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An American Doctor in Fukushima

April 18, 2011

Hana-mi-yama, literally, flower-viewing-mountain, is a popular tourist destination in Fukushima City. Every spring, I have grown accustomed to seeing tour buses pour in with camera-toting visitors from around Japan, Korea, and even China. An oyaji gyagu (geezer gag) could be made by changing the kanji ideograph from hana=flower to hana=nose. On a busy day, hana-mi-yama might seem like nose-viewing-mountain. Crowded or not, good behavior prevails. Strangers readily exchange cameras so everyone in a group can be in the picture, and people do their best not to walk in front of a photograph in the making.

Peak time for cherry blossom viewing moves in a wave across Japan, and comprises an important part of weather reports this time of year. Based on reports, and my own experience in Fukushima, I had predicted to Dr. Oshima (fresh from Tokyo) that April 23-24 might be the best weekend to enjoy Hanamiyama. As for me, a little extra time indoors April 16-17 might allow more time outdoors April 23-24. Besides work, I am still learning kanji ideographs, perchance to invent, or at least comprehend, oyaji gyagu.

So Sunday morning found me at FMU, where my phone rang around 11. Nine-almost-Ten was calling, on behalf of her seven-year-old sister, wondering if work might finish up anytime soon. They wanted to visit Hanamiyama. These kids are remarkably patient language teachers. Quid pro quo. The bicycle was rolling from FMU at 11:25. Quod erat demonstrandum.

(Please click on any thumbnail below to begin a slideshow of the images)

  • Hanamiyama-Fukushima-Map
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  • Hanamiyama 0516
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I'm not related by blood or marriage, but children make their own rules for adopting adults. Nine-almost-Ten wanted me to drive her to Koriyama for an abacus competition on March 13, but it had to be cancelled after the earthquake. Today their mom will drive. So much the better on crowded, narrow streets. I can enjoy the ride, and if traffic gets dicey, make the sign of the cross as Grandma Evon used to do.

First, we went to Takayama Soba to fortify ourselves with noodles and tempura. Next, to a Hashi Drug store for small bottles of tea and juice. I still marvel that places like Hashi Drug can have easy-to-carry items on display outside the store, and they don't get ripped off. Managers will confide that some in-store goods with resale value are targeted from time to time, but it is not the norm. Hashi Drug was about 30 minutes' walk from Hanamiyama, so we asked permission to stay parked, and enjoyed a nice hike.

Was I worried about radiation? Yes, the ultraviolet kind. It was a sunny day, I'm white, and hadn't thought of using sunscreen. As for ionizing radiation, the "hottest" spot outside a 20 km radius of the crippled nuclear plant lies between the plant and Fukushima City, but Fukushima City continues to have slightly elevated levels, worthy of surveillance, but not worth worrying about. People exposed only to mass media might feel differently, and I hope to address this in a subsequent essay.

There seemed to be fewer tour buses compared with previous years. Maybe travel plans were modified after the earthquake, and various foreign governments are discouraging their citizens from visiting Fukushima. So we who live here had Hanamiyama more to ourselves this weekend. That could change by next weekend, and will surely change by next year. Nature beckons, and so do we.