Japan earthquake aftermath: 8 months later, progress made, but road ahead reamins rough

New York Daily News

Much of the debris is gone, but construction efforts have lagged

BY BY BRADEN GOYETTE
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Friday, November 18 2011, 3:07 PM

Diggers work on a pile of debris from the March 11 tsunami at Ishinomaki, in northeast Japan, Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.

Greg Baker/AP

Diggers work on a pile of debris from the March 11 tsunami at Ishinomaki, in northeast Japan, Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.

Aerial photographs taken along the Japanese coast provide a new glimpse of the destruction caused by the 9.0 level earthquake and powerful tsunami that hit the island nation eight months ago.

The photos, taken from a helicopter 1000 feet in the air by The Associated Press, show rows of barren lots where only the foundations of houses can be seen.

Much of the debris has been cleared away since March, but reconstruction efforts have lagged.

This is the case even though the Japanese government has approved two stimulus packages dedicated to rebuilding the coast since March, worth 6 trillion yen in total (about $78 billion), Businessweek reported.

Takuji Okubo, chief Japan economist for Societe Generale, criticized the government’s slow implementation of the plans. “Former prime minister

Naoto Kan lingered on his position and wasted precious time just pondering what to do with the money,” Okubo told the BBC.

The lower house of parliament also recently passed a third $156 billion budget for rebuilding the devastated areas – the second largest supplementary budget ever passed by the Japanese government, according to the BBC.

The measure still needs to be approved by the upper house.

Aerial photographs taken along the Japanese coast provide a new glimpse of the destruction caused by the 9.0 level earthquake and powerful tsunami that hit the island nation eight months ago.

The photos, taken from a helicopter 1000 feet in the air by The Associated Press, show rows of barren lots where only the foundations of houses can be seen.

Much of the debris has been cleared away since March, but reconstruction efforts have lagged.

This is the case even though the Japanese government has approved two stimulus packages dedicated to rebuilding the coast since March, worth 6 trillion yen in total (about $78 billion), Businessweek reported.

Takuji Okubo, chief Japan economist for Societe Generale, criticized the government’s slow implementation of the plans. “Former prime minister

Naoto Kan lingered on his position and wasted precious time just pondering what to do with the money,” Okubo told the BBC.

The lower house of parliament also recently passed a third $156 billion budget for rebuilding the devastated areas – the second largest supplementary budget ever passed by the Japanese government, according to the BBC.

The measure still needs to be approved by the upper house.

The foundations of houses destroyed by the March 11 tsunami are seen beside undamaged houses, near Sendai, northeast Japan, Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.

Greg Baker/AP
The foundations of houses destroyed by the March 11 tsunami are seen beside undamaged houses, near Sendai, northeast Japan, Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/japan-earthquake-aftermath-8-months-progress-made-road-remains-rough-article-1.979835#ixzz1e6ManACR

Japan Marks 6 Months Since Earthquake, Tsunami

Asia & Pacific – WORLD

Fox News 

Published September 11, 2011  Associated Press

japan_tsunami_reember_AP_Kyodo

AP/Kyodo News

Sept. 11: Local residents light a candle at a park during a memorial event marking six months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Iwanuma city, Miyagi prefecture.

TOKYO –  As the world commemorated the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, Sunday was doubly significant for Japan. It marked six months since the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, a date now seared in the national consciousness.

Up and down the hard-hit northeast coast, families and communities came together to remember victims. Monks chanted. Survivors prayed. Mothers hung colorful paper cranes for their lost children.

At precisely 2:46 p.m., they stopped and observed a minute of silence. March 11 changed everything for them and their country.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake produced the sort of devastation Japan hadn’t seen since World War II. The tsunami that followed engulfed the northeast and wiped out entire towns. The waves inundated the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Some 20,000 people are dead or missing. More than 800,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed. The disaster crippled businesses, roads and infrastructure. The Japanese Red Cross Society estimates that 400,000 people were displaced.

Half a year later, there are physical signs of progress.

Much of the debris has been cleared away or at least organized into big piles. In the port city of Kesennuma, many of the boats carried inland by the tsunami have been removed. Most evacuees have moved out of high school gyms and into temporary shelters or apartments.

The supply chain problems that led to critical parts shortages for Japan’s auto and electronics makers are nearly resolved. Industrial production has almost recovered to pre-quake levels.

But beyond the surface is anxiety and frustration among survivors facing an uncertain future. They are growing increasingly impatient with a government they describe as too slow and without direction.

Masayuki Komatsu, a fisherman in Kesennuma, wants to restart his abalone farming business.

But he worries about radiation in the sea from the still-leaking Fukushima plant and isn’t sure if his products will be safe enough to sell. He said officials are not providing adequate radiation information for local fisherman.

“I wonder if the government considers our horrible circumstances and the radiation concerns of people in my business,” said Komatsu, who also lost his home.

Another resident, 80-year-old Takashi Sugawara, lost his sister in the tsunami and now lives in temporary housing. He wants to rebuild his home but is stuck in limbo for the time being.

“My family is not very wealthy, and I only wish that the country would decide what to do about the area as soon as possible,” Sugawara said.

He might be waiting for a while. The Nikkei financial newspaper reported this week that many municipalities in the hardest-hit prefecture of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima have yet to draft reconstruction plans.

Of the 31 cities, towns and villages severely damaged by the disaster, just four have finalized their plans, the Nikkei said. The scale of the disaster, the national government’s slow response and quarrels among residents have delayed the rebuilding process.

Workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant are still struggling to meet a goal of bringing it to a cold shutdown by early next year.

“We are barely keeping the reactors under control and the situation is still difficult,” Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Yoshinori Moriyama said in Tokyo.

In Fukushima city, dozens of citizens rallied Sunday outside a government-backed international conference at which scientists agreed that the radiation danger from the nuclear plant was far less than Chernobyl. The protesters accused conference organizers of trying to underestimate the risk for children.

Citizens also demonstrated in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where thousands of anti-nuclear protesters demanded that the country abandon nuclear power. Activists circled the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry holding banners saying, “Nuclear power? Goodbye.”

Criticism of the government’s handling of the disaster and nuclear crisis led former Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign. Former Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda took over nine days ago, becoming Japan’s sixth new prime minister in five years.

He spent much of Saturday visiting Miyage and Iwate prefectures, promising more funding to speed up recovery efforts and trying to shore up confidence in his administration.

But the trip was overshadowed later in the day by his first big political embarrassment. Noda’s new trade minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned, caving into intense pressure after calling the area around the nuclear plant “a town of death,” a comment seen as insensitive to nuclear evacuees.

Public support for the new government started out strong, with an approval rating of 62.8 percent in a Kyodo News poll released last Saturday. Hachiro’s resignation will likely translate into a drop and new doubts about Noda’s ability to lead.

Regardless of politics, what’s clear is that the road ahead will be long.

“Given the enormous scale of the destruction and the massive area affected, this will be a long and complex recovery and reconstruction operation,” Tadateru Konoe, the Red Cross president, said in a statement. “It will take at least five years to rebuild, but healing the mental scars could take much longer.”

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/09/11/japan-marks-6-months-since-earthquake-tsunami/#ixzz1XiSKWPTb

Living with the aftermath of Japan’s tsunami nightmare

CNN
By Nicolas Ito, for CNN
September 6, 2011

Otsuchi, Japan (CNN) — Kyoko Ogawa wore the brave face the world associated with Japan’s tsunami survivors.

The March 11 catastrophe washed away all her earthly possessions. She watched as her hotel burned to the ground in a gas explosion triggered by the tsunami; a hotel that had been in her family for generations.

She was determined not to let the disaster break her.

But after the elation of finding her son alive, the reality of losing her livelihood started to erode the calm facade. She was in turmoil. She was afraid to talk to other people about it because she knew everyone was suffering as much as her, if not more.

They were “ganbaru,” she recalls — enduring, holding on, withstanding, and living with the pain. She couldn’t be the only one to lose control.

Witnesses look back at tsunami

Life after Japan’s nuclear crisis

“I was in shock because I realized that all that was precious to me was gone,” she says, six months on from that terrible day. “I didn’t know what to do from then on. I became tormented.”

That was the start of a slippery slope down a dark trail of despair.

It’s a familiar story in Otsuchi, northeastern Japan, where the devastating earthquake and tsunami turned much of the town in Iwate Prefecture into rubble. Today, much of that physical debris has been cleared away. But the emotional wreckage of the survivors is proving much more difficult to remove, as the mental scars from that day linger months later.

In Ogawa’s case, depression could have had tragic consequences for her had she not met Suimei Morikawa, a volunteer psychiatrist who listened patiently to her troubles one day at an evacuation center.

Morikawa became the difference between life and death. She says she probably would have ended her life if the doctor hadn’t been there for her.

“I was so moved by her approach to life,” recalls Morikawa. “She may have been suffering and wanting to end her life because she had lost so much, but she also desperately wanted to get over that. I was moved by her willingness to get out of her own situation. I just helped her a little.”

Concerns about suicide and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are growing among mental health specialists working in the region. PTSD in particular, a condition which can push people over the edge if not addressed, can show up months after the initial shock.

Suicide is also a major concern in Japan.

The sense of loss and deep grief can overcome you quickly and if you are alone when that happens, you lose all hope for the future.
Mariko Ukiyo, psychologist

According to the World Health Organization, Japan has the fifth highest suicide rate in the world. More than 30,000 suicides are reported each year, according to the country’s national police agency, with Iwate Prefecture — one of the regions hit hardest by the tsunami — having one of the biggest problems.

Mariko Ukiyo, a psychologist and volunteer counselor, is part of a therapy group called “Team Japan 300.” She and a number of other team members visit temporary villages in the devastated region hoping to treat symptoms of PTSD and ultimately prevent suicides.

According to Ukiyo, loneliness and despair take hold when the survivors move from their evacuation center to temporary housing.

“It is only then that people see how their life has changed from their pre-disaster life,” she says. “The sense of loss and deep grief can overcome you quickly and if you are alone when that happens, you lose all hope for the future. I think this period is when they need help the most.”

But getting help to the victims is proving to be a challenge in Japan, a country with limited experience in mental health care historically. Ukiyo says the amount of psychological support received by tsunami victims now is a tenth of what the victims of 9/11 in the United States experienced.

According to Ukiyo, the devastating 1995 earthquake in the city of Kobe started to raise awareness about the effects of post-traumatic stress — particularly among the younger generation — but many Japanese continue to find it difficult to talk about sorrow and loss because of the shame of appearing weak.

Ukiyo’s strategy is to gather the residents in temporary housing for a regular get-together in a relaxed atmosphere. This gives her the opportunity to keep an eye on each of the participants, observing anyone that shows signs of severe distress. The hope is that what starts out as small talk will gradually evolve into people talking about themselves and their problems.

But despite her efforts Ukiyo is not optimistic about the region’s future with trauma.

“We are only now starting to hear about sick or depressed people six months after the tsunami,” she says. She believes suicide rates will only increase.

Meanwhile, Kyoko Ogawa vows not to be another victim. She says Dr. Morikawa pulled her back from the brink and she is now making plans for the future. She wants to rebuild her hotel and give back to those who helped her.

While Ogawa is a success story for Morikawa, he worries about those he will never reach in this devastated region.

“Now that I have met these people, I have grown attached to them,” he says.

“It saddens me that there are still so many people suffering here. I can’t stand the thought that there may be people who died because they had no-one to talk to.”

 

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/09/06/world/asia/japan-tsunami-suicides/index.html

Can Japan Recover?

Slate
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.