F ive mayors from the devastated north-east were invited to identify areas in which the foreign business community might be able to support vital reconstruction efforts highlighted by the panelists. The event that drew some 500 attendees was organised by the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce and the Tohoku Planning Forum – supported by 16 national chambers of commerce and Hitotsubashi University ICS, and sponsored by nine firms.
The NCCJ Activities Committee chair, Martin van der Linden, addressed the importance of continuing where Giving Back to Japan started last year. Television and radio presenter Peter Barakan, the moderator, described the evening as an opportunity to see how the international community can help Tohoku communities get on their desired path and secure the necessary resources.
Hidetoshi Watanabe, mayor of Aizumisato town, Fukushima prefecture, spoke of the need to create jobs. With the expertise of Carl Sundberg (Aizu-Compufarm), an IT school has been set up in the mountains, with a data centre in a school building. Watanabe sees cloud computing for municipal functions and the town’s desire to be the centre for advanced healthcare as viable solutions for post-disaster recovery, and has invited experts to participate.
Mayor Kimiaki Toda, Ofunato city, Iwate prefecture, explained that the problem is finding funding and resources, since the residents are disaster victims. The city’s goals involve 233 projects, 10% of which have been completed. Two of the remaining projects are to build two city-funded, after-school clubs for children; and to arrange for foreign countries to invite middle- and high-school students to visit for one week to 10 days.
Toda also wants to reduce CO² emissions, set up a smart grid for industries, develop biomass alternative fuel production, and have wooden housing that uses the town’s forest.
Mayor Kiichi Numazaki, Yamada town, Iwate prefecture, wants to focus on revitalising local industries, for which he needs funding. Currently, he is trying to build consensus among the residents and fishery associations. About 46.7% of the town’s buildings were destroyed and 1,590 of the 2,138 boats lost, while 50% of the population either died on 11 March, or have relocated elsewhere. There is a need to build higher dikes and move upland. Numazaki wants to attract tourists and have them interact with the community.
Mayor Tsuneaki Iguchi, Iwanuma city, Miyagi prefecture, envisions “hills of millenium hopes”, made of cement and debris from the 3/11 disaster. Some 48% of the city was flooded, and 8% remains below sea level, adversely affecting the town’s rice paddies. He wants solutions to be in harmony with nature, and seeks scientific expertise. In addition, Iguchi envisions the town becoming a top user of photovoltaic (PV) solar power; wishes to attract advanced medical centres to boost the local economy; supports planting trees as a tsunami buffer; and wants to consolidate existing schools.
Mayor Yoshiaki Suda, Onagawa town, Miyagi prefecture, has seized the opportunity, in an area 85% of which was damaged, to create a completely new municipality for future generations. He sees the foreign business community’s help and support as part of a reciprocal relationship, and believes that interest in his town will engender participation by overseas firms in other towns and regions.