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Reconstruction Agency to remain intact with full-time minister

4 July 2019

The government and ruling coalition parties have begun making final arrangements toward keeping intact the present Reconstruction Agency organization, headed by the prime minister and served by a full-time minister, beyond the end of fiscal 2020 when the current agency-establishing temporary law is due to expire.

The move is in response to requests from municipalities damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Senior government officials and party members involved in the talks have judged it necessary to continue the current system of promoting policy measures under the prime minister's direct control in order to ensure medium- to long-term reconstruction from the disaster.

At a meeting of the government's Reconstruction Promotion Committee held at the agency in Tokyo on July 3, representatives from the three disaster-affected prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi sought the maintenance of the present administrative system, among other requests, looking beyond the current legally mandated reconstruction and revitalization period ending next fiscal year. Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori urged reconstruction minister Hiromichi Watanabe and other officials, for the first time, to create a full-time minister post for a Reconstruction Agency successor organization. He also called on the government to secure stable reconstruction funding under a system similar to the existing framework.

Speaking to reporters after the closed-door committee meeting, Uchibori said, "Fukushima's reconstruction will not end in 10 years. It is extremely important for the state (national government) to take the lead in securing a system and financial resources that enable prefectural people to make efforts for reconstruction with peace of mind."

In its basic policy for the reconstruction of affected areas revised last March, the government made clear that it will assume responsibility for Fukushima's rehabilitation in the medium to long term and that it will appoint a minister in charge of the agency's successor organization. Ideas broached in government and ruling coalition debate so far include one calling for the successor body to be an affiliate of the Cabinet Office and another for the establishment of a "reconstruction and disaster management agency" overseeing both functions -- that would be able to respond to disasters and rehabilitation -- in a single-handed manner.

After the reconstruction and revitalization period, however, challenging issues remain such as restoration of affected people’s daily lives, establishment of a living environment enabling the evacuees to return home permanently, mental healthcare of victims and measures to cope with reputational damage caused by the nuclear accident. Against that backdrop, municipalities and other parties concerned have been calling for maintenance of control tower functions for overall policy coordination among relevant ministries and agencies and the retention of reconstruction funding instead of the agency's simple reorganization.

Based on such requests, the Headquarters for Accelerating Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are expected to submit an eighth set of recommendations in favor of keeping intact the current system and funding as soon as August. In response to the recommendations, the government will include them, by the end of this year, in its basic reconstruction policy to be implemented after the current reconstruction and revitalization period.

The Reconstruction Agency was set up on Feb. 10, 2012, as a body under the direct control of the Cabinet on the basis of the Act for Establishment of the Reconstruction Agency. It will run until March 31, 2021. With the prime minister serving as its chief minister and a full-time reconstruction minister in charge of administrative affairs also being appointed, the agency is undertaking reconstruction and rehabilitation projects related to the earthquake and nuclear accident.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

1 July 2019

43.9% of Fukushima residents see Olympics as showcasing recovery, 45.8% don’t

A recent opinion poll of residents in Fukushima Prefecture, conducted jointly by Fukushima-Minpo Co. and Fukushima Television Broadcasting Co., has found that 43.9% of respondents “feel” or “somewhat feel” sympathy for the concept of “Olympics for Recovery” to showcase post-disaster reconstruction through the 2020 Tokyo Games. The ratio was lower than the 45.8% who “don’t” or “little feel” so.

As reasons for feeling sympathy, many respondents cited the fact that “the Olympic torch relay is set to start from the prefecture” and other factors, showing prefectural people feel a measure of appreciation for the track record of what has been realized under the concept. But the greater proportion of people feeling little or no sympathy has brought into relief some challenging issues, including the need for greater efforts to foster an atmosphere conducive to publicizing the concept.

The circular chart shows replies to the question asking whether pollees feel sympathy for the “Olympics for Recovery” concept. The survey found 15.8% “feel” sympathy and 28.1% “somewhat feel” so for a combined total of 43.9%. On the other hand, 12.1% “don’t feel” any sympathy and 33.7% “little feel” so, bringing the total to 45.8%.

Starting in the bid campaign stage before Tokyo was picked as host of the 2020 Olympics, the government championed reconstruction from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake as one of the Games’ symbolic ideas while groping for ways of involving Fukushima and other disaster-affected areas in the Olympic movement. Efforts have been made since Tokyo won the bidding race to turn such ideas into reality. These include the decision in 2017 to use the prefectural government-run Azuma Baseball Stadium as a venue for some games of the baseball/softball events at the Olympics and the choice in March this year of the J-Village national soccer training center straddling the towns of Naraha and Hirono as the starting point for the torch relay. But the poll results show nearly 50% of prefectural people feel no sympathy or a lack of it for the concept of using the Olympics as an opportunity for publicizing reconstruction.

Those respondents who “feel” or “somewhat feel” sympathy for the concept were asked why they think so. The greatest proportion, 40.8%, chose “because the Olympic torch relay is set to start from the prefecture,” followed by 32.7% who picked “because the baseball/softball events are to be held in Fukushima city.” Among other reasons were “because we can publicize reconstruction with many spectators expected to visit the prefecture,” cited by 16.2%, and “because Olympic-related events are under way in the prefecture,” selected by 5.5%.

The torch relay is scheduled to go through various parts of the prefecture from March 26 to 28 next year while six softball games are slated for July 22-23 and one baseball game for July 29 at the Azuma stadium. In order to have many more prefectural people feel sympathy for the Games concept, it appears essential to make efforts to produce a conducive atmosphere for the Olympics by informing them of the advantages of hosting some events and the significance of participation as well as dissemination of information designed to increase tourists to the prefecture taking advantage of the Games.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

16 June 2019

1st flower festa held in Motomiya's British garden, 4 London residents named "goodwill ambassadors"

A flower festival was held for the first time at a British-style garden in Prince William's Park in Motomiya city, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 15. Visitors enjoyed the allures of the garden graced by roses and other flowers in early summer.

The garden opened in November 2017 as a symbol of reconstruction from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The municipal government hosted the festival to widely publicize the attractions of the garden which, with increased splendor in its second summer, has reached the best season to view trailing roses covering the "Rose Dome," as well as salvia and other flowers in bloom.

At an opening ceremony, Motomiya Mayor Gigyo Takamatsu commissioned the role of "Motomiya goodwill ambassador for international exchanges" to four London residents with ties to the garden. After people concerned planted a commemorative tree, festival participants released balloons into the sky in a show of their pledge to activate exchanges between the two cities.

Appointed were Yoshio Mitsuyama, 72, chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Association in London (known in Japanese as the "London Shakunage Kai," or literally alpine rose society), who hails from the Taishin district of Shirakawa city, Fukushima Prefecture; former British Member of Parliament Victoria Bowick, 63; Elizabeth Arnold, 71, representative deputy lieutenant for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; and Robert Freeman, 80, former mayor of the borough, where the "Fukushima Garden" is located.

The British garden was set up by Motomiya in connection with the Fukushima Garden, which opened in London's Holland Park in 2012 in a move inspired by Fukushima-Minpo Co.'s project to dispatch "reconstruction ambassadors" on the occasion of the London Olympics held that year. At the garden festival, Fukushima-Minpo, the publisher of the namesake vernacular daily, was represented by Koichi Yoshimi, senior managing director and editor in chief.

【Photo】 Participants in a flower festival held for the first time at a British-style garden in Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture, release balloons into the sky at an opening ceremony.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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