Over the past four months, I have had the privilege of immersing myself in the unique and resilient community of Fukushima, Japan. My experiences in this region have been marked by a blend of discovery, introspection, and a profound appreciation for the strength of the locals in the face of adversity. Fukushima, known globally for the tragic 2011 nuclear disaster, has emerged as a symbol of resilience and recovery. This essay reflects on my experiences, the people I've encountered, and the lessons learned during my time in this extraordinary place.
When first came here in September of 2023, I knew nothing about Fukushima and its people, culture and current situation, but was quickly greeted by the buddies of Fukushima University, who brought me to the dorm and explained the details of campus life to me. At the dorm, I gradually became acquainted with the other exchange students, who have made life here in Fukushima a real fun time so far. In the first week of the semester, we got to know Prof. McMichael and his team in the International Office, who quickly became our guides and helpers for all things concerning life in Japan, trip opportunities and pretty much everything else, which I am truly thankful for.
The first few mentionable things that happened during my still short time here were the many festivals being held in Fukushima City or other cities in the prefecture. Of those, there was the Wine festival, the Inari-Shrine Festival and the Nihonmatsu Kenka-Matsuri, where teams of people carrying large wooden structures run into each other trying to topple the others. Overall, the atmosphere of festivals was very enjoyable, with many lights and lanterns, cute decorations and a whole lot of food stalls that sell delicious snacks which I enjoyed thoroughly. We were also asked to help in the Iizaka-Onsen Festival, carrying a heavy Mikoshi, a portable shrine that is usually transported around an Area in a festive parade, which was exhausting but also kind of fun, and were rewarded with a nice dinner and free entry into an expensive hotels onsen, a hot spring, which Iizaka Town prides itself on.
We have also conducted a trip to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the surrounding "difficult to return to" area, which has truly shed a new light on the whole disaster and its aftermath, and how it has been dealt with so far. We were even allowed to stand right in front of the destroyed reactor blocks.
The nature of Fukushima and its surroundings is also a sight to behold. The city is encircled in a range of mountains topped with snow, many small rivers and forests decorate the land while you ride on the local trains and enjoy the scenery. Especially our trip to hike up the near Mt. Ryozen really let me take in the extensive landscape of the area, letting me look all the way back to the city and beyond, even though it has been a 40-minute drive there.
About university life, as an exchange student it is very rewarding being able to just go there, enjoy campus life and take part in the various Club and Circle activities. The possibilities are quite frankly extensive, ranging from sports focused ones like Ski-Club or Football-Club, to more laid-back culture focused like tea ceremony or Pokémon-Club. I myself take part in the evening Badminton Circle, which has always been a lot of fun since it has players of all skill levels, whether you want to challenge yourself or just have fun with others. They also make for excellent Japanese speaking practice.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time here in Fukushima for all the 4 months I've been here, made many new friends, met people, discovered places and tasted delicious food. I am truly looking forward to my remaining time here and will do my best to fully enjoy it as best I can.