The following is another report from Peter Grilli, President of the Japan Society of Boston, who recently returned from Japan. Peter spent most of the last week traveling through various parts of Tohoku – mainly in eastern Miyagi Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture.
After meeting and talking with many people at refugee centers, local town offices, centers for volunteer workers from all over Japan and all over the world, it seems pretty clear to me that we’re now at a major transition point: from the first period when simple survival and rescue were top priorities to a second period of re-construction of all sorts. In most of the places we visited, the worst of the overwhelming debris that had been swept by the tsunami of March 11 into all coastal towns and villages has been collected into vast mountains of garbage and debris. Roads have been cleared and traffic is passable almost everywhere. The debris is slowly being trucked away to be used as landfill in the hills in some places, or landfill for coastal land-reclamation projects. Left behind is terrible stench in most places, lots of flies and other bugs, and infernal black crows that fly in to pick over the garbage. But reconstruction is clearly underway: reconstruction of life-styles, reconstruction of homes and shops, reconstruction of industries, reconstruction of an entire economy. In some places it is moving fairly fast (though life will clearly not seem “normal” for close to a decade…); elsewhere, reconstruction is moving with agonizing slowness. Government bureaucrats have targeted certain larger towns for high-priority reconstruction efforts, but smaller towns will have to wait for years and years to receive significant government assistance.
Large-scale aid from the Japanese central government is essential and it is being delivered slowly and is making important changes. But it is often provided coldly, rigidly, and with a high-handed manner by government bureaucrats. Disaster victims are being made to feel as though they are nothing more than a troublesome temporary inconvenience – a distraction from the “more important” priorities of the central government. The offensive comments last week by Minister of Reconstruction Matsumoto Ryu brought an outraged response from the people of Tohoku and resulted in his being fired after only 9 days on the job. That seems typical of the bungling policies of the Kan government, and it is bringing a rising tide of resentment throughout Japan. There are little or no expressions of consolation and sympathy for the victims from the cold hard faces of government bureaucrats, and their reconstruction efforts are being delivered with rigid insensitivity to local realities. The several visits by the Emperor and Empress to Tohoku were totally opposite in tone; their genuine compassion was deeply appreciated, and highlighted the contrast with the cold formality of the bureaucrats.
These are photographs taken in Minami-Sanriku, where the Emperor and Empress prayed for the dead and visited several evacuation centers. They returned one month later, in mid-May, on the 2-month anniversary of the March 11 disasters.