MORIOKA — A bus tour combining sightseeing and visits to areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has been launched here with the aim of keeping the memory of the disasters alive in people’s minds.
Starting this month, the bus tour covers various locations in Iwate Prefecture, with local volunteers serving as tour guides to tell visitors from across the country stories of the March 11, 2011 disaster.
“Being forgotten (by people outside the disaster areas) is the hardest part. We want many people to take part in the tour casually and keep what they saw in their hearts,” said a source close to the program.
One of the locals serving as a volunteer guide is Hiroko Kitamura, 60, a member of an association of volunteer tour guides in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture.
“After the tsunami engulfed our town, a penetrating smell of something like rotten fish lingered for a while among the salty scents. It’s still unforgettable,” Kitamura told participants of the bus tour.
Tourists were guided to a hotel leaning to one side, and a local police station with a car stuck on its roof, among a number of other scars of the disaster. While the association had been in place since before the March 2011 quake disaster, the organization’s major role now is to pass down the memories of the catastrophe.
On April 14, Hanamaki Kanko Bus launched its “Fukko Oen Tour,” or a reconstruction support bus tour. Because there are not enough accommodations for tourists in the coastal areas, the tour is offered as a one-day guided program including visits to the Iron & Steel Industry Museum in Kamaishi and to the heart of the city where demolition work is under way on the disaster ruins. Out of the 6,500 yen adult ticket price for a round-trip bus tour from Hanamaki, 500 yen will be donated to disaster-stricken areas.
“I hope participants will understand the present conditions of the disaster-hit areas and will be prompted to provide constant support to the area’s recovery,” said a 62-year-old official with Hanamaki Kanko Bus.
A couple in their 60s from Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, who operate a social welfare corporation for the elderly, decided to join the disaster area tour as part of their 43rd wedding anniversary celebrations.
“We thought it would be difficult for us to do volunteer work considering our age, but we couldn’t be indifferent. We thought we should pass down what we felt here in disaster areas to our children, grandchildren and friends and learn lessons that would serve the elderly at our facility,” said the couple.
As the number of disaster area tours increase in northeast Japan, they are becoming more and more diverse, such as combining sightseeing and volunteer work at the initiative of local governments as well as local commerce and industry associations.
“Disaster victims are swaying between their desire to convey their feelings versus the urge to keep difficult experiences private. But the hardest part for them is perhaps being forgotten,” said Kitamura.
For more information about the bus tour offered by Hanamaki Kanko Bus, call the company at: 0198-26-3122.