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.
A total of 446 business operators involved in radioactive decontamination work related to the tsunami-triggered nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were violating the law, reaching 67.6% of the 660 business operators surveyed through on-site inspections from July to December last year, the Fukushima Labor Bureau said March 12 in a report.
In a similar survey conducted from January to June last year, law violations were found at 68% of business operators. The local labor bureau said there has not been any improvement in the situation as new entities with little knowledge about legal matters are continuing to enter business in the field.
According to the bureau, the 446 business operators were involved in 1,105 cases of legal violations. Of the cases, 742 involved labor conditions such as failure to pay wages, and 363 had to do with health and safety such as a lack of safety training. As the most common violation involving working conditions, 159 of the cases involved issues like nonpayment for overtime work. As for health and safety, the biggest number of violations — 44 cases — involved failure to conduct prior checks on the amounts of radiation in the air at work sites.
The bureau said it has instructed the business operators in question to correct their practices based on the labor standards law and the industrial safety and health law.
Tokyo, March 4 (Jiji Press)–With labor shortages on construction sites holding up progress on disaster reconstruction in northeastern Japan, the Japanese government hopes to ease restrictions on the country’s job training system to attract more workers from overseas.
It remains uncertain, however, whether the proposed measures will go ahead as envisaged by the government, as some Japanese are persistently cautious about accepting foreign nationals into their country.
Three-Quarters of Peak Level
On Feb. 24, ahead of the third anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the government’s resolve to speed up the reconstruction of affected areas.
“More than 70 pct of the planned projects to relocate houses to upland areas and build public homes for disaster victims have started and it is finally time for construction work,” Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting.
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.
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.
SENDAI – An effort to knit cardigans to help revive the tsunami-hit coastal city of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture has evolved into a company of 20 people.
The firm, Kesennuma Knitting Co., originally started as a project by Tamako Mitarai, 28, in June 2012. It now employs about 20 local women as knitters.
Among them is Yuriko Oyama, 70, whose house was washed away by the tsunami spawned by the March 2011 mega-quake.
“Knitting makes me feel relaxed and comfortable even when I have some worries,” she said. “I would like to make a great cardigan thinking of a person who will wear this.”
Kesennuma Knitting is working on 12 luxury cardigans for this winter that will be sold to customers by lottery.
Mitarai, the president, said she hopes to “create a world-class upscale brand that customers choose not because they want to help the city recover, but because they think our products are special and make them happy.”
Mitarai, however, is a Tokyoite with a unique background.
After graduating from university, she entered McKinsey & Co., a major management consultancy. She then moved to Bhutan in September 2010 to work for about a year as an official for the Bhutan government’s Gross National Happiness Commission. Her main task there was to promote tourism as a fellow to Bhutan’s prime minister.
Soon after returning to Japan, Mitarai was asked by an acquaintance, Shigesato Itoi, a renowned copywriter who often appears on TV, to lead his effort to reconstruct Kesennuma.
Recalling that fishermen in Ireland wear knit sweaters designed with cable patterns, Itoi developed the idea of launching a knitting business in Kesennuma, which is also famous for fishing, she said.
At first, Mitarai was not really certain if she was capable of leading the project, but eventually decided to move there, thinking, “Let’s give it a try.”
Once the project was set in motion, Mitarai visited the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland along with knitting designer Mariko Mikuni to research the traditional luxury sweater business. After much discussion, they decided to produce a ¥147,000 cardigan to order.
Mitarai said some who bought the made-to-order cardigans last winter have visited the office or sent photographs of them being worn, giving the knitters confidence in their work. She said she plans to produce sweaters or other products in the future.