Occupation: Overseas Promotion Specialist at Fukushima Prefecture Tourism & Local Products Association
You're currently living in Fukushima Prefecture. Can you tell us about your work there?
My job centres on sharing English-language information about Fukushima Prefecture with the world using social media and a blog. Through my blog 'Rediscover Fukushima', I write about sightseeing spots and the history of the region, as well as stories of local people and their experiences after 3.11.
International media is heavily focused on the nuclear accident of 2011 and its aftermath, but does not shed light on all of the wonderful places and people in the prefecture. It also neglects to explain how large Fukushima Prefecture is - over 13,700 square kilometres, which is bigger than Jamaica! - and how small an area was affected by the nuclear accident 6 years ago. I am trying to show the wider picture of Fukushima today, of the places that I visit and the things that I experience - the beauty, the achievements, the challenges, everything.
What do you like about living in Fukushima?
Fukushima has the perfect balance of being a convenient place to live, whilst still being close to areas to go walking, hiking or cycling. I have lived in Tokyo and in the middle of the countryside, but I think Fukushima is a good balance of being convenient, but not overwhelmingly busy.
What are some of your favourite events and activities in Fukushima?
I love attending local festivals, where communities come together to participate. At these events, you can see how even a small town can be made up of even smaller parts, each with its own history and strong sense of identity. I really noticed this for the first time at Iizaka Onsen's Fighting Festival, which I wrote about in my blog.
Another of my favourite festivals has been the annual Ouchi-juku Snow Festival. More well-known by tourists, this festival includes performances of traditional arts, competitions (such as wood-chopping!) in front of the old, thatched-roof buildings, and a stunning fireworks display to finish off the evening. Of course, the highlight of the festival is the snow - thick and pristine, lit up by icy lanterns as the sun sets. The festival has a really magical atmosphere where you can experience Japan as it would have been hundreds of years ago.
What first interested you about Japan?
My interest was sparked at a young age through my love of the Pokémon video game series; although I'm not sure I associated it with Japan at the time! In junior high school, my interest deepened when I began listening to Japanese pop music. I especially liked Utada Hikaru's music and often searched for online translations of the lyrics of her songs.
However, what really made me decide that I wanted to study Japanese and go to Japan was finding photographs and memorabilia that my grandfather had brought back from his time working in Japan in the 1960s, which I only found out about after he had passed away.
Can you tell us something memorable about your time in Japan so far?
I recently visited Namie Town, where evacuation orders were lifted from the majority of the town at the end of March 2017. Before visitors were able to return, I went to take photographs and collect material for my blog. There are many derelict houses destroyed in the 3.11 earthquake, and abandoned after evacuation began. In front of one such house, I saw a beautiful white plum blossom blooming in a nearby tree with no one to see it. It struck me that it was a strong symbol for how nature continues, everything continues, even if no one is looking. Every day life in Fukushima continues and reconstruction efforts continue, even if you haven't read about it online yet!
Zoe writes a blog about her travels and experiences in Fukushima. You can read it here at <www.rediscoverfukushima.com>