Masaru Akahane, of the Sendai Industrial Promotions, government office in the AER building near the Sendai shinkansen station, talks about the economic situation in Sendai City, Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of last year, and what they are doing to improve jobs and businesses. http://www.siip.city.sendai.jp/netu/english.html
By Kyoko Hasegawa | AFP
Japan is hoping to cash in on its rich culture by recreating fashionable districts of Tokyo in foreign cities, determined that enclaves of vibrant shops, cafes and restaurants can find new markets abroad.
For decades, exports have been the driving force behind the world’s third largest economy with brands like Toyota and Sony becoming household names around the globe.
But a key plank in the government’s “Cool Japan” strategy, which launched last year, is to transplant Tokyo’s trendy districts overseas, taking the shops to the customers instead of bringing the customers to the shops. Read More
Ken Silverstein | Apr 30, 2012
The fallout from Fukushima is starting to snowball. Japan now has to make some decisions, namely whether to restart some of its nuclear plants or to rely more heavily on fossil fuels to cool homes this summer.
It depends on how the issue is framed and who is framing it. But it goes something like this: Proponents of restarting some of the nuclear facilities are saying that parts of the country will experience energy shortfalls, leaving not just homeowners to suffer but also the country’s economy as big businesses potentially compensate and reduce production. And, relying on fossil fuels will not just create more emissions but also increase energy costs for those same businesses and consumers.
Opponents of nuclear power power are saying that the way to avoid another disaster is to move on to cleaner energy. Adding renewables and energy efficiency measures would fulfill the energy promises, they say, and cost effectively. Japan, in fact, showed last summer in the early months following the March nuclear disaster that it could cut its consumption by 15 percent.
“You cannot substitute 30 percent of installed capacity overnight,” counters the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary General Angel Gurria, in a Kyodo News interview. “As a condition of growth policy, you have to have sufficient sources of energy to fuel the economy, households, companies and infrastructure.”
By AKIKO FUJITA | Good Morning America
Good Morning America, Yahoo
Japan’s Nuclear Exclusion Zone Shows Few Signs of Life (ABC News)
What’s most striking about Japan’s nuclear exclusion zone, is what you don’t see. There are no people, few cars, no sign of life, aside from the occasional livestock wandering empty roads.
Areas once home to 80,000 people are now ghost towns, frozen in time. Homes ravaged from the powerful earthquake that shook this region nearly a year ago, remain virtually untouched. Collapsed roofs still block narrow streets. Cracked roads, make for a bumpy ride.
In seaside communities, large fishing boats line the side of the road, next to piles of debris. Abandoned cars, dot otherwise empty fields. It’s a scene reminiscent of tsunami-battered prefectures Miyagi and Iwate, last March – except those communities have cleaned up a significant amount of the debris since, in preparation for rebuilding efforts.
We had been trying to get our cameras inside here for months, eager to document the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, 11 months on.
While workers of the Fukushima plant are bused in daily, the government has maintained a 12-mile no-go zone around the area for everyone else, only allowing for brief, supervised visits home for residents who still have homes here.
Few Signs of Life in Fukushima Exclusion Zone
“There are police cars patrolling every corner,” we were warned. “As soon as they spot your camera, you will be arrested.”
On Saturday, a local driver with a special permit agreed to sneak my cameraman and I in, so long as we didn’t reveal his identity.
We put on thin, white hazmat suits and masks as a precaution, grabbed a Geiger counter and dosimeter to monitor radiation levels, then slipped past police guarding the exclusion zone entrance, onto the main road running through Japan’s nuclear wasteland.
That road, Highway 6, seemed remarkably, unremarkable. We drove past miles of empty parking lots, barren land, closed storefronts. Something you’d expect in any small town, early on a Saturday morning.
Then, the Geiger counter quickly reminded us of where we were. As we approached the road to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, the numbers ticked up. Less than a mile out, the counter read “27.62 microsieverts an hour” – not a dangerous dose in the short amount of time we were there, but nearly five times the acceptable limit for U.S. nuclear workers, if consumed over a year.
We passed a bus full of Fukushima plant workers, as we drove further away from the reactors. The numbers started to tick down again.
In the the town of Namie, we met Masami Yoshizawa, a rancher who has defied government orders to euthanize more than 200 of his cows. His cattle, raised for premium wagyu beef, used to fetch $13,000 a head. Now they are contaminated with cesium.
Yoshizawa witnessed the reactor explosions from his farm, located just 9 miles from the plant. Radiation concerns forced he and fellow ranchers to evacuate soon after – his, boss opting to unleash all of the cows, thinking he would never return.
Yoshizawa said he couldn’t abandon the cattle, completely. He obtained a permit to re-enter the exclusion zone, so he could feed the animals. He’s been driving an hour and a half from his temporary home every day since, to look after them.
“The government didn’t even try to save the animals,” he told me. “They just wanted to kill them. I am filled with rage.”
He displays the rage outside his ranch, where he’s handwritten angry messages on large, pieces of plywood. One sign placed near a cow’s remains reads “Stop killing our animals.”
The government has said it will take at least 30 years to decommission the crippled reactors. While Yoshizawa insists he isn’t going anywhere, the reality is, this nuclear wasteland may not be livable for decades.
As we hopped back in our car, to drive out of the exclusion zone, our driver asked if he could take us to the town center in Futaba. There was something he wanted to show us.
We drove past the main train station, past small office buildings, and retail stores, until we saw a sign marking the entrance to the main shopping district.
It read, “Nuclear power – the bright future of energy.”
Sendai Rising From the Wreckage
By Daisann McLane
Tues, Aug 30, 2011
Mr. Akawa—Akawa-san—apologizes as he pulls the taxi over to the shoulder of the two-lane highway. “I must change my uniform when we enter the disaster zone. Company regulations.” He gets out of the car, takes off the dark blue suit coat of his driver’s uniform, and replaces it with a “disaster casual” ensemble—an immaculate white denim jacket, sleeves pressed into a knife crease. Then he gets back behind the wheel, gripping it with hands covered by white gloves. We drive on.
I have to hold myself back from chuckling at his quick change—it’s so Japanese, making sure that the form and appearance is right, even in the worst possible situation. Nothing could be worse than what we’re driving through at the moment. This area, the low, flat coastal plain between the city of Sendai and the Pacific Ocean, is the closest landfall to the epicenter of the offshore 9.0 earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11. Because the shoreline around here follows a nearly straight line, with no bays or inlets, the tsunami roared through with full power, not just once, but three times.
Even after four months, it’s a mess of Augean proportion: uprooted pine trees, splintered wood beams, crumpled abandoned cars, wooden fishing boats tipped on their side, trying to sail away on a sea of mud. Your first reaction is to throw up your hands in desperation—how on earth do you begin cleaning this up? But the Japanese have passed that shock stage, and have whipped themselves into action: a squadron of earth movers is busy, steadily organizing the endless wreckage into tidy haystack-like hills. “This was the town of Natori.” Akawa-san points over to a spot on the eastern, coastal side of the highway. There’s nothing there but a solitary house without walls, its soggy furnishings and books spilling out the way junk tumbles from an overstuffed closet.
I’m exploring recovering Japan as a guest of the Japan National Tourism Organization. Tourism here dropped through the floor in the first three months after what’s now being called the “Triple Disaster”—earthquake, tsunami, Fukushima. The tourism board was so eager for upbeat stories they offered to send me anywhere I wanted over the course of a week. I emailed them a decidedly non-upbeat itinerary: Sendai, Fukushima, Tokyo. To my surprise, and to their credit, they said no problem. A few weeks later, in July, I was on a Shinkansenspeeding north from Tokyo to Sendai.
Akawa-san has a leathery complexion and a broad crinkly smile that he flashes a lot, in that Asian way, where a smile can either mean that something is funny or that the smiler is nervous and at a loss for what to say. He’s in his mid-60s and has been driving a taxi for the same local company for 35 years. In Japan’s famously aging society, jobs that in other parts of Asia would be filled by twenty- or thirtysomethings—drivers, cleaners, wait-staff—are often performed by elders. Akawa-san tells me he’s lived in Sendai all his life, and I’m not surprised.
All the landmarks swept away by the tsunami still seem visible to him—along with things that disappeared from the landscape centuries before. “We’re on Route 4, also called the Sanrikudo. The highway follows the route of an old road to Edo (Tokyo) hundreds of years old.”
Everyone from shoguns to peasants traveled this route in the time of Date Masamune, the legendary northern Japanese daimyo (literally, “Big Personage,” a strongman) who founded Sendai around 1600. (The date is doing his part for the recovery. His cartoon image, featuring his trademark eye patch, is the very kawaii mascot on all the posters downtown exhorting citizens to work hard to rebuild the Tohoku region.) Date Masumune established his Sendai castle, according to Japanese custom, not by the sea but at a more propitious location inland, atop the highest hill. Sendai city, which sprang up around this fortress, is now a snug, modern, mostly low-rise metropolis that bears only minor traces of the big disaster. (This is mainly because it was rebuilt from scratch, and with concrete and steel, after an earlier, man-made one: American bombing flattened industrial Sendai during World War II.) This coastal area was left to the fishermen and their villages—until recently, that is.
“The real-estate prices out here were cheaper than in Sendai city,” Akawa-san explains. “So this became a popular area to live. It was considered healthier to be by the sea, so elderly people moved here, and nursing homes.” I don’t have time for the sadness of this to sink in, for at this moment we pull up in front of Sendai Airport. This is the very airport that was swallowed by a sickly black hand of water in the horrifying tsunami video that went viral in March.
The first thing I notice is that the main terminal has an unfortunately prescient architectural motif: a steel roof that rolls and undulates, like an ocean wave. The next thing I notice is that—amazingly—the airport is back up and running. The whine and clatter of construction fills the air, and hard-hatted workers, in very cool-looking baggy trouser ensembles (is there anyone in Japan who doesn’t know how to wear a uniform with panache?), shuttle to and fro among clutches of passengers. Full services, Akawa-san says proudly, will resume next month.
I’m expecting us to drive north now and head up the coast—we’re supposed to visit Matsushima, a nearby sheltered bay with 260 islands that mostly escaped the tsunami and is one of the most beloved scenic spots in all Japan. (The haiku poet Basho, dumbstruck by the natural beauty of the place, penned his famous 17-syllable ode to ecstasy: “Ah Matsushima! Ah ah Matsushima ah! Matsushima ah!”)
But Akawa-san keeps driving east, toward the coast, without explaining why. We pass more desolation, more wrecked cars, more half-standing houses with beams exposed, and then we come to a roadblock with more guys in hard hats. After some discussion, they wave us through. Finally, Akawa-san pulls off the road, into what’s left of a small parking lot, and stops the car.
It isn’t until we get out that I understand why he’s taken me all the way out here. Turning around, I see the tall rounded mound behind us, the stairs leading up to the traditional Shintotorii, or gate, hung with a rope from which folded white paper zig-zag strips are fluttering like tiny birds in the wind. At once a chill wraps its arms around me, a cold embrace that anyone who’s lived anywhere in Asia knows well. This is the home of the village spirits, the portal between the lands of the living and the dead.
“The tsunami destroyed everything in this village except the shrine,” Akawa-san tells me, discreetly omitting the second part of the equation—what happened to everyone? We climb the stairs, and he points out the broken stumps of the original torii‘s pillars—the tsunami’s power easily swept away the 10-foot stone gate. Unseen hands have replaced it with a rough-hewn torii fashioned from pine saplings. At the foot is an unopened plastic supermarket bag of salt. Akawa-san shakes his head. The salt is a symbol of purification, meant to be scattered on the ground or arranged carefully in little cone piles. Someone came and left in a big hurry—or was too distraught to observe all the ritual details of prayer.
Up on the hill, gnarled to a picture-perfect configuration, a sacred pine tree watches over the space where the village used to be. Akawa-san, silent, flashes his smile, but it’s not a happy one this time. We stand there for a while, on the high ground, looking out across the wreckage, the mud, the emptiness, and—for the first time since coming to Sendai—I can see the Pacific Ocean in the distance, gray, coiled, and looming. That’s when it hits me: Akawa-san hasn’t just brought me here to see the shrine. He’s brought me to this hill because it is, like Matsushima, a “scenic” spot, the most aesthetically pleasing viewpoint from which to observe the terrible things that happened here. In Japan, even tragedy finds beauty. Ah ah, tsunami, ah.
By Timothy R. Homan - Aug 2, 2011
Longshoremen at ports in Washington state and Vancouver are set to load more timber and lumber onto vessels destined for Japan as the world’s third-biggest economy rebuilds from a $220 billion natural disaster.
The March 11 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that left more than 20,000 people dead or presumed so will require the biggest importation of logs, timber and plywood since 2008, according to Wood Resources International LLC., a forest-industry consulting firm based in Bothell, Washington.
Increased Asian demand may be the lone bright spot for dry- bulk shippers including Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. that are suffering from a glut of new ships that’s pushing down charter rates. For timber companies such as Weyerhaeuser Co. (WY) and Rayonier Inc., it’s a source of strength at a time when the U.S. housing market is floundering.
“Demand will start to pick up in the second half and it will probably last for a year or two,” said Hakan Ekstrom, president of Wood Resources International. “Weyerhaeuser, since they are a huge company and they have long, long relations with Japanese companies, will benefit.”
A revival in exports to rebuild parts of Japan this year and in 2012 will complement the 43 percent increase in the volume of lumber that moved through Port Metro Vancouver in the first five months of this year compared with last.
Lumber to Asia
The fourth-largest port in North America by tonnage saw a 22 percent increase in 2010 in the volume of lumber shipments to Japan versus the prior year. Lumber exports to China jumped 39 percent and deliveries to Taiwan were up 32 percent.
“It’s going to benefit the dry-bulk trade in the form of timber,” said Greg Lewis, a New York-based analyst at Credit Suisse. He said the rebuilding effort in Japan will probably also give a boost to tankers that transport oil and container ships that move finished products. He recommends Textainer Group Holdings Ltd. (TGH), a San Francisco-based company that leases dry- freight containers.
Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia are among Washington state ports that may be loading greater tonnages of timber aboard ships destined for Japan after cleanup of debris is complete and infrastructure rebuilding gets underway.
Federal Way, Washington-based Weyerhaeuser may stand to gain the most compared with other U.S. logging companies because of the type of timber used by Japanese homebuilders, the Douglas fir.
West Coast Markets
Japan “will shift now to longer-term production of permanent housing and that should benefit West Coast markets for lumber,” Daniel Fulton, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said in a July 29 conference call. “Our large, long-term export market has been and will continue to be Japan.”
Shares of Weyerhaeuser have risen 11.5 percent in the past 12 months, about the same as the 11.4 increase in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Rayonier Inc. (RYN), based in Jacksonville,Florida, has seen a 20 percent gain.
Japan intends to complete reconstruction in the next 10 years, with most of the rebuilding finished in five years, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said at a press conference in Tokyo on July 26. The government plans to spend 19 trillion yen ($246 billion) over that period, according to a draft government proposal obtained by Bloomberg News.
End of Year
At the same time, the shift from cleanup to rebuilding is taking longer than initially anticipated. Efforts are still focused on emergency housing, with regular home construction expected to commence before the end of the year.
“Yes, there will be a shift because of Japanese demand,” Lynn Wilson, vice president of U.S. forest resources at Rayonier, said in a July 26 telephone interview.
Exports to Japan from the Port of Seattle increased 31 percent during the first five months of the year, compared with the same period in 2010, said Emma Griffith, a director at Fitch Ratings inNew York who specializes in U.S. seaports. Wood exports are up 16 percent. Paper and paperboard, transported in dry-freight containers, are up 25 percent, she said.
The Port of Tacoma’s exports to Japan, the port’s second- biggest trading partner, increased 15 percent during the first five months of the year compared with the same time period in 2010. Two-way trade with Japan totaled $8.45 billion last year, Tara Mattina, a port spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Glut of Ships
Dry-bulk shipping companies such as Hyundai Merchant and Mitsui O.S.K. have been hurt by a glut of new ships that’s pushed down charter rates. Reconstruction in Japan “will just make it less bad” for firms in that field, said Lewis of Credit Suisse.
The global fleet of dry-bulk carriers will also grow 13 percent this year, outpacing a 4 percent increase in traffic, according to Clarkson Research Services Ltd., a unit of the world’s largest shipbroker.
Rick Holley, president and chief executive officer of Plum Creek Co., said in a July 25 conference call with investors that Asian demand is helping offset weakness in the U.S. market.
“We sold more volume from our coastal Washington timberlands into attractively priced Asian log markets,” Lee Thomas, chairman and CEO of Rayonier, said in a July 28 statement after the company reported second-quarter earnings.
To contact the reporter on this story: Timothy R. Homan in Washington firstname.lastname@example.org
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