tourism

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Disaster-hit communities in Tohoku using local specialties to survive, asahi shinbun, 10/9/14

Like many other local communities around Japan, towns in the Tohoku region have tried to brand their specialty products to promote sales.

Three and a half years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami crushed those industries, the northeastern communities have resumed their brand image efforts–but now with the survival of communities at stake.

In early September at the Koishihama fishing port in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, fishing boats hauled in large catches of Koishihama Hotate, a scallop raised artificially in Okirai Bay.

The scallops, farmed where the Oyashio (Chishima) and Kuroshio (Japan) currents meet, are known for their thick, tough texture and sweet flavor.

The Koishihama community started scallop aquaculture about half a century ago.

To broaden the market, the fishing cooperative in 2008 branded the scallops Koishihama Hotate, replacing two kanji characters with the phonetic reading “koishi” (pebble) with different characters having the same reading but meaning “beloved.”

The Sanriku Railway also adopted the alternate kanji for the name of Koishihama Station. The station’s waiting room contains a plethora of votive-offering tablets made from scallop shells that people have hung up to pray for fulfillment in love.

On March 11, 2011, the tsunami swept away the young scallops and the rafts at the farms. Only two of the 40 boats survived.

Ryoetsu Matsukawa, a 62-year-old member of the fishing cooperative, fled from the coast in his boat.

“When the tsunami receded and I returned to the port, there was nothing left,” he recalled.

Sixteen of the 17 scallop-farming families have resumed their work with young scallops ordered from Hokkaido. The remaining one decided to retire because of advanced age.

In September 2012, they shipped their first products since the earthquake. The Koishihama Hotate Teriyaki Bento, a popular boxed lunch, has also made a comeback.

The Sanriku Railway fully reopened in April. Passengers on a special train are served scallops at the station.

“If we didn’t have the scallops, the young people would be gone,” Matsukawa said. “Our community is vibrant because of the scallops.”

The Momonoura fishing port in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, is also banking on marine products for survival.

Momonoura was already facing an aging population and difficulty in finding successors to family businesses when the 2011 tsunami washed away 65 of the community’s homes and the majority of its aquaculture facilities.

Fifteen local fishermen set up a limited liability company in August 2012 to create jobs and attract workers.

Working with a trading firm in Sendai that specializes in fisheries, the fishermen are attempting to achieve year-round shipping and high quality under the brand name Momonoura-san Kaki (Oysters made in Momonoura).

They ship their products to such buyers as nationwide chains of major supermarkets and restaurants.

“If we can brand our product, then the fishermen will be motivated and also help us revive (the local economy),” said Katsuyuki Oyama, a 67-year-old representative of the company.

Farmers in Fukushima Prefecture have a different hurdle to overcome: The rumors about radiation that have hurt their reputation.

The prefecture is placing hopes on reviving the original Tennotsubu variety of locally-grown rice.

The Fukushima Agricultural Technology Center spent 15 years developing the strain and released it in fiscal 2011.

The plant itself is sturdier and more difficult to knock over. It can also grow easily even in fields that have lain fallow since the triple meltdown at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The release of radioactive substances in the disaster led to planting restrictions and voluntary bans in the prefecture. The area of rice fields in Fukushima in 2011 fell from the fourth-largest in Japan the previous year to seventh.

Municipalities in the Hamadori area along the coast and the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives are presenting Tennotsubu as a “symbol of reconstruction” and giving priority to planting the rice variety in reopened fields.

The town of Inawashiro in the prefecture created its own production standards, starting with last year’s harvest. It is selling the rice under the name Inawashiro Tennotsubu.

“We want people to remember that Tennotsubu is made in Inawashiro, just like they know that Koshihikari is grown in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture,” a town official said.

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600 social entrepreneurs in Tohoku are now on a web site – Assistance project for start-ups by the Cabinet Office, rising tohoku, 8/21/2013

In the last fiscal year of 2012, Cabinet Office of Japanese Government implemented a project of “Reconstruction assistance of regional society employment creation” and chose 600 entrepreneurs, whose businesses and profiles are now publicized on the web. The government office, under the project, subsidized an amount up to 3 million yen each of the entrepreneurial enterprise and individual that started social business in the disaster district of Tohoku. As of August 20th, 569 businesses have been uploaded to the site where more will sequentially follow.

At the web site(http://www.tohoku1000.jp/entrepreneur/) named as “The team of 600 entrepreneurs”, a viewer can search for a business by region or category of business. Distribution of numbers of businesses (see the right side chart below) by geographical region is 39%, 29% and 32% for prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate respectively. By category (the left side of the charts below), community formation becomes the most common theme in the business, followed by medical care, welfare and health, town planning, shopping mall promotion , agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry.

The web site is run by Council of Supporting Entrepreneurs for Recovery. Mr. Kazuma Watanabe of the council says, “It is amazingly epoch-making for Tohoku to have this much of new business in quite a short period of time. Taking this opportunity, we would like to root new cultures of Act-To-Challenge in Tohoku.” Mentioning women’s activities for the new businesses, he continues, “Women have been keeping home and region peaceful since a long time ago. They are very patient with strong mind of wick to run their businesses.” The whole picture is unavailable but many of the entrepreneurs’ photographs show female.

The governmental project finished in March this year. However, it is important that the entrepreneurial business continue to create employments in each region of Tohoku.

Council of Supporting Entrepreneurs for Recovery plans further to expand its activities to assist entrepreneurs in fund-raising, know-how and information distribution, and networking among the entrepreneurs.

New national park designated as part of rebuilding efforts in Tohoku, asahi, 5/25/13

The Environment Ministry has reorganized natural parks in the Sanriku coastal region into one national park as part of efforts to spur reconstruction of the area devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In an announcement May 24, the ministry said it will restore the natural surroundings of the area in northeastern Japan, with an emphasis on preserving the rias shoreline, for which the region is famous.

The combined national park, named Sanriku Fukko (reconstruction) National Park, stretches along the coastline from Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, to Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara said the reorganization is a “first step” to creating a national park that will contribute to the reconstruction of the region devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The new park encompasses Rikuchukaigan National Park, which straddles Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, and Tanesashikaigan-Hashikamidake Prefectural Natural Park, a breeding ground for black-tailed gulls located in Aomori Prefecture.

The trail along the coast of the park will be rebuilt as the Michinoku Shiokaze (sea wind) trail.

The ministry also plans to incorporate Minami-Sanriku Kinkasan Quasi-National Park into the new park in 2014, along with three other prefectural natural parks, including Matsushima, in Miyagi Prefecture, at a later date.

Program creates more jobs in quake-hit areas, yomiuri, 4/26/12

For the unemployed in areas heavily damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake, a government program to create long-term employment opportunities shines out like a beacon of hope amid a severe job market.

The program, which was first implemented earlier this month, received an additional 151 billion yen in funding from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry last November. Under the program, local governments outsource projects to businesses and nonprofit organizations, which hire employees for a period of one year or longer with the intent of training them to be regular employees. The central government subsidizes labor and other costs.

So far, about 450 people in Iwate Prefecture and about 1,000 people in Miyagi Prefecture are expected to be employed under the program this fiscal year. In Iwate, businesses and NPOs have already signed contracts with the prefectural and municipal governments for 49 projects.

Employment offers are beginning to pop up in Fukushima Prefecture as well, with about 1,500 people expected to find jobs, bringing the total to 2,950 new jobs across the three prefectures.

According to the ministry, 58,316 people received unemployment allowances in the three prefectures in February, nearly twice the number in the same month last year. The unemployment situation is especially severe in the hardest-hit coastal areas.

The projects target various jobs, such as training craftsmen to create traditional local crafts, such as Nambu-tekki ironware, and promoting the sale of local specialties.

“It’s necessary to find long-term, stable jobs for people to aid reconstruction. We wish to help as many people as possible to find jobs,” a ministry official said.

Those who have started jobs found through the program are hopeful.

At a salmon hatchery in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, Kazunori Minato, 29, and Akihiro Fukushi, 19, listened attentively to their boss and hatchery manager, Akihiko Hashiba, 55.

“Make sure you don’t cause stress to the salmon when you feed them,” Hashiba said.

Minato and Fukushi were hired on a yearlong contract as temporary workers by a local fisheries cooperative association on April 1. Their job is to catch salmon migrating upstream to lay eggs, raise the offspring and stock them. The Yamada municipal government decided to utilize the project with the aim of fostering a young workforce that will take over the fisheries cooperative.

“I want to stand on my own feet as soon as possible,” said Fukushi, who graduated from high school last year.

Minato used to be a gardener. However, when the tsunami swept his house away, it took most of his job opportunities along with it. “I have a family to take care of. I’m relieved this job gives me a chance at becoming a regular staff member if I work hard,” he said.

Kaori Komatsu, 23, has found employment as a temporary worker at the Kara-kuwa Peninsula Visitor Center in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

She grew up in the town, and graduated from a university in Yamagata in March last year. Although she majored in art history, a majority of the jobs being offered were in the building, nursing and care giving industries.

However, Komatsu said she wants to do her best in cheering up her hometown. “Thanks to the long-term employment project, I can focus on the task of promoting the charm of Kesennuma,” she said.

(Apr. 26, 2012)

Disaster area bus tours aim to keep 3.11 memories alive, mainichi, 4/22/11

MORIOKA — A bus tour combining sightseeing and visits to areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has been launched here with the aim of keeping the memory of the disasters alive in people’s minds.
Starting this month, the bus tour covers various locations in Iwate Prefecture, with local volunteers serving as tour guides to tell visitors from across the country stories of the March 11, 2011 disaster.
“Being forgotten (by people outside the disaster areas) is the hardest part. We want many people to take part in the tour casually and keep what they saw in their hearts,” said a source close to the program.
One of the locals serving as a volunteer guide is Hiroko Kitamura, 60, a member of an association of volunteer tour guides in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture.
“After the tsunami engulfed our town, a penetrating smell of something like rotten fish lingered for a while among the salty scents. It’s still unforgettable,” Kitamura told participants of the bus tour.
Tourists were guided to a hotel leaning to one side, and a local police station with a car stuck on its roof, among a number of other scars of the disaster. While the association had been in place since before the March 2011 quake disaster, the organization’s major role now is to pass down the memories of the catastrophe.
On April 14, Hanamaki Kanko Bus launched its “Fukko Oen Tour,” or a reconstruction support bus tour. Because there are not enough accommodations for tourists in the coastal areas, the tour is offered as a one-day guided program including visits to the Iron & Steel Industry Museum in Kamaishi and to the heart of the city where demolition work is under way on the disaster ruins. Out of the 6,500 yen adult ticket price for a round-trip bus tour from Hanamaki, 500 yen will be donated to disaster-stricken areas.
“I hope participants will understand the present conditions of the disaster-hit areas and will be prompted to provide constant support to the area’s recovery,” said a 62-year-old official with Hanamaki Kanko Bus.
A couple in their 60s from Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, who operate a social welfare corporation for the elderly, decided to join the disaster area tour as part of their 43rd wedding anniversary celebrations.
“We thought it would be difficult for us to do volunteer work considering our age, but we couldn’t be indifferent. We thought we should pass down what we felt here in disaster areas to our children, grandchildren and friends and learn lessons that would serve the elderly at our facility,” said the couple.
As the number of disaster area tours increase in northeast Japan, they are becoming more and more diverse, such as combining sightseeing and volunteer work at the initiative of local governments as well as local commerce and industry associations.
“Disaster victims are swaying between their desire to convey their feelings versus the urge to keep difficult experiences private. But the hardest part for them is perhaps being forgotten,” said Kitamura.
For more information about the bus tour offered by Hanamaki Kanko Bus, call the company at: 0198-26-3122.

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