For the unemployed in areas heavily damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake, a government program to create long-term employment opportunities shines out like a beacon of hope amid a severe job market.
The program, which was first implemented earlier this month, received an additional 151 billion yen in funding from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry last November. Under the program, local governments outsource projects to businesses and nonprofit organizations, which hire employees for a period of one year or longer with the intent of training them to be regular employees. The central government subsidizes labor and other costs.
So far, about 450 people in Iwate Prefecture and about 1,000 people in Miyagi Prefecture are expected to be employed under the program this fiscal year. In Iwate, businesses and NPOs have already signed contracts with the prefectural and municipal governments for 49 projects.
Employment offers are beginning to pop up in Fukushima Prefecture as well, with about 1,500 people expected to find jobs, bringing the total to 2,950 new jobs across the three prefectures.
According to the ministry, 58,316 people received unemployment allowances in the three prefectures in February, nearly twice the number in the same month last year. The unemployment situation is especially severe in the hardest-hit coastal areas.
The projects target various jobs, such as training craftsmen to create traditional local crafts, such as Nambu-tekki ironware, and promoting the sale of local specialties.
“It’s necessary to find long-term, stable jobs for people to aid reconstruction. We wish to help as many people as possible to find jobs,” a ministry official said.
Those who have started jobs found through the program are hopeful.
At a salmon hatchery in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, Kazunori Minato, 29, and Akihiro Fukushi, 19, listened attentively to their boss and hatchery manager, Akihiko Hashiba, 55.
“Make sure you don’t cause stress to the salmon when you feed them,” Hashiba said.
Minato and Fukushi were hired on a yearlong contract as temporary workers by a local fisheries cooperative association on April 1. Their job is to catch salmon migrating upstream to lay eggs, raise the offspring and stock them. The Yamada municipal government decided to utilize the project with the aim of fostering a young workforce that will take over the fisheries cooperative.
“I want to stand on my own feet as soon as possible,” said Fukushi, who graduated from high school last year.
Minato used to be a gardener. However, when the tsunami swept his house away, it took most of his job opportunities along with it. “I have a family to take care of. I’m relieved this job gives me a chance at becoming a regular staff member if I work hard,” he said.
Kaori Komatsu, 23, has found employment as a temporary worker at the Kara-kuwa Peninsula Visitor Center in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.
She grew up in the town, and graduated from a university in Yamagata in March last year. Although she majored in art history, a majority of the jobs being offered were in the building, nursing and care giving industries.
However, Komatsu said she wants to do her best in cheering up her hometown. “Thanks to the long-term employment project, I can focus on the task of promoting the charm of Kesennuma,” she said.
(Apr. 26, 2012)
TOKYO (Nikkei)–Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture will begin rebuilding the city center in May under a government program designed to help towns damaged in last year’s quake and tsunami rebuild by setting up special companies, The Nikkei learned Tuesday.
A shopping arcade near Ishinomaki Station stands deserted due to damage from last year’s tsunami.
Ishinomaki will be the first of Tohoku’s disaster-ravaged municipalities to set up such a company under the program.
Under the Special Zone for Reconstruction law, city officials in charge of reconstruction, business owners, and disaster victims can jointly set up a reconstruction entity to carry out projects on behalf of the central and prefectural governments to provide business and employment opportunities to local companies and residents. Investments in the companies will get preferential tax treatment.
Ishinomaki will take part in the program, aiming to create a city center that is easy for elderly residents to live in, with retail shops and housing for disaster victims built around a city hospital that is slated to relocate near JR Ishinomaki Station in fiscal 2015.
By taking advantage of the scheme’s tax benefits, Ishinomaki aims to encourage use of vacant shops and foster new businesses, as it tries to speed up the rebuilding of the shopping arcade that was damaged by the tsunami in March of last year.
The city has decided to move the public hospital, which was heavily damaged by the tsunami, closer to the railway station, where damage was less severe. It plans to invite health care businesses, pharmacies, restaurants and retailers to the area in hopes of creating a town that offers vital services within walking distance for elderly residents.
(The Nikkei, April 24 evening edition)
TOKYO (Nikkei)–Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) said Monday that it will fully compensate for real state in all areas contaminated with radiation if residents are unable to return after five years.
The electric utility, known as Tepco, announced its plan at a nuclear compensation council meeting of government and Tepco officials.
The government in the process of reclassifying evacuation zones in Fukushima Prefecture into three categories based on the levels of contamination. Compensation guidelines it compiled in March say Tepco should pay the full pre-accident value for real estate in the most heavily contaminated area, which is expected to remain uninhabitable for at least five years. But it has not set a policy for the remaining two areas.
Given the five-year threshold used for the heavily contaminated zone, Tepco has decided to apply the same rule for the other areas, promising to wholly compensate those who are not able to return to their homes in five years from now.
Tepco also said its total compensation payments had reached 762.1 billion yen as of Thursday. Payments for those who have been evacuated voluntarily totaled 202.8 billion yen, with 460,000 households receiving compensation.
(The Nikkei, April 24 morning edition)
A decade from now, airborne radiation levels in some parts of Fukushima Prefecture are still expected to be dangerous at above 50 millisieverts a year, a government report says.
The report, which contains projections through March 2032, was presented by trade minister Yukio Edano Sunday to leaders of Futaba, one of the towns that host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
The report includes radiation forecasts for 2012 to 2014, and for 2017, 2022 and 2032, based on the results of monitoring in November last year. It was compiled to help municipalities draw up recovery and repopulation programs for the nuclear disaster.
The forecasts do not take into account experimental decontamination efforts.
Earlier this month, the government designated areas where annual radiation dosage exceeds 50 millisieverts as those likely to remain off-limits to evacuees in the near term.
The report said that annual radiation levels in March 2022 will probably exceed 50 millisieverts in some of the areas, including Futaba and Okuma, the other town that hosts the radiation-leaking plant.
In another meeting between the central and local governments, Reconstruction Minister Tatsuo Hirano presented a draft policy for reviving Fukushima that is based on a special reconstruction law that took force in March.
The draft said the central government will provide fiscal support to improve living conditions and revive the regional economy and communities.
The government plans to give Cabinet approval to the policy as early as May.
FUKUSHIMA — The government on April 22 released six hot spot charts to show projected annual dose rates of radioactive materials spewing from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant from the end of March this year through 2032.
The charts, based on airborne monitoring of radioactive contamination in November last year, compare annual dose rates in March this year with projections for 2013, 2014, 2017, 2022 and 2032.
Tatsuo Hirano, state minister in charge of post-March 11 reconstruction and disaster prevention, says, “They are prognostic charts based on theoretical values but decontamination factors were not taken into account.” It is the first time that the government has made public such forecasts.
The government produced the charts which focus on areas with high levels of radiation contamination extending in the northwestern direction in Fukushima Prefecture. Government officials say the charts will help local governments affected by the nuclear disaster to draw up a plan to assist evacuees in returning home.
The projections reveal that borders along the towns of Okuma and Futaba, where the Fukushima plant is located, will remain as zones with an annual radiation dose of more than 50 millisieverts, which are basically difficult for residents to return to live even after 20 years. The town of Namie and the village of Katsurao will continue to have restricted districts due to annual radiation doses of over 20 millisieverts and below 50 millisieverts.
The central government presented the charts during a meeting in Fukushima with leaders of the prefecture’s eight towns and villages around the nuclear plant.
April 23, 2012(Mainichi Japan)
MORIOKA — A bus tour combining sightseeing and visits to areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has been launched here with the aim of keeping the memory of the disasters alive in people’s minds.
Starting this month, the bus tour covers various locations in Iwate Prefecture, with local volunteers serving as tour guides to tell visitors from across the country stories of the March 11, 2011 disaster.
“Being forgotten (by people outside the disaster areas) is the hardest part. We want many people to take part in the tour casually and keep what they saw in their hearts,” said a source close to the program.
One of the locals serving as a volunteer guide is Hiroko Kitamura, 60, a member of an association of volunteer tour guides in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture.
“After the tsunami engulfed our town, a penetrating smell of something like rotten fish lingered for a while among the salty scents. It’s still unforgettable,” Kitamura told participants of the bus tour.
Tourists were guided to a hotel leaning to one side, and a local police station with a car stuck on its roof, among a number of other scars of the disaster. While the association had been in place since before the March 2011 quake disaster, the organization’s major role now is to pass down the memories of the catastrophe.
On April 14, Hanamaki Kanko Bus launched its “Fukko Oen Tour,” or a reconstruction support bus tour. Because there are not enough accommodations for tourists in the coastal areas, the tour is offered as a one-day guided program including visits to the Iron & Steel Industry Museum in Kamaishi and to the heart of the city where demolition work is under way on the disaster ruins. Out of the 6,500 yen adult ticket price for a round-trip bus tour from Hanamaki, 500 yen will be donated to disaster-stricken areas.
“I hope participants will understand the present conditions of the disaster-hit areas and will be prompted to provide constant support to the area’s recovery,” said a 62-year-old official with Hanamaki Kanko Bus.
A couple in their 60s from Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, who operate a social welfare corporation for the elderly, decided to join the disaster area tour as part of their 43rd wedding anniversary celebrations.
“We thought it would be difficult for us to do volunteer work considering our age, but we couldn’t be indifferent. We thought we should pass down what we felt here in disaster areas to our children, grandchildren and friends and learn lessons that would serve the elderly at our facility,” said the couple.
As the number of disaster area tours increase in northeast Japan, they are becoming more and more diverse, such as combining sightseeing and volunteer work at the initiative of local governments as well as local commerce and industry associations.
“Disaster victims are swaying between their desire to convey their feelings versus the urge to keep difficult experiences private. But the hardest part for them is perhaps being forgotten,” said Kitamura.
For more information about the bus tour offered by Hanamaki Kanko Bus, call the company at: 0198-26-3122.
IWAKI, Fukushima–Masses of flowers are blooming in the coastal area of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, painted there to brighten the city and console the souls of March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami victims.
Some local residents initially gave the project a cool reception, worrying that the brightness might irritate bereaved families. But its aim to cheer up residents and commemorate the victims has become more and more accepted.
About 40 people joined the activity this month, painting flowers along a route primary school children take to school.
Hiroshi Sadanaga, a 38-year-old artist from Tokyo, came up with the idea when helping with debris disposal as a volunteer in Hisanohama in the city last July. About 10 people, including local residents who wished to brighten up the barren scenery, used stencils and spray paint to make flower patterns on collapsed houses or their foundations that were slated for demolition or removal.
“I wanted them to be well decorated on their day of dismantlement,” said Sadanaga.
Some residents expressed concern that such activity might hurt the feelings of bereaved families. Participants made steady efforts to win over the owners of such houses, explaining that they were painting the flowers with prayers for the repose of the victims and the reconstruction of the city.
One member of the flower-painting group, Takashi Katsube, 40, moved to the city from Sapporo with a strong desire to do something to help the disaster area.
Teachers at the municipal Toyoma Primary School also embraced the concept. This February they asked the group to decorate the route to school.
Part of the route is in the Tairausuiso district, where 90 percent of the houses were swept away by tsunami. A seawall more than 300 meters long beside the route was overwhelmed by tsunami. Its ruined condition is part of what children see every day as they take a bus to school along a road that also passes piles of debris.
With permission from the prefectural government, which manages the seawall, about 40 people, including local residents and children, gathered on April 8 and 15 to decorate it with paintings of colorful flowers such as cherry blossoms and tulips. They also brightened up the foundations of some houses. Smiling children said the ruins had now become beautiful.
The group has so far colored debris in four districts in Iwaki. One of the members from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, has also started a similar activity in that tsunami-ravaged city.
Seeing the activity starting to spread, Katsube said he would try to expand it even further.
(Apr. 22, 2012)
FUKUSHIMA–The town government of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, which is located entirely within the no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, plans to create three “temporary Tomiokas” for evacuated residents, it has been learned.
The plan aims at preserving the town residents’ communities, which were dispersed after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at the plant. According to a draft of the plan, the three locations will be in the cities of Iwaki and Koriyama in the prefecture, and a part of Tomioka where radiation is low.
Town government officials revealed the plan on Friday at a town committee meeting to discuss reconstruction plan.
However, it is expected to be difficult to realize the project, as consultations with relevant municipalities have not progressed.
According to the plan, the Tomioka town government will first set up its headquarters in the town. It will then prepare for the future return of its residents by conducting decontamination work, readying water supply and sewage systems, and encouraging the relocation of residences in areas hit by the March 2011 tsunami to higher ground.
For residents unable to return to the town in the near future, the town government will encourage them to live in temporary “satellite Tomiokas” in Iwaki and Koriyama.
The town government will ask residents to move back to Tomioka when they are ready to return.
The town’s population as of the end of March was 14,608, including about 4,000 in Koriyama, where the town government is temporarily located, and about 5,000 in Iwaki.
In Tomioka’s planned temporary sites in Iwaki and Koriyama, the town government intends to set up public housing, hospitals, schools and nursing homes for its evacuees.
According to the plan, the town government will name one site after sakura (cherry), the town’s tree; one after tsutsuji (azalea), the town’s flower; and one after sekirei (wagtail), the town’s bird.
The original Tomioka is thus expected to be called Sakura Tomioka, while its temporary locations will be Tsutsuji Tomioka in Iwaki, and Sekirei Tomioka in Koriyama.
Meanwhile, the central government is expected to reclassify the town into three zones.
Zones where accumulated radiation exposure exceeds 50 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones where residency is prohibited for an extended period.”
Zones with annual exposure from 20 to less than 50 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones with restricted residency,” where residents will be permitted to make brief visits to their houses while being urged to remain evacuated.
Zones where radiation exposure is below 20 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones preparing to lift restrictions on residents’ return.”
Sakura Tomioka will be created by selecting areas with low radiation from the “zones preparing to lift restrictions on residents’ return,” with a decontamination target of 1 millisievert or less per year.
In the areas, the town government plans to prepare collective housing and other facilities.
However, an area where the town office was previously located is not likely to be included in Sakura Tomioka because radiation there is still relatively high.
In the two satellite towns in Koriyama and Iwaki, the town government plans to ask its residents to move from temporary housing units or privately rented houses to shared or individual houses.
The town government will consider establishing medical facilities and water supply and sewage systems independently, to avoid overburdening the Koriyama and Iwaki city governments. It also will conduct a survey to determine its residents’ intentions regarding the plan prior to compiling the town’s reconstruction plan in July.
However, the town government has yet to explain details of the plan to the two city governments, a town official said.
“We’d like to consult with the central and prefectural governments as well as the relevant local governments to flesh out the details of the plan,” the official said.
Among local governments that have relocated their offices, the town governments of Okuma and Futaba–both near the crippled power plant–also are considering creating temporary towns in other municipalities.
The town government of Okuma has announced a plan to establish a “temporary Okuma” in Iwaki or municipalities around Iwaki.
The town government of Namie also is planning to prepare communities in the cities of Iwaki and Minami-Soma.
Concerning such moves by municipalities, Iwaki Mayor Takao Watanabe said Thursday: “The city of Iwaki has also suffered serious damage due to the earthquake and tsunami. The housing shortage and strain on medical and nursing services are becoming more severe.
“The central government should create a road map for municipalities of Futaba County [in the prefecture] that indicates a timeline for the residents to return to their original municipalities.
“We don’t know how long we’ll need to support them,” Watanabe added.
A senior Koriyama city official on Friday declined to comment about the Tomioka’s plan.
(Apr. 22, 2012)
Tokyo, April 17 (Jiji Press)–Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Tuesday selected eight municipalities in the three northeastern prefectures devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami as candidates for its smart community model projects.
The municipalities will compile specific plans by September in cooperation with private-sector companies and utilities. The ministry will then finalize the selection of sites for the projects.
The eight candidate municipalities are Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, Ohira and Yamamoto in Miyagi Prefecture, and Miyako, Kamaishi and Kitakami in Iwate Prefecture.
As there is only one candidate in Fukushima, the ministry will help two more municipalities in the prefecture–Minamisoma and Iwaki–draw up smart community project plans.
Among the candidates, the city of Kamaishi is considering power generation using waste heat from factories, while the city of Kesennuma is mulling reconstructing the seafood processing industry through demand management utilizing information technologies.
Tokyo, April 20 (Jiji Press)–Nearly 40 pct of tsunami-hit farmland in six prefectures along Japan’s Pacific coastline will be restored by the start of rice planting in May, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said Friday.
Across the six eastern prefectures–Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba–a total of 21,476 hectares of farmland was inundated by the massive tsunami triggered by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11 last year.
Work to remove salt from 8,310 hectares will be completed before the rice planting season starts, the ministry said.
Among the three prefectures hit hardest in the disaster, Iwate will have 230 hectares available for farming, or some 32 pct of the total affected area, Miyagi 6,670 hectares, or 47 pct, and Fukushima 460 hectares, or 8 pct.
The percentage was particularly low for Fukushima because 2,120 hectares of its total 5,460 hectares of farmland damaged by the tsunami is located in the no-go zone or evacuation advisory areas near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled nuclear plant.