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Reconstruction HQ holds first meet, japan times, 6/29/11

Staff writer

The government’s reconstruction headquarters held its first meeting Tuesday, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan calling for concrete measures to be drawn up to help the devastated northeast recover from the quake and tsunami.

Despite having expressed his intention to resign, Kan has said he plans on drafting second and third extra budgets for fiscal 2011 based on a report submitted Saturday by the 15-member Reconstruction Design Panel. Basic guidelines for rebuilding measures are to be drawn up by July.

“We are finally kicking off the reconstruction headquarter’s first meeting, which has been much anticipated by the public,” Kan said prior to the meeting, which was attended by all Cabinet ministers, including Ryu Matsumoto, the newly appointed head of the reconstruction agency.

The reconstruction headquarters, which will eventually be upgraded to a ministry, is headed by Kan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano and Matsumoto, and has a staff of roughly 100, including bureaucrats from various ministries. Matsumoto said that as a first step, new task forces will be set up in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures.

Disaster reconstruction should revitalize nation, yomiuri shimbun, 6/27/11

We hope the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region will lead to the revitalization of the whole nation.

The Reconstruction Design Council has compiled a set of proposals on rebuilding the areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Submitted to Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday, the proposals incorporate requests from municipalities–which will play a leading role in reconstruction–as much as possible and make it clear the government will support the self-reliance of local communities.

The council produced a new approach to building local communities based on the philosophy of “disaster reduction,” or minimizing damage, rather than completely containing major disasters. The idea is reasonable as a basic guideline for the reconstruction.

The government needs to flesh out the proposals and make the utmost effort to translate them into reality.

As one of the main points of its proposals, the council advocated bold use of a special-zone system, which would allow deregulation and the transfer of authority to local governments.


Special fisheries zone urged

For example, the council proposed creation of a special zone to revitalize the fishing industry. Such a zone would make it easier for companies to acquire fishing rights, which are currently allocated preferentially to local fishermen’s cooperative associations. The idea aims at finding a way for the fishing industry, which faces a serious manpower shortage, to survive by using companies’ money and expertise as a lever.

The fishermen’s cooperative associations strongly oppose the idea, but the government should tenaciously seek their understanding in cooperation with the prefectural governments.

The proposals also urge the creation of a special zone that would simplify the application process for land-use plans–which is currently different for urban areas, farmland and fishing ports–and centralize administrative authority. These steps will be necessary to swiftly build many towns over wide areas.

The government must speed up formulation of bills to create the special zones.

The council also proposed a system that would facilitate mass relocation of people in areas devastated by tsunami to upland sites. Full-scale financial assistance to local governments must be discussed because they do not have any financial reserves.


Nuclear research facilities sought

With regard to Fukushima Prefecture, which has been directly hit by the nuclear crisis, the council recommended the development of state-of-the-art research and medical facilities to study and treat the effects of radiation and the creation of a base for research on renewable energy.

It is important to turn the nuclear crisis into something positive. We hope discussions on the matter will gain momentum under the government’s initiative, so residents of the prefecture can have hope for the future.

Obtaining stable financial resources over the long term is key to realizing the ideas incorporated in the proposals.

It is understandable that the council proposed a temporary tax hike. In particular, it urged the government to discuss core taxes from multiple perspectives. It says it is necessary to comprehensively discuss corporate, income and consumption taxes.

Some within the government are cautious about raising the consumption tax. However, a consumption tax rate hike must be positively considered, as the proposals advocate, to secure financial resources through burden-sharing based on solidarity among present generations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 26, 2011)

(Jun. 27, 2011)

NYN/gakuvo (batch #8) day 2

today I was 1 of a group of 4 girls who cleaned B san’s house, where we were staying. he sorted through all the things that had been put in the first floor, telling us if they were to be discarded, kept, or moved to his new temporary house. in the past, they held all important events in this house, weddings took 3 days, with separate events for different groups of people depending on how closely the guests were related to the family. for this kind of event, each guest would need to be served on their own laquer tray and place settings–we moved boxes and boxes of these. the last time they had used these was for his daughter’s school entrance ceremony, about 30 years ago.

while we were cleaning, we came across a photo of when the family’s main house (up the hill) was built in 1943. after we were done cleaning, we went up the hill to this house, where the other B San (they are cousins) was preparing for the barbecue we had later. the main house is huge, with very large built in shrines not usually seen in private homes. I’d heard that families in this area have this kind of large main family house, located up a hill, and during the disaster, other familiy members whose own house may have been damaged return to the main house.

in this area, they have kept the word ‘buraku’ which is usually used as in ‘burakumin’ which is group of people, like an untouchable caste in japan, who have been discriminated against for a long long time, and in history related to the most unpleasant jobs. but in this area, they use the word buraku to refer to their neighborhood group–B buraku in this case. I’m not sure if all the members of this buraku are part of the B family–seems likely!

while taking a tea break from preparing the food for this evening’s BBQ, mrs B told us about what happened after the earthquake. they had gone to the evacuation center for 1 night, but there was no food there. so they came back to their house, along with 40 people who stayed with them for 10 days. the children were hungry–there was no food at the shelter. they cooked for everyone during that time, using an old-fashioned kind of stove that she had never used before, and cooking brown rice which they had on hand. everyone who could move (meaning except the elderly and bed ridden) helped. the women cooked, and the men went to fetch water by hand, which was also quite an ordeal. they filled 2 liter plastic bottles with hot water for water bottles at night, since it was so cold. it took quite an effort and time to heat the water for hot water bottles for 40 people. Mrs B was clearly the force behind this operation, all of it. her elderly mother (or mother-in-law) who is also sitting at the kotatsu, and gets around using a walker, mentions this, and Mrs B brushes it off, saying she didn’t do anything special, and that everyone helped. but in her eyes, and her voice, it’s all too easy to imagine the exhaustion of that time, and the work that followed. M chan, a japanese volunteer, jumps up to offer Mrs. B a shoulder massage; Mrs B closes her eyes.

NYN/gakuvo (batch #8) day 1

today we worked all day to help clean a ditch. we shoveled sand and rocks and mud into bags, lifted them out, and they were hauled away. they used to use this ditch to catch eels I heard. it was filled with mud by the tsunami, and when we started, half of it have a few feet of soil and grasses growing. at the end of the day, the local folks seemed really moved and touched by the fact that it was cleaned out. it was definitely a job where having many hands helped.

one obachan, H San, showed us around. she is a tiny person, a bit bowed over by age, but witth a clearly indominable spirit and relentless energy! her former house was right across the road. only the concrete foundation remained. she showed us where the new bathroom she had just put in had been, and the octopus nets that were now stored in the foundation.

her husband is a carpenter, and was working in a shop set up under a blue tarp in front of the house. his tools had been in salt water, but still were useable. he was making tools used for fishing sea urchin and awabi. they were glass-bottomed boxes, that lets you see where the sea creatures are in the water. the other tools were long poles, to the ends of which hooks would be attached.

the local ladies made lunch for us, sushi rice and soup.

in the evening, B San invited a group of us to come over (he’s staying next door) and see a movie with compiled footage about the tsunami from a number of different places.

he told us that after the earthquake, he evacuated by car, by driving up the hill, and he could see the tsunami wave coming behind him, in the rearview mirror. he said he escaped by minutes. he said the tsunami didn’t look like a wave when it was coming after him–he showed us the part of the video that showed the similar scene to what he saw–it was like a brown dusty cloud. he said that since then, he’s seen the wave chasing him in a dream just one time. that night, after he drove up the hill, to the place he evacuated, there were 12 people, and 1 blanket. of course there was no electricity, heat, or news. it snowed that night.

he told us of another evacuation shelter, where 40 people evacuated to, but which was washed away by the tsunami.

and other story of a family, whose grandma, wife, and grandchild escaped to the 2nd floor. but then the house washed away, all the while they were yelling for help from the 2nd floor window. and the husband of the family watched, helpless as they were swept away.

the next village over was completely destroyed by a fire disaster–fires the broke out after the earthquake and tsunami.

nikkei youth network/gakuvo volunteer trip (batch #8) arrival

this was my 2nd time to join a nikkei youth network/gakuvo volunteer trip, the 1st time was at the beginning of may, during the consecutive holiday period known as Golden Week. gakuvo is a student volunteer activity sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, and the NYN (also sponsored by NF) in involved in bringing international students into the mix. I have a huge amount of respect for them for making the effort to do this, as well as for the idea behind the organization itself, and specifically how these programs are run.

we meet at the Nippon Foundation in Tokyo, sign in and have an orientation. this is my 2nd time to hear the orientation, which covers NF activities in the disaster zone, what it means to be a ‘disaster volunteer’ and more specific information about the area we will be going to.

they make a point of saying that the role of the disaster volunteer is to respond to the needs of the local folks, not just do what they (the volunteer) wants or thinks is important. they also emphasize not working too hard or too fast, that the most important thing is to match the pace of and not cause extra stress on the local people. this idea is not intuitive (I think we all innately want to work the absolutely hardest that we can–I think we all must feel like the time we can give is so small that we want to do as much as humanly possible) but after a few volunteer experiences it starts to sink in, a little bit.

11pm arrival
after 9 hours on the bus, we arrive outside of kesennuma, on what I am to find out later is the karakua peninsula. it’s a little more remote from the city, so help doesn’t find it’s way here as fast or in as large amounts as areas that are more accessible.

we will stay in the 2nd floor of B San’s house. the 1st floor was destroyed by the tsunami, but the 2nd floor is still intact. B San is currently staying next door, in the upstairs of a building whose use before the tsunami I don’t know. this house, this traditional Japanese house that we are staying in, that has huge timbers, and a built in kotatsu downstairs, will be torn down. later we see the B family’s main house up on the hill, which is much grander than this house. but still. a part of me wants to ask B San about his choice to tear down this building, but there’s absolutely no way I can ask him that question. it’s too personal.

there’s no electricity, although there is running water. there are 22 of us. this is the first time that the NF has brought volunteers here, so its a kind of test run. but the local connections have been well established long before we arrived, through a group called FIWC, Friends International Work Camp. they are young volunteers, and have been working with the local folks for a few months, and have an office/sleeping space up the hill from here.


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