While it is a large prefecture in Japan, Fukushima has become synonymous in recent years with only one thing: the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. In 2011, following a massive earthquake, a huge tsunami struck the plant and disabled the cooling mechanisms for multiple reactors. Meltdowns followed, with an uncontrolled release of radioactive fission products.
Three employees of Tepco (the utility in charge of the nuclear plants) died during the earthquake and tsunami. Since then, there have been no recorded deaths, or even illnesses, due to radiation poisoning according to the World Nuclear Association. The area of even mild potential radiation exposure (beyond natural background from things like the sun or granite) is now limited to 371 square kilometers of an area almost 15K square kilometers… roughly the size of Connecticut. Despite that fact, fear of radiation has stymied visits to what used to be popular Fukushima tourist destinations such as Tsuruga Castle, Komine Castle and the Goshiki-numa crater lakes.
Faced with a dearth of tourism, the prefecture has now turned to… Pokemon.
Fukushima Prefecture inked a deal with the Pokemon Company to use one Pokemon as their official mascot. A competition was held to determine which character would land the prize, and the choice was… Chansey. A giant pink Pokemon which carries an egg in a pouch on its belly, just like… well, no living creature. It might make sense in a “1950s sf movie nuclear monster” sort of way… “Hey, what would happen if radiation altered the basic biology of a monotreme and a marsupial and somehow combined the pair!”
The real reasons, as explained in the Asahi Shimbun, are simpler. First, the character’s name in Japanese translates to “Lucky”, and Fukushima translates to “Lucky Island”, so the marketing connection is obvious. Second, the character is internationally popular, increasing the chance of it appealing to tourists.
All of that said, Tepco maintains its request, stated back in 2016, that Pokemon Go players please stay clear of the actual disaster site. A Pikachu just isn’t worth it.
Question of the night: Is there anything you collect?