Before the Crisis – A Brief History of Fukushima

A brief history of The Fukushima Prefecture

Oyakuen Aizu Royal Garden

Oyakuen Aizu Royal Garden

Prior to  the 4th century AD, the islands that are now Japan were controlled by individual clans -close-knit groups of people related to one another biologically or by marriage. Around the 4th century A. D, Japan’s first imperial government, The Yamato Court, started in western Japan, and by the mid-7th century, all of Japan was under control of the national government.

However the clans were still striving for power  The Tokugawa Shogunate Clan, who were still trying to rule the whole country from Edo (now Tokyo), placed 2 related clans in the Fukushima area in an effort to maintain control. But the Tokugawa Shogunate’s power declined, and, by the mid-9th century, Japan was in a severe political and economic crisis. In the mid-15th century through the mid-16th century, the central military government collapsed during what became known as The Warring States Period.

The clan known as The Date Clan (based in the Fukushima Basin) and the clan known as The Ashina Clan (based in the Aizu Basin(, rose up as strong powers in the northeastern part of Japan. Both basins are now part of the Fukushima Prefecture.

In the late 19th century, Japan finally unified under an imperial government, and in 1871 created a prefectural system, which replaced the clan system. A prefecture is the highest administrative division below the Japanese federal government – similar to our states.   Originally, the Fukushima area were divided into three prefectures, which were soon  merged to form today’s Fukushima Prefecture.

Culturally during this period, the Fukushima area was recognized as one of the centers of Buddhist culture in northeastern Japan from the 9th century through the l2th century.  After the formation of the Japanese impreial government, Japan began to industrialize, and the Fukushima Prefecture flourished – particularly thanks to their exports of raw silk and coal.

The Samurai

Samurai on horsebackNo history of Japan would be complete without a brief mention of the Samurai. The Samurai we think of today, the brave warrior – adept with his sword, an eminent horseman, and a master in martial fighting techniques – emerged around the 10th century.  Before that, the term “Samurai” actually meant a mid-to-low-ranking court administrator.

From the 10th century to the 19th century, the Samurai served both as interior military “police” and as defenders against foreign invaders.  They were known and admired (or feared, depending on whose side you were on) for their loyalty to their chosen ruler and for their sense of honor and duty. Being family members of various clans, the Samurai were often warring against other Samurai. When Japan united as an empire, the Samurai became imperial warriors with a social status  on par with the aristocracy.

By the mid-19th century, as Western influences began to prevail, the Japanese started to modernize their armed forces.  The Samurai, while still the ruling class of Japan, became modern soldiers –  involved in administrative government positions, both local and federal.

Still, the samurai ideals of honor, loyalty and patriotism live on in modern Japanese culture, and the renowned martial fighting techniques of the Samurai live on throughout the world as the sports of martial arts.

Modern Fukushima: Prefecture and City

Beach in Fukushima Prefecture

Beach in Fukushima Prefecture

The city of Fukushima is the capital city of the Fukushima Prefecture. As the third largest of Japan’s 47 prefectures, Fukushima Prefecture stretches nearly 100 miles from the Pacific ocean through the ancient mountains in the northeastern part of Honshu, the main Japanese island. Fukushima was not well known to the outside world before the March 11, 2011, however the  earthquake and tsunami that caused the subsequent nuclear melt down at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant most empathically put Fukushima on the world-map.

The prefecture of Fukushima is divided up into three regions:  Hama-dori by the east coast, Naka-dori in the middle, and Aizu to the west.  The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant is located in Hama-dori.

After the disaster, restricted zones were established, based on levels of radioactivity. The main restricted zone around the Daiichi Nuclear Power plant is still (as of 2014) off limits. A good 90% of the Fukushima Prefecture has beem deemed safe, both to live in and to visit.   The restricted zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant makes up less than 10 % of the Fukushima Prefecture.  Fukushima city itself  is nearly 40 miles from the restricted zone.

Attractions and Culture:

Temple Enmeiji Jizodo Fukushima

Temple Enmeiji Jizodo – Fukushima

Within Japan, the Fukushima Prefecture has long been very well known, and not just for it’s nuclear power plants.   Activities and spectacular sights in the Fukushima Prefecture are many and varied.

For example there is the  more-than-one-thousand year old Enzoji Temple, the traditional Japanese Paper Museum, where you can see artisans making hand-made paper, the Sukagawa Shakadogawa Fireworks Festival which includes the hanabi-e-maki performance (a contest which combines music and fireworks), and some of Japan’s most beautiful places for the annual viewing of  cherry blossoms in mid to late April.

There are also many camping sites, hiking trails, hot springs, ski & snowboard parks, golf courses, and race courses.  All of it surrounded in amazing nature, including majestic landscapes shaped by ancient volcanic activity.

The many restaurants in Fukushima city range from fine dining over more casual to fast food.  (Yes, they have that, too!) Fukushima city is well known as a hotspot for delicious ramen noodles. At the yearly Fukushima Ramen Show (early to mid May), you can buy real Ramen, original Japanese style, and watch it being cooked.

Fukushima Tourism – Post-Disaster

Ramen noodles

Ramen noodles – Fukushima ramen noodle show

Right after the March 2011 nuclear disaster, Japan’s tourist industry declined  by more than 50%.  All of Japan saw this drastic decline, not just the Fukushima Prefecture.It was more than a year before tourism began to pick up again, and then it was mostly Japanese tourists.

In an attempt to revive the industry,  Japan’s tourist industry began to offer numerous discounts, including reduced airfare and reduced fees at some attractions.  All the while keeping visitors informed with reports of falling radiation levels in the different restricted zones and reports of normal radiation levels in most of Japan

While tourism in the Fukushima Prefecture is still lagging, the safe areas are beginning to attract tourists again.  Foreign visitors have slowly started to come back, and now Japan’s tourist industry is finally on the way back to pre-disaster levels.  At least outside of the main restricted zone.

All activity around the disaster area, including all tourist activities, remain at a perfect stand-still.  As of now, the towns, villages, and farms are still empty of people. Nobody lives there – even the  looters have fled.  For the Japanese tourist industry, this means a continued  loss of many previously-popular  tourist attractions.  The restricted zone has many gorgeous beaches, historical buildings, and sacred shrines – none of which are accessible now.