TT-973 (Tourism Edition) -- Disaster Area Tours to Fukushima - Crass or Creative?

Japan Travel
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Dec 09, 2018, Issue No. 973

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+++ Disaster Area Tours to Fukushima - Crass or Creative?

In 2015, in Terrie's Take 804, I wrote about disaster tourism and when
it might be appropriate. This was a musing prompted by the ongoing
crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, coupled with media
coverage of yet another deadly earthquake in Nagano. The conclusion I
came to at the time was that "Helper" tourism was entirely desirable,
as in the thousands who traveled at their own expense up to Tohoku in
2011/12, to be handed a shovel and put to work digging homes and
streets out from under inches of mud and sand. On the other hand,
"Gawker" tourism should probably wait until at least a couple of years
after the event, until the locals have had time to recover and have
built some stopping off points so they can benefit financially from
the gawkers... The problem being that for a disaster to be most
attractive to free-spending gawkers, it generally needs to be fresh
and visible.

When I wrote this piece, I was naturally wondering in the back of my
mind whether my own company should experiment with disaster area
tours, but decided that it could be misconstrued as crass
commercialism and reflect badly on the company. In particular I was
reminded to think about the PR sensitivities of some of our larger
corporate accounts, and disrespecting the memories of those that
perished in the tragedy would likely frighten those sponsors away.
Obviously a lot of other travel operators felt the same way, and so
there have been no commercial disaster tours to Fukushima that I'm
aware of. Instead, mostly there has been glossy government promotion
to traditional tourist spots, and which ignores the disaster almost

But, now (thanks to Jason Ball highlighting them) a new entrant in the
tourism space has a Facebook page and appears to be willing to break
through the social taboos to run actual disaster tours. The brash
newcomer is, a forgettable but hopeful company name,
which is treading where the rest of us fear to go. What they are doing
is kind of crass, hyping up the thrill factor by handing out Geiger
counters to guests and going to the fenced off exclusion zone
entrance. But still, it is tourism innovation in action, and for that
I tip my hat. In some ways, I see them as being similar to Akiba Cart
LLP, the Maricar operator, who did something no one thought would be
allowed, and which has since become a large and successful business.

None-the-less, with the disaster tours the Wondertravel folks are
testing new and perhaps more perilous ground. Although their tours are
not illegal, the resulting social opprobrium may cause the company far
more damage than a mere lawsuit (which MariCar survived). [The actual disaster tours FB page.]

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As you can see, they are calling a spade a spade - "Disaster Area
Tours". It's hard to tell if the Wondertravel principals are naive,
brave, or just needing to find an angle to survive in an increasingly
competitive travel services environment. My guess is that they are
trying to survive and are being opportunistic, as evidenced by the
fact that they are indexed on Facebook under the specific term
"Fukushima Disaster tours". No pretense about helping the local
economy recover or furthering world peace - basically just a thrill
for gawkers. [Fukushima tours site]

Now, we don't necessarily have anything against gawkers, so long as
they are not bothering anyone else, and better still, if they are
dropping some cash into the local economy. Unfortunately, these
particular day tours from Tokyo appear to mostly be focused on visits
to abandoned housing areas and the exclusion zone perimeter - so we
imagine that not much money makes its way to the local economy. Then
again, there's no one around for them to bother, either, other than
the guards restricting access to the 20km exclusion zone, and a local
cow farmer. There is also the added bonus that the people taking such
tours will tell their social networks that Fukushima is in much better
shape than they expected. No mutant animals or glow-in-the-dark views
to be had. That said, if these tours catch on, I'm betting that it
won't be long before you'll be seeing t-shirts saying "I survived
Fukushima!" replete with 5-legged raccoons and inappropriately
white-spotted cows. I'm not sure if Japan's travel masters in
Kasumigaseki will be happy with that!

Indeed, it will be interesting to see if the Fukushima Disaster tours
become popular. If they do, a new generation of risk-taking tour
organizers is likely to spring up to service the sector. I believe
that the appetite for Japan-focused gawker tours is in fact vast.
Again, back in 2014 when I was first contemplating this sector, I did
a research trip to Thailand to find out what young wealthy travelers
were looking for in Japan. I learned that ghost stories feature big in
Thai social media, and of course Japan has a plethora of ghostly
locations, starting with the Aokigahara suicide forest at the base of
Mt. Fuji, then stretching the length and breadth of the country.
Fukuoka's Chusetsu Tunnel, Oiran Buchi bridge in Yamanashi, the SSS
Curve trail in Okinawa - there's plenty of goose-skin-inducing
locations for the gawking thrill seeker.

The problem with ghosts is that they don't make a regular appearance,
and so to be sufficiently spooky, you would not only need some
talented guides, but probably also some actors and props as well. Back
in 2014 this all seemed a bit too hard to me, but just recently I have
been visiting more and more regional locations which are jazzing up
their locations by doing night-time projection mapping. An otherwise
unremarkable industrial or countryside landscape can be transformed at
night with sound, lasers, and a good story line. As a result, I
predict that ghost tours will become a staple in areas that don't have
much else to draw tourists to.

Other natural disaster sites with lots of tourism potential are
volcanoes. Elsewhere in the world, most notably the Kilauea volcano on
the big island of Hawaii, sightseeing of the lava flows there is big
business, and there are plenty of visitors willing to risk a lava
splash or two (a very real occurrence, as happened in May of this
year). The Japanese authorities, however, are rather more conservative
about allowing access to active (so-called Level 3) volcanoes, such as
Sakurajima in Kagoshima, but nonetheless, if an enterprising tour
guide really wanted to take tourists close to the action, the location
is big enough that they could do so. Of course, you might die from
toxic gases in the process, but hey, you have to earn that t-shirt
some how. Furthermore, and disappointingly, Japan's volcanoes tend to
blow their tops in short spectacular bursts, not as a steady seeping
lava flow.

But if you are interested in volcanoes, there is another way to get up
close but without the danger. You can check out the Japan
Meteorological Agency volcano-cam at: [All JMA volcano cams in Japan] [Sakurajima in particular]

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