FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN (CNN) – Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster is leading to a new kind of “dark tourism.”
Almost 4 years after the meltdown forced entire towns to evacuate, tour guides are taking people through abandoned neighborhoods.
CNN finds out why one devastated town is allowing others to witness its tragedy.
The first thing people ask about is the radiation. Is it even safe to go in when most are kept out? Our local government tour guide says contamination levels are low.
They are allowing quick trips into the safer parts of Fukushima prefecture, still empty from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Nearly 4 years later, outsiders are getting a rare look at this desolate, abandoned place.
Damage from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami sits untouched. Crumbling buildings are falling further into disrepair. Weeds are slowly taking over.
What do visitors say when they see it for the first time?
“At first, they say unbelievable,” saidFukushima tour guide Yusuke Kato.
Nobody can live here, not yet. When is anyone’s guess.
Fear lingers about the invisible threat from radiation released by the damaged reactors. The soil and groundwater is contaminated.
Agriculture gone. Businesses closed. So what’s left?
“Nothing,” replied Kenichi Bamba, who is hoping to rebuild Fukushima.
Bamba says these tours are part of a long-term plan to rebuild Fukushima prefecture. For him it is a painful, personal task.
Bamba is from Fukushima. When asked what he thinks when he looks around at all of the damage, he replied, “Actually I’ve come here several times but still… I cannot say anything. Just sad. Just sad.”
The nuclear plant is being taken apart, but it will take decades and billions of dollars to make it safe. CNN was there a few months ago, forced to wear protective gear. It’s one of the most dangerous places on earth.
The reactors are visible in the distance. Too close for many to ever feel safe here again.
Surveys show only about a fifth of former residents want to come back, most of them over 60. For many, moving on is easier than facing this.
Boats and cars are all over a Fukushima field. Reminders of all the people who died here.
Akiko Ishizuka prays for her mother and father-in-law at a small shrine. Shrines like this are everywhere.
“It’s been almost 4 years and it’s still so sad to come here and remember that they’re gone,” Ishizuka said.
Fukushima tour guides hope by sharing the plight of these people, others will be inspired to come here and rebuild.
“We want to encourage local people for the revitalization of Fukushima,” said guide Yusuke Kato.
They hope this school gym with a graduation banner still hanging will have students again. This dusty piano will have someone to play it. And this nuclear ghost town will someday be brought back to life.