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In Tokyo, a restaurant toasts Fukushima every night

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In Japan, farmers and fishermen are having a tough time making a living anywhere near the site of the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima two years ago. Many consumers are afraid products from the disaster region may be contaminated with radiation.

But one restaurant in Tokyo deliberately serves food from the area of northeast Japan hit by the tsunami and the radiation cloud. The restaurant is called Fukko Shien Sakaba, which roughly translates to “reconstruction supporting drinking place.” On a recent night, I found customers are drawn by a desire to help the disaster victims – and by 96 different kinds of sake.

The manager of Fukko Shien Sakaba pops open a bottle of sake and pours until the glass overflows into a saucer. His rowdy customers cheer on the drinker.

The sake comes from the Tohoku region of Japan — the area hit by the tsunami and nuclear disaster. Manager Masahide Tateoka says the dishes on the menu are specialties of the region: “Like fresh Wakame seaweed, sashimi, soba-noodles … Fukushima is mainly known for hot-pot dishes, but also its distinctive Fukushima-ramen, and ika-ninjin, a squid and carrot dish. They’re all very popular.”

The restaurant has its own radiation detectors to make sure the food is safe.

In one room, a group of 10 people is drinking beer and sake and using chopsticks to cook seaweed in portable boiling pots.Everyone in this group volunteers in the disaster area. Some of them go every weekend. They’ve delivered food and Christmas presents to displaced people. They’ve planted cherry trees in ground scoured by the tsunami.

College student Naoki Tashiro organizes bus trips for volunteers: “What we do is look for the missing people and right now we can go into places that haven’t been searched before. And what happens is, we find things that remind you that there was a life there: big trees, beer bottles, a coffee can, tires, regular things, but with all this mud, and once out of three times we do find the people, the remains.”

Tashiro says he narrowly escaped being killed. He was scheduled to take a class on March 13th two years ago… but the building that held the classroom was destroyed on March 11th.

At the bar, a couple of men in business suits are sitting in front of empty dishes, getting tipsy on bowls of milky sake. Takashi Kuramochi says he’s mostly been drinking sake. He says sake from the area hit by the tsunami is delicious.

While we’re talking, his colleague, Toru Watajima, gets an alert on his iPhone: “Earthquake!”

The floor starts to sway like a moving subway car.  We get shaken for a good 20 seconds, and then Watajima’s cell phone tells him it was magnitude 6 in the neighboring prefecture.  

But they are already relaxed and back to drinking sake.

The guys say Japanese people are used to this sort of thing. But Kuramochi says the massive earthquake that stuck two years ago was different. He thinks the tsunami and the nuclear accident that followed were the biggest thing ever to happen to Japan, bigger than the atomic bomb. My interpreter translates for him.

“Yes, there’s 2 million people in Tohoku still suffering,” he says, “and I feel like if I want to have a drink and have a good time, why not come to a place to support the Tohoku areas of course, that’s why I come here.”

The restaurant doesn’t only serve food from the disaster area to support the farmers there. It also donates all of its profits to the region. Last year, it contributed 15 million yen. That’s $162,000 to try to help rebuild the cities devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. 

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