‘We Welcome You with Smiles’

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Akira Chiba, director of the International Affairs Division, explains the damage from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster. (Photos by RYOKO NAKAMURA/Rafu Shimpo)

By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER

Officials from Miyagi Prefecture, which was hit hard by last year’s devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, visited Little Tokyo last month to express their appreciation for the strong support from the Japanese American community as well as to report on their recovery efforts.

Approximately 100 people participated in the Miyagi earthquake recovery and tourism seminar hosted by the Miyagi prefectural government and sponsored by the Nanka Miyagi Kenjinkai on April 22 at the Miyako Hotel in Little Tokyo. Five officials from Miyagi Prefecture gave the presentation.

“On March 11, 2011, many lives were lost and many individuals remain missing. Precious people and things vanished before our eyes. We were left hopeless after the disaster,” said Akiyoshi Kawabata, director general of the prefecture’s Commerce, Industry and Tourism Department.

“We received much support and heartwarming encouragement from the Nanka Miyagi Kenjinkai and Japanese American communities across the United States. Through your support and encouraging messages, Miyagi has come together as one to carry out the recovery effort,” Kawabata added, expressing deepest appreciation on behalf of Miyagi Prefecture’s citizens.

According to a report conducted by the Miyagi prefectural government, the tsunami reached 21.6-meter heights (approximately 70 feet) in Kesennuma City and Shizugawa in Minamisanriku Town, and there were some reports that it reached 30 meters in height (approximately 98 feet) in some areas.

As of March 28, 2012, the number of dead and missing totals more than 11,000 people, which accounts for about 60 percent of nationwide casualties. More than 230,000 homes were either severely damaged or completely destroyed, and there were more than 320,000 evacuees at the peak time. All evacuation shelters in Miyagi were closed on Dec. 30, 2011 after temporary housing was built.

The tsunami caused damage to all 142 fishing ports in Miyagi, and about 90 percent of the fishing boats were destroyed. Ten percent of cultivated land was devastated. Although most of the debris on the land was cleared, it is still necessary to eliminate salt from the cultivated lands in order to resume agriculture.

Akira Chiba, director of the International Affairs Division, acknowledged support from various countries, regions, and organizations throughout the restoration process. In particular, the United States played the great role in response to the disaster through Operation Tomodachi, which was carried out by the U.S.military.

About 156,000 troops were deployed on missions to search for the missing, transport supplies, and restore the Sendai Airport. With the troops’ cooperation, the airport was able to reopen only one month after the disaster, which contributed to the reconstruction of entire Tohoku area.

As of March 12, 2012, the total cost of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami damage in Miyagi Prefecture alone was 9.873 trillion yen or $112.3 billion.

The earthquake disaster recovery plan that Miyagi Prefecture developed last October proposes three stages to be implemented over the next 10 years: restoration (2011-2013), reconstruction (2014-2017), and development (2018-2020).

Akiyoshi Kawabata, right, director general of Miyagi Prefecture’s Commerce, Industry and Tourism Department, presented a gift from Gov. Yoshihiro Murai to Yoshihito Yonezawa, president of the Miyagi Kenjinkai.

Chiba emphasized that the focus is not only reconstruction, but also future development. Currently the government is providing mental care for the victims, and securing employment has been an urgent issue.

“I’m grateful again to all the people around the world who continued to think about our region. What we and the victims fear is that with time, little by little, the memories of this disaster will slowly fade away. It is my hope that all of you retain the memories of this disaster,” Chiba emphasized.

In the second part of the seminar, Hiroshi Yanagisawa, senior assistant director of the Tourism Division, shared information about Miyagi’s efforts to attract tourism. He explained all the transportation to Miyagi had been restored, including the Sendai Airport and Tohoku Shinkansen. Except for the train line along the coast, all the local railways are now running regularly and people can travel throughout the region without difficulty.

In regard to the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident, the levels of radiation in the region are not believed to have harmful effects on health. Yanagisawa stressed that all of the region’s agricultural and marine products undergo testing for radiation, and the radiation levels on almost all of the products fall far below national government standards.

Yanagisawa also explained that tourism sites such as onsen (hot springs) and ryokan (hotels) in inland areas are back to normal. Matsushima, said to be one of the three most scenic spots in Japan, suffered minimal damage as its 260 small and large islands in the bay helped decrease the power of the tsunami and preserve the beautiful scenery of this area. Even coastal regions that suffered the greatest damage have started recovering and welcoming visitors.

In the spring of next year, the Sendai Miyagi Destination Campaign will take place. It will introduce Miyagi’s tourist attractions to domestic and international markets. “Miyagi is about to welcome the cherry blossom season. Please visit us, and we will welcome all of you with our smiles,” Yanagisawa said.

He also shared a message from Gov. Yoshihiro Murai: “We believe that everyone’s visits to Miyagi Prefecture will play a positive role and aid the recovery efforts of our region.”

Immediately after the disaster, the Nanka Miyagi Kenjinkai set up a donation account to provide direct assistance to the prefecture. Donations came in not only locally, but also from as far away as New Jersey, Kentucky, Texas, and Washington. The organization has sent $130,000 so far and is planning to send another $10,000 soon.

Established in 1902, the Nanka Miyagi Kenjinkai celebrated its 110th anniversary this year. In celebration of the organization’s long success, hard work, and contributions to the community, a gift from Murai was presented to Yoshihito Yonezawa, the president of the organization.

For more information about Miyagi Prefecture, visit www.pref.miyagi.jp/english/.

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