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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Discovering Hidden Fukushima

Apr. 12, 2016

A group of women in the city of Iwaki is getting creative to attract more visitors to Fukushima prefecture in the wake of the 2011 triple disaster.

The project leader is Hiromi Aikawa, who spends most of the year on the road hunting down new tourist attractions.

"I think it would be great if we could uncover places that have been known only to local people," she says.

Three other women have joined Aikawa to create a special map. They were all born and raised in Iwaki.

Chika Nishiyama is a food fan who tries out every new restaurant she comes across. Kaori Unuma is into dancing. She puts everything into her passion. And Asami Nemoto is a mother who likes to discover the charms of Iwaki from the viewpoint of a parent.

After much debate, they came up with 2 goals for their map. The first is to target women in their 20s and 30s, as they have particular skills in sharing information. The second is to shine a light on disaster-affected areas, to help turn around the negative image people may still have.

Nishiyama heads to a restaurant that she's had her eye on for a while.

"The restaurant uses a lot of local vegetables. It caught my attention after I saw it on social media," she says.

The Chinese restaurant is in a residential area well off the beaten track. And the menu lists the local origin of the ingredients used to make the various dishes, such as the Shiraishi Farm, the Namakiba Farm and other local farms.

Nishiyama ordered mabo dofu with ripened tomatoes. Mabo dofu is made with tofu bean curds cooked in spicy thick chili sauce.

"The surprising combination works quite well," she says.

The restaurant offers over 50 original dishes. The meals are made using seasonal vegetables from 10 local farmers. It makes it onto the map.

Nishiyama then heads to Shiraishi Farm to find out more about the vegetables used at the restaurant.

Nagatoshi Shiraisi doesn't use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The secret behind the tasty vegetables is in the soil.

Farming in Shiraishi's family goes back eight generations. The fertile land his family nurtured for more than 200 years makes for delicious vegetables.

The land is a treasure to Shiraishi. But after the nuclear disaster, he couldn't ship his vegetables and thought about quitting farming.

"I was thinking of becoming a truck driver if I couldn't continue farming. I thought it might be a good time to quit without people talking about me behind my back," he says.

Two months after the March 11 disasters, the government allowed Shiraishi to ship his vegetables again. No one wanted them. But Harutomo Hagi, a local chef specializing in French cuisine, came to the rescue.

Hagi's restaurant serves just one sitting of customers each day, and only those who have advance reservations can get in.

Hagi started operating this way after the nuclear disaster. He visited local farms and wanted to help them in some way.

One of the farms he visited was Shiraishi's. Hagi suggested using vegetables that were destined to be thrown away.

They created a salad dressing that soon became a hit, helping Shiraishi's vegetables to begin selling again.

"Before the disaster, farmers and cooks were complacent. They believed their produce was the best, or that they made the best food. The disaster has made us work together," Hagi says. "Farmers now teach us about vegetables and meat."

Hagi has built a network of local farmers and chefs. He also continues to produce other items. The project members decide to include his jam and the salad dressing made from Iwaki produce on their map.

Aikawa recently took a trip to learn about a local fishing event. Her guide is Riken Komatsu, the organizer.

The boat heads north until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant comes into view.

The boat stops just 1.5 kilometers from the plant: the closest approach allowed. Radiation is considerably lower at sea compared to on land, which is why you can get so close to the plant.

The nuclear plant that caused so much fear and anxiety, turning many people's lives upside down, is in clear sight.

"I'm kind of at a loss for words. It all began here," Aikawa says.

Fishermen voluntarily refrain from fishing in waters 20 kilometers from the plant. That's why the fish in the area have grown, both in size and number.

The fish bite almost immediately, and Aikawa reels in a huge rock cod.

But the catch isn't for eating. Instead, the fish will be measured for radiation. The event, dubbed "Sea Lab" is really a kind of marine survey.

The fish are taken to an aquarium in the city and visitors can watch the fish being tested. The meat is put inside a special measuring device. No iodine or cesium was found this time.

The highest level of radiation detected in other fish caught around the plant on the outing was 8.3 becquerels. That's far below the government-set safety limit of 100 becquerels.

Five years after the nuclear disaster, the marine environment is making recovery. The monthly event also goes onto the map.

The final map also features a stylish household goods store in a hot springs resort, a museum where visitors can ride on a swing with a magnificent hilltop view, and a sweets shop known only to locals, as it's in the middle of a rice field.

The cover is a collage of the various places featured. The women made a point of using handwriting to give the map a warm, friendly look.

And Aikawa has added her own message in the corner of the map.

"This map was made by 4 people in Iwaki. We tried to make it like a letter, conveying the charms of everyday Iwaki that we want people to see now. You are sure to find yourself smiling when discovering the hidden appeal of Iwaki," her message reads. "We hope our letter will be the start of your connection with Iwaki."

Project members Hiromi Aikawa, Kaori Unuma, and Asami Nemoto joined NHK World's Minori Takao at the Ogawa-Suwa Shrine in Iwaki.

Takao: The map has been distributed by the thousands and you can also download it from the internet. How has reaction been so far?

Aikawa: People from outside the prefecture have already reacted very positively. But I'm very happy that Iwaki residents are also pleased that there's a map of their place.

Takao: What would you like visitors to notice when they come to Iwaki?

Aikawa: Of course, when people hear the word "Fukushima" they are reminded of the 2011 disaster or the nuclear accident. But people here have really started their normal lives again. And so I want people who visit to notice what the daily lives of normal people in Iwaki are like.

Takao: And I believe that you have a message in English for our audience?

Unuma: Iwaki has many wonders people still don't know about.

Nemoto: Please come to Iwaki.

Aikawa, Unuma, Nemoto: See you soon!