Stab Magazine | Surfing (Stores) Return To The Fukishima 'No-Go Zone'

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Surfing (Stores) Return To The Fukishima ‘No-Go Zone’

Eight years on from the tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown, a surf store has reared its head in Fukushima. 

news // Mar 10, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Almost eight years ago to the day, Japan endured its worst ever natural disaster. That Friday afternoon, on the 11th of March, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude quake struck deep off the coast off Japan – approximately 29km deep. 

The earthquake itself is often deadly – particularly when it’s the fourth largest on record, such as this one – but the underwater depth and its aftermath was the real concern. The tsunami that followed sent waves hurtling towards Japan’s coast as high as 40 metres, walls of water that found themselves up to 10 kilometres inland decimating everything in their path.

Approximately 19,000 people were killed as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, with over 100,000 buildings destroyed and a bill in excess of $30 billion US dollars. A large proportion of Japan’s East coast was damaged by the tsunami, but nowhere faced an aftermath to the same extent as those living in Fukushima. A nuclear power plant on the coast may be ideal for cooling purposes, but issues aren’t as solvable when a 100-foot wall of water is hurtling towards the plant, significantly higher than the protective walls which’ve been put in place. 

The tsunami sent the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant into a level-7 meltdown as it destroyed the plant’s power, generator, and eventually, cooling system. The plant went into meltdown and radioactive materials were dispersed throughout the ocean and region during three large explosions and persistent leakage. Two hundred thousand people were immediately evacuated, with 50,000 of those remaining evacuated as of March last year. 

Today, the Fukushima disaster is largely regarded as the second largest nuclear disaster in history – one behind Chernobyl, of course. Radioactive isotopes spread throughout the sea and soil of Fukushima and other regions of Japan, food and water sources were contaminated, with irregular isotopes such as iodine-131 and caesium-134/137 being measured as far away as California.

The radioactive water in these tanks will take 123 years to hit a viable level before it can be disposed into the ocean ‘safely”. Other treatment methods have thus far been futile.

Today, the Fukushima ‘no-go zone’ is largely diminished; some regions may still be measuring up to 20 times higher than healthy background radiation levels, but for most, life is gradually returning to normal.

Oh, that’s right, this is a surfing site, fuck.

Prior to the plant disaster, Fukushima was one of Japan’s surfing epicentres. Today, it still is, although the crowd’s are a little thinner and the hypochondriac traits a little higher. For a number of years since the disaster, surfers have been edging closer towards the plant, now well and truly surfing within the previous ‘no go zone’. Now, the first surf store since the disaster has reopened in the region. 

Shinji Murohara, a once evacuated, now returned Fukushima-precinct resident has just opened a surf store in Odaka – a few clicks north of the Fukushima Daichi plant. It’s only been two years since the evacuation ban was lifted from Odaka and Shinji’s local, Kiatazumi beach, but he’s adamant the region will return to it’s former untainted glory. 

Shinji Murohara standing proudly outside his Odaka store with a self-shaped stick. Photo: Justin McCurry/The Guardian

“The city government tests the sand and water every month and we conduct our own regular tests,” Hideki Okumoto, a surfer and professor at Fukushima university told The Guardian. Adding that he believes Fukushima would be home to the upcoming Olympics if it weren’t for the disaster and continuing fear. “Radiation returned to pre-disaster levels years ago.”

In addition to selling self-shaped sticks at his new Odaka store, Shinki and Hideki are also plan to rejuvenate surf culture in the region by introducing contests and more kid-centric activities. 

“Children who were born the year of the disaster are eight years old now – they’ve had to wait that long to go into the sea in their home town.”  Murohara continued. 

“This is a special place – it had to deal with an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown all at the same time. The sea is part of the fabric of life around here, so now I want to share my love of surfing with the next generation of Fukushima surfers.”

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