” IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture–Fishermen held a traditional New Year’s ceremony here on Jan. 8 for the first time since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster killed their colleagues and ruined their livelihoods.
With their vessels flying colorful banners, the fishermen gathered at Hisanohama fishing port in the northern part of Iwaki in the morning to pray for a safe and bountiful harvest.
After traditional Shinto rituals were performed, the fishermen set off from the port to cleanse their 30 or so boats with seawater and sake. From their boats, they offered prayers to the Shinto shrines and “torii” gates located along the coast.
“Today is our New Year’s Day 2016,” said Akira Egawa, the 68-year-old head of the Hisanohama branch of the Iwaki city fishery association. “All the fishermen looked happy.”
Although the ceremony is an annual event, the fishermen had refrained from holding it until now in light of the misery that the March 2011 disaster brought to the area.
The tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, slammed into the Hisanohama district around the port, killing about 60 people.
One of the biggest hurdles they continue to face is the spread of negative publicity about food safety in the area in light of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant north of Iwaki.
Leaks of contaminated water from the nuclear plant are another reason why the fishermen are unable to resume large-scale operations.
But with 2016 being the hallmark fifth year since the disaster, the fishermen decided to resume the ceremony.
Fishermen on the Fukushima Prefecture coast are currently operating on a trial basis, targeting 71 species of marine animals deemed safe by authorities.
The fish catch in the region in 2014 was about 740 tons, a mere 3 percent of the annual haul before the 2011 disaster.
Prefectural authorities in 2015 tested 8,577 marine specimens for radioactive substances. Only four of the specimens exceeded government standards for contamination. ”
by Takuro Negishi