Disaster areas, tourism and reconstruction
“I would like to visit disaster areas but there is nothing I can do now. Is it alright to go there just for sightseeing?” asked one of the supporters living in Tokyo the other day.
More than two years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011. In the disaster areas, some say that it is hard to think about Tourism because there still are many serious problems to be solved, such as group relocation from the areas devastated by earthquake and tsunami, reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure, construction of coastal levees and windbreaks, preservation of architectural remains from the disaster, disposal of disaster waste and so on.
Many of the disaster areas were not tourist spots but residential areas or fishing villages, so the local residents are still puzzled to see many people from other areas visiting there.
On the other hand, one of the remarkable challenges for reconstruction is to prevent depopulation of the area, which had been progressing even before the disaster, by rediscovering the fascination of the area and attracting as many people as possible from inside and outside of the area. For this purpose, a far-sighted tourism revitalization plan is being developed and implemented now, so that the vitality of the local communities can be maintained into the future; 5 years, 10 years and beyond. The plan is a joint effort between public and private sectors and combines various resources such as the beautiful scenery and delicacies that are peculiar to the Sanriku region, geographical connection with famous tourist sites, and relationship with volunteers, which started after the disaster.
Many shops and restaurants that were lost in the tsunami are already reopening in temporary shopping malls one after another, and towns are becoming busy again. Moreover, various efforts are being made, which include attempts to keep the memories of the disaster from fading, such as volunteer-guided tours and Kataribe Taxi, and development and sales of products using local produces and materials. [Kataribe taxi drivers take tourists to places where the scars of disaster still remain and describe what actually happened there.]
These attempts represent the feelings of the people, such as: “Please don’t forget the memories of the disaster” and “Let’s reconstruct our beautiful town once again.
Whether or not you have visited the disaster areas before, please come and feel the air of reconstruction in progress.
In this monthly report, we will report the outcome of the Kesennuma City Strategic Meeting for Tourism, which was launched in March 2012, and the activities of Civic Force, which have been supporting the management of meetings and formulation of the strategies. [Kesennuma City in Miyagi prefecture was severely damaged by the earthquake disaster.]
Renewable Energy and Reconstruction of the Disaster Stricken Area
Two years and two months have passed since the March 11 earthquake in the northeast area of Japan or Tohoku. Simply “restoring” the area back to its former state before disaster struck is not sufficient. Reconstruction efforts need to be comprehensive and aim to tackle problems that beset the area even before the disaster, such as aging population and declining industry activities. The nuclear disaster after the earthquake offered an opportunity to also review at the energy policy of Japan, which has consistently increased its dependency on nuclear power after the World War II.
Under these circumstances, it is hoped that tapping onto renewable energy sources in the region, such as solar power, wind power and hydraulic power, could lead to increased energy self-sufficiency, prevent global warming, and perhaps even promote local industries.
Tohoku region with its abundant nature has high potential in renewable energy development. Aomori prefecture and Akita prefecture come in first and fifth respectively for having the most numbers of windmills in the whole country, evidence that they there are the forerunners in wind power generation. In addition, northeastern Japan is also an important rice-producing area in the country. Drawing on its agricultural heritage, Akita prefecture is starting to develop small hydraulic power generation systems along their irrigation channels used in farming.
More than 70 percent of the Tohoku region, an equivalent of 4.7 million hectares, is occupied by forest. The local lumbering and timber industry produces about 530 thousand tons of timber off cuts annually which could be a potential source of raw materials for woody biomass. In fact, some think tanks have proposed that forestry should be positioned as a key industry in the reconstruction efforts as it can create many jobs.
The feed-in tariff system started in July in 2012 aims to increase the use of renewable energy in Japan. Feed-in tariff refers to the amount paid by government to businesses, individual households and other organizations to generate renewable energy and the system includes other requirements such as the obligatory purchase of renewable electricity by electric power companies. Also, Special Reconstruction Act enforced in December in 2011 aims to accelerate reconstruction in the disaster-stricken areas by encouraging the local governments to develop their own plans to suit the needs and characteristics of the local communities. The act thus opens a window of opportunity for the local administrations to consider their energy security needs.
With the support from new policies and reconstruction assistance given, the private sector has begun to take on the new challenges to develop renewable energy systems. In this monthly report, we will include an article on “Green Cycle Project – Developing a sustainable forest industry and effective utilization of woody biomass”, a project Miyagi prefecture implemented as part of the Mid–to Long–Term Reconstruction Support Projects, which started in the summer of 2012.
Monthly Report vol.21
Review Civic Force’s Tohoku support activities
"I had been working in Tokyo, but returned to my hometown after the earthquake disaster. I must do something, when people from other regions are working so hard for my hometown." (A man in his 20’s who is participating in a community development project) [NPO Partner Project]
"I have a fear of trying something new, but above all, I feel an utmost sense of mission." (A man in his 40’s who started up a renewable energy business)[Mid- to Long-Term Reconstruction Support Project]
"There are unique ways of local revitalization which only young people can achieve." (A man who works on community development) [NPO Partner Project]
" The key to reconstruction is how much power we can bring in from the outside." (A man in his 30’s who is working strenuously on industry restoration) [NPO Partner Project]
"We can change clothes here and practice again! I hope that, someday, someone from this sea of rubble will become a world-class yachtsman." (A high school student who uses a trailer as a Yacht club room) [Multi-Purpose Mobile Bases Project]
" I stopped eating lunch out and make my own lunch now. I donate the money savedfrom this every day." [From “Just Giving,” a donation website]
"While some of the support projects are unilateral and intrusive, we really appreciate those people who participate in the reconstruction efforts while standing on the same level as us. (A municipal employee in his 40’s in a disaster area) [Mid- to Long-Term Reconstruction Support Project]
"People here are so strong and kind, even though they suffered from such a disaster. They said to me, “Please come back,” so I came back again." (A female student who repeatedly participates in community rebuilding tours in disaster areas) [NPO Partner Project]
"There was less rubble and the roads were paved nicely, compared to right after the earthquake. I could really feel the reconstruction in progress while I ran in Oshima." (A woman in her 30’s who ran in the “Kesennuma-Oshima Run Festa”)
"Strong private initiative is needed to make tourism a solid industry and a key factor in the reconstruction efforts. We would appreciate a little more help." (Head of the disaster-affected municipality) [Mid- to Long-Term Reconstruction Support Project]
"I almost lost the will to live many times, but I have somehow made it until now, thanks to interacting with all of you." (A man in his 30s in his greetings to employee volunteers) [Employee Volunteer Dispatch Project]
"If we can achieve certain results on prior investment for growth, we can use it as a model for community revitalization to energize the whole nation. [An adviser to the Tohoku Public Benefit Investment Fund]
"The large, 397-ton ferry provided a very precious space where citizens could relax." (President of a shipping company at the ceremony of returning a rented ferry) [Car Ferry Operation Project]
"Our mission is to offer quality support to meet the various needs of disaster victims in coordination with companies, local governments, and local communities, by placing importance on the viewpoint of each victim." [Civic Force]
If you need further information, please find attachment and our website(www.civic-force.org/english).