A poll conducted by The Sankei Shimbun disclosed on March 10 that about 80% of the heads of the cities, towns, and villages in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima believe the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will have a positive impact on their communities.
The leaders represent the communities most heavily damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and its aftermath, including the tsunami and nuclear accident at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Complex of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
However, about 90% of those surveyed said they felt the public’s memories of the catastrophe were “weathering.” At the same time, more than 60% view the Tokyo Games as a way to prevent the public’s memories from fading.
Asked in the February 2020 Sankei survey about “impacts the Tokyo Games will have on the disaster-stricken areas,” 34 of the 42 heads of local governments, or more than 80%, said they thought the Games would be either “definitely a plus” or “a plus to some extent” for expediting the recovery pace from the disaster.
In 2016, another Sankei poll posed a similar question to the heads of 11 disaster-affected prefectures, including 176 cities, towns, and villages, and Hokkaido. At that time, only about 30% of those surveyed thought the Games would be “definitely a plus” or “a plus to some extent.”
The increase in optimism about the impact of the Games in the latest survey, compared to findings in the poll four years ago, is considered mainly due to the fact that the opening of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is drawing near. In addition, there has been further progress on recovery projects from the March 11, 2011, disaster.
Many respondents in the latest survey placed high expectations on the Games’ torch relay, scheduled to start from the city of Fukushima, followed by a tour of the disaster-hit areas. In addition, some of the 2020 Olympics’ competitive events are slated to be held there. Responses indicated the leaders’ belief that these events would be sure to help accelerate local recovery efforts.
Fukushima Towns Still Suffering
Meanwhile, a breakdown of the replies showed there were significant gaps in the perception of the pace of recovery among the geographic areas. Those responding with a positive view of the pace of recovery stood at 80% to 100% of the respondents in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, while respondents from Fukushima Prefecture varied widely, ranging from only 30% to as much as 80% positive.
Even in the areas of Fukushima Prefecture, where the government-mandated evacuation due to the nuclear accident had been lifted, responses stressing the grueling after-disaster conditions were conspicuous. Among them were replies as follows:
Kazuhiro Yoshida, mayor of the town of Namie:
Nothing has begun yet in the area still officially called the “difficult-to-return zone” that accounts for 80% of the acreage of our town.
Norio Kanno, mayor of the village of Iitate:
The work on improving the farmland infrastructure and resuscitating forests has only just begun in our village.
Kanemasa Sato, mayor of the town of Kawamata:
The rate of people returning here from the areas where they evacuated has failed to rise as desired.
In addition, there were some responses pointing out that the after-disaster conditions could hardly be represented in terms of numerical figures.
‘Please Visit the Disaster-Hit Areas’
The survey was conducted in February, immediately before the ninth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, by contacting the leaders of 42 city, town, and village governments in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, damaged by the tsunami and the TEPCO nuclear accident. The heads of all 42 local governments responded.
The local municipal leaders expressed a variety of thoughts, but there were two overriding messages: “Please make a visit to the areas affected by the disaster!” and “We sincerely hope government and non-government support will continue.”
Excerpts of selected responses follow:
Joji Endo, mayor of the city of Kuji, Iwate Prefecture:
We believe it is vitally important to encourage businesses and projects aimed at promoting the reconstruction and economic future of the stricken areas. In addition, we need to become better at attracting tourists from abroad to visit the disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region.
Hiroshi Ishihara, mayor of the village of Tanohata, Iwate Prefecture:
We hope to see the Olympics and Paralympics bring benefits to the economies of the disaster-hit region, and more people-to-people exchanges with many in Japan and overseas. We believe there will be a surge in public interest spreading throughout the affected areas, starting with the torch relay starting from Fukushima, along with athletic events that are scheduled during the Games.
Jin Sato, mayor of the town of Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture:
We have placed a priority on sharing information with the outside world about progress in our recovery efforts, and the importance of disaster prevention education.
Hiroshi Kameyama, mayor of the city of Isinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture:
We think it will be important to maintain our connections with various countries of the world after the Olympic Games so that programs and support remain uninterrupted. We also hope the central government will continue to provide support for the expenses of these post-Games efforts.
Norio Kanno, mayor of Iitate village, Fukushima Prefecture:
We believe that it is important to transmit current information about the stricken areas to the world so they have accurate knowledge of the situation in the region.
Author: The Sankei Shimbun