Fukushima marks 12 years since triple disasters, Kishida vows "not to let lessons fade"

Photo: Children stand in silence at a memorial event hosted by the town of Okuma at the Manabiya Yumenomori education facility at 2:46 p.m. on March 11.

Fukushima Prefecture marked the 12th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. Local residents offered prayers for the victims of the massive quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The prefectural government hosted a memorial ceremony at the Paruse Iizaka convention hall in Fukushima city. Those who attended the ceremony, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, shared their resolve to preserve the memories of the unprecedented disasters and carry the lessons from them to younger generations to build a new Fukushima full of hope. At the ceremony, three 17-year-old high school students spoke as representatives of a generation that carries the hope for local restoration. In their speech titled "Words of Youth," Fumiko Hayashi, Shuntaro Watanabe and Sakura Takahashi -- all second-year students at Aizu High School -- expressed their personal impressions of the aftermath of the disasters and the ongoing reconstruction process across the prefecture. They pointed out there are still many places where they feel as if time has stood still for the last 12 years, but they pledged to pass on disaster-related facts and what they have learned to the generations that follow. A 16-member choir from Asaka Reimei High School sang a requiem. Kishida attended an anniversary ceremony in Fukushima for the second consecutive year. He told the gathering that it is "our responsibility to hand down to later generations the precious lessons learned at the heavy cost of the disasters without allowing them to fade, and push ahead with building a disaster-resilient country." Kishida emphasized the need for medium- to long-term action plans to help the recovery from the nuclear disaster. Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori vowed to "transform Fukushima, now considered 'a place of disaster' and 'a nuclear accident site' into 'Fukushima -- a place of hope' and 'Fukushima -- a reconstruction site.'" For that purpose, he said, the prefecture "will continue to take on the challenges it faces with full force and never fail to achieve reconstruction." Prefectural assembly speaker Yoshinobu Watanabe delivered a condolence speech. Representing the bereaved families, Koichi Miyaguchi, a 65-year-old from Minamisoma city who lost his parents in the tsunami, stressed the importance of improving awareness of disaster prevention without forgetting the lessons of the tragedy. At 2:46 p.m., exactly when the temblor struck in 2011, all attendees observed a moment of silence for the victims. Kishida and Uchibori offered flowers alongside some others. The local government invited guests to the ceremony from outside the prefecture for the first time in four years while taking precautions against COVID-19. About 330 people, excluding the general public, attended the ceremony -- roughly the same size as the ones held before the pandemic. Other guests from the central government included Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura. Also attending were envoys of 15 countries. Local daily publisher Fukushima-Minpo Co. was represented by President Koichi Yoshimi. The venue of the annual event was changed to the Paruse Iizaka hall this year from the Toho Minna no Bunka Center (Fukushima Prefectural Culture Center) in Fukushima city, which was damaged by an earthquake that occurred in March 2022 after hosting memorial ceremonies until then. Residents spent the day mourning victims in other parts of the prefecture as well. In the town of Okuma, local volunteers organized a memorial event, decorating 2,023 paper cranes in front of its main town office building. Children also paid silent tribute and wrote messages wishing for reconstruction at Manabiya Yumenomori, an education facility run by the town and located in Aizuwakamatsu city, where a large number of evacuees from Okuma now live. (Translated by Kyodo News)