Japan's hula girls reopen resort near Fukushima

A group of Japanese hula girls, celebrated in cinema for saving their once-fading coal town from oblivion, have taken on an even more daunting mission: stopping Fukushima from becoming a nuclear ghost town.
A group of Japanese hula girls, celebrated in cinema for saving their once-fading coal town from oblivion, have taken on an even more daunting mission: stopping Fukushima from becoming a nuclear ghost town. Photo: AFP

Japanese hula girls, who helped revive a former coal mining town as a Hawaii-themed spa, have returned to the resort as it reopened nearly seven months after it was damaged by the March 11 earthquake.

They danced to 21 songs, often in tears, in a "Polynesian Show" as some 700 guests cheered at the Spa Resort Hawaiians, 180 kilometres north of Tokyo, as it reopened for business on Saturday, according to local media.

The resort has attracted an annual 1.5 million visitors in recent years, including many from China and South Korea.

But it is expected to struggle for survival due to fears over radiation from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant 50 kilometres away.

The popular dancers have toured the country and performed in quake evacuation centres since the disaster.

"Above all, we are happy that we can dance at home," Yukari Kato, the leader of the 28 hula dancers, told media after the hour-long show.

"I've danced wishing to convey my thanks to the guests," said Kato, who goes by the stage name of Maluhia.

Kato was born in Iwaki, where the spa is located, and made her hula debut in 2003. She is the 13th leader of the spa's hula troupe.

Iwaki dancers have kept the spa running since it was established in 1966 to revive the fading mining town as the country shifted from local coal to foreign oil as its main energy source.

With an abundance of hot springs in the area, the Hawaii theme struck a chord and the spa soon became a top tourist draw.

The story of the spa was immortalised in the 2006 movie "Hula Girls".

The 9.0-magnitude quake damaged the resort, comprising a spa and pool theme park, restaurants and hotels, mainly with cracks to the buildings.

The resort had served as a shelter for people who evacuated from towns near the nuclear plant while the hula troupe toured Japan, performing at 125 locations including evacuation shelters.

They also performed at a cultural exchange festival in South Korea in late September.

It was the troupe's first nationwide tour in 46 years since they sparked public interest in the outlandish theme park when Hawaii was a coveted foreign destination for Japanese for whom overseas travel was still a luxury.

The park will be fully reopened in January after an indoor pool is repaired.

Its operator Joban Kosan Co. has estimated the number of guests at the park this year at one of fourth of last year's level.

"It is a bigger crisis than the mine closure," the company's president, Kazuhiko Saito, told the Asahi newspaper. "We will aim to restore our place as it used to be in three years."

AFP

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