Arrived late last night in Fukushima, but still with enough time to have a quick look around and see what a city beset by nuclear disaster looks like. I’d already planned ahead and decided to bring my own bottled water and avoid eating anything that had been grown in the ground. All that accidentally went out of the window within hours after I poured myself a glass of tap water at an out of town service staton and then ate a bowl of complimentary mashed potato in a bar on the high street. Oh well.
There’s definitely something odd about the place. A great deal of people still live here (although our fixer said a lot of people have moved away since the accident at the power station a few years ago), but things are slightly unkempt compared to the rest of Japan, with weeds growing out of the pavements and a few buildings in a slight state of disrepair. It’s still a great deal more looked after than the majority of towns back home though.
There was a lack of rush hour traffic when I pulled back my curtains in the hotel this morning, but then this isn’t Tokyo or Osaka, so maybe I’m reading too much into it. Like every other urban area in Japan the whole town feels like it was built at speed during the post war boom and then everything ground to a halt in the late 80s/early 90s, and you would never believe that some of these places are so rich in history. The festival that we had come to film has been going on here for over 300 years, and is a celebration of the simple straw sandal.
We started filming in a municipal building off the central square, in a room full of families learning how to make traditional rope sandals. Johny and I had a very good instructor (who insisted on us calling him boss) and in next to no time we had made our own sandals, with much laughing among the Japanese about my ridiculously (by their standards) large feet. Once that was done we headed into the street and filmed the Tanabata, which are brightly decorated branches strapped to lampposts. People write down their wishes and attach them to the branches, so Johny and I both wished to beat each other in the forthcoming sandal race.
The race is a typically ridiculous AOTP event. Teams of ten people race another team 250m down the street carrying a 100kg giant straw sandal. A lot of people turn out to witness this, although things took a bit of a knock with the accident and the numbers aren’t quite what they used to be – after all, the exclusion zone which was set up after the fallout from the accident is only 60km from the city. All that seemed another world away though as the crowds built up towards the end of the afternoon and music started pumping from the main stage. Johny’s team turned up 20 mins before the race but mine were nowhere to be seen until a few minutes before the start. It turned out that one of them had fainted in a previous race, which didn’t strike me as a very good omen. As we carried our giant sandal to the start line a problem became apparent – my team were significantly smaller than me, so to get the sandal on my shoulder I had to crouch and bend my legs. Not conducive to running fast in a sprint race!
As soon as the starting gun went off I realised I was stuffed. Johny’s team forged ahead as we lumbered behind them, with the occasional bucket of water being thrown over us by the organisers to liven things up (quite welcome on a hot and sunny day like this). I was well and truly beaten.
With a 3 hour bus ride to Tokyo ahead of us we grabbed some street food and took celebratory end of filming block team selfies, basking in the warm glow of another fortnight’s filming completed. It must have been particularly poignant for our researcher Gavin. This is his last CBBC job before leaving for LA in a few days to start a film course. Good luck Gavin – remember me when you’re planning your first Hollywood blockbuster. According to the Japanese I’d be perfect for the role of Bigfoot.