In June 2011, the total cost of rebuilding was estimated to be ¥16.9 trillion (about $200 billion). Many felt that as part of the rebuilding efforts housing should be placed out of harm’s way on high ground, away from the coast and more evacuation centers are needed and they have to be on higher ground. It was also suggested that those affected by the disaster should be given tax breaks and restrictions on land use should be eased.

The Japanese government has decided on a basic policy for reconstruction, under which at least $250 billion yen will be spent over five years starting in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. A ¥12.1 trillion ($150 billion) third extra budget to fund reconstruction work was approved in October 2011.

In May the government announced plans to allow local authorities in areas hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami to set up special zones offering relaxed regulations and preferential taxation treatment. The plan is part of the government's outline of special legislation, to aid reconstruction in disaster-hit areas. The special zones aim to remove administrative obstacles so as to quickly implement reconstruction projects that reflect the wishes of each area. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun , May 15, 2011]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “There will be two types of zones: Reconstruction zones will be set up in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, while municipalities within the zones that suffered particularly serious damage will be designated as special districts. If a city, town or village is designated as a special district, a joint liaison council of the central and local governments will be established. Through the council, concerned central ministries and agencies will hold consultations with the local government about the latter's requests for special measures.”

Nobel-prize-winning chemist Ryoji Noyori wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Despite the devastation, the Tohoku region remains attractive and holds great potential. For dispersing risk, there are several specific proposals worth consideration, including (1) relocating some central government functions to Tochigi and Fukushima, the two prefectures chosen in 1999 by the government as candidate areas for partial decentralization; (2) adopting the so-called doshu organization, under which existing prefectures would be realigned into much larger administrative zones or states, as proposed by a government advisory council in 2008; (3) making fresh efforts to lure foreign direct investment; (4) revamping, integrating and strengthening the industrial and economic structures in the Tohoku region; and (5) establishing beautiful urban landscapes. Furthermore, Japan should enhance its status as a maritime nation.”

Japan’s Reconstruction Agency

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Local governments in the disaster-struck areas, which had been struggling with chronic staff shortages, rely on officials dispatched as helpers from other local governments. In Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, where 68 city government officials were killed in the disaster, a city government official said, "Along with reconstruction plans becoming clearer, we need more engineering and other specialists with knowledge about rezoning and purchasing of land."

A new government agency called "Fukko-cho," or the Reconstruction Agency, was created to take care of reconstruction after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. "Fukko" means revival. Local governments in areas that were severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11 have been putting together various reconstruction plans. They include projects to transform their communities by rebuilding towns in a disaster-resistant way, while also redeveloping their local industries. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 14, 2011]

The agency was in February 2012. Its duty is to support projects that will help rehabilitate disaster-stricken areas as soon as possible. Various central government agencies need to be involved in the wide range of projects that must be completed to rebuild the damaged areas. The new agency coordinates the various national government bodies to help reach a consensus about each reconstruction plan, and make decisions about how to use funds from the state coffers for reconstruction purposes. It also provides advice to prefectural, city, town and village governments in the quake-hit areas.

The agency is headquartered in Tokyo, with regional offices in the damaged areas. The agency has bureau-level centers and branches in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were all particularly devastated by last year's disaster. It also has offices in Aomori and Ibaraki prefectures. The new agency has about 250 staff who are mostly national government employees. The disaster reconstruction minister is a cabinet level position.

Many felt the government was slow in setting up the agency. The legislative decision to create the agency was made in June. But lawmakers were divided over the nature of authority that the agency should be given. The body's specifics were finalized in December 2011. As of March 2011, though the quake-hit municipalities applied for a combined 389.9 billion yen in subsidies, the agency approved only 250.9 billion yen, or 64 percent of the applications. A senior official of a town government in Fukushima Prefecture that had its application rejected said: "We're already short of workers. The application process for reconstruction subsidies has only increased our burden. It would be better if the government told us our application would not be approved from the outset." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 4, 2011]

Insurance and the 2011 Tsunami in Japan

Earthquake insurance payments are expected to exceed ¥1.2 trillion. As of September 2011. ¥1.15 trillion had been paid according to the General Insurance Association of Japan.

There were about $24 billion in insured properties in the three kilometer band of coastline in the four prefectures affected by the tsunami. In addition there are $300 billion in insured properties in the region shaken by the earthquake. The real loss from the disaster far exceeds the amount covered by insurance. Insurance companies are not equipped to handle losses brought about the radiation and evacuations caused by the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

As of mid May 2011 about $8 billion in insurance payouts had been made. Many vehicle owners lost their cars and trucks in the disaster and were left uncompensated as few of them took natural disaster policies. Such policies cost around $300 to $400 in top of annual policy premiums.

Life insurance companies have estimated they will have to pay out about $2.5 billion in claims. Dai-Ichi Life is Japan’s second largest life insurer, It was expected to make a profit of ¥50 billion in fiscal 2010-2011 but ended making a profit of about ¥19 billion after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 not because of the disaster but because it is the second largest holder of TEPCO stock.

Government Funding for Rebuilding

In the end, by some estimates, rebuilding could require send of $550 billion public and private funds. Perhaps the biggest question is how is Japan going to pay for all this when it is already, by some measures the world’s most heavily indebted nation, with a government debt equal to 200 percent of GDP.

The first supplementary budget to pay for rebuilding was passed in May 2011. It totaled ¥4.15 trillion (about $47 billion) and included 1) ¥1.2 trillion for public works such as repairing roads, airports, ports and sewer systems ; 2) ¥482.9 billion for disaster relief (temporary housing and money to victim’s families; 3) ¥640.7 billion for loans for small and mid-size businesses and home buildings; 4) ¥416 billion for restoration of facilities (schools, social-welfare-related buildings; 5) ¥351.9 billion for waste disposal; 6) ¥120 billion for increased tax grants to local government s; 7) ¥801.8 billion for other (self defense forces, police, support for students and ¥ 5.2 billion for farmers.

Immediately after the first supplementary budget to pay for rebuilding was passed work began on the second bill. Legislators estimated that one would be worth to ¥2 trillion (about $24 billion) and ¥20 trillion. This bill would cover full-scale reconstruction of key highways in coastal areas and ports. A third bill is expected to be worth more than ¥10 trillion ($120 billion).

In June 2011, a bill outlining Japan's basic scheme for reconstructing areas hit hard by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami was passed. The bill's enactment will pave the way for establishing a new government agency to be solely in charge of rebuilding the disaster-stricken northeastern region in the near future. With the enactment, the government will also be able to create special zones with tax breaks in the region and issue so-called ''reconstruction bonds'' for a certain period of time to finance necessary measures.

In July 2011 the Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan agreed on a draft ¥2 trillion second extra budget for fiscal 2011 that would finance relief work following the March earthquake and tsunami, including health checks on people affected by the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis. Kyodo reported the government's surplus fund under its budget for the year ending in March came to 1.47 trillion yen. This together with some 545 billion yen in grants to be allocated to local governments will cover the costs. [Source: Kyodo, July 2, 6, 2011]

A ¥12.1 trillion ($150 billion) third extra budget to fund reconstruction work was approved in October 2011.

Raising Taxes and Paying for Rebuilding

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government is studying issuing "recovery and reconstruction bonds" and a temporary increase in the consumption tax or hikes in two or three taxes. Funds generated from these measures will be placed in a "disaster restoration fund," to be kept separate from the government's general account. The money would be used strictly for financing reconstruction programs and redemption of the recovery bonds. If the consumption tax is raised, people from quake-hit areas will receive tax refunds according to their household incomes. To gain the understanding of the public for a tax hike, the government is planning to cut salaries of national public servants by about 10 percent.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 4, 2011]

“It is far from certain, however, that the government will be able to raise funds via tax hikes, as members in both the ruling and opposition parties have expressed opposition to increasing taxes. Some have argued for tapping reserve funds dubbed "buried treasure" in the national government bonds consolidation fund, which administers government bonds already issued. But the government has been hesitant to use these funds.” "That money is reserved for redeeming government bonds in the future," Noda said. "If we used it easily, we'd leave future generations with debt."

The Kan government is studying creating a "reconstruction solidarity tax" to procure funds for rebuilding from earthquake and tsunami. Under the system, the government will increase one or more of the consumption, income and corporate taxes for a limited time. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 16, 2011]

The Cabinet Office has estimated that property worth about 25 trillion yen was lost in the March earthquake and tsunami, including private homes and public roads. If the consumption tax is raised by one percentage point, it is estimated that tax revenue would increase by about 2.5 trillion yen. If it is raised by two points for five years, about 25 trillion yen in additional income would be generated, which would be equal to the amount of lost property.

Government Salaries Reduced to Free Funds for Tsunami Reconstruction

In February 2012, the House of Councillors passed a bill into law to cut national government employees' salaries by an average of 7.8 percent over two years from fiscal 2012 with the government using about 580 billion yen in savings from the cuts for financing reconstruction programs in areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2012]

The bill on a special exemption law on state employees' salaries was opposed by the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party, but passed the upper house with a majority of votes from ruling and opposition parties at a plenary session Wednesday morning. The bill was sponsored by lawmakers based on an agreement among the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the LDP and New Komeito.

The first cut will be an average of 0.23 percent of state employees' salaries, which was recommended by the National Personnel Authority. This cut, for fiscal 2011, will be carried out retrospectively to April last year. From fiscal 2012, an average 7.8 percent cut, which includes the 2011 reduction, will be rolled out over two years.

The prime minister's salary will be slashed by 30 percent, while other Cabinet members and senior vice ministers will see their wages reduced by 20 percent. Parliamentary secretaries will have a 10 percent pay cut. The reduction of salaries for Self-Defense Forces members will be deferred for up to six months due to their contributions to the reconstruction efforts and other work related to the Great East Japan Earthquake. The upper house also passed bills at the plenary session to revise laws governing the salaries of public prosecutors and judges so wage cuts can be made in this area as well.

Early Stages of Rebuilding After the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011

One of the first goals in the rebuilding effort was doing something about the massive amounts of debris left by the tsunami. The Los Angeles Times reported, “Bulldozers have pushed debris into the side streets to clear the main avenues, leaving piles up to 10 feet high. Between them, in the ruins, elderly women can be seen pushing shopping carts with a few possessions.” Around the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant the government was considering using remote-controlled , unmanned bulldozers, power shovel and dump trucks to clean up debris there.

In deciding how to deal with debris on their property, homeowners in the Miyagi Prefecture town of Wataricho were given a choice of three flags and told to use: 1) a red one if they wanted everything, including the remains of their house, cleared away; 2) a yellow one if they wanted the house untouched but the debris removed; and 3) a green flag if they wanted everything, including their house, untouched. About 3,000 homes in Wataricho were destroyed or damaged.

Construction of prefab housing for evacuees in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture began about a week after the earthquake and tsunami in the schoolyard of a middle school. The first temporary housing lottery was held in Iwate Prefecture in early April with 1,160 applications submitted for 36 units. The small apartments, able to accommodate two or three people each, were built on the grounds of a middle school. Evacuees began moving into provisional housing in Rikuzentakata in mid April.

An effort was made to keep communities intact and relocate entre towns and districts to the same place. Social workers learned from the Kobe Earthquake in 1995 that simply providing new housing is not enough. There, people who lost their homes, became depressed after moving to places where they didn’t know anybody. In the five years after the quake more than 200 elderly people died solitary deaths in temporary housing.

Cleaning Up After the Tsunami

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that large numbers of flies plagued areas devastated by the tsunami, some of them threatening survivors with serious disease. The flies are particularly bad in places with rotten fish and sludge. Municipal and private exterminators kill them, only to see more emerge, and residents constantly in need of bug sprays and swatters are becoming increasingly irritated. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 5, 2011]

In mid-July, extermination companies nationwide were dispatched to an industrial complex in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. The workers, who wear protective suits and masks, used about two tons of bug spray in the morning alone. "This is an abnormal situation," one of the exterminators, Hideaki Yamanaka, 63, from Osaka Prefecture, said. "It's the first time in decades that I've used such a large amount of spray."

In July 2011, four months after the March earthquake and tsunami, more than 60 percent of debris in the three hardest-hit prefectures--Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima--had yet to be removed. The Environment Ministry estimates that debris in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures totals about 22 million tons. About 34 percent of that had been removed to temporary storage sites as of July 5, according to the ministry. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2011]

Most of the debris near residential areas was removed by August 2011. The goal is to have all the debris removed by the end of March 2012 and disposed of by March 2014. Removal of reactor fuel won’t start until 2021.

Business Booms in Sendai on Quake Recovery

Takeharu Ishibashi and Arata Abe wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “With reconstruction proceeding slowly in the Tohoku region's coastal areas, businesses in the city of Sendai, the economic hub of the area, have seen booming sales since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Sendai department stores and shopping malls have been packed with shoppers, and reconstruction workers from other prefectures are frequenting local restaurants and bars. Economists believe that in addition to a special economic boom prompted by reconstruction work, spending has been boosted by disaster victims' wish to lift themselves out of their depressed feelings after the disaster. [Source: Takeharu Ishibashi and Arata Abe, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 1, 2012]

Before New Year’s day salespeople shouted energetically during a recent visit to Fujisaki Department Store in central Sendai. "We've got fatty fish," one called out. Luxury seafood items such as prawns and crabs were set out in the fresh food area, which was packed with so many people they could barely move around. A 28-year-old company employee in Sendai's Izumi Ward said, "My family members will get together on New Year's Day for the first time since the disaster. "I want to get energy by eating delicious meals."

The department store was unable to operate for about 1-1/2 months after the disaster. But according to a spokesman, "We're seeing the kind of surge that has been very rare in recent years." Fujisaki fully resumed operations in May, and its sales in that month rose 5 percent from the previous year. In June, they were up 20 percent year on year. This was partly because many people bought new furniture and other home items to replace those destroyed or damaged by the March 11 tsunami. But brisk sales continued from September to December. Sales at the nearby Sendai-Mitsukoshi department store rose 13 percent from May to November from the corresponding period in the previous year.

According to Kihachiro Mihara, the 77-year-old president of Mihara Honten, a long-established clock and watch store in Sendai, "Luxury watches priced at 200,000 yen or higher have sold well. "In December, we sold a watch priced at more than 1 million yen. That was very rare even before the disaster," he said. Many local residents say that because their post-disaster lives have now stabilized somewhat, they want to buy new cars to refresh their feelings, or feel a sense of luxury over the New Year holidays. However, one survivor who visited a luxury brand store in Sendai said, "I want to buy what I want now, because I don't know what tomorrow will bring."

Slow Pace of Repairing Power and Water Lines in Some Places

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of households and other utility customers without water after the disaster peaked at about 1.8 million in 12 prefectures affected by the earthquake. As of May number was now about 70,000. [Source: Shigehisa Hanamura, Hiroki Kotaka, Kumiko Okamoto and Shinsuke Ishiguro, Yomiuri Shimbun, may 7, 2011]

Tohoku Electric said the number of utility customers without electricity after the disaster peaked at about 2.74 million in the three prefectures. Excluding about 80,000 houses and other structures that were destroyed by the tsunami and about 30,000 houses and other structures that cannot be repaired because they are near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the number without power in May 2011 was at 10,508. The utility said it expects power to be restored to about 4,500 customers, including households, by around May 20, but was unclear when the rest would again have electricity.

“Nearly two months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, many disaster-stricken areas have made little progress in repairing water, electricity and other vital lifelines, causing stress and physical hardship to survivors, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. “In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, about 73,000 utility customers, including households, have no tap water, and electricity has not been restored to about 120,000 such customers. These figures include structures that were destroyed or washed away by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. Disaster survivors still without water and power have pressed officials to repair the vital services as quickly as possible.”

“Before the disaster, some areas relied on wells for their water. The tsunami flooded some of these wells with seawater or blocked them with debris. Desalinization and debris removal are huge tasks, and in these areas, the completion of repairs cannot even be forecast. Tap water supplies for Minami-Sanrikucho were cut off when the tsunami damaged four of the town's waterworks. The plants supply tap water pumped up from wells. However, well water at two of the plants is undrinkable as it now contains too much salt, according to local officials. In Rikuzen-Takata, three tap water sources were submerged by the ocean. As of April 1, the salt density in the water at one of the largest wells in the city was three times more than the central government's standard. Although the saline density has decreased recently, salt contained in the soil may filter into subterranean water used for tap water.”

Trains Need Several Years to Rebuild

In September 2011, the Tohoku shinkansen returned to normal for the first time since the March earthquake and tsunami. Service between Tokyo and Aomori resumed in April but in some sections the trains were forced to go slower than normal because or repair work and damaged power cables. Railway lines operated by East Japan Railway Co. and semipublic companies remain crippled months after the disaster.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Plans for rebuilding the railways are in limbo because if the reconstruction of disaster-hit residential areas sees them relocated to higher ground, the railway routes might also have to change. Railway companies have yet to develop a clear plan for the restoration of tracks and stations along the coast of the Tohoku region that were swept away by the tsunami that followed the massive quake in March.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 1, 2011]

“The lines affected run along the Pacific coast between Aomori and Fukushima prefectures. The JR East properties in the region that are currently not operating are: the Senseki Line between Higashi-Shiogama and Ishinomaki stations; the Ishinomaki Line between Maeyachi and Onagawa stations; Yanaizu and Kesennuma stations on the Kesennuma Line; Watari and Yotsukura stations on the Joban Line; Kesennuma and Sakari stations on the Ofunato Line; Kamaishi and Miyako stations on the Yamada Line; and Kuji and Hashikami stations on the Hachinohe Line. JR East is running buses in place of the disabled train services. The Senseki Line is an important means of transportation for businesspeople and students who commute to Sendai and areas nearby.”

“Masayuki Satomi, president of JR East's Sendai branch, said it will take several years to fully restore all train services in the region. Some devastated towns might implement major urban planning changes as part of their reconstruction plans, including the relocation of residential areas and roads to higher, inland locations that are less vulnerable to natural disasters. In such cases, it would clearly be inconvenient if railways were to remain along the coast.”

“Securing necessary funds for the reconstruction is another problem. Sanriku Railway Co., a third-sector, or semipublic, railway company funded by Iwate Prefecture and other entities, suffered significant damage to its facilities on March 11. Shimanokoshi Station on the Kita Rias Line between Miyako and Kuji stations was destroyed, and many bridges and other sections on the Minami Rias Line between Sakari and Kamaishi stations were damaged.”

“The company, which has managed to resume services on parts of the Kita Rias Line, hopes to resume full operations in the region within three years, but is struggling to find the necessary funds. The company tentatively estimated its reconstruction costs at 18 billion yen. Under the current subsidy system for the reconstruction of railway infrastructure, the railway operator is supposed to cover 50 percent of the cost, with the central government and the local government concerned covering 25 percent each.” "Because of a shortage of funds, we can't continue work to repair the lines," the company said.

JR East is also having money problems. It had its biggest quarterly losses — ¥61.4 billion — in the January-March quarter in 2011 due in part to the shot down of train services and shopping centers and increased repair cost after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Port and Embankment Repairs

In November 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Major fishing ports damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake will be completely repaired by the end of fiscal 2015 at the latest revised road maps compiled by the government's reconstruction headquarters said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 30, 2011]

According to the revised road map, Hachinohe fishing port in Aomori Prefecture will be restored by the end of 2012, while Choshi fishing port in Chiba Prefecture will be rebuilt by the end of fiscal 2012. Six other major fishing ports--two in Iwate Prefecture (Kamaishi and Ofunato) and four in Miyagi Prefecture (Kesennuma, Onagawa, Ishinomaki and Shiogama)--will be restored by the end of fiscal 2015.

Aside from these eight major fishing ports, more than 20 other fishing ports, including Yamada port in Iwate Prefecture, Shizukawa Port in Miyagi Prefecture and Tsurushihama Port in Fukushima Prefecture, will see restoration work completed by the end of fiscal 2015 at the latest. Seaside embankment restoration plans at 416 locations in the six prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Aomori, Ibaraki and Chiba will be prepared by the end of fiscal 2011. Of the 416, restoration work at 131 locations will begin within fiscal 2011. The complete reconstruction of damaged embankments is expected to be completed within five years.

Of 16 sewage treatment facilities on the Pacific coast, normal operations will resume at four facilities by the end of fiscal 2011 and at eight others within fiscal 2012. The government's reconstruction headquarters had added road maps on restoration for 43 municipalities in six quake-hit prefectures, including detailed time lines for restoration of embankments, farmland and school facilities. For example, in Ishinomaki, repair at 51 primary, middle and high schools and kindergartens with minor damage will be completed by the end of fiscal 2012.

Long Term Rebuilding

In June 2011, Kyodo reported, “Prime Minister Naoto Kan received a set of proposals on how to rebuild areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami from his key advisory panel, which calls for efforts to minimize damage in a country destined to coexist with natural disasters. The proposals, relying on the assumption that a similar catastrophic disaster could occur at any time, will serve as a master plan for Japan's formidable reconstruction work in the years ahead.” [Source: Kyodo, Mainichi Shimbun, June 26, 2011]

For the expected huge costs, the Reconstruction Design Council says the government must consider raising core taxes for a limited time, in addition to cutting wasteful government spending. Considering the geographic and geological characteristics of the Japanese archipelago, the council says that natural disasters are unavoidable and calls on the government, as well as local authorities, to focus more on measures aimed at "minimizing damage."

Instead of spending massively on public works and just trying "to head off natural disasters," such as building tsunami breakwaters across the seacoast, central parts of towns and cities in the region must be moved inland or to higher ground and recreated on the principle of making it easier for people to escape. The council also recommends the establishment of permanent anti-tsunami measures that can be applied to the rest of the country, with the aim of creating necessary new laws in the future.

To revitalize the region, which faces the challenge of an aging and declining population, one option may be to launch special economic zones to allow deregulation and tax breaks, it says. The panel advocates making the region a global front-runner in agriculture and fisheries and the development of cutting-edge technologies. It also says that Tohoku has great potential to turn into a leading user of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass energy.

On how to finance the reconstruction work, the council says the government could issue special bonds for a certain period of time and redeem them by increasing core taxes. Core taxes include consumption, income and corporate taxes. But the council did not specify which taxes should be raised. Members of the council included architect Tadao Ando, Sony Corp. Vice Chairman Ryoji Chubachi and Takashi Mikuriya, a University of Tokyo political professor. Philosopher Takeshi Umehara served as special adviser.

Some the long-term rebuilding plans are quite ambitious. On flat coastal plains there are plans to make huge embankments using debris and dirt and cover them with forest plantations, having farmland behind them, and commercial and residential areas relocated further inland. Roads would be raised to make them less vulnerable to being swamped by tsunamis and so they offer some offer some protection from tsunamis to buildings behind them. In mountainous coastal areas there are plans to make concrete embankments to protect fishing facilities and relocate commercial and residential to flat areas carved out of the coastal mountains. Preliminary reports have said nothing about where the money to build all this would come from.

Relocating Towns and Establishing a New National Park

Some planners in Tokyo have called for relocating vulnerable towns up onto the sheared-off tops of nearby mountains. But others say Japan can no longer afford to throw money at such projects, which would cost $3 billion just for a single town. Some towns wanted to get the long-term rebuilding process going as soon as possible took matters int their own hands and drew up their plans, with railroads and other facilities built inland out of harms way and forest planted near the sea to offer some protection from a future tsunami. But local people complained that such plans took years to complete and what were they supposed to do in the meantime.

Martin Fackler wrote in New York Times, “In some of the tsunami-stricken areas, particularly the more prosperous regions closer to the city of Sendai, the removal of millions of tons of debris is progressing rapidly. Large improvised disposal facilities are grinding up broken concrete and wood into landfill material for reconstruction. But in the poorer fishing regions farther north along the mountainous coastline, many towns have barely finished the first basic tasks of survival.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, September 12, 2011]

There is a plan to unite the six national, quasi-national and prefectural natural parks in the disaster-hit Tohoku region into a single national park that will stretch along the Sanriku coast from Aomori Prefecture through Iwate Prefecture to Miyagi Prefecture, embracing trails totaling 350 kilometers in length, according to government sources. The Environment Ministry will rebuild or repair the six natural parks and combine them to form the new national park, tentatively named Sanriku reconstruction national park.

In Miyako breakwaters and aquafarms were built with debris.

Higashi-Matsushima Relocates to Higher Ground

In March 2011, the central government decided on the first allocation of restoration subsidies for projects such as the collective relocation of residents to protect them from future disasters. While suffering from decreasing and aging populations, many municipalities have made "compact" a keyword as they develop new towns. This will involve creating regions able to stand on their own feet by concentrating houses and administrative functions in areas that also coexist with agricultural, mountainous and fishing villages in the vicinity. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 11, 2011]

The March 11 tsunami killed more than 10 percent of the 4,700 residents in the Nobiru district of Higashi-Matsushima. Many residents affected by the disaster still live in temporary housing units outside the district. Its population was only 1,834 as of the end of February. The Higashi-Matsushima municipal government has obtained 201 hectares of higher ground behind the former Nobiru district. The city plans to start developing the site for residential housing in fiscal 2013 and expects about 1,000 households to relocate there.

The only two doctors who lived in the Nobiru district of of Higashi-Matsushima died, so the area currently has no doctor. "If nothing is done to fix this problem, no residents will come back [to Nobiru]," said Toshiro Saito, 72, a member of the district's council on town development.

Green Smart Cities' and Solar Plants in Devastated Areas

Plans to rebuild many areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake as environmentally friendly "smart cities" are being explored by corporations and municipal governments.By promoting large-scale projects that include power-generation facilities utilizing renewable energy and smart grids, the plans are also meant to create jobs. Some companies and local governments have already started working together on these projects. [Source: Yu Toda, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 13, 2011]

Major electronics manufacturer Toshiba Corp. has proposed an integrated system, with facilities ranging from power generation and water-treatment systems to "smart meter" next-generation power meters, to some local governments. An official of the company's smart community division said, "In the future, [we want] to export technologies created domestically."

Hitachi, Ltd. is considering ways to transport electricity generated at its factory in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, to evacuation centers by buses equipped with storage batteries in the event of a disaster. Plans to construct mega solar power plants are also under way. Mitsui & Co., Ltd. is considering building a mega solar power plant on quake-hit vacant land, and SoftBank Corp. has established an organization to promote cooperation with local governments across the country.

Local governments in quake-hit areas are eager to restore their infrastructure by introducing smart city and mega solar power projects. Rikuzen-Takata in Iwate Prefecture is considering a mega solar and large-scale power storage system in collaboration with Ofunato and Sumitacho in the prefecture. The plan aims to build a smart city and create jobs, according to an official at the Rikuzen-Takata municipal government.Sendai is also considering a plan to build a solar power plant on devastated farmland in the city and run food processing facilities with electricity from the plant.

Reconstruction One Year After the Disaster

In March 2012, AP reported: While much of the debris has been gathered into massive piles, very little rebuilding has begun. Beyond the massive cleanup, many towns are still finalising reconstruction plans, some of which involve moving residential areas to higher ground. Bureaucratic delays in coordination between the central government, prefectural (state) authorities and local officials have also slowed rebuilding efforts. [Source: AP, March 12, 2012]

"Differences of opinion between central and local governments and even among the populations affected" has contributed to delays, Tadateru Konoe, president of the Japan Red Cross Society, said earlier this week. "They couldn't reach any consensus. They still keep fighting with each other, looking for the best solution." Also, "it's not simply building back as it used to be. It's to build back better, and that requires a lot of consultations," he added.

Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post: In some ways, Japan’s progress of the past year is obvious, though cosmetic. Towns that were shredded by the tsunami wave, their houses torn to metal and wood, have been cleared of debris and mud. Workers have repaired earthquake-caused chasms in the roads. The bullet train again runs to Sendai, the main city in the tsunami-devastated region. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post , March 11 2012]

Some of the more heartening images of reconstruction are displayed at the entrance of the prime minister’s office in central Tokyo. Several months ago, the government urged people to send photographs of “daily happenings” in the disaster zone, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, in a recent blog entry, mentioned several of the most memorable ones. An infant receiving a massage at a temporary housing facility. Children gorging on Christmas cake.

“Of course, it may be that these have picked out only the brighter side of the disaster areas, and it is not my intention to claim that “reconstruction is proceeding smoothly” based on these alone,” Noda wrote. “At the same time, I would be grateful if, by glimpsing new scenes of people who have set out along the path to reconstruction, even a few more people came to share the wish to continue to be a support in this process.”

Rebuilding Process: A Year After the Tsunami

Christopher Hawthorne wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Huge, neatly sorted piles of debris dot the Tohoku region, symbols of a recovery that has stalled at the cleanup stage. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, his approval rating in danger of sinking below 30 percent, has faced wide criticism for failing to articulate a broad vision for rebuilding. The national Reconstruction Agency wasn't officially launched until February, 11 months after the disaster. [Source: Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, March 8, 2012]

The most intractable issue is whether the hardest hit fishing villages, already losing population before the disaster, should be rebuilt as they were or consolidated. In a broader sense, the nation has struggled with basic issues at the core of reconstruction, particularly the way the tsunami has exposed gaps between rich and poor, young and old, rural and urban, and between the nation's technological haves and have-nots.

"The tsunami attacked our poorer communities and [has] shown us how much they were already struggling," said Masashige Motoe, a professor in the department of architecture and building science at Tohoku University in Sendai. "No one wants to see that. No one wants to face it."

"We gave the local residents a questionnaire," she said, "and 70 percent of them want to remain." But at 70 percent of its pre-tsunami population the village would struggle to survive economically. There is disagreement even among those wishing to stay about the course of rebuilding, she added, as a number of fishermen came over to greet her. After speaking with them in Japanese, she gave a loose translation of their comments: "Many of the fishermen are living in temporary housing, and they say they like it just fine. They want us to concentrate on rebuilding the facilities for fishing and forget about new housing." The local government has set a deadline at the end of March for the villagers to settle on the location for a new residential neighborhood.

Architects Helping to Rebuild After the Tsunami

Christopher Hawthorne wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Athough Toyo Ito, Kazuyo Sejima and other leading Japanese architects have joined emerging talents like Kumiko Inui in sketching out thoughtful plans for new housing and civic architecture, their efforts have so far garnered little support from politicians in Tokyo. [Source: Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, March 8, 2012]

Architect Shoko Fukuya, a recent transplant from Tokyo, is helping lead the recovery planning on the Oshika Peninsula. On a blustery afternoon she stopped her car near Kobuchihama's fisherman's union building, where a group of roughly 50 local men, still unable to get the businesses they rely on up and running, were awaiting instructions from regional officials who had hired them to help with cleanup operations. She took a preliminary map of the recovery plan for the village and spread it atop the hood of the car, indicating where new housing was planned.

Hitoshi Abe, chairman of the architecture department at UCLA and a native of Sendai, has made seven trips to the region since last March. He played a hand in coordinating the design competitions in Shichigahama and elsewhere, under the rubric of a Sendai-based group called Archi-Aid. He also helped plan an exhibition to mark the anniversary of the disaster; it runs through April 15 at UCLA's Fowler Museum.

"One of the major problems in this particular disaster is that the affected area is just so huge and diverse," he said. "So if you're only looking at the recovery plan in Sendai, it looks pretty good. But if you look at the whole of eastern Japan there are all sorts of remaining issues and obstacles." Added Abe, "Right now it's atomized. It's hard to see any larger vision."

Still, he was optimistic about the progress being made in Shichigahama, where construction on Inui's middle school will begin early next year, with a planned opening date of fall 2014. Another design competition in the town produced a design for a new elementary school. And before either school design was chosen, the town had moved ahead with an impressive plan to remake its extensive beachfront, which is famous around the region. The name Shichigahama means "Seven Beaches."

So what makes this town different? It helped that the school sites, among the highest points in hilly Shichigahama, had little flood damage and are ready to rebuild. Even more important was the fact that the local government saw ambitious new architecture as a way to promote a sense of unity and rebirth and as a result chose not to leave the rebuilding to civil engineers alone. According to Yasuaki Onoda, an architect and professor at Tohoku University who is advising the town, Shichigahama officials "realized that a school is not just a school anymore. It also has to operate as a community evacuation center — and as a symbol of reconstruction."

Tsunami-Struck Areas to Raise the Ground Level and Make Hills

In November, 2012 Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Twelve municipalities hit hard by the tsunami after the Great East Japan Earthquake plan to elevate the ground level in once-submerged urban areas--one by up to 17 meters--to aid in the rebuilding of towns and cities in their prior locations. The targeted areas together measure 740 hectares, nearly 15 times larger than Tokyo Disneyland, and the quantity of dirt required is calculated to be 17.5 million cubic meters--enough to fill the Tokyo Dome 14 times. Some municipalities are concerned about the delay in beginning work due to a shortage of dirt and other logistical factors. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 13, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed 37 municipalities in coastal areas in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Twelve of them, including Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, and Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, plan to conduct land readjustment to rebuild their urban areas in 26 districts. While most of them plan to raise the ground level by one to six meters, the municipal government of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, aims to raise it by up to 17 meters, which would make the area 18 meters above sea level. The mound will be as high as a five-story condominium.

The municipalities' plan is to secure the necessary dirt by cutting away part of nearby hills or using dirt generated by projects to transfer groups of residents to higher ground. But districts in at least five municipalities are likely to have difficulty securing enough dirt because there are no such hills nearby, or because a large quantity of dirt is needed for other projects including dike construction. Though some are considering procuring dirt from the Tokyo metropolitan area, the transport cost could be immense.

In June 2013, the Japan News/Asia News Network reported: “The first artificial hill built to mitigate tsunami damage was recently completed in a coastal area in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture. The base of the hill is made of debris left by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The 8-meter-high Sennen Kibo no Oka is a truncated cone-shaped hill 76 meters wide at its base and 60 meters from front to back. To create the hill, sedimentary soil brought by the tsunami and ordinary soil was placed on a foundation comprising such debris as concrete rubble. [Source: Japan News/Asia News Network, June 16, 2013 ]

The hill will usually be used as a memorial park where disaster-prevention education will be given. It is also meant to blunt the force of tsunami and serve as an evacuation centre. Its construction cost about 60 million yen (S$796,080), which was covered by donations from around the country.The Iwanuma municipal government plans to create 15 such hills along its about 10 kilometer-long coastline. The city government plans to use subsidies for restoration from the central government to help pay for the remaining hills.

Tohoku’s Great Forest Wall Project

The Great Forest Wall Project entails the planting of nearly 300 kilometers of trees along the northeast coast from Iwate to Miyagi to Fukushima with the goal of establishing a strong barrier, in 20 years time, to protect people and their way of life. The Japan Times reported: “Thousands of saplings have already been planted over the past two years, but the tree seawall will require many more if it is going to regenerate the Tohoku forests strongly enough to withstand another tsunami. It is estimated that 90 million trees will be needed in total to provide adequate coverage over the 300 kilometers distance. It is expected that the tree seawall will cut the power of tsunamis by 50 percent and reduce undertow dangers. [Source: Japan Times, November 23, 2013 /^/]

“The area will need more than just trees, too. Environmentalists are calling for a more thorough evaluation of what will best protect residents and maintain the ecosystems that provide a livelihood to the region. In addition to trees, the coast needs tidal flats, sea-grass meadows and natural “open” spaces. The central government and construction interests, however, have aimed at building concrete seawalls. Such barriers may be appropriate in many areas, but the Great Forest Wall Project is a reminder that the best protection may be nature itself. Building high, continuous walls of concrete along the shore may seem a natural response to a disaster, but taking into account ecological necessities is a more sensible plan./^/

“Concrete walls and barriers that block the natural intertidal zones will cause havoc with the complex ecosystems in the area. Discussion should take place over what kind of construction each community wants and needs. Building a wall of concrete that destroys the livelihood of fishing communities is hardly a reasonable solution. Trees and tidal flats are a better protection in many areas than concrete barriers. /^/

“Building of protective concrete walls should take into account the safety of the citizens in the area, but also the needs of the coastal environment. The danger is that eco-zones, bays, spring-fed water supplies and rivers will become cut off from one another. The coastline needs trees, certainly, but also needs other natural areas preserved for the numerous animal species essential for the area to return to a more natural balance. /^/

“The tree seawall, of course, is more than a pragmatic, sensible return to nature. It is also a way of recovering spiritually. For many of those planting indigenous varieties of trees in what have become semi-regular ceremonies in the region, the symbolism of life starting anew from small saplings is also vital to recovery. That return to a view of nature as nurturing and supportive, as well as protective, will surely prove a better model for future safety than past approaches. /^/

Problems with Rebuilding

A number of people whose houses were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami were dissatisfied with the government disaster-victim aid program, which they think fails to reflect the degree of damage caused to their homes. One victims whose house was filled with sludge and flooded 80 centimeters above the floor and had to pay about ¥2 million yen for new tatami mats and other repairs that not given any government money because system only pays for damage to houses flooded by the tsunami to a depth of more than one meter above the floor. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 28, 2011]

According to the government’s criteria, houses that were washed away or flooded up to the ceiling of the first floor are considered "extensively damaged" or "destroyed," and are eligible for up to 3 million yen. Houses that were flooded more than one meter above the floor are appraised as "heavily damaged," and are eligible for up to 2.5 million yen. Houses that flooded to a depth of less than one meter above the floor are considered "moderately damaged" and are not eligible for the system.

Concrete shortages have delayed reconstruction. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A serious shortage of ready-mixed concrete in areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake has been causing delays in reconstruction work. While high demand for ready-mixed concrete for constructing dikes, rebuilding houses and other construction projects has contributed to the shortage, the problem has been exacerbated by difficulties in storing and transporting the material. Because concrete becomes hard in a short period of time, it is difficult to make in advance, store or produce in distant locations. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2012]

Obstacles to Rebuilding

Months after the disaster severely damaged public facilities stood out undemolished against a devastated landscape that has already been cleared of debris and demolished buildings. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Many local governments in cities and towns hit hard by the March 11 disaster are finding it difficult to demolish public facilities damaged by the tsunami due to regulations on the government's subsidies for demolishing and rebuilding such facilities. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 17, 2011]

Under the current framework for restoring public facilities damaged by the disaster, subsidies are paid only when local governments apply to rebuild the facilities in the same locations. The government does not provide money to local governments just for demolishing buildings.

Some local governments have yet to decide whether to relocate public facilities destroyed by the tsunami. The municipal government of Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, for example, plans to relocate the city hall due to concerns about future tsunami but has not done so. Although the city hall's reinforced concrete building did not collapse, the tsunami reached the fourth floor of the four-story building, rendering it permanently unusable.

Local governments, which have few financial resources left to demolish the buildings on their own, have begun criticizing the central government over flaws in the current framework for subsidizing the reconstruction of public facilities. In response to the criticism, the central government finally began discussing the creation of a new framework for such subsidies.

Firms Shun Unprofitable Small-Scale Projects in Tohoku

In December 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, Many public works projects that have been opened for bids in the tohoku region have attracted few or even no takers, as businesses appear to be shunning small-scale work as unprofitable, especially amid a labor shortage caused by increased building activity as the region recovers from the March 11 disaster. According to Miyagi Prefecture's Government Contract Division, bidding for 137 public works projects failed, with no contracts made. They account for 23 percent of the 591 projects ordered from the start of the fiscal year on April 1 through the end of November. Most of the failed projects attracted no bidders. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 26, 2011]

The failure rate in normal years is only several percent, according to the division. Businesses maintain they are short of workers as they are already doing a large amount of post-disaster reconstruction work. Many projects with no or almost no bidders are small in scale, with anticipated prices of about 30 million yen. A prefectural source said many businesses choose to bid on projects they expect to be profitable.

The prefecture's civil engineering office in Kesennuma invited tenders by Nov. 25 for 23 public works projects, all for repairing prefectural streets damaged in the disaster. Bidding on 11 of them failed. Last fiscal year, the number of projects to get such a weak response was zero. Most of the projects for which bidding failed were to repair cracks on streets. As the sites where this work needs to be done are spread over a wide area, contractors are required to move their equipment and temporary construction offices.

The civil engineering office said bidding on projects with work to be carried out at a single location are more likely to be successful. "It's true we're short of workers. But now we can pick and choose among projects as there are so many orders for disaster reconstruction," said a local construction source. "Projects requiring us to move around cost us a lot and don't pay."

In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, bidding for 36 of 152 public works projects, including repairing damaged electrical equipment at schools, failed from June onward. The anticipated prices were less than 10 million yen in 28 of the 36 projects. In fiscal 2010, the number of projects for which bidding failed was just 13.

Another factor behind the trend is the existence of a large number of private projects, such as repairing homes and offices damaged in the disaster or constructing new ones. Such work is more attractive for businesses as the process of accepting the orders is easy, according to the Miyako local branch of the prefecture's construction companies association.

Slow Pace of Rebuilding in Minamisanriku

Reporting from Minamisanriku, Martin Fackler wrote in New York Times, “Six months after Japan’s deadly earthquake and tsunami, the naked steel frame of the former Disaster Management Center stands like a tombstone over the flattened field of weed-covered debris that was once this town’s center. People come from near and far to pray before the three-story structure, turning it into a shrine of sorts for the town officials who died here.

Amid the white flowers, smoldering incense and bottles of beer and whiskey left to comfort the dead, there are also signs of rancor. A long handwritten letter, laminated to shed the rain, criticizes the failure to tear down the structure as callous disregard for the families of those who perished. “This thing should be destroyed right away,” demands the letter, which is signed by the father of a victim.

Minamisanriku has finally finished relocating the last of its homeless residents into the 2,200 prefabricated houses it built in empty fields. Most of the town was without running water or sewage service until a month ago. The flattened downtown is still littered with mangled cars, the splintered wood of wrecked homes and the gutted shells of a few surviving concrete buildings, looking eerily unchanged from the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. “People want to keep living in this town, but look at this mess,” sighed Minoru Sato, 65, who was hired by the town to pick up debris after the tsunami washed away the sawmill where he had worked.

Indeed, residents in Minamisanriku say they feel as if they are in limbo, waiting for some signal to put the same concerted effort into rebuilding that they showed pulling one another from the rubble. That signal has yet to come. One reason for the civic paralysis is that the tsunami literally swept away the local government, destroying not just the disaster center but also the firehouse, the police station, the main hospital and the town hall, with all its records. The mayor and other surviving town officials struggled to set up new offices in trailers parked on tennis courts, and the town government is only now getting back on its feet. It has not yet even found anywhere to put the 500,000 tons of debris left by the tsunami. Work crews have temporarily stacked some of it along the devastated waterfront, separated into tidy, towering piles of twisted metal, broken concrete and tires, but it cannot stay there permanently.

Still, people here direct most of their anger at the national government. They feel neglected by Tokyo, which they say is too preoccupied with the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant 70 miles to the south, or with political maneuvering. Town officials say they cannot even settle on how to rebuild, much less get started, without financing from Tokyo. “We have been trying to draw up our own plans, but what can we do until the national government makes up its mind?” said Kenji Endo, the vice mayor of Minamisanriku. “Frustrations are rising because we can’t see any movement toward rebuilding.”

The town says that with a budget last year of just $40 million, it has no choice but to turn to the central government to underwrite the huge costs of rebuilding. Until Tokyo sorts that out, residents here feel that they cannot move forward.

In their frustration, they are starting to turn on one another. There are bitter complaints now about local officials who kept roads from being cleared without permission, or town hall’s decision to forbid any building in the tsunami-destroyed areas until a townwide reconstruction plan is in place. The community is also being strained by the unevenness of the disaster’s toll. Some homes were wrecked; others were untouched.

Dealing with the Disaster in Minamisanriku

Today, the main roads have been reopened and there are temporary bridges over the rivers, but only a half-dozen businesses have reappeared. One is the gasoline station of Satoru Abe, who cleared away debris and got one gas pump working, by hand at first until electric power was restored in May. His office remained a tangle of crumpled metal and mud. “They won’t let us rebuild, but we cannot just wait for them, either,” said Mr. Abe, 43. “We have to eat somehow.”

Dozens of residents, in fact, said that what worried them most was how to make a living here. The waves washed away the fishing boats and seafood-processing plants that were the backbone of the local economy. Town officials said that more than 1,000 people, mostly younger residents, had already moved away in search of employment.

“Most of the young people cannot wait around for jobs, so they left,” said Kiyohiko Goto, 36, a fisherman. After the tsunami, he found his boat on a hillside a mile inland, but could not afford the $200,000 cost of a new engine. “The town will survive,” Mr. Goto said, “but I wonder how many people will still live here.”

Disagreements Over Where to Rebuild

Christopher Hawthorne wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In the towns and fishing villages devastated by the tsunami to the north of Sendai, that search for consensus has in many cases stymied the recovery process. In Onagawa, a town of 9,000 where steep, narrow valleys flow directly toward the sea, the damage still looks biblical: Three concrete buildings were ripped from their foundations and lie sideways in the muck. [Source: Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, March 8, 2012]

Onagawa's mayor, Nobutaka Azumi, settled last year on a plan to consolidate the 15 fishing villages that the city oversees, citing declining populations and dimming economic prospects there. But he was pushed out of office by older residents who aggressively opposed the idea. A new mayor has vowed to rebuild every last village.

That sharp disagreement over reconstruction goals has repeated itself in the smaller towns along the Oshika Peninsula. In early March the central government approved $3.75 billion in rebuilding grants for 59 villages and towns, part of a larger fund of $120 billion earmarked for recovery projects. (Much of that larger fund is designated for repairing roads, bridges, train lines and other infrastructure, along with paying for the temporary housing that still holds more than 300,000 displaced residents.) But the lack of consensus on basic issues calls into question precisely how the grant money will be spent.

That's the case in Kobuchihama, one of the larger fishing villages heavily damaged by the tsunami, in part because of its unusual geography. It is connected by a narrow spit of land to an offshore peninsula, with bays facing the ocean in two directions. When then tsunami hit, a pair of surges collided above the split, sending up a massive fountain of water residents say was nearly a hundred feet high.

In nearby Samenoura, a town where every house within two blocks of the sea was destroyed, an early rebuilding plan called for new housing atop a hill a safe distance from the water. But residents balked, and now a new plan, still being finalized, calls for them to move to another, slightly lower hill closer to the beach. Architect Shoko Fukuya said the impulse to get closer to the water is understandable: "Just look at the map. The coastline and fishing are in Japan's DNA."

Reconstruction Programs for Whaling and Youth Exchanges Criticized

In October 2012, Kenji Yoshimura and Junya Hashimoto wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Ministries and agencies have been taken to task over whether budgets earmarked for reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake have been used for unrelated purposes. During a session of the House of Councillors Audit Committee, lawmakers noted that funds from the budget have been spent on projects totally unrelated to reconstruction in the disaster-hit areas. [Source: Kenji Yoshimura and Junya Hashimoto, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 20, 2012]

One roject that was singled out was a dubious youth exchange program. The project, which facilitates exchanges between young people in the Asia-Pacific and North American regions, had 7.2 billion yen allocated to it in a supplementary budget for fiscal 2011. The project's purpose was said to be dissemination of information about the current state of the disaster-hit areas to the rest of the world, and youngsters from 41 countries and territories were invited to Japan for about 10 days to that end.

In the same supplementary budget, 2.3 billion yen was allocated to measures to prevent the obstruction of Japanese whaling vessels by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an antiwhaling organization. The measures are under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. The spending was approved because meat from whales is sold in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which is a disaster-hit area and also one of the nation's largest whaling bases. The measures would contribute to reconstruction, according to the ministry.

But Renho of the Democratic Party of Japan, who was once minister of state for civil service reform, demanded an explanation of the kind of economic effects the measure brought about. Takahiro Sasaki, senior vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, admitted, "It's difficult to show the economic benefits with numerical figures." During the session, the ruling and opposition parties pointed fingers at each other over responsibility for the suspected use of funds for purposes unrelated to reconstruction.

The trigger of the budget misuse lies in a basic law for post-disaster reconstruction that was passed jointly by the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito. The law is vaguely worded and a lax screening process. A Finance Ministry official said, "Screenings became lenient simply because it was a historic disaster.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2014

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