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2nd round of charter flights from Taiwan set for May-July, seen bringing 1,800 tourists to Fukushima

9 February 2018

A total of 26 round-trip charter flights (52 flights both ways) are to be operated between Fukushima Airport and Taiwan from May to July, the Fukushima prefectural government announced on Feb. 8. More than 1,800 tourists are expected to come from Taiwan on this second round of charter flights, exceeding some 1,000 travelers expected to be carried on 14 flights in the first round in January-March. The local government is seeking to have regular air service eventually inaugurated on the Taiwan route by accumulating track records of charter flights, while beefing up efforts to increase the number of visitors from abroad.

Most first-round charter flights are operating at near full capacity, showing stable demand for tourism in Fukushima and prompting the second round to be put into shape, according to the prefecture. In the second round, Taiwan’s airline Far Eastern Air Transport will operate charter flights while travel agents in Taiwan will sell six-day, five-night travel packages that tour sightseeing spots in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures. Tour products outbound from Fukushima Airport were put on sale on Feb. 10. Around 1,800 tourists are expected to apply for both outbound and inbound tour packages, bringing the total number of air passengers to more than 3,600 both ways. It will be the largest air traffic for charter flights from Taiwan operated in a concentrated manner within a certain period since Fukushima Airport opened in 1993.

The number of travelers from Taiwan to Fukushima stood at 13,290 in 2010, the year before the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. It plummeted to 3,860 in 2011 when the nuclear disaster occurred. In an initial effort to attract inbound travelers, the prefectural government set up a tourism office in Taiwan, from which charter flights were flown before the nuclear accident, and undertook tourism campaigns involving senior officials, including the deputy governor. As a result, tourists to Fukushima numbered 23,180 as of Nov. 30 last year in the latest cumulative total for 2017, far exceeding the pre-disaster level. In Taiwan, import restrictions have remained on Fukushima products, except for “sake” rice wine, since the nuclear mishap. The prefecture is set to use the charter service from there as an opportunity to publicize the safety of its products and eventually dispel harmful rumors.

The prefectural government intends to expand its subsidy program in fiscal 2018 for airlines operating charter flights to and from Fukushima Airport and travel agents offering tour products involving overnight stays in the prefecture in an effort to add momentum to the growth of inbound travelers. It has set aside about 88 million yen to fund the program under its initial budget plan for the current fiscal year through March 2019. The sum is about 2.9 times the fiscal 2017 level.

The package tours to Taiwan from Fukushima Airport are being sold by two Japanese travel agents, H.I.S. Co. and Tour Wave Co. For inquiries, call the H.I.S. office in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, at 050-5833-9213 or the Tour Wave office in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, at 022-212-1919.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

4 February 2018

Post-disaster rice planting seen ready in Namie town this spring, waterways restored

A rice-planting environment is expected to be restored this spring in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, where an evacuation order issued after the 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was lifted in parts of the town in March last year. Work to restore agricultural waterways undertaken by the municipal government since the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear disaster has made headway, raising the prospect of rice planting becoming possible in about 430 hectares of paddy fields, roughly a third of some 1,200 hectares cultivated before the nuclear mishap.

But municipal officials are concerned about a shortage of rice farmers due to the absence of many residents still evacuated elsewhere. The town office is seeking to help resume rice farming by assisting the establishment of agricultural corporate entities and recruiting people interested in agriculture in an effort to encourage the permanent homecoming of evacuees and migration from outside.

Expected to be ready for rice planting are seven districts in northern Namie: Tatsuno, Kariyado, Sakata, Fujihashi, Nishidai, Kitakiyohashi and Kitatanashio. Some waterways, including a trunk channel on the left bank of the Ukedo River and a canal in Tatsuno, both taking water from the Ogaki Dam, are set to be restored by the end of fiscal 2017 through March this year, ensuring the supply of agricultural water from fiscal 2018. In the Sakata and Kariyado districts where demonstration rice planting was conducted until 2017, water was supplied from wells and other sources.

Namie intends to restore irrigation gradually with a view to resuming rice cultivation by the end of fiscal 2020 in the whole town except in “difficult-to-return” zones.

Of 18,020 residents registered as of the end of December last year, only 482 have returned home for permanent residency. According to the Tohoku Regional Agricultural Administration Office of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, paddy fields in the town cultivated for harvesting in 2017 totaled 2.5 hectares, with five farming households engaging in rice planting. How to secure farmers is a challenge facing the town before full-fledged rice cultivation can be resumed.

An agricultural reconstruction cooperative union is in place in each administrative district of Namie to preserve farmland after the nuclear accident. Municipal authorities are considering organizing study meetings and other events for farmers to encourage such unions to be incorporated and allow them to manage and operate farmland in a well-planned manner. “We would like to throw our full support behind farmers who are trying to stand on their own feet amid the difficult agricultural environment stemming from protracted evacuation,” a town official said.

Namie also plans to conduct a nationwide survey of agricultural corporations within fiscal 2017 seeking to invite them to the town while launching a farming internship program in fiscal 2018 for townspeople interested in working as farmers.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

26 January 2018

Tomioka town to make soon-to-reopen grade, junior high schools community exchange hub

Tomioka town in Fukushima Prefecture is set to use elementary and junior high schools reopening in April as a “community hub” where residents can casually visit for exchanges with schoolchildren. The schools, positioned as the Tomioka campus of the Tomioka elementary and junior high schools set up in Miharu town following the 2011 nuclear accident, are to be housed in the Tomioka Daiichi (first) Junior High School buildings.

The planned hub is intended to offer an environment in which townspeople and schoolchildren can learn from each other. The town plans to provide a unique education program of its own, also including lessons by experts in various fields invited as lecturers, in a bid to increase the number of evacuated children returning to their hometown for study.

The planned venue for interaction among townspeople and schoolchildren is to be named a “life-giving school.” The town presumes that residents, mainly elderly people, and children can teach one another in their respective areas of specialty such as cooking, sewing, handicrafts and personal computers. Coordinators linking the schools and townspeople will be placed in an exchange space to be set up on the first floor of one of the school buildings. It will be used as a site for interaction during breaks and other free time.

Classes to be conducted by invited lecturers will be titled “professionals in school.” The lecturers will include artists, craftspeople, athletes and researchers. The classes are designed to offer opportunities for children to learn the importance of having knowledge, skills and dreams, among other things, through contact with experts. Also planned is having experts stay at the school as “transfer students” for a short period and engage in creative work and other activities together with children.

Furthermore, the town’s education board is considering promoting education in information and communication technology, providing enhanced English education, making school education free, and operating school buses for commuting children within and outside the prefecture, among other plans.

Before the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Tomioka had two grade schools and two junior high schools, with a total of some 1,400 students enrolled. The current number of registered schoolchildren is about 900. In the Miharu campus of the Tomioka elementary and junior high schools, 11 grade school pupils and 19 junior high school pupils are enrolled, but many others attend schools in evacuated places outside their own districts.

An education board survey of parents and guardians having elementary and junior high school students, conducted in June last year, asked them if they “will return home permanently.” Of 485 responding households, only nine (1.9%) replied they are “considering returning” while 55 (11.3%) said they “cannot make a decision” and 421 (86.8%) answered they “cannot return.” The board is confirming the final intentions of evacuated families but expects to resume the schools with a small number of students.

“Given the current status of Tomioka, establishing a school where various people, ranging from children to the elderly, get together will lead to improving the attractions of education in the town,” said school superintendent Kenichi Ishii. “We would like to have as many schoolchildren as possible return to the hometown by pushing ahead with unique education on our own.”

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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