“Yuna-Chan”: The New Project Helping Revive Fukushima Prefecture

  • It has been six years since the devastating tsunami hit the seacoast of Fukushima Prefecture. These past years, more and more towns in the coastal area of Fukushima are getting back on their feet and starting to rebuild their lives again. One of these areas is Minamisoma City, a town located in the northern part of Fukushima and around 20-30 kilometers away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

    The Disaster

    Once a vibrant agricultural land of rice and vegetables, the agriculture of the town suffered a huge blow after the disaster in 2011 due to the subsequent restrictions in farming. According to the research conducted by Minamisoma City, the disaster caused them to lose 30% of the agricultural land.

    Most of the residents in the Minamisoma made their living by farming and the disaster had a devastating effect on their livelihood. According to data collected in February 2017, only about 10% of the farmers chose to go back to farming. Though there are still some restricted areas in the city, some residents are trying to start over again in the area and try to revive the land that was lost.

    The Nanohana Project: “Yuna-Chan”

    For Mr. Kiyoshige Sugiuchi, a resident of Minamisoma, farming is his life. Though the disaster caused him to stop planting rice, he didn’t give up on farming. Through research, he learned about the project in Chernobyl, Ukraine and the use of rapeseed in decontaminating the farmlands. Rapeseed, or “nanohana” in Japanese, is a plant that produces canola oil. Mr. Sugiuchi started to grow rapeseed plants in his land and soon his passion compelled others to do the same. The people in the community worked together to continue planting rapeseed and soon formed an organization called Minamisoma Agricultural Council.

    Successful projects in other countries like Ukraine shows that planting rapeseed not only heals the farmlands because it absorbs the toxic materials in the soil, but the seeds of this plant can also serve as a start of a new livelihood project. The toxic element from the soil (cesium) moves to the leaves, stems, and roots of the rapeseed plant, but the oil from the seeds is free from that toxic element. Mr. Sugichi’s team, with the community’s help, produced “Yuna-chan”, a canola oil that is solely created from the rapeseed from their farms.

    With the help of high school students in Minamisoma, they came up with the name “Yuna-chan” from the two kanji characters 油 (oil) and 菜 (rapeseed). Unlike the imported oil in the Japanese market, Yuna-chan is 100% locally made and for many, serves as a symbol of hope for the farmers in Fukushima.

    Yuna-chan’s Expansion

    Now they don’t just produce Yuna-chan canola cooking oil, but also mayonnaise, dressing, and lip balm, all of which are available in shops and road service stations around Minamisoma. It is guaranteed 100% safe and free from the toxic radioactive cesium as it passed the strict radiation checks in the prefecture of Fukushima.

    In March 2016, LUSH Japan, a company that produces creams, soaps, shampoos and the like, has also partnered with Mr. Sugiuchi’s team to produce soap from rapeseed oil. The soap is called “tsunagaru omoi” or “drop of hope”, as it serves as one of the expansions of the Nanohana Project in Minamisoma. Mr. Sugiuchi and his team are seeking for partners and investors so the Nanohana Project will continue to expand.

    Visit Minamisoma City

    People in Minamisoma like Mr. Sugiuchi and his team believe that their hometown was never completely defeated by the disaster in 2011. We too can be a part of this exciting journey for the residents of Minamisoma. I believe that traveling with a deeper purpose can enhance your experience and worldview.

    Try visiting Fukushima Prefecture and see for yourself and support the revival of the area devastated in 2011. Visit Minami-soma and see how much the town has changed since the disaster. They have information centers where you can gather useful information about the disaster and the life after it happened.

    In July every year, a 1000-year old traditional festival called Soma Nomaoi is also held. This can be the perfect time to visit the city and witness this amazing festival that surpassed time and natural disasters. And of course, Yuna-chan products are great souvenirs for people back home. For now, they are solely available in Minamisoma. I think buying gifts and souvenirs with a story to tell is really worth it.

    How to Get to Minamisoma from Tokyo

    There are two options if you plan to visit Minamisoma from Tokyo. You can ride the Tohoku or Akita bullet train to Sendai Station, and then ride the JR Joban line to Haranomachi Station.
    The other option is to take the bullet train from Tokyo Station to Fukushima City. From there, you can get a bus to Minamisoma.

    There is a regular bullet train schedule to the Tohoku area, and the cost of travel from Tokyo will vary from 10,000 to 12,000 yen. A cheaper option is to ride a bus from Shinjuku to Fukushima City, which is between 3720 to 4900 yen. There’s also a night bus in Ikebukuro directly to Minamisoma that costs 7500 yen.

    Helping even in little ways in the Nanohana Project can help the people of Minamisoma in their continued efforts in reviving their home. Pay a visit to the city or purchase some special rapeseed products and contribute to the area’s recovery and a better future.

    Nanohana Project website *Japanese only