Fukushima skating rink to reopen in anticipation of residents’ return

[Translated by The Japan Times] A well-known skating rink in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture, that closed after the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in 2011 will reopen in January, giving a shot in the arm to the disaster-stricken area. The open-air rink in the Yamakiya district was evacuated to protect residents from the radiation spewed out by the ruined atomic plant. In August 2013, however, the majority of the district was redesignated as ready to have the evacuation order lifted. Since that might happen as early as next spring, the Kawamata Skating Club announced on Oct. 7 that it was finally planning to reopen the rink in January. Using a ¥10 million subsidy from the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, the club will develop the 150-meter course Kinuno Sato Yamakiya Tanbo Rink on the same idle tanbo (rice paddy) it stood on before. It also will build a clubhouse stocked with 50 pairs of new ice skates. “We want to carry over the ‘Tanbo Rink’ to the next generation,” said club Chairman Toichi Kanno. Kanno and Hidekazu Ouchi, the vice chairman, visited the site on Oct. 7. The Environment Ministry finished its decontamination work in Yamakiya this year. The club has determined the rink will be safe when it reopens in January, pointing out the ice will block some of the radiation. The rink will be made naturally from water sprinkled on the rice paddy and be open from mid-January to early February. Skaters will be able to use it from early morning till about 10 a.m., free of charge, the club said. Olympic speed skating champion Hiroyasu Shimizu, who won gold in the 500-meter even in Nagano in 1998, will be invited to give lessons in late January, it said. The Fukushima Skating Federation also plans to hold a competition in Yamakiya. “The skating population fell sharply after the close of the Tanbo Rink,” said Eiju Sato, chairman of the federation. “We hope (reopening it) will help the development of speed skating” in Fukushima Prefecture, he said. The Kawamata Skating Club opened the rink on the rice paddy in 1984 as a project to revitalize the Yamakiya district. The last time it was open was in February 2011. About 1,500 people used the rink each winter, and about 300 local elementary and junior high school students had joined the club.