Tohoku and the aftermath—Moving to the future

Tohoku and the aftermath—Moving to the future

[INTERVIEW]

Mr. Shinya Fujita
Director for Public Relations and International Affairs, Reconstruction Agency.

When natural disasters occur, municipalities are in charge of rehabilitation and reconstruction. But the earthquake five years ago was at such a tremendous extent that the government decided to establish a new department according to a special law.

Reconstruction Agency is to speak about the headquarters of reconstruction activities of the central and local governments.


—What is the current recovery and reconstruction status from the Great East Japan Earthquake?

Thanks to the combined efforts of the central government, local governments, the affected people themselves, volunteers, and the international community, reconstruction has been proceeding quite steadily. The number of people who had to leave their homes has decreased from 470,000 at its peak, to 170,000. The infrastructure and housing are almost entirely restored. The rebuilding of houses will be completed within three years.

Releasing sakura-colored balloons bearing handwritten messages is part of each planting ceremony.
Releasing sakura-colored balloons bearing handwritten messages is part of each planting ceremony.

—What is the current situation in Fukushima?

In Fukushima Prefecture, reconstruction is well under way, except for the eastern coastal areas on the Pacific side that were afflicted by the nuclear power plant incident. Reconstruction along coastal areas has regrettably only just begun and will unavoidably require much more time. However, such areas only account for 7% of the surface area of Fukushima Prefecture. The reactor is under cold shutdown and is being safely managed. No radioactive material is being released. Due to decontamination and natural decay, the air radiation dose is decreasing. In comparison to November 2011, it has decreased by 65%. The ratio of air radiation dose within Fukushima Prefecture is almost the same level as in most major cities around the world. Evacuation orders that were issued following the nuclear incident have gradually been lifted in line with the decreased dosage. Even in Naraha Town, where the evacuation order was lifted last September, the dosage is not significant.

—The reconstruction period is set for ten years according to the law. What are the challenges for the next five years that need to be addressed?

As reconstruction proceeds, new challenges have to be tackled, such as mental care, revitalization of industry, and community building. We will continue to work on these issues.

Japan is inspecting radioactive materials based on the most stringent baseline levels in the world.

We would also like to overcome the harmful rumors caused by the nuclear incident. There are still countries that restrict imports of Japanese food products. Japan is inspecting radioactive materials based on the most stringent baseline levels in the world. Only safe products that have passed these stringent examinations are allowed onto the domestic and international markets. To ensure that people in Japan and abroad enjoy food with peace of mind, we will continue to provide accurate information regarding examination results. In January, the European Union significantly eased import restrictions on food products from Japan, while India lifted the restrictions in February this year. We hope to see remaining restrictions lifted in other countries based upon scientific evidence.

The Sanriku Railway, damaged in 317 locations in the 2011 disaster, is fully operational again.
The Sanriku Railway, damaged in 317 locations in the 2011 disaster, is fully operational again.

Another focus will be put on increasing the inflow of foreigners to Tohoku. You can enjoy delicious food and sake as well as abundant tourist attractions there, such as ski resorts, hot springs, and world cultural heritage. Visit Tohoku!

—What was the response from the world after the earthquake?

More than 160 countries and regions provided assistance to Japan. We are very grateful for that. This year, Japan will chair the G7 summit meeting and other ministerial meetings, including the Finance Ministers and Central Governors’ meeting, which takes place in Miyagi. Therefore, many political leaders and journalists will visit Japan. We will take this opportunity to express, again, our gratitude towards the international community. We would also like to present the actual situation of Tohoku and the safety of Japanese food.

In 2019, we will host the Rugby World Cup, with some matches played in Kamaishi, Iwate. In 2020, we will host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Games. We want to show the international community that Japan is stronger than before the earthquake.

Japan is a major contributor of assistance for developing countries in the field of disaster prevention.
This photo, taken a month after the quake, shows the devastation of Sanriku’s Shimanokoshi Station.
This photo, taken a month after the quake, shows the devastation of Sanriku’s Shimanokoshi Station.

Lessons learned from the earthquake

Japan is a major contributor of assistance for developing countries in the field of disaster prevention and we regard it as our task to share our experiences and lessons with the international community. Last year we hosted the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Miyagi. One month after the conference, at the end of April, an earthquake occurred in Nepal. We sent rescue teams and we are also helping the country in rehabilitation and reconstruction. Last year, Japan proposed a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly to designate November 5th as World Tsunami Awareness Day, which was later adopted by consensus. Japan hopes that as a result of this resolution, interest in the threat of tsunamis will increase and progress will be made with tsunami countermeasures worldwide.


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