Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.
23-year-old Zoe Vincent, from the UK, has the challenging task of promoting the Fukushima to prospective visitors from overseas. Once renowned for its wealth of tourist destinations, since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011 and the ensuing nuclear disaster, Fukushima Prefecture, on Japan’s northeastern coast, has become well known for the wrong reasons. A longstanding interest in Japan and its culture led Vincent to study Japanese at university in her native Britain. After arriving in Japan in 2013 as an exchange student at Tokyo’s prestigious Waseda University, she was surprised when her overseas classmates rejected a drink from Fukushima because of fears that it was contaminated with radiation. She went on to become an English teacher in Nagasaki, but later leapt at the chance to work in Fukushima She now conveys the diverse appeal of “the real Fukushima” to the world in English via social media.
March 30, 2017
Japanophiles: Zoe Vincent
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If you look at a map of Fukushima Prefecture, it may occur to you that its outline is reminiscent of Australia. First-time visitors to Australia sometimes comment on how much bigger the place is than they imagined it would be, and this sentiment is probably shared not only by many first-time visitors to Japan, but also by first-time visitors to Fukushima itself.
Jamaica, Qatar, Lebanon: which of these countries would you say has a greater land area than Fukushima? The answer is none of them. Fukushima covers over 13,700 square kilometers. It's a big place.
The prefecture is actually divided into three sections: Hama-dori (the coast), Naka-dori (the part in the middle) and Aizu (the uplands in the west). There are mountains between Hama-dori and Naka-dori, mountains (and a big lake) between Naka-dori and Aizu, and mountains scattered all around Aizu. As in so much of Japan, a diverse terrain is linked not only to diverse agricultural and community traditions, but also to diverse and very beautiful scenery.
When the writer of this article first visited the highlands in the north of Fukushima Prefecture, for example, it seemed hard to understand why, with its stunning views of lakes, forests and mountains, Ura-Bandai wasn't already as well known or as heavily visited as the Lake District in northwest England.
Vincent does not shy away from the challenges that Fukushima has been facing since the nuclear accident in 2011. Here, she is taking photos in an area not far from the damaged nuclear power plant.
Since the nuclear accident in 2011, many people have shied away from Fukushima, fearing for their safety. And that makes it all the more remarkable that Zoe Vincent should instead have embraced a chance to work there. As she mentions in this Japanophiles edition of Japanology Plus, one factor in forming an attachment to Fukushima was the thought of the hard, honest work that had gone into the production of a drink from the prefecture that other students rejected at a party when she was studying in Tokyo.
Peter Barakan and Zoe Vincent discuss the situation in an area that in 2011 was hit by the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and radiation contamination.
But why should she think that way, while the others chose what they saw as the safe option? In fact, as we discovered later, her thinking was shaped not only by concern for the people who had made the drink, but also -- crucially -- by faith in those who had approved the product as safe.
People can once again live in Odaka, one of the areas affected by radiation contamination in 2011. Tomoko Kobayashi, the manager of a local inn, speaks about her experiences since returning.
When you start to look at Fukushima that way, a rather different picture of the prefecture and its products emerges. What other location in the world goes to such lengths to ensure the environmental safety of the places you visit, and the safety of what you can eat and drink while you're there? Put another way, what environments, foods and drinks in other parts of the world are actually very unsafe, and yet we may go there and consume those items without a second thought?
The ceilings and walls of the Buddhist structure Sazae-do, in the west of Fukushima Prefecture, are plastered with senja-fuda bearing the names of visitors, an interesting matter for Zoe Vincent to report on.
Fukushima's many colorful occasions include the Snow Festival at Ouchijuku. The flaming torches are being carried to a Shinto shrine.
In Fukushima, you know exactly how safe you are, so why take a gamble on somewhere else that offers no reliable safety information at all? With the help of Zoe Vincent's reports, maybe you'll now want to consider making plans to visit one of Japan's greatest tourist destinations.
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