Paying visits to historic places where death and suffering occurred is known as “dark tourism.” After taking note that in 2011, or 25 years after the accident, the Chernobyl reactor site has become open to general tourism, a group of individuals in Japan, J-Cast News (Aug 1) reports, is attempting to lay the groundwork for plans to make the No. 1 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant a tourist spot.
The group includes author-critic Hiroki Azuma, tourism scholar Akira Ide, artist Kazuki Umezawa, media activist Daisuke Tsuda, sociologist Hiroshi Kainuma, editor Kenro Hayamizu and architect Ryuji Fujimura.
Along with providing a venue to convey their own histories to future generations, the members aim for the activities to be useful in aiding in recovery of the affected areas.
At this stage, the project team is starting preparations, such as considering what facilities should be built and what the displayed items should convey. One blueprint being discussed calls for a “Fukushima Gate Village” with overnight accommodations to be built at a distance of around 20 kilometers from the reactor, after first ascertaining that radiation levels are within the margin of safety. The complex would also incorporate a museum with exhibits related to the 3/11 reactor disaster, research facilities for renewable energy, and others. The village would also serve as the jump-off point for tours to “site zero,” the damaged reactor, where visitors will be able to snap photos and view cleanup operations in progress.
Ideas for the village were drawn up after Azuma, Kainuma and Tsuda made detailed studies of the Chernobyl site, which they jointly published in Volume 4-1 of the scholarly journal “Shisou Chizu Beta.”
One of the potential stumbling blocks for such a project is consideration of the feelings of families of victims who died in the Great East Japan Earthquake, who are no means in agreement about how they want their tragedy to be remembered. For example, the “Miracle Pine” that remained standing in Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture faced little opposition, as residents were in agreement to support its preservation as a symbol of courage and resilience. But in other communities, residents are said to be far from agreement on what to do with such symbols of the tragedy as the disaster management office of Minami-sanriku and the Kadowaki primary school building in Ishinomaki, the respective costs for preservation of which are estimated to exceed 100 million yen.
In the minds of Japanese, say the planners, such places would eventually be viewed as serving both to mourn the dead and to visit a famous historical spot, much the same as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are treated today.
Unfortunately, antenna shops set up in Tokyo to sell local produce from the three prefectures of Tohoku most damaged by the quake are said to be declining in consumer appeal. As memories of the disaster begin to fade, one of the few ways to support these areas will be through promotion of dark tourism.
A footnote: The notion of dark tourism is by no means new. Last April, the BBNews site of wire service AFP introduced “8 dark places to visit.” Yahoo! News and the BBC sites have their own lists. Some of the best known destinations include Paris’s largest cemetery, the Pere Lachaise Cemetery; Ground Zero in Manhattan, New York; World War One battlefields in Ypres, Belgium; Auschwitz-Birkenau, site of the largest extermination camp in World War Two, in Oswiecim, Poland; the Old Melbourne Gaol in Melbourne, Australia, where legendary desperado Ned Kelly was hanged; the Titanic Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland, located on the slipways where RMS Titanic was built; and the Hiroshima Peace Museum. At Choeung Ek in near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the best known of Cambodia’s “Killing Fields,” the bones and teeth of Khmer Rouge victims still litter the site.