New businesses bloom in Fukushima disaster

Eleven years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government has lifted some of the evacuation orders for nearby towns and villages, but rebuilding the communities that once thrived there is no easy task.

Kawamura Hiroshi was one of more than 2,000 people forced out of the city of Namie after nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Its agricultural land is only seven kilometers from the nuclear power plant.

Two years later, when authorities only allowed people in during the day, Kawamura returned and tried his hand at growing vegetables. The following year he switched to flowers, saying he thought they would bring people joy.

“When people came back to town to clean their houses and visit graves, I thought it was better for them to see beautiful flowers than just desolation.”

Kawamura Hiroshi started growing flowers in Fukushima three years after the nuclear accident.

It was a lonely start. Even when authorities completely lifted the evacuation order for 20% of the city in 2017, including its farm, many former residents chose not to return. The population of Namie is still only 10% of what it was before. One factor holding people back is the lack of work there.

Kawamura thought his fledgling business pointed a way forward for Namie. He would encourage others to set up flower operations and put Namie on the map for a new, more positive reason.

“If people can move here and we build a flower industry, I think that will encourage the area,” he says. “I especially want young people to come and succeed here.”

Steady progress

It now ships over 200,000 orders a year.

And he’s no longer the only cut flower grower in town.
There are now seven cut flower farms with three more on the way, and Kawamura has trained many of the people involved.

Stock of flowers
Kawamura grows eight kinds of flowers in his greenhouses.

New faces

Watase Masanori and his wife Megumi lived in Kanagawa, near Tokyo, before traveling to the village of Kawauchi in Fukushima to help a winemaker. It was there that they heard about Kawamura and the blooming flower industry in Namie. Now they have moved there, rented land and built greenhouses. They say they will be ready to start growing eustoma from April.

“Our goal is to be successful as flower growers and to encourage more people from outside the region to come to Namie,” says Masanori.

Kawamura trains newcomers Watase Masanori and Megumi.
Watch the video: 03:40

Kawamura has built a reputation for high-quality products, and its eustomas, marigolds, and other flora fetch high prices across Japan. And while no one officially confirms who grew them, Fukushima eustomas were used in medalist bouquets at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

The other Kawamura producers hope they can emulate his success and turn a town that was so recently uninhabitable into a thriving symbol of renewal.