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'7 samurai' plan hotel near Fukushima evacuation zone

Shinichiro Tamahashi, second from left, and his six business partners talk on the site where their hotel will be built in Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture, on January 9.

Publication Date : 21-01-2014

 

Seven owners of Fukushima Prefecture inns that were forced to close due to the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will jointly build a new hotel near the border with the evacuation zone.

They plan to build the hotel in Hirono, the only town in the prefecture’s Futaba district that is outside the evacuation zone.

The hotel will be near a border with Naraha, a town that is mostly within the evacuation zone. As vehicles for decommissioning of nuclear reactors and decontamination work pass through the area, the seven call it “the front line of reconstruction.”

Planned to open in September, the hotel will provide accommodations for the reconstruction workers and disaster victims making brief visits to their homes within the evacuation zone.

“There is significant meaning in opening it here,” said Shinichiro Tamahashi, who will be the hotel’s general manager.

The seven held a Shinto ritual on January 9 to begin construction of the hotel at a 3,000-square-metre plot in Hirono’s Shimokitaba district. The site is about 22 kilometres south of the crippled nuclear power plant.

Before the disaster, Tamahashi ran a Japanese-style inn with hot spring baths in a mountainous area of Okuma, a town in the prefecture that was later designated as a zone to which residents may not be able to return.

His inn used to be popular among tourists because the hot spring resort has a history of about 400 years and offered dishes using local vegetables.

In March 2011, shortly before the wild vegetable harvest began in the mountains behind his inn, the area was hit by the nuclear crisis.

After the crisis, Tamahashi had to move a few times in the prefecture and finally settled in a rented house in Koriyama prepared by authorities.

His 31-year-old eldest son, who Tamahashi had hoped would succeed his business, got a job in Osaka and left the prefecture.

In early spring 2012, when Tamahashi was about to give up his line of work, the Tomioka Chiku Ryokangyo Kumiai business association of inn and hotel operators in five municipalities in the prefecture—Hirono, Kawauchi, Naraha, Okuma and Tomioka—asked him to open a hotel.

All of about 400 million yen (US$3.84 million) of the construction costs can be financed by subsidies from the Organization for Small and Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, which assists companies damaged by the disaster.

But nearly 100 million yen for the interior and other necessary items needed to be prepared by Tamahashi, and he feels worried about the differences in running a hotel compared to a Japanese-style inn.

But Tamahashi decided to make a fresh start, saying: “There is no point in only lamenting. Considering my age, this is the last opportunity.”

Of the other six innkeepers who joined the project, two are from Tomioka, where all residents have evacuated, and four are from Hirono. The seven are jointly contributing funds for the new hotel. Including Tamahashi, four are owners of closed inns.

Business association executive Minoru Yoshida, 57, from Hirono, concluded negotiations and will participate in the hotel project independently.

Yoshida proudly calls the team the “seven samurai”.

The name of the hotel will be Leaves to symbolise the group’s desire to reconstruct the Futaba district. “Futaba” means seed leaves in English.

The “seven samurai” said the hotel will have 99 single rooms, a shared bathhouse and 12 rooms with private baths.

“How far will we be able to contribute to reconstruction in our hometowns?” Tamahashi said. “I’ll do my best to achieve anything possible.”

 

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