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source : Japan Times - February 8, 2013 .

Wiped out city waits for Tokyo to wake up
Rikuzentakata mayor wonders when 'power games' will stop

It has been almost two years since much of Tohoku’s coastline was wiped out by tsunami on March 11. Gone are many of the destroyed buildings and vehicles that served as reminders of the horror and tragedy caused by the monster earthquake in the Pacific.

But in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, instead of concrete signs of rebirth, all one can see is barren, flat land waiting to be developed.

Rikuzentakata Mayor Futoshi Toba can no longer hide his frustration with the slow progress being made in one of the cities damaged worst by the quake and tsunami.

“When you experience something like (March 11) and are in despair, it is hard to have hope for tomorrow. So we imagine what it will be like in a year or two, and hang onto that hope,” Toba, 48, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “But what we see now is very different from where we had imagined we would be in two years.”

The mayor blames most of the delay in the city’s recovery on the politicians in Tokyo, who spent crucial months playing partisan “power games” that held crisis-related legislation hostage while thousands of victims languished amid nuclear contamination fears.

The Democratic Party of Japan’s Naoto Kan was prime minister when the triple calamity struck. But instead of uniting to overcome it, the Liberal Democratic Party, the leading opposition force at the time, and rebellious members of the ruling party spent months scheming to bring Kan down.

Despite his hands-on efforts, Kan was accused of mishandling an unprecedented emergency.

After Kan came Yoshihiko Noda. But to Toba’s dismay, Noda was focused on raising the consumption tax, turning him into another political target.

The LDP, which proposed the tax hike in the first place, threatened to block it unless Noda dissolved the Lower House and called a snap election. By the time the LDP succeeded in twisting Noda’s arm, it was December, and the disaster victims had to spend another ice-cold winter in shelters wondering when their hometowns would be rebuilt.

“Looking back, the LDP and DPJ spent almost two years either engaged in political power struggles or an election — and nothing moved forward,” Toba said. “It is absolutely ridiculous that the disaster area was affected by politicians playing their own game of musical chairs.”

This lack of political leadership also allowed the bureaucrats to perpetuate their rigid rules despite the state of emergency, Toba pointed out.

For example, Rikuzentakata’s request to build a much-needed supermarket was shot down by the officialdom in Tokyo because the land it was trying to use was registered as farmland.

Then gasoline was requested so residents could drive around looking for missing loved ones, so the trade ministry sent barrels of gas to the city. Soon after they arrived, the ministry said the Self-Defense Forces troops sent to assist them couldn’t distribute the gas because it was ministry property. As a result, the city had to look for licensed people to dole it out.

“It was a life or death situation for the people in the disaster area, but the vertically divided bureaucracy got in the way. I felt that the officials lacked the normal emotions of a human being,” Toba said. “People without a human heart should not be involved in politics or become bureaucrats to govern the state.”

One thing the DPJ and LDP finally agreed on was the establishment of the Reconstruction Agency, which officially kicked off a year ago. But instead of spearheading the reconstruction process, all it did was create more paperwork for the municipalities it’s trying to help, Toba said.

LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government intend to reorganize the agency so it can become the control tower it is supposed to be. It has set up a branch office in Fukushima to oversee restoration measures and promote on-the-spot decisions on radiation decontamination.

“The disaster area and its municipalities were in a state of confusion and the Reconstruction Agency was supposed to be our window, but the reality was we still had to go to all the ministries involved in each reconstruction process in addition to the agency,” Toba said. “The Reconstruction Agency was supposed to stand by the disaster area, but instead it came to persuade us” to go along with the decisions made in Tokyo.

Rikuzentakata was one of the cities hurt most on March 11. Thousands of homes were destroyed and 1,735 residents were killed, shrinking its population by 7 percent.

On that day, Toba, who had been the mayor for less than a month, spent the night together with 127 other city employees huddled on the roof of the City Hall as they watched their hometown get swept away by the massive tsunami.

As mayor, Toba had to stay strong for the whole city. He had to put aside his personal fears and had no idea whether his wife and two sons had even survived.

On March 12, he ran into a friend who told him his sons, Taiga and Kanato, had escaped and were safe. But he didn’t hear anything about his wife.

Tearing himself away from the desperate desire search for his wife, Toba devoted himself to dealing with the aftermath of the disaster.

Her body was found nearly a month later.

“I am filled with self-hatred, wondering if she would still be alive if we had never met or gotten married,” Toba said. “As time passes, I go back and forth between self-hatred and trying to summon the energy to move forward. But it is still hard, even now.”

Like Taiga, now 14, and Kanato, 12, close to 200 Rikuzentakata children lost one or both parents. Although his kids seem fine on the surface, Toba said they refuse to talk about their mother.

The mayor expressed strong concern about how the trauma affected the city’s youth and the difficult healing process. He criticized the central government for its lack of sensitivity in forcing the city to use the same loud earthquake alarm, which still causes children to burst into tears as they relive the trauma of March 11.

“Physical reconstruction will proceed because buildings will be constructed as long as you have money. But the reconstruction of the human heart is not that easy,” Toba said. “There are many issues that are hidden behind visible problems . . . and you have to take things step by step.”

Toba said he hoped that reconstruction will finally begin, now that he and the city have spent almost two years filling out paperwork. At the end of January, the razing of the former City Hall had begun in line with a directive from Toba to destroy all public buildings where people died, in an attempt to ease the pain for their families.

Rikuzentakata’s famous “miracle pine” is also expected to rise again later this month after undergoing treatment for decay prevention and being given a new carbon spine. The tree was the only one of some 70,000 pine trees to withstand the coastal onslaught, prompting the city to preserve it as a symbol of hope.

“We were torn apart and thrown into the depths of despair, but the fact that this pine tree showed us that miracles do happen . . . It has become a symbol of hope for the disaster area and I hope that it will continue to stand by Rikuzentakata,” Toba said.


- - - - - January 2016

Centuries-old cedar tree that initially survived tsunami to be cut down
A single giant cedar tree around 800 years old that remained standing after the March 2011 tsunami washed away the local shrine and everything else in the vicinity will be chopped down after experts determined that it has necrotized.

The giant cedar tree at Imaizumi Tenmangu Shrine 今泉天満宮 was considered a sacred tree, with a trunk circumference of 2.7 meters and measuring about 30 meters tall. Due to the dangers of having such a large necrotized tree on its grounds, however, the shrine has decided to cut down the tree -- a decision parishioners have accepted.

Imaizumi Tenmangu stood along the Kesen River in the Kesen district of Rikuzentakata. It was established for the re-enshrinement of Heian-era poet and scholar Sugawara no Michizane, who is also enshrined at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto, and is said to have been built in 1481 by Ota Dokan, known for building Edo Castle.

Local residents were fond of the tree, calling it "the giant cedar of the gods." The tree is also linked to Chiba Shusaku, who founded the Hokushin ittoryu style of martial arts at the end of the Edo Period.

"It is said that at the foot of the giant cedar tree was the house in which Chiba -- who lived in the town of Kesen until age 5 -- was born in," said Masaki Araki, 72, the shrine's head priest.

The shrine, which was at an elevation of approximately 10 meters above sea level, was washed away with the rest of the surrounding landscape by the massive tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Self-Defense Force helicopters that took part in rescue efforts shortly after the disaster are said to have used the one giant tree left standing as a landmark.

The giant cedar, however, had been drenched in saltwater. Major landscapers from Tokyo and elsewhere worked to revive the tree; the following year, several new buds appeared. By 2013, however, the tree began shedding large branches, and in 2015, experts told the shrine priest that the tree had necrotized.

"We really wanted to save the tree somehow," Araki said with disappointment, "but we can't risk keeping the tree when it might fall over and block the road used by cars involved in the reconstruction effort, or when falling branches might hurt visitors." Araki is set to apply for approval to cut down the tree from the Association of Shinto Shrines, a religious entity overseeing all Shinto shrines.

Shrine parishioners, meanwhile, are working toward rebuilding the shrine. Volunteers are collecting donations in Tokyo to fund such efforts as well. It has been suggested that parts of the tree, after it is cut down, be used in the main pillar of the new shrine.
- source : mainichi.jp/english -

- #miraclepine #ipponsugi -

Tsunami evacuation stairway built in Iwate

The infrastructure ministry has completed an emergency stairway in Iwate Prefecture to allow residents to quickly evacuate to higher ground in the event of a tsunami.
After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the ministry decided to build emergency stairways in 9 places along Iwate's Pacific Coast. Steep hills there hampered evacuation efforts during the disaster.

On Monday, residents tried out the new stairway in Rikuzentakata to confirm their evacuation routes.
The 2-meter-wide concrete stairway links a coastal area with an elevated highway almost 9 meters above the ground. A handrail makes it easier for the elderly to use.
Solar-powered lights will provide illumination during nighttime blackouts.
Local community leader Seiichi Kanno says people in the area had to climb up or go around steep hills to reach higher ground. Kanno says the new stairs make him feel safer, and that he will try to inform all residents about the new evacuation routes.

Mar. 25, 2013 - NHK world news


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