Guesthouse owner aims to build ties between S. Korea, Fukushima(韓国と福島つなぐ家に)

Ryuji Sagawa, owner of the Hanbog guesthouse in Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, explains its three rooms, each named after one of the prefecture’s three districts.(ゲストハウスの部屋を紹介する佐川竜二さん。「福島の魅力を知ってほしい」と語る)

 A local man has opened a guesthouse in Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, to help facilitate interactions between locals and tourists and, ultimately, to serve as a center for exchanges between South Korea and Fukushima.
 "I want to improve Fukushima's image in South Korea as much as possible," said the guesthouse's owner, Ryuji Sagawa, touching upon the area's negative image sparked by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
 Sagawa, 34, who studied in Seoul for many years, says he hopes to attract South Korean tourists to the guesthouse. He dubbed the new establishment "Hanbog," in which "han" means Korea and "bog" -- derived from the "fuku" in Fukushima -- means happiness or good fortune.
 "I coined the name to attract Korean people," Sagawa said. "I hope they'll be curious as to why a Fukushima facility has a Hangul-sounding name."


 In September last year, a South Korean friend on a working holiday visited Inawashiro to stay at the guesthouse, which had yet to officially open. The friend told Sagawa the view from the facility was very impressive, particularly that of Mt. Bandai, a symbol of Inawashiro.
 "I'd like South Koreans to visit our Fukushima and become familiar with its allure, little by little," Sagawa said. He plans a full-scale campaign to attract Korean tourists through his network of friends after the novel coronavirus pandemic subsides.


 Sagawa, a native of Asakawa in the prefecture, was a fan of South Korean pop music and studied at a language school and university in Seoul for five years from 2013. However, while at school and his part-time workplace, he was saddened by the negative responses of some people when he told them he was from Fukushima Prefecture. He quickly realized such attitudes were linked to the nuclear accident and fears of radiation.


 In 2014, in an attempt to alter Fukushima's image in South Korea, Sagawa established Seoul Fukushima Kenjinkai, an association comprising people from Fukushima Prefecture living in Seoul and served as the association's first president.
 He would introduce the prefecture's major tourist spots and explain its culture at various events, which made him realize that people would never learn about the real Fukushima "unless they actually come and stay."
 When he returned home, he decided to open a guesthouse in Fukushima Prefecture.


 Sagawa, who has worked as a member of the Inawashiro local government's community revitalization team since 2020, selected and renovated a vacant residence to serve as the guesthouse. He said he liked the building's excellent location, especially its spectacular view of Mt. Bandai. Since its official opening in October, the facility has become increasingly popular and is nearly full most weekends.


 The facility has three guest rooms, each for four persons and respectively named after one of the three regions of the prefecture: Aizu, for women only; Nakadori, for men only; and Hamadori, for men and women. Some non-Japanese guests have asked Sagawa what the names mean, which often leads to a lively conversation about place names.


 The counter in the guesthouse's lounge area displays beer produced in Inawashiro and various sake brands produced in the prefecture. Locals, too, are encouraged to visit the facility and enjoy some downtime.
 "When it becomes possible for many Korean tourists to visit Fukushima, I hope they'll interact with locals and learn about the prefecture's charms," Sagawa said. "I believe this is the best way to clear up any misconceptions."

( Translated by The Japan News )


 【 2022年1月11日付・福島民友新聞掲載 】