Japanese Consulate in NY Introduces Blue Sky Project to Support Fukushima

Fukushima is a name that conjures visions of disaster. The March 11 triple catastrophes of earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis continue to provide troubled and disturbing stories.

Blue Sky Project, an organization formed by young entrepreneurs from the embattled prefecture, aims to celebrate the cultural achievements of a part of Japan that is underappreciated as most people didn’t know about Fukushima until March 11. While Fukushima is now recognized worldwide as the home of the distressed nuclear power plant, Blue Sky Project wants New Yorkers to know that the prefecture boasts a beautiful blue sky – hence the name – great natural beauty, an abundance of agricultural products, and well-made cultural goods.

On December 1, Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki, the Consul General of Japan in New York, hosted a reception for Blue Sky Project in support of the organization. As Ambassador Hiroki addressed members of New York’s Japanese community, he said, “It is my hope that today’s event, along with many others like it, will . . . renew the economy and cultural prosperity of Fukushima Prefecture and all of Japan.”

Blue Sky Project chairman Katsuharu Seno, a member of the Chamber of Commerce of Fukushima Prefecture, also spoke at the reception, extolling the virtues of his now beleaguered region. Each prefecture of Japan is diverse in its nature, traditional crafts, and culinary specialties, and Seno points out that Fukushima is no exception.

Blue Sky Project's Shinji Oguma is interviewed by journalist Keiko Tsuyama

To show off Fukushima’s cuisine, Blue Sky Project presented reception attendees with delicious local dishes and excellent sake. One of Fukushima’s main agricultural crops is rice, which produces crystal-clear sake when combined with the prefecture’s pure water. Such agricultural products, however, are no longer exported from Fukushima due to radiation fears. In a statement from Fukushima governor Yuhei Sato that was read at the reception, Governor Sato said, “We are suffering from groundless rumors following the nuclear accident which affected all of the industries of the prefecture, mainly causing damage to the food industry.”

One of the strongest messages from members of Blue Sky Project was that the food and goods are safe. Governor Sato stressed that “the safety of Fukushima’s food is our first priority” and that the prefecture would “continue to dispatch information on the safety of the prefecture’s products.”

Although the Japanese government says it stresses the issues of safety, the negative images of Fukushima have taken their toll.

“We still have the same blue sky as before the earthquake,” says Seno, “but we aren’t able to appreciate the blue sky with the same sigh of relief.”

Despite this stress, Blue Sky Project is hopeful of breaking through the US market with not only food from Fukushima but goods, as well. The organization emphasizes rebuilding trust with governments outside of Japan

“When we first started this project, we were told that this was impossible to do,” says Shinji Oguma, a member of the council of the Japanese Diet who serves on Blue Sky Project’s executive committee. “There are a lot of negative things happening in Fukushima, but we’re working hard to rebuild our home.”

Fukushima, traditional crafts, lacquer ware
Bitowa lacquer ware from Fukushima

One of Blue Sky Project’s steps to rebuilding is to encourage trade, so the organization displayed traditional goods from the region such as Kokeshi dolls, papier-mâché folk toys, and exquisite lacquer ware at the reception. Blue Sky Project wants such goods to be sold here in New York, so members are targeting museums and galleries.

Blue Sky Project feels a connection with New York because the city experienced the horrors of 9/11, so it was the obvious choice for the organization to begin its campaign. Diet member Oguma draws parallels between what happened to New York on September 11, 2001, and what happened to Japan on March 11, 2011. Drawing inspiration from New Yorkers’ courage, Blue Sky Project wants to make New Yorkers aware of Fukushima’s recovery process as the prefecture continues to fight financial hardship and a damaged reputation caused by the ongoing nuclear crisis. Plus, Oguma says New York, as the center of world media and economy, provides the opportunities to create avenues of trade.

In addition to the introductory reception at the Consulate, Blue Sky Project held a candlelight vigil in Union Square on December 2. At the service each participant received a traditional painted candle from Fukushima’s Aizu region to light.  The candles, which are not usually burned, contained messages from Japanese children who evacuated the area near the hobbled Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant. Supporters joined Blue Sky Project members in saying a prayer for Fukushima, and they sang popular songs from the prefecture, including “I Love You and Need You Fukushima,” composed by Fukushima musicians after the disaster.

According to Yumi Tanaka co-founder of the New York Peace Film Festival and a volunteer who helped organize Blue Sky Project’s activities in New York, approximately 150 to 200 people attended the vigil in support of Fukushima. “There was a bond within the Japanese community,” Tanaka says.

Candlelight vigil in Union Square

To follow the ongoing activities of Blue Sky Project, “like” the organization’s Facebook fan page.