Six Years After the Great East Japan Earthquake
post date : 2017.03.16
Asahi: Divisions still haunt residents of Fukushima on 6th anniversary
Sankei: Let’s share the pain we feel now / Support matching reality is necessary
Nikkei: Face difficulty head on and continue reconstruction
Mainichi: Hearing the voices of victims, 6 years from the Great East Japan Earthquake
Yomiuri: 6 years on, well-planned reconstruction support is vital / More efforts key to community revitalization
March 11 marked six years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. There were over 18,000 dead and missing due to the earthquake, which caused major tsunami and a serious accident at the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. All five Japanese national dailies ran extended editorials on the topic, discussing the continuing difficulty of reconstruction, mental care for people affected by the disaster, and issues with bullying.
■ Challenges for Supporting Reconstruction
Commenting on the five-year Concentrated Reconstruction Period set by the national government, the Yomiuri was relatively positive about its results so far with 83% of public housing projects and 70% of projects for group relocation to higher ground completed: “It can be said the process of revitalizing the foundation of people’s lives has passed a critical point.” The paper also pointed out, “However, community-building efforts have not necessarily seen major progress…” One issue is an “outflow” of residents from affected areas who are unable or unwilling to return to their hometown, with the Yomiuri asking, “How can towns that have downsized enhance their appeal?” Arguing “A lively atmosphere is essential for creating an appealing town,” the paper criticized how the prioritization of housing reconstruction has slowed redevelopment of commercial areas. The number of people living in temporary prefab housing has declined from a peak of 120,000 to 35,000, but with those people still having no choice but to live in inconvenient temporary housing after over five years, the Yomiuri declared, “Reconstruction, it can be said, has entered a stage in which efforts must be made to carry out more meticulous assistance measures that correspond to the progress being made.”
The Nikkei also commented on the importance and difficulty of rebuilding communities after reconstruction in disaster-affected areas. There are still almost 80,000 residents of Fukushima who have evacuated out of the prefecture, and even though evacuation orders have been withdrawn for five municipalities near the nuclear power plant, the paper noted that except for a few areas “only 10–20% of people have returned.” In Miyagi and Iwate, which both suffered tsunami damage, reconstruction has been completed but as the Nikkei noted, “There are a noticeable number of vacant homes and empty lots, with people affected by the disaster not returning becoming an issue here as well.” The paper suggested, “We would like to use the newly built land and public housing to make these towns active again.” The paper also requested the government “reexamine projects to reconstruct communities in a sustainable fashion, within a budget that avoids waste,” calling for the five-year reconstruction budget of 6.5 trillion yen established in FY 2016 to be used effectively.
■ Evacuee Bullying and Mental Support
The Mainichi brought up the case of a junior high school student who had evacuated voluntarily to Yokohama due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, who was bullied by classmates and forced to hand over a total of 1.5 million yen: “These people have not only lost their hometowns to the nuclear disaster, but suffer a second victimization in the places they have evacuated to, through discrimination and bullying. It is irrational to subject these people to such treatment.” With around 7,800 children and students from Fukushima prefecture evacuated around Japan, the paper noted concerns that “It is possible that more cases of bullying have yet to be exposed.” Regarding the fact that free housing for voluntary evacuees from Fukushima (which 26,000 people use) is ending, the paper argued that measures meeting the realities of evacuees current lives were necessary, and that “the type and extent of assistance evacuees can receive will differ greatly based on the municipality to which they have evacuated. Under such circumstances, the central government should be taking the initiative to coordinate assistance efforts.”
Stating that the psychological injuries suffered by people affected by the disaster “have grown more difficult to see as time passes,” the Sankei emphasized, “We want to remain sensitive to the fact that the disaster is still having a psychological impact on people.” The paper mentioned three specific points: 1) In a FY 2015 mental health survey for Fukushima residents affected by the disaster, over 100 of 2,600 civilians showed signs of trauma from the disaster; 2) In a 2015 health survey by Miyagi Prefecture, 7.5% of temporary prefab housing residents 18 or older felt strong psychological distress; and 3) There are a high number of suicides in these three Tohoku prefectures. In addition to arguing for the necessity of mental care beyond methods such as systems and experts, the paper called for society to continue watching over and keeping an interest in people affected by the disaster in order to save them from isolation and health problems.
■ Concerns Over Divisions
The Asahi commented on a serious growing problem in Fukushima: “Divisions have emerged between people from Fukushima and those outside the prefecture as well as between evacuees and other residents of the prefecture and even among evacuees themselves.” With evacuation orders being lifted for 32,000 people from coastal areas and other evacuees unable to go home even if they wanted to due to radiation concerns, and with free housing support for voluntary evacuees being cut off leading to increased stress, “differences in the positions and decisions of evacuees have surfaced afresh,” and evacuees may start bickering amongst themselves over topics such as differences in compensation amounts.
The Asahi compared these divisions to divisions over Minamata disease in Minamata, Kumamoto, and over American military bases in Okinawa. The paper suggests learning from the lesson of Minamata City, which implemented a “‘moyai naoshi’” (re-mooring)” program around 20 years ago to overcome this division. The goal was to “build fresh ties between people like tying boats with ropes,” and to “to have dialogue while accepting differences in their opinions.” The Asahi also suggested that “one-sided arguments” by people who are not local residents have caused people to stop paying attention to the disaster-affected areas, and argued, “As a result, the burden of dealing with problems that should be of concern to the entire nation will continue to be shouldered only by specific regions.”
*English translations of The Yomiuri, The Asahi and The Mainichi are from The Japan News, The Asia & Japan Watch and The Mainichi, respectively. Those for The Nikkei and The Sankei are provisional. The content of this page was made by the Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.