More than 43,000 residents moved out of three Tohoku region prefectures severely hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake from March to November, with Fukushima Prefecture suffering the biggest exodus, it has been learned.
Wednesday marked 10 months since the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage in Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures and left nearly 16,000 people dead and almost 3,500 other missing.
The number of people leaving the three prefectures was more than four times higher than the about 10,000 who left during the same period in 2010.
Of them, more than 30,000 people moved out of Fukushima Prefecture, where the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 11 disaster forced thousands of residents around the plant to evacuate.
Officials have suggested that many residents in coastal areas that suffered tsunami damage have moved to inland areas.
The population outflow was calculated based on population estimates announced monthly by each prefecture. The figure represents the total number of residents who left the prefectures minus those who moved in.
About 4,000 people shifted out of Iwate Prefecture during the March-November period, about the same as the figure for the same period in 2010. However, the about 8,200 departures from Miyagi Prefecture was 13.5 times the number from 2010, and the 31,400 residents who moved from Fukushima Prefecture represented a 5.6-fold jump from 2010.
In total, 43,400 people left the three prefectures from March to November, although officials believe the actual figure could be even higher because some people might have moved to other prefectures without changing their resident registrations.
When a resident submits a moving-out notification to the local government of the area they resided in and notifies the locality to which they moved, the change will be reflected in the localities’ respective population statistics.
The number of people moving from 41 cities, towns and villages in coastal areas hit by the tsunami and near the nuclear plant in the three prefectures was about 31,100. The figure excludes data from Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, because the town was disconnected from the nationwide Juki Net online resident information system due to damage suffered in the quake and tsunami.
By municipality, Iwaki City in Fukushima Prefecture had the most residents leave–with about 6,200–followed by Miyagi Prefecture’s Ishinomaki City with about 5,500. Minami-Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture suffered the third-biggest population drop of about 3,500 people.
In Fukushima Prefecture, 11 municipalities–including those inside the no-entry zone around the crippled nuclear plant and the expanded evacuation zone–lost 7,800 residents, about 13 times more than left in 2010. Even cities located inland reported an exodus, with Fukushima City seeing 4,400 residents leave, 14 times more than last year, and Koriyama City logging 7,000 departures, up 86-fold from 2010.
By contrast, prefectural capitals recorded upticks in their populations over the surveyed period. Sendai registered about 5,200 new residents in the March-November period, triple the figure of 2010, due to an inflow of residents from coastal municipalities. Morioka gained about 1,500 residents during the same period.
Donations not reaching victims
Of about 351.4 billion yen in donations distributed to Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures by the end of 2011, about 50.23 billion yen has not reached earthquake and tsunami survivors, it was learned Tuesday.
Data compiled by the three prefectures showed about 301.17 billion yen, or about 86 percent of the total, has been passed to survivors.
The distribution figure was especially low in Date City in Fukushima Prefecture, where only 22 percent of donations has been given to residents because parts of the city have been additionally designated by the government as “specific spots recommended for evacuation.”
Coastal to inland areas
By Ryu Okamoto and Toshiyuki Sawaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
The drop in population since the March 11 disaster is spelling bad news for local economies.
In Otsuchi Town, Iwate Prefecture, 1,300 more residents moved to other municipalities from March to November than moved in. The town’s population before the March 11 disaster was about 15,000. Since then, it has plunged by about 2,600, including people killed by the tsunami.
Even before the disaster, the town was designated as a “depopulated area,” as the number of residents had been dropping by about 300 a year.
“The disaster caused about five to 10 years’ worth of population loss in a very short period,” Kozo Hirano, chief of the town’s general affairs division, said regretfully.
According to Otsuchi’s commercial and industrial association, 200 of 370 enterprises in the town that were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami have resumed business or plan to reopen. However, other companies have delayed reopening their doors due to a lack of staff, even after advertising that jobs were available.
“Young people are moving out of the town. We want the town government to support businesses so young people can find stable work here,” Sachio Sasaki, secretary general of the association, said.
The stream of people leaving Ishinomaki has become an unstoppable torrent. The dearth of residents is most conspicuous in the city’s Ogatsu district, which officially had 3,191 residents as of late November, just three-fourths of the pre-disaster population. However, many Ogatsu residents have apparently shifted to other municipalities without notifying local authorities. Only about 1,000 people are believed to actually still live in the district.
“Considering the level of the damage the town sustained, it’s difficult to stop the decline in population. We just have to gradually improve the living environment by listening to our residents,” an official at the Otsuchi government’s reconstruction office said.
Municipalities that have gained residents are facing problems of a different kind.
The population of the inland city of Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, swelled by about 300 during the March-November period. The city has temporary housing units for residents from neighboring Kesennuma City of Miyagi Prefecture. About 1,400 residents from Kesennuma live in the units and elsewhere.
Many of these evacuees quickly left their homes and are still registered as residents in Kesennuma, so the true number of people in Ichinoseki is likely considerably higher than official statistics suggest.
The employment counseling section that the city opened for disaster victims has noticed an increase in visitors since about six months after the disaster.
“We think more people will come to us as their unemployment allowances are terminated and the donations they received run out,” an official in charge of the section said. “However, there aren’t many jobs in the city. We’re worried many disaster survivors will be unemployed for a considerable time.”
Sendai’s “reconstruction boom” has helped turn a population drop soon after the disaster into an increase since just before summer.
The population had been slightly more than 1.04 million since October 2010, but topped 1.05 million in November 2011.
Many Ishinomaki residents moved to Sendai because a section of the JR Sengoku Line connecting the two cities remains cut, making commuting difficult.
Aoba Ward and two other inland wards in Sendai have reported population increases, but Miyagino and Wakabayashi wards near the hard-hit coast have seen residents drift away.
New shop, same name
Some evacuees have decided to make a fresh start after moving from areas that suffered badly in the disaster.
Masao Ito and his wife Noriko, both 50, ran an okonomiyaki Japanese pancake shop in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, before March 11. The tsunami wiped out large parts of the city, and the Itos moved to Kitakami, also in the prefecture. Although they left Ofunato behind, they have opened a new okonomiyaki restaurant in Kitakami with the same name–“Daisuki”–as their previous establishment.
Masao honed his cooking skills by visiting many okonomiyaki restaurants while he was a salaried worker. He opened the original restaurant in Ofunato, the city his wife came from. The number of regular customers soared after he began offering layered okonomiyaki–the style common in the Kansai region–before the disaster.
As well as having the same name, Daisuki’s menu also is unchanged from the Ofunato restaurant. “I feel very sorry when customers from Ofunato ask me, ‘When are you coming back?’ but we’re registered as residents here now,” Ito said. “We’re determined to do our best by putting down some roots in Kitakami.”