Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Associated Press: Floridians' first trip abroad — to Fukushima

 Fukushima — On a windy, chilly day near the top of a volcano known as "little Mount Fuji," the Ryan family of Florida described the fuss at home before they left.

                                                                                                                                  Photo: AP
 Far from the madding crowd: Wakako Anzai, her husband Masato and children Ibuki, 7, Kosuke, 15, and Misaki, 12, stand on the edge of Mount Azuma-Kofuji's crater in Fukushima Prefecture on Sunday.

 "People thought we were crazy," said Kerry Ryan, 52, of Cape Coral.
 "They said we'd come back glowing," 10-year-old granddaughter Isabelle Ryan added.
 But the Ryans, who had never before traveled overseas, decided to stick to their destination: Fukushima.
 The name is now synonymous with the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
 The unfortunate association has been a painful economic consequence of the triple disaster for Fukushima Prefecture and its namesake city, about 70 km inland from the nuclear plant.
 Along with the direct economic hit, farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand.
 The central government has established a mandatory exclusion zone extending 20 km from the nuclear plant. Some towns beyond the zone have also been asked to evacuate.
 The U.S. government advises Americans to avoid travel within 80 km of the stricken nuclear plant.
 Fukushima Prefecture's once-vibrant tourism industry is hurting. Officials at popular sightseeing spots say visitor traffic is down by about a half this year during the Golden Week holidays, which run through Thursday.
 "It's a very difficult time right now," said Sanae Watanabe, manager of the Jodo Daira visitor center next to Mount Azuma-Kofuji. "Fukushima is known for a different meaning now. But we want to get the word out that there are many places with no problems."
 That's exactly what the Ryans — all seven of them who made the trip — discovered when they arrived.
 They were among the holiday visitors defying the trend and spending their yen in Fukushima when the prefecture needs it the most.
 Any jitters turned to awe at the natural beauty and hospitality of the area, surrounded by dramatic mountain landscapes, fruit orchards and hot springs.
 "It's beautiful, it's amazing," said Kerry Ryan, whose son, Johnathan, lives in nearby Aizuwakamatsu and got married over the weekend.
 When the earthquake hit March 11, the family feared they would have to miss his wedding in Japan.
 But news of the nuclear plant faded from headlines in the U.S., and the situation appeared to be calmer, said the groom's father, David Ryan, 55.
 Another couple who refused to stay away were Masako and Seiichi Miatake from Tokyo.
 They had made reservations for a Golden Week trip in February.
 They have been vacationing in Fukushima for decades and never considered canceling.
 "We weren't sure if it would be proper to come and enjoy ourselves at a time like this," said Masako Miatake, 75. "But we really like Fukushima."
 The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami have caused trillions of yen in damage and left more than 26,000 people dead or missing.
 The ripple effects on the economy have been significant. Factory production and consumer spending both fell the most on record in March. Travel agency JTB Corp. estimated that domestic travel during Golden Week this year would fall 28 percent.
 Fukushima recorded more than 56 million visitors in 2009, based on data from 308 top sightseeing locations. A 2008 report by the prefecture estimated that tourism brought in about ¥243.4 billion.
 The prefecture has yet to project the disaster's economic impact on tourism.
 Yumiko Sato understands why many tourists are staying away.
 "People don't have a sense of distance. They just hear Fukushima and think of radiation," said Sato, who runs a small shop selling traditional wooden dolls in Tsuchiyu Onsen, a hot springs town in the prefecture.
 Originally from western Japan, Sato said she too went home for a while amid the nuclear accident to protect her 2-year-old son.
 She opened the store Friday for the first time since March 11. Business is about one-third of normal, she said.
 "We thought business would be in complete ruins," Sato said. "But it's not as bad as we thought. At least we're getting some customers who are buying."


Rakuten Int'l Shipping

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