Volunteers and residents in the Odaka district of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, a former no-entry zone after the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, have planted colorful flowers in empty fields to encourage evacuees to return to their hometowns.
In an effort to keep the fields colorful throughout the year, volunteers and residents are planting seasonal flowers such as sunflowers in the summer and cosmos in the autumn.
The area’s no-entry restriction was lifted in April last year and it was rezoned as an area, where residents are allowed to return home during the day.
However, they were greeted by gardens overrun by weeds and houses ravaged by mice. Some residents were disheartened by the sight and came to believe they would not be able to return home.
Kenji Yamashiro, 65, who moved to the area from Shimane Prefecture as a volunteer after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, started planting flowers with four other volunteers. “If we filled the fields with flowers, the scenery would brighten up a bit,” Yamashiro said.
In June last year, the group cultivated an about 1,000-square-meter field after mowing down weeds and other plants that had grown as tall as a person.
About two months later, several hundred of the sunflowers they planted have begun to bloom. According to Yamashiro, one delighted resident tearfully said, “The flowers make me feel as if they were welcoming me.” Since then, Yamashiro has received requests from other farmers who want flowers to be planted in their fields.
Local farmer Satoko Kohata, 77, who was one of the first to lend her fields for the project, said: “If we continue leaving unkempt fields unattended, we won’t be able to grow crops. By planting flowers, the fields will survive and we’ll be able to farm again.”
After preparing about two hectares of land at 15 locations and planting dozens of kinds of flowers, such as marigolds and salvia, the group’s efforts have started to bear fruit. In May this year, field mustard were in full bloom at five locations, and salvia and rosemary are currently at their peak.
The group is also calling for help on its website, and so far, more than 500 people, including those from the United States and other countries, have participated in the project.
In the future, Yamashiro intends to make bouquets by planting lavender and giving them to residents. “I hope the lavender bouquets will be a source of income for local residents in the future,” he said.
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