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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Disaster-hit areas want candidates to hear them

December 4, 2012


Voters in disaster-hit areas take hard glance at election candidates



As Japan gears up for a general election one year and nine months after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that triggered the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, voters in disaster-hit areas are scrutinizing candidates' campaign remarks and appearances in the hardest-hit areas.

Toru Kikawada, senior vice minister for reconstruction in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet, spoke to residents in the Iwate Prefecture city of Rikuzentakata, which was devastated by the March 2011 tsunami.

"Reconstruction doesn't happen overnight," he said, indicating that he was keen to put an effort into the reconstruction effort.

Among those listening to Kikawada was a 59-year-old store manager who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew to the disaster. The area where his home and store once stood remains a flattened wasteland, and a question lingered in his mind:

"Reconstruction is only beginning here. Will he stand with us until our new town is built?"

Some 1,700 lives were lost when the tsunami struck the city. Kikawada also lost his parents, wife and first son.

"Everyone else has lost family and acquaintances, too, so I don't think he'll get sympathy votes. But he should be able to side with the feelings of those hit by the disaster better than anyone," the store manager commented.

Toshiharu Kitsunai, a 70-year-old resident of Rikuzentakata, has been living with his wife in a home rented by the Iwate Prefectural Government in April last year, after the disaster swept away his own home. The two-year limit for staying in the home in the prefectural city of Ichinoseki was extended for a year, but the 70-year-old doesn't know what he'll do after that.

"I'm getting on in years, and probably won't be able to return to my hometown. I want them to focus on housing policies," he said, expressing expectations for candidates' assistance.

Hidenori Hashimoto, a 45-year-old new candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party, had his home in the city of Ofunato swept away by the tsunami. A 72-year-old woman from Rikuzentakata expressed hope in his performance.

"I think someone who has experienced the earthquake disaster will set about restoration work with a strong will," she said.

Prime Minister Noda made his first campaign speech in the Fukushima No. 5 electoral district, which covers the city of Iwaki along with six towns and two villages in the Futaba county of Fukushima Prefecture.

A 57-year-old resident living in a temporary housing complex in the city said he could feel a passion from Noda.

"I can sense his enthusiasm for reconstruction in the fact that he started his speeches in Fukushima," he said.

Before the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, the 57-year-old had been living in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Naraha.

The town was designated as a "no-go zone" after the disaster until August this year. He had been trying to establish a brand of rice with lower reliance on agricultural chemicals when the nuclear disaster occurred, tainting the area with radioactive materials.

"I've got my hopes up on the kind of 'seed-planting' politics that will lead to restoration, and support child-rearing and the return of people to their hometowns," he said.

Other voters took a harsher view of candidates who campaigned in the disaster areas.

"Speaking in the disaster areas on the first day? It's a performance. I feel like the disaster areas have been used," commented 42-year-old temporary worker Yuko Sato.

Sato had lived in the town of Tomioka, just six kilometers from the disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear plant. In July 2011, she evacuated to an emergency temporary dwelling in Iwaki, where she now lives with four family members.

"Even if decontamination progresses, I've given up on returning," she said. Sato says she has looked over the manifestos of various political parties running in the lower house election, but that hasn't helped her.

"They're all saying the same sort of thing, and in the end, I don't know in whose hands I should leave my future," she said.

Meanwhile, in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki, where the death toll from the earthquake disaster stood at 3,483 as of the end of October this year, with 462 listed as missing, residents' focus was on post-disaster restoration.

"It's easy to talk, but just how much will they do for us?" mumbled Sakai Miura, the owner of a nearby kimono fabric store. "The disaster hit when our sales were already falling due to the emergence of large stores in the suburbs, and there are many people who can't see a future."


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