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Whitney High’s Iseri goes on a trip of a lifetime, learns a lot about Fukushima

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

To say that Ashley Iseri has had a jam packed summer would be a huge understatement. In between all of the tournaments and games she has played in for her California A’s travel softball team, the soon to be Whitney High senior recently went on a trip to Japan.

But this just wasn’t any ordinary summer vacation to the Land of the Rising Sun. Iseri was one of five students who went to Fukushima to see how the residents of that city and the region are coping five years after a 6.6 magnitude earthquake, plus a tsunami ravaged the area. Iseri found out about the trip from her cousin, Sydney Suzuki, who went on the same trip last summer. After telling her about the trip towards the end of last summer, Iseri was sold and wanted to go this summer.

Iseri had to apply through the Japan government and fill out a lot of paperwork. She signed up with the Nanka Fukushima Kenjinkai, a group located out of Torrance which deals with people who have ancestry from Fukushima. She had to write a little about why she wanted to go and what she would take away from this experience, but more importantly, she had to tell the group that she has relatives in Japan.

Iseri was one of five accepted to participate in the Homestay program with the other four being from Hawai’i and from the Honolulu Fukushima Kenjinkai. Iseri only had to pay for the flight and a few meals while in Japan.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience because if I were to go to Japan on my own, it would cost a lot of money,” Iseri said. “I figured this would be a good opportunity to get to see Japan and get to meet some of my relatives.”

Iseri turned in her paperwork in late May and was notified very soon after that. She left on June 28 to go to Hawai’i for a few days before proceeding to Japan and came back home on July 9 (she left Japan on July 8). Upon arrival, Iseri spent the first night in Ueno, Japan, then toured a couple of cities before spending the rest of the trip in Fukushima. While in Japan, the small group had a very tight schedule but still went to several places in Fukushima, some of them the more touristy parts, but other places to learn how the locals recovered after the earthquake and the disaster from the Fukushima power plant.

“We visited a city called Izu, and there’s a company where ladies, after the disaster, started a company where they made stuffed animal bears which I actually bought one,” Iseri said. “It was kind of expensive, but it was worth it. They basically explained how they recovered after the earthquake and what impact it had on them.

“Pretty much almost every single place that we went to, the owner or someone who worked there, would give us a presentation on how the earthquake and the nuclear power plant explosion affected them and how they recovered from that,” she continued.

Iseri, who was making her first visit to Japan, said she met about 10 family members in Fukushima and marked the first time she ever met any of them while staying at great, great uncle’s house.

“I think it got me more towards my heart when I saw it in real life,” Iseri said of seeing the area. “And I think it was really great to actually meet my family. I’m glad they were okay. They weren’t really affected by it as much as other people we met. But I’m just glad to meet my family and I’m glad to know a little bit more about where I came from.

“Driving towards the coastline, we saw on the side of the road a lot of trash bags that have the soil that has been contaminated with radiation. I remembered hearing the tour guide say they’re still trying to buy the land from the owner so that they can put the soil near a plot of land near the nuclear power plants,” Iseri later added.

Unlike other trips similar to the one Iseri just went on, especially high school or junior high trips where the students have to do some type of assignment based on the experiences they just had, which could include a paper being written, Iseri doesn’t have to do any type of report on her trip. The only thing she has to do is simply get the word out about Fukushima and where they are five years removed from the disaster.

“I would say don’t listen to the terrible rumors that you’ve heard, and just go to Fukushima to see it for yourself if you really want to know,” Iseri said. “I went and it was probably the best trip of my lifetime.”

She adds that the Fukushima government planned the trip excellent and she got to see a lot of Fukushima in a short amount of time. Iseri indicated that she wants to go again and upon arriving back to the United States, the group of five began planning another trip to Japan.