Lonely Planet Writer

Road to recovery - Fukushima recovers from disaster with visitor numbers on the rise

It is one of the unlikeliest of success stories but tourism in Fukushima – the Japanese region so devastated by a nuclear accident in 2011 – has almost fully recovered.  In 2010, the last pre-disaster year for tourism, there were 57 million visitors to the region.

Fukushima tourism could bounce back.
Fukushima Prefecture, Fukushima City, Hanamiyama Park.  Image by Getty Images

But the following year when the massive Tohoku earthquake caused a tsunami that in turn caused a nuclear meltdown at the local nuclear power plant, the number of people visiting quite understandably collapsed.

Official statistics just published show that there were only 35 million visitors in 2011 as numbers tumbled in the aftermath of the disaster.  By 2012, the figures were beginning to recover and rose to 44 million and have been steadily climbing since.

The latest annual report from Fukushima Prefecture has revealed that 50 million people visited Fukushima last year as tourism across Japan was booming. That puts the tourism market back to 90% of what it was pre-disaster and hopes are high it will have returned to normal by the end of this year.

To help the recovery, a major tourism promotion drive called the ‘Fukushima Destination Campaign’ was launched with special deals available on Japanese railways to encourage staycations in the region.

One of the areas worst affected by the tsunami Soma-Futaba has been proving a major attraction and visitor numbers there were up by nearly 60% last year as road infrastructure was finally fully restored after the disaster. According to a survey of visitors, the most popular reasons for visiting were the region’s spectacular natural scenery, hot springs and health getaways, and the history and culture of the area.

The magnitude 9 earthquake that struck the area was the biggest in Japan's recorded history.
The magnitude 9 earthquake that struck the area was the biggest in Japan’s recorded history. Image by Keow Wee Loong

Also proving popular are guided walks through the area around the Fukushima power plant, which still remains mostly off-limits for residents.

As these haunting photos show, towns and villages in close proximity to the stricken nuclear station remain totally abandoned and untouched by human hand since the disaster.