HIRONO, Fukushima Prefecture--Amid the gloom and desolation that exists now near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Yumiko Nishimoto sees a future here filled with cherry blossom trees and hope.
Nishimoto, a 59-year-old resident of Hirono who leads the nonprofit Happy Road Net, plans to begin planting 1,500 cherry trees on National Route No. 6 in Fukushima Prefecture early next year, turning it into the nation's longest sakura-viewing stretch.
“If we can fill the coastal area with cherry blossoms, it may unite disaster victims who are losing hope,” she said.
Nishimoto's Happy Road Net used to clean coastal roads with local children as part of its activities.
The cherry project would run along the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, including the deserted area near the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The route runs over 150 kilometers from north to south, including the 30-km stretch where people are not allowed to enter due to high radiation levels from the plant.
The group plans to ask workers involved in decontamination efforts to plant cherry trees there on its behalf.
Nishimoto hit upon the project after watching a TV program this year on cherry blossoms in the Yonomori district in Tomioka, a prominent sakura viewing spot. The town of Tomioka has been vacant since the accident at the nearby plant in March last year following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The transport ministry’s Iwaki office, which is in charge of the management of the route, is pledging full support to the project.
Shoichi Watanabe, 41, of Tomioka and a member of the group, is hoping that the presence of sakura trees will encourage future generations to bond with the hometown of their parents and grandparents.
“The reconstruction (of Tomioka) will get under way in 40 years to 50 years from now after the work to decommission reactors at the plant is completed,” said Watanabe, who evacuated to Iwaki in the prefecture. “The trees by then will grow big enough to have good cherry blossoms.”
Happy Road Net also plans to ask evacuating children to write a message for themselves in the future, which will be placed on plates at each cherry tree.
The group is asking for subsidies from the prefectural government for the project, which is estimated at 15 million yen ($190,000) for start-up costs.
It is also considering establishing a fund to finance the upkeep by allowing project supporters to "own" a tree.
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