I was really really looking forward to finally writing this post.
In fact I have wanted to write this post since 2012, but the information available was still very confusing at best at that point of time, and it was just way controversial and I thought it was just generally a very bad idea to write about something I wasn’t 100% familiar with.
Anyway, I have wanted to visit Tohoku for the looooongest time. The first time i did was during Sakura season in 2013 to Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. It was a birthday present i chose for myself, gifted by the danna.
Why did i want to visit Tohoku so eagerly?
I wanted to support Tohoku.
Over the years, every since the Great East Japan Earthquake that happened on March 11, 2011, i had been getting emails non-stop asking me if Japan is a safe place to visit. For a good 3 years, I chose not to answer. It was not that I was not sure about the answer. It was because even if i say yes, people who don’t believe it will not believe it anyway. Explanation was futile. I just replied politely and told them that for me personally, i fully believe that it is safe, but it is entirely up to their own judgement and research and they will have to decide for themselves.
Even up until last week, I still get emails from readers asking for advice about traveling to Tokyo, worrying about the radiation level.
There are many rumors spreading online and also through word of mouth, the most common one i have heard among Malaysians and Singaporenas is that somebody’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s aunty’s daughter-in-law went to Japan for a holiday, and when she came back she was told that she would be infertile for the next 10 years.
All those emails asked me what i thought about it. A lot of them cancelled their trips to Japan because their parents/in laws/friends/relatives/random stranger insisted they should.
In my heart i felt so outraged, but i just kept quiet because i was in no position to give any opinion. I am not a doctor or a scientist.
And then i got pregnant myself in 2013. After visiting Japan for maybe more than 10 times since March 11, 2011, including Tohoku area. Even then i was afraid to say anything, because if something happened to me (which may be totally unrelated to Japan whatsoever) people were gonna tell me SEE I TOLD YOU SO AND SERVE YOU RIGHT.
But then i gave birth to a healthy, adorable baby. And then i got pregnant again. So i think now it’s pretty much safe to assume that the rumor is untrue. At least for me. And for every single pregnant woman in Japan. (Go check all the delivery wards in Japan!)
In fact, i think visiting Japan helped me get pregnant. Twice.
Actually, Japan is conducive to pregnancy. AND MAKES YOUR PREGNANCY BETTER, SMOOTHER, HAPPIER.
And you get cuter and more obedient babies. Feel free to quote me on that.
(Read: The Hakone Baby Wishing Tree)
Okay fine. Mayyyybe Tokyo is safe to visit!! But how about Tohoku? More so, Fukushima? I could not answer any of these questions. Because I did not have enough information to back myself up.
But you know what i can do?
I can travel to Tohoku personally.
Yes i can.
Especially to Fukushima, while being 6 months pregnant with my second child. Now that, is gonna prove something.
Was i worried? Was i scared?
(By the way, if you are curious. When i told the danna i was going to visit Fukushima, his reply was “Have fun. Please take care and don’t catch a cold.“)
I would never, ever do anything that would potentially be harmful to my unborn child. And making this trip to Tohoku while being pregnant would be the best pledge to show my support to Tohoku, and to the world.
And i am so glad that i did.
It was like i have just unlocked a new level of love for Japan.
So i went to 3 prefectures in Tohoku, which are the three main areas that are heavily affected by the earthquake and suffered a lot of economical and tourism loss.
They are Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.
I would be really happy to visit Yamagata, Akita and Aomori in the near future, but right now my mission is to promote the local tourism for these three prefectures, especially when it comes to their food produce. Man, every single prefecture in Japan has such wonderful heritage and its own unique local delicacies, blog posts are never enough!
Even the local media got very excited that a foreigner was visiting their hometown, and i promptly got into their local press and TV news.
Tourists and visitors are so rare and hard to come by in that area that my visit was like a big deal.
My heart ached so much. If only people around the world can give them a little more faith and support. Even if i couldn’t help much with my mediocre blogging influence, i would still be very very happy to put smiles on their faces, to have them know that someone from Malaysia has come all the way here, to give her full support to Tohoku.
That was the very least i wanted to do.
Anyway, done with the personal, emotional part. But let’s look at some numbers and data now, right? Everybody wants some assurance, some kind of proof.
So. How safe/unsafe is Tohoku? How high is the radiation level?
I was traveling in Iwate and bought a local newspaper (which i was featured in!!) and on the same page there was the daily radiation level report for different towns in Iwate Prefecture.
The numbers did not make sense to me as i didn’t know what was the normal level. (By the way now i realized that it is extremely low, compared to other cities in Japan and the rest of the world.)
I am not the expert and i can’t tell you what is safe and what is not. But i can give you perspective.
I am quoting the data collected from ptraveler.com, a blog by two travel bloggers from Germany. They brought a Gamma Scout Geiger counter with them and measured the radiation levels of cities all around the world.
Apparently at where they are from, Germany/Heidelberg has a background radiation levels of about 0.1 – 0.2 micro sievert/hour. So they took that as the norm for a city and did comparison with other cities to that reading.
They had a radiation measurement blog post on major cities in Japan, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, etc.
And according to them, they observed the values of 0.1-0.2 uSv/h in Tokyo, and this is typically less than in most cities around the world (just to compare, in Hong Kong, background radiation rises up to 0.8 uSv/h in some places).
So now you can see that at Iwate, the prefecture i was traveling to, the reading is even lower than Tokyo, with one extra zero after the decimal point. And apparently in Morioka, the capital city of Iwate prefecture, the highest reading after March 11 disaster, was 0.058.
Let’s look at some of the Japanese cities:
Kyoto is apparently especially low.
Nooooow how about Fukushima??
A little higher but still within the average measurement.
Anyway, all these readings were done in 2012 so they are outdated. It was just a year after the Nuclear disaster and i would assume that by now it should be even lower.
Are you wondering now, about the radiation level in Kuala Lumpur?
Since so many people are so afraid to visit Japan, let me give you perspective, again. Quoting from the same travel blog, when the two bloggers travelled to Malaysia and did their measurement:
Radiation in Kuala Lumpur:
Dear Malaysians. Our city has more than double the radiation that of Fukushima.
How does that make you feel now?
If you ask me, honestly, I would think that chances are I would die faster in Malaysia compared to Japan, with all these unknown radiation, pollutions, stress, robbers, kidnappers, inconsiderate and reckless drivers, HAZE!!!!!, and rude service staff. Honestly.
But i don’t want to get too far.
So. My point is, I have read waaaaaaay too many baseless articles and heard way many false rumors regarding the safety of Japan, usually circulated in Chinese, started from Weibo, terrifying every single Facebook-addicted Malaysian aunty.
And i just thought it didn’t deserve to be sabotaged by people who had ulterior motives.
I mean, there are bound to be people commenting and pasting all sort of links again, but to me, it’s really like the reader who told me via Instagram when i was pregnant with Junya that “you should stop eating strawberries. It will give your baby allergies“. Yeah? Alright. Thanks for letting me know.
Anyway, if you are interested, here’s a report on the “Fukushima Food Safety Conference” which was held on September 22 in Milan, Italy. The conference was held to disseminate accurate information on the situation in Fukushima to the world at large and to reinforce steps toward the region’s recovery. If you have the time, it is a very interesting read.
Also, i have a personal dear friend, Sue Ann (Malaysian) who went on a student study trip to Fukushima in 2012, including the border of the evacuation zone that’s just ten kilometres away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. You can read about her Fukushima travelogue here. It was really eye opening as she was probably one of the first foreigners/Malaysians who has been this close to seeing how it really is like, after the disaster. I really admire her and wish i could do the same.
And that is all for now.
Enough of all the heavy stuff, and now i am on my way compilation my beautiful and amazing journey through the three prefectures of Tohoku.
Will update again. 🙂
Super agree with you! 👍🏻
Thanks for reading!
I was lucky to go to Japan on 2014 for my honeymoon! And my family was concerned about those things, but I didn’t care since we weren’t going to be close to Fukushima.
It was an AMAZING trip! I was happy to just be in Japan, it is the best place and everyone was so nice, polite and omg the streets where so clean! not like my country where you see trash everywhere because most people don’t care >_> we never felt scared there and while my husband was a bit more concerned about radiation than me, once there he completely forgot about his worries and loved every moment of it.
If I am able to go back sometime soon I would like to go to Tohoku to support them! ( Lets hope I make lots of money to do so! )
That’s so nice to hear! Where are you from?
And it is so very nice of you to want to visit Tohoku just to support. Thank you so much!
I’m from Mexico!
One of my dreams is to see pretty much all of Japan and if I can do that and be of some help, that would be even better!
Thank you for sharing this with us… I have not visit Tohoku before but I would really love to visit one day!! Ever since year 2012, I have visited Japan more than 10 times until to date… And I don’t intend to stop flying to Japan.. 🙂 Friends and families were skeptical before this.. But I have noticed that many of my friends and relatives are visiting Japan lately and they loved their trip very much and wanted to revisit! I am so proud hahahaha! I don’t know why! Actually I do la… Some of them told me that it was because of the photos that I shared on Facebook that made them really wanna visit Japan themselves!!
That’s really great to know! I understand because most people would choose to be safe than sorry. But i am hoping that with more awareness people will slowly try to understand the real situation and listen less to rumors or read less Facebook viral posts. Enjoy your trip!!! Spread the love!!!
Thanks for visiting my hometown!! My hometown is miyagi. I’m so happy that you try to promote it is safe to travel tohoku. In fact I have Malaysian boyfriend. He always asked me if I can be pregnant safely after I go back to my hometown. To be honest it is annoying to be asked such an offensive question as I know how hard the ppl working on reducing the level of radiation. He and my boyfriend’s friend and his girlfriend, they are Malaysian, came to Japan with my boyfriend in this winter. And then except my boyfriend, they didn’t visit my home since they are worried about radiation. They are planning to hav a baby in coming three years so they didn’t visit. I was so sad but whatever I say, it’s not convincing and doesn’t work to let them think it’s not dangerous to come to my hometown. Really really thanks and thanks for not forgetting our miserable memory which is the earthquake happened in 2011. 11.3
Thanks much for your comment, Rin. I feel so sad for you, Miyagi is an amazing place. I really hope that they can rebuild the affected area and more people will be willing to help out.
You know what is funny? During my trip I was told that some residents in Tohoku moved to West Japan in fear of the radiation level. It turned out that other parts of Japan like West Japan and Kyushu had even higher level of radiation due to natural factors and other causes, like radium hotspring. Ironic isn’t it?
You know what, the next time you happen to celebrate their birthdays, buy them a Gamma Scout Geiger counter as a present. Ask them to start with the radiation levels in Malaysia. 🙂
Thanks for sharing Cheesie. I can’t open the link of your friend Sue Ann’s blog. Would you mind to share the link again?
Thanks so much for reading!! Sorry about the faulty link. I fixed it! 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing, i love Japan so much it’s my favorite country.
Will be there again this August and can’t wait to visit Tohoku.
Really? You will? 😀 😀 😀 That would be the best ever!
thanks for sharing, every times I mention I really, eagerly, very much want to visit Japan (funny or not, I had only been to Hokkaido not Tokyo),then people surrounding me incl my mum, relatives, friends…will tend to tell me the radiation issues, seafood is being polluted cz the chemical…etc,etc. Inside me I dont quite agree but I choose to remain silent cz what is the point to argue. I must go Japan again…..
Haha actually Hokkaido is a South East Asian’s favorite! Was it winter? I hope you get to go back soon!!!
Personally, I take on a pretty neutral stance. If one wants to go, it’s his/her life. If one doesn’t want to go, it’s also his/her life. Just be responsible for our own lives.
But regarding the “infertile for the next 10 years” story, eh how can people be infertile for “next 10 years” just cause of radiation or what?!
That’s what i think too, if someone is overly stressed out and worried then it’s really better he or she doesn’t go. Stress is gonna have much worse effect on health!
Totally agree with you. I been staying in Japan for 6 months and I am glad that I am making a right choice. I also visited Fukushima and I feel perfectly fine. Different between living Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo: I feel healthy and safer living in Tokyo. I never feel better and happier living in Japan and people should see by their own eyes and judge by themselves. Perhaps you don’t remember, I am also one of the reader email you the same concern before.I never regret living in japan.
Thank you soooo much T_____T. You have no idea what this means to me!
And yes, of course i remember you. I am so glad you made the brave move and i am so so happy that you feel better than happier living there. I wish i could do the same!
Thank you so much for sharing Cheesie! I’m going to Japan again in April (my 6th time! But my first time during Sakura season! XD) sadly I won’t be able to visit Fukushima region this time. Your blog posts have inspired me so so much! I’ve made in my goal too to visit all the prefectures of Japan one day! Hope to visit Sendai soon!
Thank you so much! Sendai is a great place! Don’t forget the Gyutan (if you dare!)
Cheesie I can’t say thank enough for you to understand and introduce the safety of my country. There are so many incomprehensible, strange rumore in the world. I know it came from fear. But it’s not fair to judge this beautiful and safest island without seeing their own eyes. I really really really x 200% maybe more, enjoyed traveling with you and found new culture even didn’t know :). Looking forward your next post too. HUGS 🙂 yumi
No yumi, thank YOU for giving me this opportunity. I am so so glad that i made this trip and saw and experienced it for myself. I too enjoyed the trip with you so much and i hope we can do it again!!!!
Thanks for sharing. Those who think that Japan radiation is high, they should refer to this radiation chart. https://www.jnto.go.jp/eq/eng/04_recovery.htm.
Seoul and Singapore radiation are higher than Japan.
Thanks for the link!
Such a wonderful perspective on the reality of radiation levels stigma in Japan. I too had a friend who’s warned me to cancel my three weeks Japan trip as “a friend’s friend felt really hot when she was in Japan. When she got back home, she found out she miscarriaged”. Had to politely thank her for her concern, condolences to this mystery friend and I will take my chances as I’m sure th radiation I receive actually on the plane will be higher than when I land in Japan. As you said, doesn’t matter what you say, they’ve already decided on what they believe. Best way I’ve found is say thank you for sharing, and move on. Very surprising about Malaysia though!
Thanks again Cheesie for your insight. I’m going to Japan again in March and I can’t wait! Hopefully strawberries are ready!
It’s true, this “mysterious friend” exists almost everywhere and is somehow the friend of friend of almost everyone i know. Nobody knows who this mysterious person is though. It would be the biggest mystery of the decade.
Strawberries are ready now all the way till spring!! You won’t be disappointed!!!!!
But still, the childbirth rate is shrinking in Japan.
Yeap and that’s pretty much the trend for the whole world. And your point is?
Always got some weird auntie’s friend’s friend saying something happen due to the radiation. 2 years ago I went to japan and before that chinese new year my cousins were all like don’t go radiation etc. Then one said that her brother’s friend went to japan, came back, kept vomiting and hospitalized because of radiation. I was like no way that was possible and asked her brother then he said it was because of a virus. Crazy how words get twisted.
I think I read some scientific papers before that showed mild radiation on mice increasing their survival when in uni. Maybe people nowadays too paranoid about radiation lor. It’s practically all around us.
Hi Cheesie, thank you for writing this post. My fiance and I are visiting Japan again and we intend to go to Sendai because of the LINE Shop and he himself said he is not worried about radiation because it is not like we are staying there long term. Anyway, if there is no science behind it, how can those “mysterious” people claim that radiation causes infertility? I personally feel sad that Japanese themselves moved away to West Japan just to avoid it. Maybe they should have more faith in their beliefs rather than baseless facts that are being spread around.
Cheesie you should soo join this: http://visittohoku.com/tohoku365_pr/
I know of a company, http://www.dosimeterbadge.com that helped supply Japan with personal dosimetry during that time. Such a sad time…