10 Years after Disaster, Develop Industries that Take Advantage of Tohoku’s Attractiveness

How can vigorous industries be developed in the face of dwindling government support? As a decade will have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, areas hit hard by the disaster face this formidable challenge.

Factories and other production facilities have mostly been restored, thanks in part to the government’s reconstruction programs. The shipment value of products from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures now exceeds predisaster levels. It can be said that long-term support as well as efforts by people in the disaster-hit areas have borne fruit.

The development of fishing ports and farmland damaged by the disaster has also progressed. However, recovery levels vary greatly by region and industry.

It is conspicuous that the recovery of the marine products processing industry, which had supported the regional economy, is lagging. The industry lost sales channels due to the disaster, and its impact lingers. The actual situation is that the industry has to rely on foreign technical intern trainees as there is also a serious labor shortage.

The rise and fall of key industries affects a region’s future. The central and local governments must support the development of new sales channels and cooperation among companies in order to prevent the weakening of such industries. It is also necessary to pay attention to prevent the construction, civil engineering and other sectors from falling into dire straits as they have undertaken reconstruction projects.

The central government plans to increase its focus on the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture, which continues to be plagued by the nuclear power plant accident. State support for Iwate and Miyagi prefectures will be reduced, which will force them to revitalize their economies on their own.

It is hoped that they will make the most of the Tohoku region’s features to develop their industries. Roads have been built in coastal and inland areas. Hopes are high that the logistics network, which is better than before the disaster, will help expand sales channels. To make these industries sustainable in the future, taking the perspective of local production for local consumption is also important.

Progress has been made on the use of land devastated by tsunami. A large facility to grow tomatoes has been built in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. Establishments such as a large cycling facility have also been set up along the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, attracting many visitors.

As catches of fish have been poor, the Iwate prefectural government is trying to make a shift to “cultivation fishing” by focusing on aquafarming of marine animals such as trout and coho salmon. Thorough support is urged for such positive initiatives.

In Fukushima Prefecture, efforts to create new industries are underway.

Under the initiative of the central and prefectural governments, research facilities for robotics, energy and other fields have been built. The central government hopes to increase employment in the region by creating industries that take advantage of the research results from these facilities. The government is urged to come up with concrete plans, including those that involve cooperation with local companies, as soon as possible.

Regarding farmland, efforts for its consolidation and enlargement have been accelerated. To get this initiative on track, securing people involved in the sector is important.

Even 10 years after the nuclear accident, radiation levels remain high in some areas, so those residents have been unable to return home. Revitalizing the areas is no easy task. It is hoped that both the public and private sectors will support the long path toward reconstruction.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March. 8, 2021.