“Is Niseko safe from radiation"? The international media coverage of March 11 and its aftermath may have fuelled doubts abroad. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the mantra in the news media. But in view of March 11th scaremongering and sensationalism has been extraordinary.
Constantly referring to the earthquake in “Northeast Japan”, some foreign media might have created the impression that Hokkaido was part of the disaster zone.
With the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima plants all in one news story backed up by “experts”, it's time to stop the international hysteria and look at what has been going on here post-March 11. Niseko experienced a massive 65 per cent increase in domestic visitors coming from outside Hokkaido in July and August when compared to last year. Five per cent account for residents from Fukushima who had been invited to Niseko for a much needed break.
In short, it was one of the busiest summers for the area in terms of domestic visitors.
Overseas visitors were down 38 per cent in July and August. The strong yen and faltering global economy have to be taken into account, but the headlines in the foreign press would have scared the bravest foreign tourist. Government and independent sources have released figures that show air radiation levels here have no abnormalities and that there have been no traces of radioactive cesium or radioactive iodine found in the tap water. Hokkaido is safe, with Japanese tourists flocking here from all over the country to enjoy the nature and fresh air.
There is one summer story everyone in the community is proud of – the “Niseko Tsunami Relief Summer Program”.
“All these little boys running around going crazy. Obviously they hadn’t been outside in so long and were just really throwing themselves into it. And just seeing that action made it worthwhile,” says Program Coordinator Keith Rodgers from Taiga Projects.
Over 420 people from Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures came up to Niseko this summer for a much-needed break from the stress they’d experienced on March 11 and its aftermath. The pictures of Tohoku’s people searching for their loved ones in the rubble and small children wearing protective suits and masks, had quickly lead to the idea that Niseko could function as a refuge and bring people from Fukushima back to a sense of normality.
The “Niseko Tsunami Relief Program” was born. Niseko’s foreign property owners provided free accommodation in their apartments and houses and local management companies helped coordinate the participants’ stay. The Hokkaido government paid for transportation from Fukushima to the island.
“It was an unprecedented level of collaboration between different competitors really. All working towards the same thing without monetary objectives, I felt that was a wonderful thing,” Rodgers says. “All efforts were centralized and this really is an example of the strength of this area and its tourism expertise.”
In June the first guests moved into the free accommodation with some staying up to three months. A Key part of making the Fukushima people feel welcome was a 5-week activity schedule.
From July 15th to August 31st, more than 120 events and dozens of activities were organized to make the Fukushima people feel welcome. The children enjoyed everything from rafting to “English fun time”. Volunteer Hana Jones coordinated the twice-weekly English lessons and says the support for all activities has been phenomenal. “I was really impressed to see how selfless the locals were. A lot of people felt proud to be from Niseko and live here because it made you realize how strong the community is. And it was great to see the village full of happy children”.
For the parents it was a relief to see their children smile again. “We regained not only a normal summer vacation, but also a normal life, such as playing in the dirt, picking flowers and eating local vegetables,” Yoko Wakisaka from Iwaki city in Fukushima prefecture says. Indeed, there is nothing to worry about when eating local Hokkaido food or playing outside.
“At no time have I heard anything to give me the slightest concern that my family’s health is in danger here in Hokkaido because of what happened in Fukushima. The secret here is proper risk assessment,” says Professor Philip Seaton from Hokkaido University in Sapporo. “The biggest dose of radiation that anyone will get on a skiing holiday to Hokkaido is in the plane coming over here: and that would have happened with or without Fukushima.“
Seaton has been lecturing about the media hype and says it would be “impossible” to carry on a nationwide conspiracy of covering up radiation levels with so many international and domestic experts monitoring the situation.
Hokkaido University has been inviting academics, involved in nuclear power or the effects of radiation on health, to reassure international students and the foreign community. Prof. Seaton told his students to ignore the international media hysteria and look at the facts – Hokkaido is not “Northeast Japan,” it’s safe.
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