A Visit to the Fukushima Exclusion Zone

When someone asks you where you’re going on holiday, would you say Fukushima? If you’re as crazy and intrepid as me then YES! It is still off-limits in some places, but it is thankfully now possible to visit the exclusion zone.

I’ve always been super intrigued by places that have either been affected by conflict or natural disasters, why I hear you ask, well I find it puts things into perspective and helps you to gauge an understanding of the real turn of events, as opposed to the ones depicted in the media.

I’m sure you all know the turn of events that happened in Japan on 11th March at 14.46pm, a colossal magnitude 9 earthquake occurred 70 miles off the coast near the city of Sendai. This subsequently triggered a powerful tsunami with unbelievable waves reaching heights of up to 40.5 metres. Unfortunately this was a triple disaster, due to the preceding events the last thing that Japan needed was for a nuclear meltdown at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This is the reason that the surrounding area will be uninhabitable for decades to come, many residents have lost everything including their homes, cars, livelihoods and most importantly members of their family, friends and colleagues.

Although the event took place in 2011, it hasn’t been mentioned in international mainstream media for several years, until David Farrier, a New Zealand journalist created a Netflix original show called Dark Tourist. He ventured to Fukushima, according to some using an unofficial guide and extras for “tourists”, whilst showing a complete lack of respect for the area, the residents and all of those affected by the tragic events. I wanted to do things a little differently, so I hired a local guide who was able to get me access to the exclusion zone and described not only how events took place, but how they are slowly rebuilding Fukushima province.

Buildings damaged/destroyed by the original earthquake in 2011

I was given 5 hours for my tour, this included a chance to visit areas affected by both the earthquake and tsunami zones. I was originally meant to travel and start my tour at Odaka train station but due to hiring a car and having a delay, this meant I arrived 1.5 hours late so we changed our meeting point to Tomioka train station, which is further south. Thankfully my lovely guide Karin was patiently waiting to meet me, super excited that we had made it and that we could begin our trip.

Driving along Route 6 (the main coastal road), north of Tomioka you begin to see barriers stopping you from turning anywhere off the main road, you are also not permitted to ride a push bike or motorcycle or stop at any time. All of the businesses and homes alongside Route 6 have been abandoned, some are beyond disrepair and the Japanese government are starting to tear them down to be replaced. I noticed our Geiger meter going up and up, but I didn’t feel unsafe or scared but simply intrigued to learn more about what happened during that eventful day.

I was lucky enough to head down to the sea by Futaba, this area experienced the full force of the tsunami and as a result homes were completely washed away, factories were left as empty shells or collapsed. One business included a fishery, the roof of the building has only half of its casing left, the fishing ponds were all emptied and the adjacent units are all now uninhabitable. Seeing this level of destruction brings a whole new side to “dark tourism”, I think before you visit you have to understand why you want to see it in the first place. For me it was to experience what the natural world is truly capable of, but also to see how resilient human beings are and how they are getting on and dealing with a natural disaster. Top soil that is highly contaminated is being dug up, bagged and will be buried in huge craters to avoid any potential future problems.

One of the most surreal experiences has to be standing in the middle of the abandoned town of Okuma just as dusk is starting to kick in, with only the traffic lights still working when suddenly a wild boar runs in to the middle of the road and just starts staring at me. When it didn’t run off I got intrigued, slowly starting to move ever closer to the potentially radiated animal before being coaxed back to the relative safety. I think it was probably just inquisitive about who I was and what someone was doing in well, pretty much his own town.

Top Photos – The Family Mart was damaged by the earthquake and subsequently abandoned
Bottom Left Photo – An old people’s home was evacuated but this trolley remains outside
Bottom Right Photo – Cars all over Fukushima are not safe and were abandoned, never to be used again.

Although Fukushima plans to be completely self-sustaining in terms of its energy by 2040, they have to resolve the issue of using nuclear energy as just down the road is another Fukushima Power Plant that is still in use. I believe that the Japanese people affected by the events will strive to succeed in rebuilding their lives and from what I could see they are successfully achieving it bit by bit, a very humbling experience to say the least.

I had considered giving up my blog recently due to a lack of time, however this place has really inspired me to continue to write about places that deserve to be explored. I highly recommend a visit!

Top Left – The fishery that was destroyed
Top Right – The abandoned coastline of Fukushima
Bottom Photo – Tepco were the developers of Fukushima, this photo speaks a thousand words

How to get to Odaka / Fukushima?

You must travel to Odaka train station where you will be met by the tour company, currently the railway line is still closed as of 2018 between Tomioka and Namie stations, but JR (Japan Railways) are working hard to restore access and hope to have services up and running before the Olympics in 2020.

I was staying in Tokyo at the time, originally I was advised to take the train but having looked at the cost it seemed rather excessive so I thought I’d look at other options and later opted to hire a car. Initially I thought this might be pretty steep but as you can see from a breakdown of my costs it ended up being really reasonable;

  • Car Hire – £38 for 1 day
  • Petrol (I hired a fuel-efficient car using only half a tank) – £24
  • Road tolls from Tokyo – £86
  • TOTAL = £148

Although this sounds a lot the train was going to cost me £326 and I was far more restricted on timings. I would highly recommend that you set off from Tokyo at around 8am, if you are going to do what I did and try to do it all in one day it is likely you won’t return until around 9pm at the earliest, so it is a pretty long day. Thankfully there are hotels that have reopened in Tomioka so it might be worth booking there for one night and driving back the next day.

Top Photos – Both buildings were damaged by the tsunami
Bottom Photo showcases what the Government is doing with the contaminated soil

How to book?

I was lucky enough to find a tour company that is run by local residents trying to encourage people to see the real Fukushima, as opposed to what was depicted on the Dark Tourist show. If you wish to try with them please book your tour here, don’t forget to say that Travel Geek sent you 🙂 … and no I’m not on commission!

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. If you fancy something a little more relaxing in Japan, make sure you have a look at my blog article about their beautiful topical islands. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

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