MORIOKA – Prospects for housing remain tenuous for many refugees 2½ years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a new poll shows.
Two-thirds of the 213 refugees in temporary housing in Morioka reported there was no chance of rebuilding their homes, city officials said Monday.
Fifty-one percent of the respondents to the poll, conducted in August and September, said they have no land or funds to build new homes. In addition, 15 percent said they have either land or the funds, but not both.
The majority of the respondents were 60 or above. Most are from coastal areas devastated by tsunami. Some are from Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
Nearly 38 percent of the respondents said they hope to settle in Morioka. But 25.0 percent want to return to their former residences and 32.1 percent have no specific plan.
“As a pensioner, I have no financial resources to build a new home,” one respondent said in a written response to the poll.
“Unless I find a job, I cannot make any housing plan,” another said.
ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture–Frustrations remain high for many of the tens of thousands of displaced victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, who just want a place to call home.
Two and a half years after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami, 103,600 survivors of the disaster still live in temporary housing units in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
Haruko Omi, 88, and her friend Toshie Inoue, 70, moved to their current provisional housing unit in Ishinomaki last year from another temporary unit in the same city.
The two, who live together, found the previous unit, with its two 4.5-mat tatami rooms, too small because the special-care bed for Inoue, who is certified by the government as physically disabled, required a large amount of space.
As a result, Omi was forced to sleep on a futon spread on the floor. The problem is Omi is also certified as an elderly person in need of long-term care and support.
“With my hips and legs getting weaker, it was difficult to even get up from the futon,” Omi said.
They wanted to live in a public housing unit being built specifically for disaster survivors, but the project has moved slower than planned. They were told the apartment would not be ready until 2014 at the earliest.
Omi and Inoue reluctantly moved to the current temporary housing, which is only just slightly bigger than the previous unit. It has one six-mat room and a 4.5-mat room.
Still, the extra space means Omi now has room for a bed of her own. “Now it’s easier to get up,” she said.
In Ishinomaki, about 15,000 disaster survivors still live in temporary housing. Even if they find their unit has become too small due to circumstances that may include caring for the elderly or a newborn child, the most they can hope for is finding another unit not much larger than their current residence.
At present, about 80 households are still waiting for temporary housing units to become available.
Meanwhile, some residents who evacuated to other prefectures after the disaster are returning, and they too find themselves forced to live in provisional housing.
Keiko Fukuda, 34, evacuated to Yamagata, where her relatives live. She returned to Ishinomaki in March with her two children. “I thought I could no longer live in Ishinomaki” after witnessing the tsunami, she said.
But as things began to settle last year, the desire to return to Ishinomaki, her long-time place of residence, started to grow. She also worried about her mother, who had already returned to the neighboring town of Onagawa, in Miyagi Prefecture.
Fukuda moved back only after her eldest daughter, 13, graduated from elementary school.
Now she is living in a unit with two small rooms, meaning her children do not have a room to call their own.
“It’s a pity for a child of that age (not to have their own room),” she said.
With prospects dim for a move into a public housing unit for disaster victims any time soon, Fukuda said, “I cannot alleviate the anxiety that plagues me about my future.”
In Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, the school grounds of the municipal Daiichi Junior High School house temporary units for local disaster victims.
After his class ends, second-year student Haruto Saito, 13, with a tennis racket in hand, makes the five-minute walk downhill to temporary athletic grounds set up at the former site of a sake brewery destroyed by the tsunami.
He occasionally wishes he could return to the old school grounds where he now lives with his parents, grandparents and younger sister in provisional housing.
His mother, Hiromi, 39, said, “This is the site where the school used to hold its athletic meets. I hope we could return it to children as soon as possible.”
Their temporary unit consists of a six-mat tatami room, two 4.5-mat tatami rooms and a kitchen; not enough room to secure a sleeping space or a place to study.
The family couldn’t move out even if they wanted to. They are hoping to build a new house on the hill behind the junior high school, but it would take at least 18 months.
Worse, there is no guarantee the Saito family will be able to build a house there, with applicants outnumbering projections on the amount of available land for housing.
Hiromi is worried: “We only want to secure a place to live.”
In Rikuzentakata, about 5,000 residents live in 53 temporary housing complexes. Of those, 10 are located on the grounds of elementary and junior high schools.
According to the city board of education, the decrease in available space where children can exercise and play sports is impacting their physical abilities. The city has a total of 12 elementary and junior high schools.
According to figures released by the National Police Agency on Sept. 10, 15,883 people in 12 prefectures lost their lives in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and aftershocks, with 2,654 people still missing in six prefectures. A total of 6,146 people were injured in 20 prefectures.
TOKYO (Kyodo) — At least 81 people have died unattended in temporary housing since the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster in the three hardest-hit prefectures in northeastern Japan, a Kyodo News survey found Wednesday.
But the problem of so-called solitary deaths among survivors of the March 11 calamity two and a half years ago could be more widespread, with many having moved into houses rented by municipal offices for disaster victims over a broader area, potentially with their community links severed.
The tally, compiled as of Aug. 31 based on police data, breaks down into 21 solitary deaths in Iwate, 37 in Miyagi and 23 in Fukushima prefectures.
Of the total who died, 47 were over 65, and more than half died of heart and other diseases.
Despite efforts by municipal officials to confirm the safety of evacuees, some people refuse to accept checkup visits or give no response to other offers such as lending them mobile phones, officials said.
“There is no way to prevent solitary deaths but for residents to relate to each other,” said Toru Utsumi, 66, who promotes exchanges between community associations of various temporary housing sites in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
“Those who are able to become self-reliant early lead the way in leaving temporary housing, and some may be feeling irritated or impatient, but it’s important that everyone supports and takes care of each other,” he said.
The government will create a team to support a “temporary town” plan for four Fukushima Prefecture municipalities evacuated because of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdown crisis, sources said.
The team will involve officials from the Reconstruction Agency; the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry; the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry; the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry; and the education ministry, the sources said.
The team, which is slated to hold its first meeting this week, will exchange opinions with local people to find what they need under the temporary town plan, the sources said.
The plan is being studied by the towns of Futaba, Okuma, Namie and Tomioka, all located near the stricken Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plant.
The temporary towns are expected to have schools, shops as well as administrative functions.
Reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano has said the central government will work out concrete support measures after conducting a survey by this fall to collect local opinions about the temporary town plan.
Taxation and resident registration are among issues that must be finalized because the temporary towns will be created within other municipalities, something that would be unprecedented.
Analysts say the state also needs to provide support to municipalities that may host the temporary towns, such as the cities of Iwaki and Minamisoma, which are located in Fukushima Prefecture.
In addition, central government agencies will likely be asked to join hands in tackling issues such as buying land and securing buildings necessary for the temporary towns.
For the time being, members of the planned central government team will hold working-level discussions with Futaba, Okuma, Namie and Tomioka, and four other municipalities in Fukushima, the sources said.
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 Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Tuesday it will allow March 2011 disaster survivors to live in temporary housing for one more year after the initially set occupancy period is over.
The ministry also decided to add water-reheating functions to baths and set up storage facilities for furniture at prefabricated houses in temporary housing compounds.
Currently, the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, mostly in northeastern Japan, are allowed to live in temporary housing for up to two years in principle.
But the ministry thinks it necessary to extend the period because many of the evacuees are unlikely find and settle in new homes any time soon.
A total of 300,000 afflicted people are now living temporarily in some 50,000 prefabricated houses and 70,000 leased private houses, both provided by local municipalities, according to the ministry.
TOKYO (Nikkei)–A growing number of local governments are signing procurement contracts for temporary wooden houses to prepare for such calamities as earthquakes and typhoons.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake a year ago, the sheer number of displaced people resulted in a shortage of prefabricated homes, which are the most common type of temporary housing. So temporary wood-frame houses were built in parts of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures.
- Better than a tent.
Wood-frame homes take about a month to build, a week longer than for prefabs. But they cost around 5.8 million yen per unit, lower than the roughly 6 million yen for typical prefabs.
Last September, a trade organization to promote the supply of wood-frame homes was established. Twenty-seven prefectural governments have already reached emergency procurement contracts with the organization, or are considering doing so. Saitama Prefecture is expected to sign a deal on March 29.
By ERIC JOHNSTON
ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Pref. — Japan marked one year since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck parts of the Tohoku region last March 11. The catastrophe left nearly 20,000 people confirmed dead or missing.
The disasters, compounded by subsequent meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, created the greatest political and humanitarian crisis the nation has faced since the end of World War II in 1945.
They also sparked an unprecedented outpouring of domestic and international sympathy and volunteer efforts, while the Fukushima nuclear issue launched a worldwide backlash against nuclear power and growing interest here in renewable energies.
A year later, recovery efforts continue but the pace remains slow and uneven. Officially, the death toll stands at 15,854, with another 3,155 missing . A total of 343,935 people have been evacuated, and more than 6,000 were injured.
Throughout the country Sunday, official and unofficial memorial ceremonies took place and moments of silence were observed at 2:46 p.m., the time the quake struck. In the devastated coastal city of Ishinomaki, Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama spoke at an event attended by over 2,200 people.
“We lost more than 3,000 residents, the greatest loss of life in any of the disaster areas. Although the Self-Defense Forces, police and rescue workers continue their search efforts, it is still hard to believe so many remain missing,” he said.
At first glance, it appears parts of Ishinomaki are well along the road to recovery.
Bars, cafes, and restaurants around the main railway station are coming back to life again thanks, residents say, to an influx of people hired to remove the millions of tons of debris generated by the tsunami.
But physical reconstruction of the town, and the rebuilding of shattered lives, is expected to take years, if not decades. At least 3,280 Ishinomaki residents lost their lives and another 553 are still officially listed as missing. As of January, nearly 17,000 had not returned to the places where they lived before the quake and tsunami hit, and are now living in either prefabricated temporary housing or apartments.
“Some people are doing OK, especially those in the real estate business or in some service industries. But elderly residents, and especially those in the agricultural and fishing industries, were hit particularly hard,” says Kumi Kawamura, an Ishinomaki resident and member of a local environmental group.
In Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima, the three hardest-hit prefectures, a total of 264,391 people continue to live in alternative housing.
As Tohoku’s communities struggle to recover, one of the most daunting challenges is figuring out how to dispose of the millions of tons of tsunami-generated debris cluttering the ports of cities like Ishinomaki, Minamisanriku and Kesennuma. Long-term reconstruction plans are contingent on the debris being cleared within the next couple of years.
But as of Friday, just 6.3 percent of the total 22.5 million tons of debris had been removed, as local governments in other parts of the country refuse requests to receive it, fearing it may be tainted by radiation from the Fukushima plant or contain harmful dioxins. Following test burnings, the government has denied that.
Miyagi Prefecture Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said about 70 percent of the debris originated in his prefecture.
“When I look at all the debris, I realize that it’s not just simply garbage from houses and roads, but parts of people’s lives, and their memories,” Murai said at Sunday’s ceremony in Ishinomaki.
Ishinomaki alone has nearly 6.1 million tons, and the town has no clear plan for disposing of it. As 70 percent of the debris is estimated to be wood, the Forestry Agency plans to fund four wood-burning power plants throughout Tohoku, including one in Ichinoseki.
These plants will burn 200,000 tons of debris annually and generate electricity for 30,000 households. However, they are only a partial solution to a hugely complex issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
Beyond statistics, reconstruction problems and plans for the future, there is an ongoing effort to learn from the experience and prepare, as best as possible, for the next disaster.
The medical response to the quake and tsunami is now being reviewed by the government, medical, and NGO communities, especially efforts in Miyagi that were led by Tadashi Ishii, the prefecture’s disaster medical coordinator.
“We faced a number of health and medical issues in the immediate days after March 11, including problems like a lack of toilets and sanitation issues in the shelters, and ensuring relief teams got sufficient types and amounts of medicine to the various centers,” said Ishii.
“Other problems were more personal in nature. On the front lines, physicians and medical experts learned how to dispense with hierarchy and ‘saving face.’ In that kind of a disaster, there is no time for extended deliberations,” he said.
Fears that the crowded shelters would lead to major outbreaks of disease never materialized, and the shelters were completely closed last autumn. Attention has turned from immediate emergency medical needs to medium- and long-term physical and psychological issues.
Reports that up to 20 percent of Ishinomaki and nearby Onagawa residents who refused to move after the tsunami are suffering from insomnia or are displaying psychiatric problems have not been officially confirmed. But studies by academic experts and local media show disturbing trends.
The Miyagi Prefecture-based Kahoku Shinpo newspaper and Tohoku University last week released results of a joint survey of those living in a dozen prefectural towns and villages damaged by the quake and tsunami, which measured changes in disaster victims’ mental and physical states.
More than 70 percent of victims said they could not relax, while over 60 percent said they had problems concentrating.
In addition, the survey found that over 30 percent could not establish a plan for either rebuilding their homes or relocating somewhere else because they faced too many unknowns, thus contributing to their worries. In the town of Minamisanriku, this figure was nearly 54 percent.
Such concerns about unknowns have younger Tohoku residents particularly concerned. Satoshi Abe, 20, an engineering student in Sendai with an interest in renewable energy, is originally from Ishinomaki. But despite various initiatives announced by the central and prefectural governments in Tohoku to promote wind, solar, and biomass industries, he is not optimistic that there will be a job for him in his hometown.
“There’s something of a ‘disaster bubble’ going on right now in Ishinomaki and other towns, as money pours in for reconstruction. But it’s tough to see job opportunities for young people like me in these towns,” he said.
ISHINOMAKI, Japan (Kyodo) — Twenty percent of households in Ishinomaki and the neighboring town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, that continue to live in homes damaged in the March 2011 tsunami have members complaining of insomnia and other psychiatric problems, a survey showed Saturday.
Roughly 4,000 households, or about 15,000 people, remain in their homes in the two municipalities hit hard by the earthquake-triggered tsunami on March 11. A local support group surveyed 2,850 of the households, and found 20 percent have members complaining of insomnia, anxiety and other psychiatric disturbances.
Most problems were not severe, such as people expressing unhappiness with life. But 5 percent of the households surveyed had members showing suicidal tendencies and other grave psychiatric symptoms.
The survey also found 22 percent of the households had members who do not have friends to whom they can confide their problems, while 29 percent said members have no close friends in their neighborhoods, indicating the isolation felt by people living in their damaged homes.
(Mainichi Japan) March 4, 2012
JUST under a year since a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled the country, Japan looks to restore lost livelihoods and re-emerge a stronger force than it was before that fateful March 11 tragedy.
It is a difficult road to travel in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in the country’s modern history.
The catastrophe left an entire coastline destroyed, nearly 20,000 people dead or missing, and a nuclear crisis that triggered a global health scare. Most of the damage was caused by the surging water of the tsunami as opposed to the earthquake, which Japanese buildings are designed to withstand, as the country is located along the world’s most active seismic belt.
“In the past, when we talked about reconstruction, it meant restoring things to the original situation as much as possible,” said Yoshio Ando, counselor of the Secretariat of the Reconstruction Headquarters in Tokyo.
“However, this time, with the tsunami-inflicted damage, we need something more complex and complicated,” he told a group of Latin American and Caribbean journalists, invited on a tour of Japan to observe the nation’s recovery efforts.
The Japanese have laid down an aggressive plan for reconstruction, that is aimed at setting a benchmark for the rest of the world.
“The government of Japan felt that reconstruction was not just a domestic issue, but an international issue,” noted Toshiyuki Kato, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs.
“This will be a good indication to the international community that even if you face and experience tragic circumstances, if you make efforts and work hard, you can get back on your feet,” Kato said.
Within months after after the hoffific quake, Japan’s government approved three supplementary spending budgets totalling some 18 trillion yen ($20 trillion) for the reconstruction of disaster affected areas — the most severely hit being the Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures in the Tohuku region of northern Japan.
A fourth extra budget, of 2.5 trillion yen ($2.75 trillion), primarily aimed at boosting business, was recently approved. Funds were earmarked to help small businesses obtain loan guarantees to rebuild, and finance green vehicle promotion programmes as the country stares down energy challenges due to the meltdown of the Fukishima nuclear power plant during the tsunami.
Among the successes so far, government officials note that they have replaced evacuation centres with temporary housing for victims; great progress has been made cleaning up debris (the equivalent to a century’s worth of trash normally produced); and public services have been restored, except in areas contaminated by radiation. Additionally, with the help of state aid, business performances, such as that of the nation’s automakers, have improved. The country is expected to present a new energy policy this summer, revolving around lower dependence on nuclear power, energy conservation, and more use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind.
But there is still a mountain of challenges. The traditional patience of the Japanese people has been tested, as evacuees have been forced to endure tough living conditions. In the dilapidated coastal area of Tohuku, 23,600 hectares of prime farmland was left uncultivable by the tsunami, and the agriculture and fisheries industries, a major source of jobs, have been destroyed. What’s worse is that Japanese exports now face the scrutiny of an international community which remains wary of possible radiation exposure.
Kazuko Munakata, 61, is one of 128 persons living at Miyagino Ward in Sendai City, the capital of the hard-hit Miyagi prefacture. Miyagino is one of 18 temporary housing facilities in Sendai, and Munakata is one of the tens of thousands of residents whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami.
Munakata is thankful for the accomodation, despite the inadequate insulation which leaves the units very cold amid one of Japan’s coldest winters in a decade.
Speaking with journalists at the facility’s lobby, aptly called ‘minna no le’ or ‘everybody’s house’, Munakata and other residents expressed their appreciation for the government’s efforts, but bemoaned the slow pace of recovery.
“I blame the politics and the politicians,” she cried, arguing that “Because the central government cannot make any decisions, the prefacture and municipal are not making any decisions as well.”
While the central government provides technical assistance and financial support, local authorities are responsible for coming up with their own guidelines for reconstruction in their respective areas.
According to the Miyagi government website, the period to achieve full recovery for the region has been set at 10 years. But frustrated Miyagino Ward residents say they are in the dark about specific plans that will improve their livelihood.
“I cannot say that I am satisfied yet,” stated 74-year old Tsugio Hiroyama. “What we have been presented with is a very big framework, but what we are interested in are details.”
Munakata and Hiroyama represent just two of hundreds of thousands of evacuees — evacuation centres housed as much as 470,000 persons immediately after the disaster.
Some 88,000 were evacuated from the area around the Fukishima plant where radiation had skyrocketed to alarming levels. More than 50,000 evacuees took shelter in Iwate.
As of January 23, there are 337,819 evacuees, most of them in prefabricated state homes similar to Miyagino.
Miyagi Prefacture governor Yoshihiro Murai explained that the restoration of jobs in the area is one of the immediate priorities.
“It is very important that one of the top priorities is that those who have become unemployed after the disaster will be re-engaged in the industrial sectors that they were involved in before. Also, we would like to attract a lot of investments from outside the prefacture in order to have more businesses,” he told journalists at his office in Sendai.
Some 110,000 jobs were lost in Miyagi due to the disaster, with just under half of those gone completely,” said Murai. Most of the persons who lost jobs woked in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
“We expect complete recovery of agriculture in two years but it is much more difficult for fisheries because coastal communities were destroyed by the tsunami, so much so that the ground sunk by about one metre and in some cases the sea level is at the same height of the pier,” the governor explained.
Murai added that the local government is also developing land to be used for the construction of houses, and preparations are being made for financial support to those who can’t afford housing.
The governor commended the patience of the Miyagi people.
“By large, Japanese people are known to be patient, but I think people of the Tohuku region are particularly patient,” he said.
Japan ran its first annual trade deficit in over three decades in 2011, against the background of the March 11 disaster which slowed production, increased dependence on fossil fuel imports and fueled fear on the world market of the possibility of radiation tainted exports.
The country recorded a 2.49 trillion yen ($2.79 trillion) trade deficit in 2011, the first time it has had a negative balance of trade since 1980. It has however embarked on a number of measures that will strengthen its global competitiveness going forward.
Manufacturers are already benefitting from state incentives geared at stimulating green production. Japanese car manufacturer Toyota, eclipsed last year by General Motors as the top selling global automaker, announced recently that it expects a record year buoyed by government subsidies for fuel-efficient cars.
“Back in the 1970s (1973 and 1979) Japan suffered from two oil shocks and there was a view that the Japanese economy could collapse because of the hike in oil prices,” said Noriyuki Shikata, Japan’s deputy cabinet secretary for public relations and director of global communications.
“Then Japanese automobile companies started producing fuel efficient (vehicles) and in the 1980s we saw companies invested so much in energy efficiency that they became competitive globally.
“So there is a window of opportunity in this adversity,” he noted.
The incentives are part of a broad strategy to lower Japan’s dependence on nuclear power.
Nuclear power plants supplied 30 per cent of Japan’s electricity before the tsunami damaged the Fukishima power plant.
More than 50 per cent of total electricity supply was projected to come from nuclear energy by 2030 under Japan’s current energy policy. But these plans, which included building nine nuclear plants in 10 years, have been shelved, and the Japanese government hasn’t ruled out the possibility of the country abandoning nuclear power altogether if existing plants do not pass the upcoming safety tests.
But taking into account the costs associated with safety measures to operate nuclear power plants, Shikata said that the country will pursue cheaper and safer energy measures in a new policy mix that will be presented this summer.In addition to a shift for nuclear power, the new energy mix will revolve around energy conservation and more use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind.
“Nuclear power generation was regarded as less expensive because we don’t have to import lots of fuel from overseas, but now it is time for re-evaluation and cost assessment,” he said.
What’s more is that concerns about food safety remain on the internatioal marketplace 11 months after the disaster, with more recently a Tokyo manufacturer having to recall 400,000 cans of baby formula as a precaution after the discovery of traces of radioactive cesium.
In response to the concerns, Japan strengthened radiation monitoring measures. Among them, the country started measuring radiation levels of containers at shipping ports and food produce at state agriculture departments.
“Three days after the earthquake and tsunami, we began measuring radiation doses and radiation levels here at the port and have been monitoring the numbers ever since,” said Hiroyuki Oohama, manager of Port Administration in Yokohoma City, which has the second largest port in Japan.