Nearly 5½ years after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, a fan club was launched last week with an ambitious membership goal: gain 200,000 members by 2020 and boost the region’s products in the process.
Called Team Fukushima Pride, the project’s fans aren’t devoted to a pop idol group, but instead the local specialties of Fukushima Prefecture.
Already it has the support of organizations such as Yahoo Japan Corp. and Synergy Marketing Inc., which runs the fan club for professional baseball team Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
“Many people want to support Fukushima products but don’t know how to purchase them. I would like to organize a community for them and increase fans,” reconstruction minister Hiroaki Nagasawa, whose ministry spearheads the project, said.
At the heart of the project is a website that sells local products.
Hayato Ogasawara, spokesman for Fukushima Challenge Hajimeppe, an organization tasked with running the fan club and website, said the time of begging people to buy Fukushima products is over. Instead, the focus is to make Fukushima a brand of high-quality farm and marine produce.
“Rather than stressing the safety of the products, we want to inform people simply how great producers and products” in Fukushima are, said Ogasawara.
He said since the disaster the prefecture has been working to assure the safety of its local produce.
“We don’t conduct our own (radiation) checks on the products, but if asked we would explain the efforts of the prefecture,” he said.
Although many people supported Fukushima products in 2011 in the wake of the quake and tsunami, and subsequent radiation crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Ogasawara said sales figures have declined as a result of what he describes as the spread of misinformation about food safety, and due to diminished public focus on the area.
The Fukushima Prefectural Government continues to monitor radiation levels of the prefecture’s food products, ranging from vegetables and fruit to seafood. Among the 9,445 samples of 374 food items checked between April 1 and Aug. 31, just three samples were found to contain radioactive cesium exceeding the government limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram, according to the prefecture. The items that exceeded the limit were banned from distribution.
“The market value of peaches grown in Fukushima is roughly 80 percent of the price levels before the disaster,” Ogasawara said.
“It’s easy to beat the price down if the product is made in Fukushima. Our mission is to bring the price up and eventually develop fan bases for each producer there.”
Available for purchase are fruit, vegetables, sake and traditional crafts produced in the prefecture.
While the website allows anyone to make purchases, fan club members also have access to exclusive items.
Admission is free, and members are also offered opportunities to interact with Fukushima farmers through a special Facebook group and harvesting tours.
“After the disaster, I felt what we farmers could do by ourselves (was) very limited,” said Emi Kato, 35, a rice farmer in the city of Fukushima, who is involved in the project.
“But now there is a platform, which connects farmers and consumers. I’d like to keep on promoting the charm of Fukushima products.”