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Disaster reconstruction subsidies welcomed, yomiuri shimbun, 5/27/12

With the second round of reconstruction subsidies approved–at 1-1/2 times more than the amount requested–local governments hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami need to prove their ability to carry out recovery plans.

The approval of the second round of subsidies, which the government announced Friday, marked a drastic change for the Reconstruction Agency, which drew the ire of disaster-hit governments for its very strict evaluation of the first round of fund requests in March. Local government officials sarcastically referred to the agency as the “evaluation agency” at the time.

“I’d like to retract what I said before. I wouldn’t call it the ‘evaluation agency’ anymore,” said the beaming governor of Miyagi Prefecture, Yoshihiro Murai, after learning the prefecture was given more money than it requested.

In the first round of subsidies in March, the prefecture received only 58 percent of the funds requested. This time, the prefecture was given 180 percent of the amount requested.

“It’s more than perfect. It motivates local governments undertaking reconstruction projects,” said Murai.

The reason for the change was the agency’s decision to approve funds for projects, including community relocation and public housing construction, through next fiscal year.

Another reason was that the agency approved 20 percent of the funds for the projects including relocation and rezoning to be given immediately to realize “soft” plans to revitalize urban areas, such as sending specialists to the areas. This was in response to the request of the disaster-hit local governments, which wanted to make better use of the subsidies.

One project–typical of those in the region–received 11.83 billion yen in the second round of subsidies. Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, will rebuild facilities for growing and processing strawberries, something the town was famous for as one of the major producers in the Tohoku region. The project aims to build three facilities totaling 70 hectares, and it has attracted 122 farmers looking to participate.

The tsunami, which followed the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, devastated the strawberry farms in the area, reducing the growing area to less than 20 hectares from 56 hectares. If the production facilities are built, the growing area will rebound to 48 hectares.

“If we can plant seedlings by October 10, we can harvest strawberries this year,” Katsuhiko Hirama, who lost his house and strawberry field in the disaster, said.

Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, which calls itself the “city of rugby” as the renowned rugby team, the Kamaishi Seawaves–formerly Shinnittetsu (Nippon Steel Corp.) Kamaishi–is based in the city, will receive subsidies to cover the design cost for a project to construct a rugby field and related facilities. The city is planning a bid to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

With the second round of subsidies approved, reconstruction progress will depend on each local government’s efforts.

The funds approved for Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, total 14.8 billion yen for 63 districts that are planning relocation. However, there are some districts in which the residents have not reached a decision on whether to relocate.

“What’s important now is to build a consensus among people quickly and move to a safer place,” Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama said.

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104 million yen for 4 Iitate farms

Reconstruction subsidies totaling about 104 million yen will be provided to Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, to help four flower farms resume production at new locations in the city of Fukushima.

The entire village of Iitate was designated as an expanded evacuation zone after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis.

This is the first time subsidies have been approved for people to resume farming after evacuating due to the nuclear disaster, according to the agency.

Production of flowers, including Eustoma, was a major industry in the village, with sales of more than 100 million yen a year.

However, part of the village is expected to be designated as a “zone where residency is prohibited for an extended period,” where residents cannot return for at least five years. The accumulated radiation exposure in this zone exceeds 50 millisieverts per year.

As the flower farmers will unlikely be able to return to their village anytime soon, Iitate applied for the subsidies after receiving a request from the farmers.

“If farming continues to be suspended for an extended period of time, it will become difficult to pass down relevant techniques to the next generation and agriculture in the village will eventually fade away,” an official of the village said.

The people on all four farms are aged 50 or older and well experienced in flower production. They will lease private land in Fukushima to begin cultivating new crops.

The subsidies will mainly be used to cover the cost of facilities, including vinyl greenhouses, while costs for leasing the land will be paid by individual farms. Building for the greenhouses is set to start as early as mid-June.

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Toyota Making New Corolla In Quake-Hit Miyagi Prefecture, 5/12/12

NAGOYA (Nikkei)–Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) began mass production Friday of the 11th generation of its Corolla for the domestic market at a Miyagi Prefecture plant.

The automaker seeks to nurture Tohoku, which includes Miyagi and continues to grapple with the fallout from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, into its third domestic production hub alongside the Chubu and Kyushu regions. Toyota began churning out the Aqua hybrid at a factory in Iwate Prefecture, also in Tohoku, at the end of last year.

The company will assemble a total of some 40,000 units a month of the Aqua and the Corolla in Tohoku.

“We thought hard what traits are desired for Japan’s Corolla going forward, and went back to square one to develop it,” President Akio Toyoda said at a ceremony marking the start of Corolla production at the Miyagi plant of subsidiary Central Motor Co. “Let’s show the strength of Japanese manufacturing and revitalize Tohoku and Japan.”

The Miyagi factory will produce Corolla sedans and station wagons, which will account for about 80% of the facility’s planned output of 128,000 units this year.

(The Nikkei, May 12 morning edition)

Govt To Aid Municipalities Taking Fukushima Evacuees, nikkei, 5/11/12

TOKYO (Nikkei)–The government will likely provide financial assistance to municipalities that accept evacuees from towns near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, to encourage a large number of evacuees to move into new places, The Nikkei learned Friday.

The assistance is aimed at reducing the financial burdens of local host governments and giving a much-needed boost to the “temporary town” plan, which was drawn up by the four towns closest to the crippled nuclear power plant, Namie, Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, all in Fukushima Prefecture. It is expected to cost tens of billions of yen to move all the evacuees to new places.

Under this plan, these four municipalities will move their administrative functions, schools and houses to other towns and cities indefinitely. The four towns plan to build such infrastructure in cooperation with the Fukushima prefectural government and host municipalities. They also aim to construct public housing for evacuees as well as roads, water-related facilities and shops.

A total of about 50,000 evacuees come from the four towns. Host candidate municipalities, namely Iwaki and Nihonmatsu, would be financially strained if all 50,000 were taken on. Therefore, the central government hopes to help move the plan forward by extending financial assistance.

It still remains unclear how soon radiation levels will decrease in towns and villages in Fukushima’s Futaba area. Worst-case scenarios have the former residents living away from their hometowns for decades.

Homebuilders Swelling Housing Supplies In Quake-Hit Tohoku, nikkei, 5/9/12

OSAKA (Nikkei)–Sekisui Chemical Co. (4204), PanaHome Corp. (1924) and other homebuilders are bolstering their supplies to meet a sharp rise in housing starts in Tohoku as reconstruction remand shifts into high gear in the earthquake-hit region.

Sekisui Chemical will build at least 100 new apartments in Tohoku’s six prefectures this fiscal year, double the tally for fiscal 2011. It will handle construction on behalf of landowners, building steel-frame apartments.

Sumitomo Forestry Co. (1911) has assigned specialists to its Sendai branch to start building wooden apartments in the city, responding to growing demand for low-cost rentals from prospective tenants with little to spend whose homes were destroyed in the disaster. The company foresees orders for several units by year-end.

Misawa Homes Co. (1722) will speed construction of rental houses for seniors through subsidiary Tohoku Misawa Homes Co. By offering care and meal services, it will seek to meet the needs of the elderly, who are less likely to purchase new homes than young families. It is targeting fiscal 2013 orders at 5 billion yen, up 70% on fiscal 2011, in the six Tohoku prefectures. Around 70% of these are expected to come from the three hardest-hit prefectures: Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi.

Mitsui Home Co. (1868) will spend about 100 million yen to set up a sales office this July in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, as well as model homes in October. While it has not conducted extensive sales activities in Tohoku until now, the company now intends to boost its supply of energy-efficient housing there.

Wide-scale urban development is getting under way in some parts of the disaster zone. Sekisui House Ltd. (1928) will develop its first-ever smart town, comprising greenhouses featuring solar cells and storage batteries, in the Miyagi town of Tomiya. It aims to build 431 dwellings over four years or so.

PanaHome will join forces with the Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) group and Shimizu Corp. (1803) to build a smart town in the Sendai ward of Wakabayashi. The three firms aim to supply homes by fiscal 2015, with the total expected to reach around 1,600. Daiwa House Industry Co. (1925) will also participate in the smart-city project that Toshiba Corp. (6502) and Tohoku Electric Power Co. (9506) are planning in Ishinomaki.

(The Nikkei, May 9 morning edition)

First disaster law tweak since Hanshin quake eyed, kyodo/japan times, 5/1/12

The government plans to revise the disaster countermeasures law to allow aid provisions to be sent more swiftly to shattered areas by eliminating the need to wait for a formal request from their local governments.

A bill is in the works to allow the central and prefectural governments to decide unilaterally whether to ship supplies to disaster-hit areas when municipal authorities can’t go through official channels because of heavy damage, sources said.
It would be the first major revision to the law since the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.
The Cabinet is expected to approve the bill as early as May 11, and submit it to the Diet, the sources said.
A decision to revise the law was made in light of the destruction caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, which literally wiped out local government offices in many towns and cities in Tohoku last March and knocked out communications, they said.
The revision would also set new regulations to facilitate the acceptance of evacuees by other municipalities, allowing prefectures and the central government to organize mass transfers involving multiple communities more smoothly, the sources said.

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