Tsunami sinks Japan
aquaculture Suvendrini Kakuchi
MINAMI-SANRIKU, Japan - Yumi Goto, 60,
lives with her husband in a temporary shelter on a
windy hill that overlooks vast stretches of
tsunami-devastated coast where her home was once
"The huge earthquake and tsunami
destroyed the life I had known till now. We are
waiting to return to our former lives as soon as
possible," Goto told Inter Press Service (IPS).
Over the past month, Goto's family has
resumed its traditional occupation, but they are
nowhere near harvesting seaweed and oyster on the
scale they did before the March 11 catastrophe
that devastated the Tohoku region covering the
worst-affected prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and
A poll conducted by local
officials in the region last week indicated that
fewer than 20% of displaced residents wanted to
which straddles bustling fishing ports, fertile
farmland and small towns in the Miyagi prefecture.
For centuries, these pristine northern
areas provided marine and agricultural resources
for the capital Tokyo, with traditional
livelihoods remaining undisturbed and communities
content to remain isolated from the drastic global
changes around them.
"Minami-Sanriku is an
example of the challenges facing the post-disaster
recovery process. The population, as illustrated
by the polls, is deeply rooted in its traditional
ways and does not want to move to new locations,"
explained Professor Akio Shimada, public policy
expert at Tohoku University.
embarked on a vast recovery program for Tohoku
that the government says will take three years.
For planners Tohoku with its displaced and aging
population presents several dilemmas two months
away from the anniversary of Japan's worst
disaster in recent times.
Tohoku's disaster-affected towns are being asked
to make tough decisions. Some like Goto and her
husband have decided to remain, knowing that they
can continue fishing only if they stay on in
But the younger generation
is not so sure and already the total number of
households in Minami-Sanriku has shrunk from 5,400
before the disaster to 4,893.
expert Ryuzaburo Sato at the National Institute of
Population and Social Security Research in Tokyo
told IPS that the shrinking of the rural
population had begun even before the March
disaster. "Youth prefer to seek jobs in big cities
that offer them stable and modern lifestyles," he
Japan's population fell by a
record 123,000 in 2010, falling for the fourth
consecutive year. The total number of new adults
or people who turned 20 years in 2011 was 1.24
million, or less than one percent of the national
population of 127.36 million.
already has the lowest population density in the
country with less than 200 people per square
Determined to establish a new
concept in the recovery process, Tohoku mayors and
experts are pushing for a highly localized
development strategy which, they say, is crucial
for revitalizing the region.
One of the
more vociferous advocates of a new development
model in Tohoku is Hiroya Masuda, former mayor of
Miyakoshi, a fishing town of 60,000 people in
Iwate prefecture, also devastated by the
earthquake and tsunami.
spearheading a movement pushing for funds from the
central government to prop up the local marine
industry as a priority. This, he insists, will
boost the local economy and encourage the younger
generation to stay on.
Tohoku depended on the economy of Tokyo given that
our policies were based on selling our produce to
the big companies in the capital. This is the time
to start thinking locally and create a sustainable
Tohoku," he said.
Similar demands are
heard in Fukushima prefecture that is grappling
with radiation contamination from the
disaster-damaged nuclear reactor the local
government had accepted 40 years ago in exchange
for funds from Tokyo to support economic
Former governor Eisaburo Sato
is a vehement critic of Japanese traditional
development policy which he has publicly condemned
as wasteful and not benefiting local communities
that are forced to play the role of supporting
rich companies in Tokyo.
already reporting the largest exodus of people -
30,000 from the total of 45,000 - reported from
Tohoku. The general trend is for older residents
to stay back while the working population, worried
about jobs and health risks, has moved out.
Shimada explained to IPS that the Tohoku
disaster, an important turning point for local
economies, is now providing lessons in disaster
"Funds must be targeted into
innovative projects that will enrich the local
people which is what the new recovery budget must
support," he said. He pointed to larger support
for technology transfer to the traditional fishing
and agriculture sectors.
Biotechnology-driven fish farms, new
energy research, and high quality agricultural
produce are some of the projects now being
proposed for Tohoku.
Goto, despite her
determination to restart her life in
Minami-Sanriku, also wants change. "Since I was a
teenager I have been helping my father and then my
husband to grow seaweed and manage the oyster
catches. The work is strenuous for women."
"While I am too old to move out, I am sure
new businesses would encourage my daughters to
stay on and make Minami-Sanriku an attractive
place to live in," she mused.