Japan Must Rebuild After Tsunami, Say Five Tohoku Mayors
By Yuka Suzuki | Editorials
June 8, 2012
Japan needs to look ahead and rebuild, urged a group of community leaders from areas of Tohoku devastated by the Great Japan Earthquake and tsunami a year ago.
AsianScientist (Jun. 8, 2012) – Japan needs to look ahead and rebuild, urged a group of community leaders from areas of Tohoku devastated by the Great Japan Earthquake and tsunami a year ago.
In May this year, five mayors from the affected areas in Tohoku gathered at the Giving Back to Japan 2: Community Leaders Report public forum to discuss their progress in rebuilding their communities, the challenges they face, and their plans for the future.
The public forum on May 16, 2012 was organized by The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in Japan and Tohoku Planning Forum in cooperation with 16 national chambers of commerce and the Hitotsubashi Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy (ICS).
Speaking on the panel were Hidetoshi Watanabe, Mayor of Aizu Misato-Machi, Fukushima Prefecture; Kimiaki Toda, Mayor of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture; Kiichi Numazaki, Mayor of Yamada-Machi, Iwate Prefecture; Tsuneaki Iguchi, Mayor of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture; and Yoshiaki Suda, Mayor of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture.
In general, the five mayors presented an optimistic outlook on the rebuilding of their towns, as good progress had already been made over the past year on several post-disaster community projects.
The leaders also presented their plans on relocating residents to highland areas in the event of another tsunami. However, they lamented that much of the work had yet to be completed, and more funding was required to support these projects.
Joh creation as a priority
A common theme throughout the discussion was the creation of jobs as a priority in earthquake-damaged regions. Providing jobs would allow these towns to retain their talented young people, said Ofunato Mayor Toda.
“Young people tend to leave the area and head for Tokyo,” said Toda, “and we need to create some incentive for them to stay.”
Creating jobs would also help evacuees, said Aizu Mayor Watanabe, whose town received more than 1,400 evacuees after the nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima. Presently, the town is struggling to support the remaining 670 evacuees due to the shortage of jobs.
To tackle the job shortage problem, Watanabe’s town has been actively involved in developing offices and data centers for cloud computing. This approach would encourage more companies and governments to relocate to regions far away from major cities, he said.
“Some suggest that there could be major earthquakes that will hit this region again, and therefore besides discussion on energy security, we also have to consider how we should decentralize functions that are currently concentrated in metropolitan regions by way of cloud computing and sideline offices,” Watanabe said.
Despite the widespread damage across Tohoku, Onagawa Mayor Suda regarded this as a starting point to build a completely new and innovative town. He envisions building a “compact yet highly functional city for future generations,” but at the same time preserving the culture and heritage of the town.
“We suffered a lot… we suffered damages and trauma as well, but we have to look forward and move forward,” Suda said.
Reviving fisheries and rebuilding towns
The tsunami in March last year not only caused the loss of many lives, but also the destruction of important industries which the towns subsist on.
One of these industries is the fishing industry, which was the highlight of Yamada Mayor Numazaki’s speech. Not only does Yamada subsist on the oyster and scallop agriculture, fisheries also play a central role in boosting tourism to the town.
Based on the wreckage to fishermen’s ships, refrigeration facilities, and fish markets, Mayor Numazaki estimated that 10.9 billion yen would be necessary for reconstruction costs.
Interventions suggested by the mayors include the building of dykes, land reclamation, and planting of trees around residential areas. In addition, raising the level of ground where residents live may be another feasible alternative, said Mayor Numazaki, as not all affected residents could be relocated to the highlands.
Long-term engagement with international communities
They also hoped for long-term friendly relations with international communities, and one suggestion was to encourage foreigners to visit their towns in the countryside and exchange cultural values with the locals.
At the same time, the community leaders also emphasized their need for autonomy in the rebuilding process to ensure that the needs of the local residents and communities would be fully met.
Although the help and support from organizations and individuals was greatly appreciated, Mayor Suda stressed the importance of maintaining “a win-win relationship” with other communities.
“What we don’t have is luxury of time and yet, we have to make a right choice, the best choice for the future… It is not just help and support. In fact, this is the reciprocal relationship, a win-win relationship that we want to create for the future,” he said.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: H.MASA/Flickr.
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