The Exclusion Zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has shrunk in the years since the deadly earthquake, tsunami, and then radiation leak of that disaster. it’s still there, eerie and overgrown, it has only become more accessible.
The wonderful Irish AE86-obsessives of juiceboxforyou have been uploading more videos from their second road trip through Japan, sleeping in a Toyota on the side of mountain roads and drinking in as much JDM carvana as humanly possible. The newest vid has the group going to visit the site of the 2011 tsunami, to get a sense of what kind of destruction is inherent to the string of islands on the Ring of Fire.
I’ve had similar experiences driving around the States — growing up in California, certain road trips take you up and over very visible fault lines, and trips across the country will invariably take you past where tornadoes have ripped towns apart — so I am not surprised the Juicebox guys ventured over to the coast to see what happened there. What they weren’t expecting was to be routed right past the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on their way out.
“We were absolutely wiped out of it,” as the Juicebox guys say. “Like, we did not think that Google Maps was going to bring us down through the worst nuclear accident in the last 30 years.”
Not only has the Exclusion Zone shrunk, the roads through the area have been opened up. Google is free to route you through the Exclusion Zone if it chooses.
You do get a strange feeling from the video. It is so casual how these tourists drive past abandoned cars, abandoned buildings, vines and bushes and trees subsuming everything from the ground up. A little Boss vending machine looks out on an empty parking lot, waiting for someone to come by on a lunch break that will never come. Our eyes pick up on the abandoned dealerships, still full with inventory, irradiated.
There’s plenty of normal traffic. It’s as if nothing has changed, if you keep your eyes on the road and nothing else.
Radiation readings beam out from electronic signs over the roads, jammed with cleanup operations. “It was so eerie,” as one of the Juicebox guys puts it. “Just everywhere overgrown. But at the same time, there’s trucks everywhere ... taking up all the topsoil. I don’t know what they’re doing with it. They’re moving everything around.”
Japan is funneling billions into that cleanup effort as March marked the 10-year anniversary of the ghost towns within the Exclusion Zone, as Bloomberg detailed in a recent report. It will be decades before the nuclear plant is even fully decomissioned.
Unsure of how radioactive everything was, the Juicebox guys stayed in their van, too spooked, they say, to venture out into areas completely abandoned.
As stark as the Exclusion Zone was, as much a reminder it is of the fragility of life and nature — particularly in Japan — as soon as the road spat them out, life was back to normal.
“Twenty minutes outside the exclusion zone then, it’s like it never happened,” as the Irish guys say.
Indeed, overgrown and desolate as the Exclusion Zone is, outside of it Japan is as it was. As one of the juicebox guys puts it, there’s something normal about it “and abnormal at the same time.”