A Karaoke Bar Is Helping A Japanese Town Come Back To Life After Fukushima Disaster via NPR

By Kat Lansdorf


And finally today, the town of Namie in Fukushima, Japan, was once home to more than 20,000 people. But in 2011, one of the worst nuclear disasters the world had ever seen happened just a few miles away. Everyone was forced to leave. The whole town sat abandoned for years. Slowly, though, evacuation orders have lifted, and parts of the town have reopened. And as NPR’s Kat Lonsdorf found on her trip to Japan earlier this year, there is at least one lively spot there.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: During the day, downtown Namie sounds like this…


LONSDORF: …And this…


LONSDORF: …And this.


LONSDORF: Teams of workers tearing down houses, stringing up new power lines, rebuilding, trying to bring this former ghost town back to life. At night, though, Namie is still eerily silent, empty. In the three years the town has been reopened, only about 5% of the population returned. But there is one spot tucked away in a mostly empty strip mall. If you listen closely, you can start to hear it – the faint sound of music, laughter, maybe a hint of tambourine down a hallway and behind a big wooden door.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing, unintelligible).

LONSDORF: A tiny karaoke bar in full swing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Unintelligible).

LONSDORF: Glittery blue velvet booths line the walls topped with big floral pillows. The ceiling is painted like a bright blue sky with big, fluffy clouds. And two giant screens on either side of the room flash lyrics. People pass around microphones, singing at the top of their lungs. This was back in March, when scenes like this were relatively normal and safe.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing, unintelligible).

LONSDORF: Minza Lee runs the spot. She’s South Korean but has been living in Japan for decades. She came to Namie after the disaster as a volunteer.

MINZA LEE: (Through interpreter) When I first came here, it was so depressing. Everything was rotting and falling apart. So I decided that I had to bring the light, the brightness, the energy.

LONSDORF: She points to the decorations, the ceiling, the glitter. Lee fell in love with Namie. She wanted to help the town get back on its feet, so she moved here for good and opened up Cosmos Karaoke bar, named after of the town flower.

LEE: (Through interpreter) We needed somewhere where people can meet us, where they can feel like they’re in a community and get rid of stress.

Listen and read here.

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