It has been almost five years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. In the three Tohoku prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, which suffered severely from the tsunami, local governments and companies are planning "recovery tourism" tours in which visitors travel through areas that were affected by the disaster.
The tours are intended to prevent memories of the disaster from fading and raise interest about the steps to recovery the region has taken. Tourists may learn a lot from seeing the area as it rebuilds.
The Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 seriously damaged social infrastructure in Tohoku, including tourist attractions, facilities and roads.
In the coastal regions, where the scars remain deep, the number of tourists has yet to recover.
Along the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, for example, the number is still down by about 40 percent compared to before the earthquake.
Many people are believed to hesitate to visit disaster-stricken areas on vacation, but the Miyagi Prefecture tourism division is working to promote recovery tourism.
"Tourism not only increases consumption in the areas, it also aids recovery by having people visit the region and raising interest," one official said.
Since the population is decreasing in the disaster-stricken regions, reviving the tourism industry is critical for maintaining employment there.
The prefecture has allocated about ¥40 million (NZ$518,237) in its initial fiscal 2016 budget to attracting school trips and other groups of visitors.
Private companies are also active in the movement.
The Minami-Sanriku Hotel Kanyo located in Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, where the damage was particularly severe, holds a bus tour for its guests every morning to places affected by the disaster.
Hotel staff describe how the residents reacted in evacuation areas such as the local primary school.
The tour takes about an hour, and already more than 100,000 people have heard the stories. The participation fee is 500 yen, or about NZ$6.50, for adults.
Since October 2012, the Miyagi Taxi Association has let drivers authorized by member companies operate "storytelling taxis."
They drive around the affected areas and use tablet devices and documents as they explain to the riders about the damage from the tsunami and the steps that have been taken toward recovery.
Passengers are allowed to stop during the tour to walk around the area. The fee is the same as chartering a private taxi. For a small-sized taxi, the cost will be 8190 yen (NZ$106) for 1 ½ hours.
H.I.S. Co. hosts a two-day, one-night tour at a farm that is working to overcome harmful rumors regarding nuclear contamination in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture.
The tour leaves from Tokyo and costs 31,000 yen (NZ$401) for adults.
Participants learn about the measures farmers are taking to ensure the safety of their produce, and also visit Iitate in the prefecture to hear from local residents about what people have done to recover from the nuclear accident.
Tours going around regions affected by the disaster are often used for school trips and as part of natural disaster training for local governments and corporations, but they also could be an opportunity for individuals to learn more and raise awareness about preparing for natural disasters with family.
Visitors may also make discoveries or meet people that prompt them to become more supportive of recovery efforts.
However, it is important to show respect and moderation toward residents and not shout, drink alcohol or take group photographs as at other tourist attractions.