Fukushima holiday village proposed to tap fascination with disaster
Promoter counts on interest in 'dark tourism' to attract visitors to a proposed holiday village next to site of Japan's worst atomic accident
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
In the exclusion zone around Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, where most people see a contaminated wasteland that will be uninhabitable for generations, Hiroki Azuma sees opportunity.
Azuma, a philosopher and cultural critic, has gathered a team of eight experts in various fields and proposed a plan to create a new community on the edge of the exclusion zone that will become a centre for tourists wanting to visit the epicentre of the second-worst nuclear disaster in history.
Azuma believes that the Fukushima plant, destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, can become one of the world's most popular "dark tourism" destinations.
"The basic idea for the project came about after seeing the transformation of the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant into a tourist area," Azuma said.
Visitors would be able to stay at hotels in the new community - given the tentative name of Fukushima Gate Village - which would also have restaurants, shops and a museum telling the story of the disaster and the impact it has had on the lives of local people.
There are also plans for the village to have research facilities dedicated to developing renewable energy resources.
One of the main attractions would be bus tours to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, where visitors dressed in full protection suits and wearing respirators would be able to witness for themselves the scale of the damage caused at the plant and the ongoing efforts of emergency teams to regain control of the reactors and decontaminate the surrounding areas.
"The project is still in the early proposal stages, so there are no definite plans for funding methods at the moment," Azuma said.
"For similar reasons, no estimations have been made about the number of people that will be employed at the site, although we are aiming for the project to be roughly half-complete by 2020, and fully complete by 2036."
Akira Ide, a tourism scholar, is part of Azuma's team and said that as many as 500,000 people could eventually visit the planned community.
"We believe both foreign and domestic visitors will come and the key phrase here is 'dark tourism'," he said.
"A museum about the accident and the recovery efforts is necessary for the future development of Fukushima and the museum will also act as a centre for education and research," he said.
Experts believe it may take as long as three decades for work to decommission the four reactors to be completed - although that is something of a guess, as no one has ever confronted multiple nuclear disasters on this scale.
Azuma is convinced there will be an appetite for the destination in the future.
"I do not foresee any particularly large obstacles to the project and visitors will be protected from radiation from the plant because they will only be allowed to visit areas that have been deemed safe," he said.
And there is a fascination with dark tourism, he added, because "man is a being of curiosity".
Few Japanese would have predicted in 1945, for example, that the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima would become a World Heritage Site.
Outside of Japan, thousands have visited Ground Zero in New York and the "killing fields" of Cambodia.
Ide added that explaining the science behind the situation - as opposed to the rumour and scare-mongering that has punctuated the debate so far - will be critical to the success of the plan.
"If people can get accurate knowledge, then they have no need to be afraid of radioactivity in the area," he said.