“We are looked at like Chernobyl,” said Saito Nobuyuki, who was born in Fukushima and now owns Sportsland, a sporting goods store here. “It’s difficult to change.”
Akinori Iwamura is among those hoping to rehabilitate Fukushima’s name.
Immediately after the announcement in March that Fukushima would host baseball, antinuclear activists denounced the move. They argued it created a facade that Fukushima had returned to normal and glossed over the remaining hardships faced by an estimated 120,000 residents who still cannot — and may never — return to their homes.
“The Japanese government wants to show the fake side of Fukushima,” said Hajime Matsukubo, secretary general for the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Tokyo. In his office, Matsukubo showed a copy of the Fukushima Minpo newspaper, which listed radiation levels of all the towns in Fukushima like box scores in a daily sports section.
Azby Brown, who works for Safecast, an organization that helps citizens independently measure environmental data like radiation levels, said Olympic visitors staying near the stadium for a week probably would not be exposed to higher than normal radiation. But he also disagreed with the government’s messaging about Fukushima.
“Communities have been destroyed, there has been no real accountability, the environmental contamination will persist for decades and will require vigilance and conscientious monitoring the entire time,” Brown wrote in an email. “People who accept the radiation measurements and make a rational decision to return still live with a nagging concern and doubt, as if they’re living in a haunted house.”
When Japan was awarded the 2020 Olympics in September 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the I.O.C. that “the situation is under control” in Fukushima.
Four years later, Brown said, public infrastructure projects in destroyed areas have been delayed because construction companies became too focused on gaining Olympic-related work around Tokyo.
Prefectural Gov. Masao Uchibori contended that the area was showing notable progress in reconstruction. Uchibori cited the continual reopening of tourist sites in the area and the growing influence of sports on civic pride.
“At this moment, I cannot find any negative point,” to holding Olympics events in Fukushima, Uchibori said, “but I would like to work in cooperation with the organizing committee and the central government in order to make people think it was good to hold the events in Fukushima.”
Uchibori added that “rumors” of Fukushima’s condition contribute to the shadow over the prefecture.
Large swaths of Fukushima remain uninhabitable, with cleanup at the plant estimated to take up to 40 years and cost almost $200 billion.
Although sports are helping some in Fukushima heal, they have not erased all doubts about the future — and perhaps they shouldn’t be expected to.
“The government needs to inform us of actual information with scientific proof,” said Michiaki Kakudate, who was watching his son, Keigo, 11, pitch at the children’s tournament. “They say it’s no problem, but that doesn’t convince people.”
Read more at Would You Play Ball at Fukushima?