economy

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Students hit hard by 2011 disasters suffer poverty, lose educational chances: survey, mainichi, 12/1/2015

original article: http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20151201/p2a/00m/0na/001000c

An organization providing educational support to children who were affected by the triple disasters of March 2011 released a report Nov. 30 indicating that households in which the father is either unemployed or is on short-term employment contracts have doubled compared to pre-disaster numbers.

Many students thus said they believe they will have to give up going to college or graduate school due to family finances.

The white paper, which investigated children’s poverty and gaps in educational environments and resources, was compiled by Chance for Children, a public interest incorporated association based in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, based on a survey it conducted from May to September 2014. The organization received responses from 2,338 households who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, to whom they have offered assistance. According to the organization, this marked the first time a survey of this scale was conducted regarding children’s educational circumstances in areas directly affected by such massive disasters.

The report showed that 13.1 percent of fathers in the surveyed disaster areas were either unemployed or short-term contract employees, about double the 6.3 percent recorded prior to March 2011. Conversely, regular employment suffered a drop of 9.4 percentage points, down to 78.5 percent. The percentage of households with a yearly income of less than 2.5 million yen jumped by 8.5 percentage points compared to pre-March 11, 2011 figures, to 36.9 percent.

Asked what their ideal educational trajectories were, 56.2 percent of third-year junior high school students who responded to the survey said they wanted to attend “university or more (graduate school).” However, asked what they believed was realistic, only 44.3 percent said “university or more (graduate school),” showing an 11.9-percentage point gap between ideal and realistic educational goals. Some 13.4 percent of students cited tight household finances as the main reason for this gap. In a similar survey taken of students and their parents in fiscal 2011, only 4.3 percent of students pointed to household finances as a factor in choosing realistic educational paths, illustrating a rise in the proportion of students being forced to choose “realistic” educational paths that run counter to their own wishes.

Meanwhile, a look at the income of households with junior high or high school students who have refused to go to school showed that the lower the income, the greater the likelihood that students refuse to attend school. Students coming from households with an annual income of less than 1 million yen accounted for 17.9 percent of students with a history of truancy. A greater number of students from low-income households also said that they felt they did not have a place where they felt safe, or that they had experienced suicidal tendencies.

“The effects of the 2011 disasters are seen not only in education, but also in everyday life and elsewhere, and their multiple causes — such as household finances and interpersonal relationships — are intertwined,” says Chance of Children’s representative director Yusuke Imai. “The central government, local governments and communities must collaborate to support students by expanding (non-loan) scholarships and institutionalizing a system of social workers specializing in children.”

Tohoku industries regrouping but some coastal areas are missing out, japan times, 3/5/2015

Manufacturers from outside Tohoku are launching plants in the region, underpinning the reconstruction work following the damage left by the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“This year, reconstruction will become more evident in (tsunami-hit) coastal areas,” said Kazuhiro Morimoto, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s regional bureau for Tohoku.

But while expectations are high, some areas are struggling due to labor shortages.

“Much-awaited construction of our eastern Japan base for paper diapers is now beginning,” Daio Paper Corp. President Masayoshi Sako said during a groundbreaking ceremony Feb. 23 for a new plant in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

The plant is slated to hire nearly 80 locals. Welcoming the move, a local taxi driver said the plant will help promote post-disaster reconstruction in the area.

Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures were hit hardest by the disaster.

Subsidies from the central and local governments are supporting business expansion in the three prefectures.

The number of factories established in the prefectures by companies based outside was only 15 in 2010, but grew to 29 in 2011 and 33 in 2012. Although the number slipped back to 15 in 2013, the number for 2014, yet to be confirmed, is believed by officials to have been high.

A key driver of the recent increase is the automobile industry. Industry accumulation is progressing, mainly in Miyagi, as Toyota Motor Corp. has chosen Tohoku as its third major domestic production base, after Chubu and Kyushu.

In coastal areas of southern Miyagi and northern Fukushima, aircraft-related factories are being built by such companies as IHI Corp.

Takashi Kasamatsu, 36, works at an aircraft component plant established by Jamco Corp. in the Miyagi city of Natori in April 2013.

“My life was hard after the disaster,” he said. “But since starting to work at this factory, I find it easier to plan my life.”

Stainless steel processing firm Melco Japan Co. will start building a new aircraft parts plant in the town of Yamamoto, also in Miyagi, this month.

Melco Japan Chairman Masuyuki Kurita indicated the company may expand the plant as an increasing number of locals are returning to the area.

Corporate expansion and industrial reconstruction, however, have been uneven in the disaster-hit areas.

In Ishinomaki, Miyagi, the site that hosted a plant of a unit of fishery products maker Maruha Nichiro Corp. has remained idle after the facility was destroyed by the tsunami.

In the city, some 80 percent of disaster-affected seafood-processing firms, a key local industry, have resumed operations. But many are struggling amid sluggish sales, partly because manpower shortages are preventing them from operating at full capacity.

In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the ratios of effective job offers to seekers far exceed the nationwide average. In coastal communities, including Ishinomaki, the ratios stand above 2.0, meaning there are more than two jobs per applicant.

But the situation is not as good as the numbers suggest.

While many applicants are seeking jobs in the construction sector, which continues to benefit from demand for rebuilding, jobs in areas close to the coast are shunned as the memory of the tsunami four years ago is still strong.

An official at a Hello Work public job-placement center in Ishinomaki said the city’s economy has not recovered fully. Citing progress in industrial park construction in a neighboring municipality, the official expressed concern that Ishinomaki may be left behind.

A similar sense of crisis is shared by people in Yamamoto, where Melco Japan’s new plant will be built.

The town saw a massive exodus of residents after the March 2011 disaster. The population in Yamamoto stood at 12,767 at the end of December, against 16,735 at the end of 2010. Recently, some 40 people have been leaving every month.

Melco Japan’s expansion into Yamamoto “is good for local jobs,” said an official at a local commerce and industry group. “But the population decline won’t stop unless more companies come in.”

“Communities in the disaster-hit areas need to make more efforts to boost their appeal and attract investment from more companies,” said Morimoto of the industry ministry’s Tohoku bureau.

Salmon fry released into Kido River in Naraha, 1st since 2011 disaster, fukushima minpo, 4/16/14

Members of a fisheries cooperative in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, released young salmon into the Kido River on April 15 for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the ensuing Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant accident. Released were some 10,000 salmon fry hatched in the Natsui River in Iwaki. The Naraha town office intends to decide in mid-May when to allow evacuees to return. The Kido River Fisheries Cooperative hopes the release of salmon that return to their native streams for spawning will pave the way for evacuees to come back.

The Kido is one of the rivers that boast large numbers of returning salmon on Japan’s main island of Honshu. But all fishing weirs and hatcheries were swept away by the tsunami tide that followed the 2011 temblor. Cooperative head Hideo Matsumoto and other members released the young salmon, 3 to 4 cm long, into the river. Many return to their natal rivers four years later after migrating through the oceans such as the Okhotsk and Bering seas as well as the Gulf of Alaska.

The cooperative and town authorities are considering rebuilding hatcheries and resuming the egg collection/hauling business in fall next year in the hope of restarting the release of self-hatched young salmon in the spring of 2016. Naraha Mayor Yukihide Matsumoto, who joined the release, said the town hopes to launch the rebuilding of weirs this year, pledging to support the cooperative in a manner leading to the return of evacuees.

Farmland unproductive 3 years on, yomiuri shinbun, 3/1/14

With the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake approaching, numbers do not match reality in terms of progress on reconstruction, adding to the woes of people affected.

As of late last year, official statistics released by the Reconstruction Agency and other government bodies showed significant progress especially on “town rebuilding” efforts, such as the disposal of debris and reconstructing medical institutions and schools, over the past year. In many areas where collective relocation had been in the planning stages last year, 87 percent of construction has begun on the planned projects, while 91 percent of debris disposal has been completed.

In the fishery sector, which was hit hard by the 2011 disaster, the region’s fish haul has recovered to 70 percent of predisaster levels. Sixty-three percent of farmland damaged by tsunami is said to have been restored.

Despite these figures, local people in the farming sector appear glum.

“Farmland that was filled with debris appears to have been restored over the past year, but…” Yukiyoshi Aizawa, a 63-year-old farmer, said of a plot of land in the district of Rokugo in eastern Sendai.

In fiscal 2012, the central government launched farmland restoration work in the district about 1.5 kilometers from the sea. In addition to debris disposal, work to remove salt by repeatedly pouring freshwater onto the farmland was carried out. Such efforts are supposed to help farmland return to normal.

However, soybeans Aizawa planted in June grew to 20 centimeters before the leaves turned yellow and the plants died. He planted soybeans again in July, with the same result.

In cooperation with other farmers, Aizawa planted soybeans in a nearby 45-hectare field, but they were unable to harvest any soybeans in a 30-hectare area. The concentration of salt in the soil of the farmland might have remained too high.

The percentage of farmland restored, 63 percent, has been calculated on areas of land returned to farmers. The figure does not show whether farmers were able to harvest any produce.

“We don’t have statistics on that,” an official of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said.

Similar complaints have also been heard from farmers in Iwate Prefecture.

“After the disaster, we’ve seen seawater flowing back to five kilometers in the upper stream of some rivers due to land subsidence. Even after restoration work is done, people have been unable to harvest crops on some farmland because of the lack of freshwater,” an official of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives in Ofunato said.

Double-edged sword

The job offers-to-seekers ratios of January in three disaster-stricken prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were higher than the national average of 1.04, meaning there were 104 job offers for every 100 job seekers.

The ratios were 1.09 in Iwate Prefecture and 1.31 in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

By prefecture, the ratio of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures ranked seventh and that of Iwate 17th among the nation’s 47 prefectures.

According to the Miyagi Labor Bureau, the special procurement boom based on reconstruction projects favorably affected the prefecture’s ratio. In addition, emergency employment measures were conducted by the central government to create more than 20,000 jobs only in Miyagi Prefecture in fiscal 2013.

Consequently, the number of job seekers, which is the denominator in calculating the ratio, fell by 20 percent to 44,000 from the February 2011 figure, just before the March 11, 2011, disaster.

These factors boosted the job-offers-to-seekers ratio in the prefecture, the bureau said.

Similar job tendency is also seen in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.

The figures show the unemployment problem seems to have been resolved, but new problems have also arisen—as the government’s employment measures had job seekers turning away from fisheries and other local industries.

“No matter how hard we recruit employees through Hello Work, we can’t get a sufficient number of people,” said Tadatoshi Oshima, 65, president of a marine products processing company in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

The firm’s new plant, which is now under construction in the city, will start operation in September. It formerly employed about 100 people, but the number decreased by half after the disaster, and it remains at that level.

No more than one person in a month receives a job interview for the firm through the Hello Work public job placement offices. It remains uncertain when the company can solve its labor shortage, he said.

In Kesennuma, construction workers are now paid about ¥10,000 a day, and those who get a job via the government’s emergency employment program—such as patrolling temporary housing units—receive about ¥8,000 a day.

The daily wages are attractive for job seekers while the fishery processing firm pays about ¥6,000, observers said.

The Kesennuma Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that while local companies are beginning to be restored, the government’s emergency employment measures have begun to choke off the local key industries.

Fukushima fishermen losing hope as trial operations postponed, asahi, 9/4/2013

SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–With a series of leaks of radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, fishermen such as Yoshinori Yamazaki are feeling frustrated after being forced to postpone trial operations scheduled to start in September.

Yamazaki, 45, who lives in Soma, about 40 kilometers north of the plant, said time is being wasted as he cannot go to sea with his father Matsuo, 71, and his 23-year-old eldest son.

Before the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in March 2011, the three generations of his family went fishing together.

Matsuo had been excited about his grandson joining in the family tradition.

“We (the family) were doing as well as anyone else,” Yamazaki said. “How many valuable years do we have to lose?”

The city’s Matsukawaura Port had boasted one of the largest fisheries hauls in the Tohoku region before the disaster. For many working at the port, fishing is a family business, with a number of teenagers and those in their 20s deciding to take up the trade each year.

Throughout the season, more than 100 species are caught in the waters off the port. In the morning, the fish market was crowded with the wives of fishermen helping sort the day’s catch.

But the port was devastated by the tsunami, which followed the earthquake on March 11, 2011, and killed 101 members of the Soma-Futaba fishing cooperative association.

In an effort to bounce back from the earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear plant accident, the association started test operations in June 2012 for “mizudako” (North Pacific giant octopus) and two other species.

Conducting monitoring inspections, the association repeatedly checked samples to confirm safety of the catches.

Association members originally planned to triple the fishing grounds and increase the catch to 16 varieties when the trial operation resumed in September.

Yamazaki was well prepared for fishing for whitebait, a new species that was scheduled to be added in September. The fish, which brings high prices, is a lucrative catch for fishermen.

Fish detectors were showing large schools of whitebait, which have increased in number during the past years of suspension of fishing operations.

Yamazaki bought new fishing equipment, costing about 2 million yen ($20,000), to replace the gear that had been washed away in the tsunami.

The announcement by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, that highly radioactive water has been leaking at the Fukushima No. 1 plant came during such preparation.

Following the March 2011 earthquake, his son obtained a license as a heavy truck driver and a heavy machinery operator. Yamazaki has told him to wait “until things get better.”

“I cannot keep him from leaving home forever,” Yamazaki said. “This coast will be no more if young people are gone.”

His mother, then 65, who supported the family’s fishing operations, was killed in the tsunami while Matsuo piloted his boat to safety in waters off Soma immediately after the earthquake.

“Even three years after the disaster, I cannot operate the boat I had protected in exchange for my wife’s life,” Matsuo lamented. “It doesn’t seem right that I saved the boat.”

Nobuo Shishido, president of the Soma-based supermarket Super Shishido, has also been discouraged by lagging sales apparently due to media coverage about the contaminated water leaking into the ocean.

“Last summer, 10 times more octopus, caught during the trial fishing period, were sold than this year,” Shishido said. “Even if I want to sell, consumers do not respond.”

Of about 200 kilograms of octopus caught in Fukushima waters and stocked in early August, half have been left unsold.

According to the Soma-Futaba fishing cooperative association, octopus caught during the trial fishing period had been shipped to Tokyo and Nagoya. But wholesalers in Nagoya stopped accepting the octopus in late July, a week after TEPCO announced a leak of radioactive water.

Hiroyuki Sato, who heads the association, has also felt frustrated.

“Products we monitored and found to be safe have been given the cold shoulder (by our customers),” Sato, 57, said. “We have done many things until now, but we are right back where we started.”

Fukushima Prefecture has been monitoring radiation levels of fish since April 2011. The levels have shown recovery from the measurements taken immediately after the accident.

The prefecture measures weekly radiation levels of about 150 fish samples at about 40 locations in the waters off Fukushima Prefecture, except the area within a 5-km radius of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In recent months, radiation levels have been at less than the detection limit of around 16 becquerels per kilogram for most species, such as flatfish, marbled flounder and whitebait.

According to the prefecture’s marine products division, the fisheries haul in coastal waters totaled only 122 tons in 2012, when Soma-Futaba started the trial operation, compared with about 26,000 tons, worth about 9 billion yen, each year before the 2011 disaster.

This year saw improvement, with a total of 386 tons of fish caught during trial operations while the concentration of cesium did not exceed the safety limit at many locations off the prefecture.

Aside from the Soma-Futaba fisheries cooperative association, the Iwaki fisheries cooperative, based in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, south of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, planned to launch a test operation in September for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

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