The Great East Japan Earthquake struck four years ago today. The social, economic and political aftershocks of the huge quake, the subsequent tsunami and consequent meltdown of the Tokyo Electric Power Company ( TEPCO) nuclear reactors in Fukushima are still felt in Japan to this day.
Over 15,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, over 125,000 buildings collapsed, with tens of thousands more damaged. Four years on from this tragic disaster work is still ongoing to repair the damage.
As of September 2014, 38,463 people were still living in temporary housing in Iwate Prefecture, 25,494 people in Fukushima Prefecture and 23,621 people in Miyagi Prefecture. Elderly people, those aged over 65, make up 37% of the persons still temporary housed.
So far only 15% of the 29,000 permanent homes planned for Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima have been built. After the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 all people affected by the quake had been permanently re-housed after five years. This 5-year target simply will not be met for the people of the Tohoku region.
PM Shinzo Abe pledged today to finance a new 5-year plan for the three worst affected prefectures. So far the government has spent 5 trillion yen on the previous reconstruction plan and 1.5 trillion yen on the ongoing radiation cleanup at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. Around 120,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the melt down in Fukushima.
The "clean-up operation" includes storing thousands of black plastic bags containing irradiated soil, leaf litter and other debris throughout Fukushima Prefecture even on beaches where they will easily be blown out to sea in a storm. 200,000 tonnes of toxic water are also being stored in hundreds of tanks near to Fukushima Daiichi.
The damage to business and citizens' morale is more difficult to quantify. Some businesses and families have given up hope of ever being able to return to their properties and houses within the exclusion zone in Fukushima Prefecture and have tried to rebuild their lives elsewhere in Japan. Some 3,200 people are thought to have met an early death since the disaster as a result of suicide and poor health caused by the events of March 11, 2011.
The fishing industry off the Tohoku coast has taken a big hit and the area in general is suffering from a labor shortage in construction, fisheries and nursing.
As more years pass since the disaster there is a sense that the rest of Japan is ceasing little by little to care what is happening to the communities affected by the triple wammy of the earthquake, tsunami and meltdown. Workers, materials and finance are being sucked in to preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as interest wanes in the increasingly elderly people left behind in the north east.
The Tohoku region has also been a remote and relatively little-visited part of Japan compared with central Honshu and the big cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto.
See the JapanVisitor blog about the third anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake disaster.
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