nisshinkan, which served as a school in the early 1900s and is now a museum with educational facilities. Another stop will be the Hideyo Noguchi Memorial Museum in Inawashiro. The routes also include the cities of Kitakata and Minamiaizu and the village of Kitashiobara, which will have a focus on experiencing nature.

Hope Tourism, which began around 2016, involves having visitors to the Hamadori coastal region learn about the earthquake-triggered tsunami and nuclear disasters and meet people actively involved in helping the area recover. The number of junior and high school students who have taken part has increased from 35 students in fiscal 2016 and about 230 in fiscal 2017 to roughly 600 students in fiscal 2018.