New Policy: After 115 children killed in disaster



TOKYO (majirox news) — Japan’s Ministry of Education is reviewing its policy that allows schools to hand over students to their guardians during a disaster after 115 children at 33 elementary, junior high and special support schools were killed in the tsunami following the earthquake at Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in northeastern Japan, according to the Mainichi newspaper.Many children survived because they remained at the schools and took shelter on the top floors and on higher grounds. In fact, all the student at nine schools that were flooded survived.

In the city of Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, ten school children were lost after being released to their parents and then being caught in the tsunami, even though the school authorities had warned them that they shouldn’t go near the sea.

In Shichi-machi, at Chouritsu Elementary, Fukushima prefecture, a brother and sister left the school while the tsunami warning was being broadcast and were also lost.

At Togura Junior High School, one student fell while leaving school, and the tsunami pulled him away.

In the city of Ishinomaki at Kamasho Elementary, 22 children died after they were handed over to their guardians. An official from the school said there was no broadcast warning them of the tsunami. The children were going home when the tidal wave hit them.

At another school that did receive warnings, 74 children were swept away by the tsunami because teachers were discussing evacuation plans for 40 minutes on the playground of their elementary school in the city of Okawa Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture.

The problem is that there is no clear disaster policy, according to the Ministry of Education. Letting parents take children from the school during a disaster was a procedure established mainly for elementary schools.

“It is necessary to do a thorough study of appropriate times for releasing children to their parents,” according to the ministry. “The last time it was discussed was in 1996, and no conclusions were reached.”

Professor Marumitsu Murosaki of Kansai Gakuin University, referring to the City Disaster Prevention Study, told the Mainichi, “The deaths of these children occurred because there was no clear policy in the three prefectures.”

After reviewing the disaster response policies of the schools, it is crucial to immediately devise a standard disaster policy, noted the Ministry of Education.

Ishinomaki to turn Okawa Elementary ruins into 3/11 monument


An elementary school where more than 80 pupils and teachers lost their lives as the 2011 tsunami washed out Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, will be preserved to remember what happened and improve the city’s disaster preparedness, the mayor said.

Public opinion was split about whether Okawa Elementary School should be preserved or demolished. But at a news conference Saturday, Ishinomaki Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama unveiled a plan to turn the building into a monument.

“It’s an important place to remember and mourn the victims as well as educate people about disaster preparedness and pass on what transpired,” he said.

Since some families say they cannot bear the sight of the building, the plan is to shield it with trees and redevelop the area as a memorial park, city officials said.

A council of citizens set up last May to discuss the issue will advise the mayor on the park development project.

On March 11, 2011, students, teachers and other employees of Okawa Elementary spent 50 minutes waiting in the school yard after the offshore magnitude-9 temblor struck at 2:46 p.m.

Just after they began evacuating, the tsunami hit, killing 84 students and staff in what became the nation’s deadliest school-linked disaster.

“We would like to commit ourselves to disaster prevention and mitigation so that we will never see human casualties again,” Kameyama said.

The steel-reinforced two-story building was completely flooded to the ceiling of the second floor. The mayor explained the importance of preserving the ruins.

“To raise awareness about disaster preparedness, we need to keep what we have as is,” he said.

The city said it was not expecting to incur maintenance costs for the structure as there is no plan to reinforce it for quake resistance. The cost of the conservation project is estimated at ¥530 million.

The Ishinomaki Municipal Government has also decided to save part of Kadonowaki Elementary School, which was struck by both tsunami and fire in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

Taro, Tsunami fears haunt residents of recovering Iwate town


A “disaster-prevention tour guide” led dozens of people earlier this month along a 10-meter-high seawall overlooking the Taro district in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, where monster tsunami wreaked havoc in March 2011.

“This seawall was built not to prevent the tsunami, but to give people more time to escape,” Junko Sasaki, 53, said.

The district made a fresh start on Nov. 22 by holding a “town opening” ceremony after erecting about 450 new dwellings.

But with Taro’s population down to about 70 percent since the quake and tsunami, and its new seawall delayed, residents are worried about the struggles they will face during the years-long recovery process.

The area, which has a narrow cove facing the ocean, was also hit by tsunami in 1896 and 1933 that claimed 2,700 lives.

History made them wise enough to realize survival means fleeing to higher ground, despite the area’s famous double seawall, which was dubbed “Banri no Chojo” (“Long Castle of 100,000 Miles”), Japan’s name for the Great Wall of China.

But they may have let their guard down on March 11, 2011, when the deadly waves swept over the seawall and flooded the area, leaving 181 people dead or missing, and nearly 1,700 dwellings damaged or destroyed.

“Even if there is (sufficient) infrastructure, at the end of the day you must protect your own life. You need to remember that you have to evacuate,” Sasaki warned.

In the more than four years since, Miyako has built about 450 new dwellings both on higher ground 40 to 60 meters above sea level and on ground raised by about 2 meters.

Aiko Akanuma, 74, who had lived in the center of the city, moved into a public dwelling on higher ground earlier this month, giving up land she had lived on for 50 years.

When the tsunami hit, Akanuma ran from her home to a nearby public facility. She might not be so lucky next time, she said.

“If another one hits, I don’t think I will be able to escape,” she said, citing her bad legs.

Others, like photo shop owner Shigeo Tsuda, 75, are returning to the city center even though it’s on low ground.

“I came this far with help from people from across the nation,” said Tsuda, who reopened his store on a street just inside the seawall. Yet he worries.

The reason he decided to reopen in the same spot was because he was told a new seawall would be in place by next March. But due to other reconstruction projects, the 14.7-meter-high seawall was delayed. It is now expected to be finished by the end of March 2017.

“If there is another tsunami, the town will be destroyed again,” he said. “It’s really scary.”

The city says Taro had a population of 3,173 as of Nov. 1, down from more than 4,400 before the tsunami. It plans to build 220 dwellings at its center but has only received requests for 20 to 30, including shops.

Tsuda is thinking about rebuilding his house, but plans to stay in public housing for now. He decided to reopen his photo shop, the only one in Taro, out of a sense of mission.

“But I can’t sleep well at night, as I’m worried about whether I can really make a living,” he said.

Community Center (von Tange) in Rikuzentakata ist eröffnet worden


Die Eröffnungs-Zeremonie fand im Rikuzentakata Gemeindesaal am  27. April statt. Über  180 Personen  feierten die Fertigstellung der Anlage. Ein Großteil der Finanzierung kam über das Rote Kreuz aus Singapur.








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In tsunami-hit Kesennuma, fishing industry recovers but scars remain




A stranger visiting the fishing port of Kesennuma today may not realize that six years ago it suddenly became the scene of massive, deadly devastation.

Much of the land in the port’s waterfront area remains vacant, except for the foundations of hundreds of structures swept away by tsunami reaching up to 10 meters that struck on March 11, 2011, killing about 20,000 people along the Tohoku region’s coast.

Kesennuma is one of the biggest Tohoku fishing ports, and seafood firms have been key players in the local economy.

Sales at the local wholesale fish market last year amounted to 92.36 percent of the pre-disaster level, reaching ¥16.89 billion in October in an apparent recovery.

Yet six years after the disaster, scars perhaps not conspicuous to outsiders remain, as does the trauma that befell the survivors.

Naomitsu Onodera, an official of the Kesennuma Fishery Processor’s Cooperative Association, said he has felt gloomier over the past few years.

“There are too many difficult problems, and I don’t feel we are going in the right direction,” he said.

Despite the recovery in sales at the fish market, catches in terms of tonnage were only 69.9 percent of the pre-disaster level as of October.

This means fishing boats bring smaller hauls to Kesennuma, resulting in a surge in prices, Onodera said.

“Fishermen are OK, and the fishing boats are OK, too,” Onodera said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “But seafood processing businesses that buy the fish are suffering, in particular small ones. They are closer to consumers, so it’s hard for them to raise prices.”

Onodera said the fish hauls at Kesennuma have declined considerably, apparently due to climate change and overfishing by rival boats from other countries.

Small seafood firms have been hit particularly hard because it took them longer to resume operations after the disaster. Big businesses quickly reopened factories and re-established sales channels, he said.

According to the Kesennuma Fishery Cooperative Union, the wholesale price of katsuo (bonito) surged to ¥334.6 per kilogram last year from ¥216.6 in 2010, and that of sanma (Pacific saury) rose to ¥161.9 from ¥105.2. Those price hikes have badly plagued fish-processing firms in Kesennuma, Onodera said.

After the disaster, many workers switched to higher-paying jobs, including working on the ongoing massive reconstruction projects in the disaster zone. Others left Kesennuma because the small fish-processing firms were unable to quickly reopen their factories.

This has only worsened the labor shortage at the small companies, local officials said.

In general, fish-processing factories pay low wages, and the work is often referred to as “3K,” for kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty) and kiken (dangerous.)

The job-to-applicant ratio at fish-processing firms surged to as high as 4.74 in Kesennuma as of September, meaning that for every applicant there are 4.74 job openings on average.

Not only is the long-term fate of small firms uncertain, but that of the coastal region as a whole appears in doubt as the central government cuts back on huge reconstruction budgets.

“Big (public works) projects are now being completed,” Akihiko Sugawara, head of the Kesennuma Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a recent interview. “Workers who came to Kesennuma for that work have gradually started leaving since last summer.”

Last year about 380,000 people came to and stayed overnight in Kesennuma, and half were believed to have been involved in post-disaster public works projects.

When those projects end, all of these people “could disappear” from Kesennuma, Sugawara said, with “a big impact” on the local economy.

Still, Sugawara sees some hopeful signs. Local business leaders in recent years have tried to boost tourism, pushing the appeal of Kesennuma’s well-known fisheries industry.

They offer tours allowing visitors to enter huge frozen fish warehouses and eat shaved ice. Children can watch how giant fish and sharks are filleted and eat them after they are barbecued.

The tours started with just 30 visitors in 2013, but last year the number surged to 2,000.

“We want to make this a sustainable industry,” Sugawara said. “We are trying to add value to the fishery industry.”

At the center of the main bay in Kesennuma, the city plans to build a massive tsunami barrier and a new downtown area inside it.

But due to construction troubles and disputes over land rights, the plan has been considerably delayed. The downtown bay area, once the symbol of the thriving port, has yet to be redeveloped.

Sugawara said he hopes the redevelopment project will start this summer and be finished by June or July next year.

“Reconstruction will continue and won’t be finished for six or seven years,” he said. “I’d like people (outside the disaster-hit areas) to understand this.”

Over the past six years, central government officials in charge of Kesennuma’s reconstruction have rotated out, and newly appointed officials have become more and more “businesslike,” Sugawara said.

“Disaster-hit areas still have many problems,” he said.

Tsunami-displaced Tohoku shops struggling to find solid footing


The revival of Minamisanriku Sansan Shotengai is a rare example of shops hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami being able to shift from provisional to permanent locations in the Tohoku region.

The shopping arcade in the Pacific coastal town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the three hardest-hit prefectures, made a fresh start with newly completed buildings last week, moving from makeshift facilities.

Elsewhere, however, owners of many disaster-hit shops currently operating at temporary facilities are struggling to find ways to continue, facing difficulty in achieving full-fledged reconstruction.

“I want to rebuild my shop and am considering whether I’ll be able to do it while working a part-time job,” said Tsukiko Otomo, the 64-year-old owner of a ramen shop in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

In Miyagi, some 540 shops reopened at temporarily facilities prepared in the year or so after the disaster. Many of the facilities have been leased for free.

But almost six years later, the lease periods are nearing expiration for many shopkeepers.

According to a prefectural government survey, 238 of the shops had left the makeshift facilities as of last October, but 73 were not confirmed to be operating elsewhere.

The inability to reopen is believed to reflect difficulties in finding permanent shop locations due to delays in reconstruction, as well as dismal business prospects amid a population decline.

Still, nearly 90 percent of the 302 shops remaining in temporarily locations hope to rebuild, although about 40 percent are still not on the road to recovery.

In Kesennuma, two temporary shopping malls are set to close this spring due to a rezoning project, meaning 55 shops will have to move. But only 18 of them had somewhere to go as of January, according to a city government survey.

“I’ve been looking for a location for over a year, but I haven’t found one that meets my needs,” said Kunio Iwatsuki, 74, who has run a yakitori restaurant that has been in business for more than 80 years.

Deadlines for the use of the temporary facilities are ultimately determined by local governments, but state subsidies for their removal run until the end of March 2019.

Wiederaufbau nach dem Tsunami in Motoyoshi

気仙沼の川、両岸に800メートルの堤防 震災6年