#fukushima

Ouchijuku & Oyakuen – 2 must see places in Aizu, Fukushima

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Step back in time. Ōuchijuku was a small post station in Japan’s Edo period and is now located in the town of Shimogō, Fukushima (in Aizu area). Think of it as a Japanese version of the Cotswolds given the authentic thatched rooves. For bikers it is a fantastic set of switchbacks to get there.

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There is a stream of fresh water running down the street on both sides which local vendors put bottled drinks as a way to keep them cool.

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The street is probably around 500metres in length but you can sample all different types of food and drinks along the way.

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Anyone wanting to see interesting things in Fukushima, this is a must. Tsurugajo Castle is also worth the time especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby

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Tsurugaoka Castle in Aizu Wakamatsu is also worth the time…especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby…

…especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby.

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Storing the Fukushima nuclear waste

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Scattered throughout Fukushima prefecture are some 5.5mn black bags containing soil contaminated by the crippled reactors. This picture is on the outskirts of the exclusion zone. To put it in perspective this is what it looks like from the air. They now have huge black tarpaulins draping over them to keep it dry.

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Most of the ‘unusable land’ has been converted into waste dumps like this or solar parks. Cars with flashing blue lights waft slowly around the neighborhoods to prevent theft and looting from deserted homes.

Even driving into Sendai some 100km+ north the highways have radiation level information alongside speed limit signs. A reminder of that terrible event 6 years ago which was highly preventable had the money been spent on relatively low cost sensible placement of the back up generators (in the $10s of millions) on high ground. It was forgone because the plant was scheduled for closure 6 months after the quake. The idea was that the risks of a tsunami or quake were so negligible that penny-pinching was the right thing to do. Of course PM Kan refused to give the order to release the presssure inside the reactors against the advice of nuclear experts. The clean up is in the 100s of billions. Go figure.

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Fukushima City feels dead. It is a long way from the reactor but unsurprisingly infamous for one thing now. As I mentioned a few weeks ago I’m guessing the government will turn up investment projects to revitalize it.

For a good video on the reactor check ABC’s Mark Willacy on Foreign Correspondent

The power of the 2011 tsunami – a short preview in pictures

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As we go about our daily lives we tend to forget how lucky we are. How easy it is to lose our cool over trivial things. 6 years ago a devastating earthquake caused massive horror but it was the tsunami that followed that did the real damage. A wall of water 20  metres high washed boats kilometres inland and wiped out street upon street of homes leaving nothing but the concrete bases. The tsunami claimed over 16,000 lives, often the forgotten part of the story when the media hyperventilated over the Fukushima melt down. Perhaps the most eerie of all the photos I took was near a school in Minamisanriku. Minnie Mouse was just lying there against the foundations of someone’s home, half a kilometre from the shore.  Missing an eye and covered in a depressing grey silt with her arms splayed out as if to question how Mother Nature could unleash such fury? One is left to ponder did the girl who hugged Minnie at night survive the ordeal? It still haunts me every time I see the picture.

While still in Minamisanriku, I noted how high the waves reached by the salt that had ruined the leaves of the trees. My bike can be seen to give an idea of the scale.

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Everything was washed away. The foundations of so many houses remained but barely any house could withstand the force of a wall of water coming it at huge velocity and at such height.

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Once car had been washed on the third floor of an apartment complex. It looked like a prank for the condition it was in.

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Waste was strewn everywhere. It took over three years just to clean it away. Here is a picture of a fishing trawler washed onto the second story of a hospital.

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In Kesennuma a large boat was washed around 1km inland. The sheer idea that such a massive vessel could be ragdolled like this was mind-boggling.

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In Rikuzentakata one tree managed to survive the ordeal. It also had an eerie sadness to it. A stark reminder of the power of that wave.

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There are thousands more photos to add but this is to give a quick snapshot of what was and in coming days I will upload the before and after of each town and marvel at the recovery.

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I was dead wrong! Post-tsunami Tohoku reconstruction has to be seen to be believed

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Today I returned to Tohoku. My expectations were completely hit out of the ball park. I first visited the east coast of Tohoku (Fukushima & Miyagi Prefectures) 5 years ago to see the devastation left by the force of a M9.0 earthquake and tsunami that went as far as 6km inland and reached a height of 20 metres. No video does any justice. The Japanese Reconstruction Agency allocated $250bn to clean away the waste and start building sea walls and infrastructure. I rode over 100km of coast and I can only think that number is way too low. The picture below shows what had to be cleaned up in the town of Minamisanriku. That was a 3yr operation.

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Every corner had dozens of earth movers which were building the ramparts. Dump trucks were hauling massive concrete slabs to lay on top of earth mounds. We’re talking over 100km of walls. We’re talking brand new highways connecting these fishing villages. New houses have been built by the hundred high on the hills accessed by brand new roads with no dwellings near sea level. Makeshift convenience stores are commonplace. We dined in a new ‘mini makeshift mall’ where locals operated restaurants and souvenir stores.

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This building was four days old. The sitehad a mobile post office for convenience guarded by a 66yo man who lived in Kessenuma, 35km further north.

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Kessunuma was famous for this boat that was washed 2km inland.

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Hatakiyama-San said that things were slowly getting back to normality but there was still a long way to go. He rides a Harley-Davidson which he bought after the quake because after the horror of losing his home and almost his life he made a pledge to enjoy his life.

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For the life of me I can’t work out how so much could be done for only $250bn in the first 5 years. 2016-2020 brings an extra $65bn to the fund but looking at how much has been spent to date I’m guessing the figure is closer to $500bn.

After visiting 5 years ago, I never in my wildest dreams could imagine how many houses, bridges, apartment buildings, sea walls, roads etc could have been constructed. In the large port town of Ishinomaki I’m guessing $250bn has spent on it alone. Not only are sea walls being erected out to sea, a back up a 15m wall is being built 100m behind the seaside to make sure of it. EVERYTHING within 1km of the sea is NEW. EVERYTHING.

I almost wonder whether this has now become a major jobs creation scheme like the New Deal. In many areas the sea walls seem surplus to requirements. Thousands upon thousands of concrete wave blockers are lined across the shoreline. Container type housing for workers numbers in the thousands. These guys must be getting some good coin. Many are young, unlike Tokyo where most workers you see at sites are much older.

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Fukushima is a different story. We visited Namie and Tomioka, nearby the reactor. Ghost towns, often cordoned off. New highway service areas note radiation levels along the way.

I remain speechless at what I saw. I thought these towns would be left to die. This is a full speed ahead project and speaking to the locals confirms they don’t want to leave. Fighters to the end.  350,000 homes were destroyed in 2011. 16,000 killed by the tsunami. In 2017 there seems to be a lot to pride among the locals to prove their mettle. Ganbare Tohoku! You proved me wrong.