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IIST e-Magazine

The Tohoku Region Six Years after the Great East Japan Earthquake Current Status and Challenges Kazuyuki Tagawa Director-General Tohoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) [Date of Issue: 28/April/2017 No.0266-1041]

Date of Issue: 28/April/2017

The Tohoku Region Six Years after the Great East Japan Earthquake
Current Status and Challenges

Kazuyuki Tagawa
Director-General
Tohoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)

The disaster-affected areas of Tohoku have recently enjoyed a string of positive developments, including new commercial facilities opening up and evacuation orders being lifted. To ensure a full recovery, we will continue to support the marine processing industry as a key industry in the affected coastal area, as well as channeling resources into the recovery of Fukushima Prefecture.


Introduction

Six years have now passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and I would like to take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude for the generous support which people at home and abroad have extended to Tohoku over that time.

Designated by the government as the “Intensive Reconstruction Period,” the first five years following the disaster were devoted to reconstruction and recovery in the affected areas with a focus on ‘hard’ infrastructure. Having entered the sixth year in FY2016, the next five years will be the “Reconstruction and Revitalization Period,” with a range of initiatives pursued to set the affected areas back on their own feet, including the provision of ‘soft’ assistance.

Main recovery initiatives in FY2016

Concrete commercial and community recovery efforts are moving forward steadily in tsunami-affected towns and villages where infrastructure is back in place, as well as those towns and villages affected by the nuclear power plant accident for which evacuation orders have now been lifted.

In Minamisanriku Town in Miyagi Prefecture, the temporary stalls of the “Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village” closed their doors in December 2016 to make way for a permanent shopping mall that opened in March this year. The 28 new stores, which include restaurants and businesses offering lifestyle services, symbolize a new step toward the town’s recovery. In Yamada Town in Iwate Prefecture too, the new shopping complex “Ohle” opened in November 2016, and is expected to become a hub for attracting crowds.

Opening ceremony for the “Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village”

Opening ceremony for the “Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village”

Turning to Fukushima Prefecture, evacuation orders are gradually being lifted for the 12 cities, towns and villages affected by the nuclear power plant accident, and reconstruction of the living environment is picking up pace. New commercial facilities include “Hirono Terrace” in Hirono Town and “Sakura Mall Tomioka” in Tomioka Town, while transport infrastructure is also progressing one step at a time, including the systematic reopening of JR service areas.

“Sakura Mall Tomioka”

“Sakura Mall Tomioka”

Despite steady progress with the reconstruction and recovery process, we must not forget that many people have still not been able to return to their homes. According to a Reconstruction Agency survey, there were still 119,000 evacuees across Tohoku as a whole as at the middle of March 2017. Harmful rumors also remain deep-seated, particularly in relation to Fukushima Prefecture’s agricultural and marine products and tourist areas, with carefully tailored assistance remaining essential.

Challenges in the affected areas and recovery initiatives

Looking at the economic situation in the Tohoku region, where the Indices of Industrial Production plummeted following the quake, it had almost recovered to the pre-quake level by early 2012 and has since remained close to national levels, driven primarily by electronic parts and devices, along with general-purpose, production and business oriented machinery.

In the marine product processing industry—a key industry in the affected coastal area—while 91 percent of facilities are back in operation, issues such as shrinking sales channel and labor shortfalls have kept sales well down on pre-quake levels.

Results of the Questionnaire Survey of Businesses Receiving  Group Subsidies and Reconstruction Agency figures

Results of the Questionnaire Survey of Businesses Receiving Group Subsidies and Reconstruction Agency figures

Recognizing that a true recovery in the affected areas will require not just rebuilding facilities but also addressing these issues faced by disaster-affected businesses, the Tohoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI Tohoku) set up the “Council for Promoting the Revitalization of the Sanriku Marine Processing Industry” in March 2016. Comprising chambers of commerce and industry, support organizations and government institutions, the aims of the Council are to exploit the great potential of the marine processing industry in the affected coastal area, work as a region to boost brand strength, and expand overseas sales channels.

One Council initiative was to create the “Sanriku Brand Consideration Committee,” which brought together professionals and representatives from related businesses to develop a concrete vision that would enable a Sanriku-wide approach to building brand strength. The committee took as its slogan “making Sanriku a world-leading marine product brand,” developing the brand concept (value provided) of “the world’s richest ocean x a proud people = the world’s best marine foods,” as well as a symbol, story and catch copy based on these elements, establishing a direction for efforts to boost brand value.

In addition to the “Japan Brand Development Support Program,” we are also pursuing the measures designed by the relevant ministries and agencies and providing support for efforts by the marine processing industry groups to expand their operations offshore.

In April 2017, we created a video showcasing the Sanriku area, so please take a look.

<video> “SANRIKU JAPAN” (English)

Since FY2015, we have also been engaged in a “disaster recovery tourism initiative,” the goal of which is the broad dissemination of disaster mitigation and disaster prevention lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake, expansion of the non-resident population through local observation tours, etc., and alleviation of the harmful rumors which continues to haunt the region. In June 2016, we held a symposium in Osaka which was attended by an audience of around 200 from companies, schools, and administrative institutions, etc. We plan to hold another symposium in Shikoku region this year.

The recovery of Fukushima Prefecture has been designated as a top-priority issue for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Evacuation orders have been lifted for nine cities, towns and villages to date, but with people still facing long-term evacuation from “difficult-to-return” zones with high radiation levels, many outstanding issues remain.

In February 2017, a bill to partially amend the “Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima” was approved by the cabinet, legislating for development of the necessary conditions for the recovery and reconstruction of “difficult-to-return” zones as well as promotion of the “Fukushima Innovation Coast Scheme,” which aims to create industrial clusters in fields such as robotics and sustainable energy to restore industries and jobs in the Hama-dori area and lock in a wide-area, self-sustaining recovery. Work is also underway on the “Fukushima Plan for a New Energy Society,” which aims to make all of Fukushima Prefecture a hub for the creation of models for the new energy society of the future.

METI Tohoku too will continue to pursue all these measures in conjunction with the relevant institutions toward achieving the earliest possible reconstruction and recovery for Fukushima Prefecture.

In addition, METI and the Local Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters of the Cabinet Office have been producing videos depicting “Fukushima today” in easily-understood images, and these are also well worth a look.

<video> “Fukushima Today”(English)

Please visit Tohoku!

The Tohoku region is located in northeast Honshu and comprises the six prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima, where the glorious natural landscape offers visitors the experience of many different attractions across four distinct seasons.

In spring, for example, the cherry blossom viewing season runs from early April to early May, with Hirosaki Park in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture, and Hitome Senbonzakura in Ogawara Town, Miyagi Prefecture, just a few of Tohoku’s many exquisite and highly photogenic viewing spots.

Summer in Tohoku is festival season. Major festivals are held in all six Tohoku prefectures in early August, while the many fireworks displays include the Omagari National Fireworks Competition in Daisen City, Akita Prefecture, and the Akagawa Fireworks display in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture, where the launch of more than 10,000 fireworks makes a truly stunning spectacle.

Autumn is said to be the best season for eating. Tohoku is one of the biggest rice-producing areas in Japan, accounting for almost 30 percent of the national harvest. The Japanese sake made from that rice is also becoming increasingly popular both in Japan and abroad. Fukushima Prefecture has led the country for the last four years in terms of the number of gold medals it has taken out in the Annual Japan Sake Awards.

Tohoku’s winters are bitter indeed, but they also offer an abundance of skiing and other winter sports. Various types of hot springs are dotted around the region, with Tohoku said to have the greatest number of ”Hitou” (secluded hot springs) of anywhere in Japan. Winter must be the perfect season for warming body and soul at a hot spring.

Tohoku also has many tourist resources that can be enjoyed regardless of the season. Savor history and culture around the region—Iwate Prefecture’s Hiraizumi, the first spot in Tohoku to be added to the World Cultural Heritage list, for example—or dip into the almost infinite range of distinctive traditional craft products and agricultural and marine products unique to the region. Looking at industry, Tohoku boasts strong automobile-related industries as well as a number of thriving new industries such as medical equipment and robotics, and these are expected to grow still further in the years ahead.

Six years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tohoku continues to drive forward toward recovery. Whether for tourism or business, visit Tohoku to enjoy a truly remarkable experience.

(original article : Japanese)



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