The reports of Fukushima’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

Fukushima is a scary word to a lot of people. I think, like a lot of things, it’s scarier when you don’t know what it’s like, and have never been there.

I grew up in Chicago, and while Chicago has changed a lot since then, the reports of all of the shootings in Chicago didn’t scare me like they did some of the people around me. Chicago’s a great city, for the most part. But if all you see of Chicago is the murders on the news, and you don’t see Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, or a lakeshore sunset, or The Art Institute of Chicago, if you don’t see Chicago, and only see the news, you’re going to react a certain way.

Fukushima is similar, I think. It’s been seven years since the earthquake that triggered the tsunami that caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor disaster. That’s a whole lot of disaster for a geographic region to bear, and nuclear disasters in particular are scary. 3/11 Made Fukushima a word with global recognition… but no understanding. People assumed that Fukushima was all the exclusion zone, which feels a lot to me like people assuming that Chicago is murder. Fukushima is more than three times as big as Chicago, and huge swaths of that are sleepy rural towns that look a lot like sleepy rural towns anywhere in Japan. You can find local grocery stores, 7-11s, and Coco Ichibanya.

And, like anywhere in rural Japan, you can find the beauty of it. Certainly, when you grow up in a place, you don’t really appreciate a place. I had to move a long way away from giant lat fields of corn and soy beans to be able to go back to that and appreciate the view. But when you’re new to rice fields, they all look beautiful. The trick to to be able to makes those judgements clearly, and to show people that Fukushima is people, and farms, and small towns, like anyplace in the world.

If you visit Fukushima, enjoy it for what it is, because there’s a lot of good going on there, and a lot of normal.