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IIST e-Magazine

The Tohoku Recovery Five Years On Challenges to date and prospects ahead Kazuhiro Morimoto Director-General Tohoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) [Date of Issue: 28/April/2016 No.0254-1007]

Date of Issue: 28/April/2016

The Tohoku Recovery Five Years On
Challenges to date and prospects ahead

Kazuhiro Morimoto
Director-General
Tohoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)

Five years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake, steady progress has been made toward developing infrastructure and rebuilding commerce and townscapes in the affected areas. METI Tohoku will continue to work with the relevant institutions toward the region's further recovery, focusing particularly on the 'soft' aspects of assistance.


Introduction

Five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake wreaked massive damage to the Tohoku region in particular. I would like to take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude for the efforts and support which people at home and abroad have extended to Tohoku's affected areas.

Five years on, infrastructure development has progressed steadily in the affected areas. According to a survey by the Reconstruction Agency, over 90 percent of the affected national highway, rail and port infrastructure under the government's direct control had been completely restored as at the end of January 2016, at which point 99 percent of disaster debris had also been cleared from Iwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture and Fukushima Prefecture.

With these foundations in place, work is now underway in the various areas on specific commerce and townscape reconstruction projects. Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture was the first municipal authority to have its Municipal Reconstruction Plan* approved by the Prime Minister, and in December 2015 tenanted commercial facilities were opened in front of Onagawa Station, marking the first step toward recovering the town's vitality. Six other towns and cities have also received approval for their Municipal Reconstruction Plans and will now be moving their town-building into high gear.

December 2015: Tenanted commercial facilities open in front of Onagawa Station

December 2015: Tenanted commercial facilities open in front of Onagawa Station

Once a Municipal Reconstruction Plan has been approved, assistance can be provided for initiatives bringing together not just those who were engaged in business before the disaster, but also people looking to set up new businesses.

However, the fact is that there are some areas where the recovery is progressing more slowly than expected. Eleven of the 12 towns, cities and villages of Fukushima Prefecture which were affected by the nuclear accident were ordered to evacuate back in 2011, but evacuation orders have been lifted for all areas only in Tamura City (April 2014) and Naraha Town (September 2015). Across Fukushima Prefecture as a whole, 99,000 people are still unable to return to their homes as at the end of February 2016, and agricultural produce and tourist areas continue to struggle badly with reputational damage, with carefully tailored assistance remaining essential.

Challenges in the affected areas and recovery initiatives

Looking at the economic state of the Tohoku region, the Indices of Industrial Production and department store and supermarket sales, both of which slumped heavily following the disaster, have both recovered virtually to pre-quake levels, but figures remain poor for affected areas along the coast and for the Fukushima evacuation zone.

Given this situation, realizing a speedy recovery from the disaster will require not only rebuilding 'hard' infrastructure but also providing 'soft' assistance such as developing new products and opening up new sales routes to restore and bolster industrial dynamism.

Reconstruction of the marine processing industry, a key industry along the tsunami-hit Pacific coast, is particularly vital. Many companies have rebuilt their facilities and equipment, but have struggled to reopen sales channels that were lost after the disaster, and sales remain down on pre-quake levels ( Status of sales recovery in businesses receiving Group Subsidies (4 Tohoku prefectures)). METI Tohoku encouraged chambers of commerce and industry, support organizations and government institutions to come together to set up the Council for Promoting the Revitalization of the Sanriku Marine Processing Industry. The Council's task will be to undertake initiatives contributing to the development of the marine processing industry and related industries, and to regional revitalization in the Sanriku region-promoting overseas expansion through wide-area collaborations in the marine processing industry, etc.-with the aim of establishing the Sanriku region, one of the world's three great fishing grounds, as a top international brand and production area in the marine processing industry.

Tohoku's marine produce—fresh and delicious (Photo credit: Suenaga Kaisan Co., Ltd.)

Tohoku's marine produce—fresh and delicious
(Photo credit: Suenaga Kaisan Co., Ltd.)

At the same time, expanding the non-resident population from other regions will be essential in creating and boosting town vitality. Since the disaster, the affected areas have watched their population levels decline, while the number of tourists visiting from Japan and abroad too has slumped. According to a Japan Tourism Agency survey, as at 2013, the number of overnight visitors had failed to recover to pre-disaster levels in any of the three affected prefectures, and in Fukushima Prefecture in particular, the figure was down to 70 percent ( No. of overnight visitors to the three affected prefectures).

METI Tohoku is therefore looking to pursue disaster recovery tourism initiatives. Our aim is to reach beyond prefectural boundaries to set the whole region up for disaster prevention tourism, and then, for example, invite to the affected areas municipal authorities and schools from regions where large-scale disasters are expected to occur (a Nankai Trough megathrust earthquake, for example), to pass on lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake, repair reputational damage, and increase Tohoku's non-resident population.

In addition, turning to Fukushima Prefecture industry, the Public-Private Fukushima Soso Reconstruction Joint Team and the All-Fukushima Liaison Council for Management Support for SMEs and Small-scale Businesses were established last year to strengthen SME support arrangements. METI Tohoku will continue to work with the relevant institutions to provide that business support, while also engaging in the Fukushima International Research Industrial City (Innovation Coast) Framework and the Fukushima New Energy Society Framework in order to develop advanced industrial technology clusters, seeking to bring about Fukushima's recovery and reconstruction as soon as possible.

Please visit Tohoku!

The Tohoku region comprises the six prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima, each of which is blessed with its own abundance of wonderful tourist resources. Tohoku's many unique attractions include the beauty of the landscape across four distinct seasons, a food culture that exploits the region's rich natural blessings, huge, dynamic festivals, and hot springs that heal the mind and body while also providing a taste of Japan's inimitable spirit of hospitality.

Tohoku's sake has recently been experiencing something of a boom both at home and abroad. Since the end of 2015, METI Tohoku has provided support for the Tohoku Sake Brewery Road Project. According to a National Tax Agency survey, Tohoku has an incredible 250 sake breweries. Local sake was also very well-received at the Milan Expo in 2015.

Apart from sake, the region also boasts various agricultural, forestry and fisheries products, traditional crafts, historical and cultural heritage, festivals and other tourist resources. Utilizing these rich and unique local resources, a string of new industries and initiatives are emerging in the affected areas as they continue to make their way toward recovery. We invite you to visit Tohoku and soak in the region's enormous appeal while also observing firsthand the steady progress which Tohoku is making toward recovery. Please continue to support Tohoku!

(original article : Japanese)



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