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Inaugural tree-planting fest held in Minamisoma, set to be expanded to rest of Fukushima

5 November 2018

An inaugural "Fukushima tree-planting festival" took place on Nov. 4 in the Kitaebi area of the Kashima district of the tsunami-hit city of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, as a follow-up event to the 69th Nationwide Tree-Planting Festival held earlier this year in the city. Some 3,000 people participated from within and outside the prefecture, pledging further restoration of greenery-covered prefectural land and to hand over commitments to future generations.

The participants planted about 27,000 Japanese black pine and other tree saplings on tracts of seaside land devastated by massive tsunami triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake under the theme of "Building forests of hope to connect to the future," contributing to improving coastal disaster prevention green belts. Building on the philosophy of the national tree-planting festival hosted in June in the Shidoke area of Minamisoma's Haramachi district, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori indicated his intention to develop forest building into a movement to promote throughout the prefecture.

The festival was hosted by an executive committee comprising the prefectural government, forestry industry organizations, Fukushima-Minpo Co. and other parties. It was held along with the Minamisoma citizens' tree-planting festival dedicated to the repose of disaster victims' souls and reconstruction. Uchibori, speaking at an opening ceremony also as chairman of the event, encouraged the participants to "put your energies into the planting of forests so that the growth of trees and children will overlap with post-disaster reconstruction." Minamisoma Mayor Kazuo Momma expressed hope that "the saplings into which the participants put their thoughts and prayers will grow into a forest of comfort for the spirits of victims that lays the groundwork for our future."

A commemorative tree-planting ceremony was conducted by representatives, including Uchibori, Momma, committee chairman Takuo Saito, who heads the prefecture's forestry and greening association, prefectural assembly chairman Eiko Yoshida, kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo who cooperated in launching the tree-planting project, 2017 Miss Japan Goddess of Greenery Aoi Nonaka (hailing from Sukagawa city, Fukushima Prefecture) and 2018 Miss Japan Goddess of Greenery Chise Takekawa (from Wakayama Prefecture). They joined members of the Omika Midori-no-Shonendan (Omika green boys) in Minamisoma in planting seedlings of Japanese red oaks grown from seeds collected in the compounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as well as black pines and other trees.

Along the tsunami-affected coast, the participants planted black pine saplings on a 1.5-hectare plot of land, aiming for it to grow into a disaster prevention forest. They also planted 21 broad-leaved tree varieties, including tabunoki (machilus thunbergii), sudaji (castanopsis sieboldii) and konara Japanese oaks, on a raised 0.4-hectare tract. The event also included exchange events in which local farm, forestry and marine products were put on sale and a session of hands-on experience in woodworking was offered, allowing many visitors to deepen their understanding of the prefecture.

According to the Fukushima government, quake-caused tsunami washed away 60% of coastal disaster prevention forests in the prefecture while work to restore them has stalled due to the effects of radioactive fallout from the nuclear power plant accident that followed the quake and tsunami. The prefecture is seeking to establish in the tsunami-affected areas a seaside belt of disaster prevention forests four times as large as the pre-disaster level. But it faces a challenging issue of securing manpower for the forest planting work and management. In the prefecture as a whole, thinning and other forest-building efforts are making headway, but it remains uncertain if funding can be secured for the project after the current period of state-financed reconstruction and revitalization concludes at the end of fiscal 2020 through March 2021.

The local government intends to seize the opportunity presented by the Fukushima tree-planting festival to develop a framework of forest restoration in cooperation with the people of the prefecture and manpower provided by relevant organizations and companies across Japan.

"In the future, it will be important to 'continue, spread and relay' forest-building moves in the wake of the tree-planting festival," Uchibori said after the event, indicating that he will seek to promote tree planting and other activities as a prefecture-wide movement not only in the Hamadori coastal region but also in the inland regions of Aizu and Nakadori. Echoing him, forestry and greening association chief Saito said he "would like to step up efforts to hand over to our next generation the preciousness of forest building, which constitutes the philosophy of the Nationwide Tree-Planting Festival attended by the emperor and empress."

Representing Fukushima-Minpo, publisher of the local daily of the same name, President Masayuki Takahashi attended the festival.

【Photo】Commemorative tree-planting carried out by (from left) prefectural assembly chairman Eiko Yoshida, Gov. Masao Uchibori, kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo and Minamisoma Mayor Kazuo Momma in the Kitaebi area of Minamisoma's Kashima district

(Translated by Kyodo News)

29 October 2018

Uchibori reelected as Fukushima governor, voter turnout low at 45.04%

Incumbent candidate Masao Uchibori, 54, garnered 650,982 votes in the 21st gubernatorial election in Fukushima Prefecture on Oct. 28, beating three other rivals in a huge landslide to win his second four-year term from Nov. 12. The challengers in the election, held at the expiration of Uchibori's first term, were Kazushi Machida, 42, chairman of the Japan Communist Party's prefectural chapter; Sho Takahashi, 30, an IT company owner; and Jun Kanayama, 78, a self-employed worker. The election campaign was lackluster, leaving voter turnout at the second lowest level ever of 45.04%.

Uchibori declared his candidacy at the outset of a regular prefectural assembly session in June. His supporters established a solid campaign base cemented by the prefectural chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito party, which form a ruling coalition in the central government, as well as a "five-party council" comprising the local chapters of three opposition parties in the national Diet -- the Democratic Party for the People, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party -- plus independent prefectural assembly members and the Fukushima branch of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo). His campaign office consisted of representatives from an array of quarters in the prefecture while companies and organizations offered some 850 letters of recommendation endorsing him.

After the official election campaign kicked off on Oct. 11, Uchibori delivered stump speeches at about 100 locations and spoke at personal meetings in 14 places. He drew attention to the track record of his first term while advocating evolution of reconstruction from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, revitalization of regional communities and promotion of measures to address population shrinkage, among other things, as pillars of his campaign pledges. He eventually won support from a broad spectrum of voters, overwhelming the other candidates.

Although Uchibori attained his target of 600,000 ballots, his advantage was widely seen as unshakeable from the start, making the election undeniably sluggish as shown by a voter turnout of less than 50%.

【Photo】Masao Uchibori (left) celebrates reelection as Fukushima governor together with supporters. To the right is Haruo Nakagawa, head of his support group.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

21 October 2018

Fukushima-produced alcohol beverage exports hit record high in FY2017

Exports of alcoholic beverages such as sake rice wine and liqueur produced in Fukushima Prefecture totaled about 296 kiloliters in fiscal 2017 through March this year, marking a record annual high and reaching 3.2 times the level of fiscal 2012 when the Fukushima Trade Promotion Council began collecting such data. The fiscal 2017 total represented a 16.0 percent increase from the previous year and was worth 363.37 million yen.

The prefectural government and other parties concerned are set to give greater priority to the dissemination of information on the safety and attractiveness of local products, mainly alcoholic beverages, in an effort to dispel the reputational damage stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Sake accounted for 179 kiloliters of the fiscal 2017 export volume, up 11.9 percent, and for 204.69 million yen of the total value. Other beverages, including whiskey, ume-shu plum liqueur and shochu distilled spirit, constituted 117 kiloliters worth 158.68 million yen, with the quantity showing a 23.0 percent surge.

The United States was the largest export market, taking in 118 kiloliters (sake accounting for 77 kiloliters and other beverages 41 kiloliters) for 40.0 percent of the total, followed by France with 53 kiloliters (sake 2 kiloliters and others 51 kiloliters) for 18.1 percent, and South Korea with 39 kiloliters (all sake) for 13.2 percent.

Of the total sake exports, 43.1 percent went to the United States. The prefecture plans to open a shop in New York for testing sales of its sake, possibly within this fiscal year, riding on the crest of booming Japanese cuisine in that country. It will also post on YouTube three videos with English subtitles promoting local sake to assist Fukushima producers in their export drive.

An export strategy for prefectural products laid down by the local government lists 500 kiloliters of sake worth 700 million yen as export targets to be achieved by fiscal 2020. It intends to beef up sales promotion in five priority markets besides the United States, including Hong Kong where many Japanese restaurants exist, and France where sake is becoming popular.

But only 24 out of 58 member producers of the Fukushima Prefecture Sake Brewers Cooperative covered by the trade council’s survey had export track records. It is a challenging issue to increase the number of breweries involved in exports to accomplish the targets.

Commenting on the survey results, cooperative chairman Yoshihiro Ariga hailed the sharp export growth as "the outcome of efforts by each member brewery to improve taste." Ariga, who heads Ariga Jozo brewery in the city of Shirakawa, pointed out that "exports require a lot of expense and labor" in stressing the need to boost assistance for small breweries.

According to Finance Ministry trade statistics, domestic breweries exported a record total of 23,482 kiloliters of sake in 2017, reaching an annual high for the eighth straight year.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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