A beach of white sands and lush green in this laid-back region away from big Japanese cities is supposed to attract a throng of vacationers at the current height of summer.
Many people, however, avoid coming to the region, 65 kilometres south of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which went into meltdown after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Local authorities opened Nakoso beach in Iwaki city on July 16 for the first time since the nuclear disaster. It is the only functioning beach in Fukushima prefecture this summer.
On a recent clear and sunny day, around 200 people, including many children, were splashing in the sea.
One mother said she brought her family because they could not stay indoors and the beach is the closest one from their home.
“We did not think about radiation,” she said.
Some people who evacuated from areas closer to the Fukushima plant were also taking a dip in the sea.
But a local environmental group commissioned to investigate the radioactive contamination in the area said they found higher levels of radiation in some parts of the beach.
The city has not released the latest data on radioactive contamination in the area.
Most of those coming to the beach are from other parts of Fukushima prefecture, locals say, but the numbers are down on previous years.
A guesthouse owner said she had received very few bookings since the disaster.
“In summer, parking lots in this area used to be filled with cars and local inns and hotels used to be flooded with reservations,” she recalled.
'Safe image' campaign
Opening the beach is part of a campaign by the government and the media, which wants to promote the image of a safe Fukushima, said Seiichi Nakate, a member of the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation.
The group has urged the central government to evacuate all children from the area.
“The government and the media have further promoted the [positive] campaign. It is not only bad but dangerous. It is inhumane,” Nakate said. “I’d like to appeal to the international community to help resolve this human rights issue.”DPA