Job fears rising in areas around Mount Usu

Kyodo

Many residents living near Mount Usu in southwestern Hokkaido are frustrated and concerned over their job prospects as evacuation orders and volcanic eruptions continue to inconvenience thousands.

Eruptions and seismic tremors that started in late March have effectively shut down the region’s tourism industry. In addition, evacuation has prevented many local farmers from tending to their crops and livestock.

Hokkaido Gov. Tatsuya Hori is urging local employers not to lay off workers and the Labor Ministry has announced special subsidies to help residents whose livelihoods have been seriously disrupted.

These and other moves have failed to stem the mounting anxiety felt by many residents in the three communities nearest the mountain — the city of Date and the towns of Sobetsu and Abuta.

Among the hardest-hit victims are those who once worked at the Lake Toya hot-spring resort in Abuta, which was a popular destination for domestic tourists. The area is several hundred meters from craters that have been spewing rock, steam and ash for the past two weeks.

Karakami Kanko, a major employer at the resort and operator of two large hotels there, planned to hire about 90 high school graduates prior to the eruptions. It has since notified them that their starting date has been indefinitely postponed.

The company has also recommended that its 269 bar workers and part-time employees apply for unemployment insurance.

According to Hokkaido government labor officials, 34 people employed by 13 businesses in the three communities had applied for unemployment insurance as of Monday. Most were working in Abuta and many of them depend on the hot-spring resort for their livelihood.

“We would like more support from the national government because the town can only do so much,” said Tetsuko Kashiwa, 53, who lives in the resort area and worked in a hotel restaurant.

That frustration was echoed by Kuniichiro Yamamoto, of Sobetsu’s chamber of commerce, which has been seeking financial assistance to revive the local economy.

“They can inject several trillion yen in tax money into the major banks but in a small town like Sobetsu the employment of even two or three people can have a big impact,” he said, referring to the central government’s bailout of Japan’s leading banks.

Meanwhile, the Hokkaido government Friday started constructing about 100 prefabricated houses in four locations in Abuta for evacuees living in emergency shelters.

The houses are expected to be completed in early May, government officials said, adding that the government will start construction of some 400 additional houses in a few days.

According to the Hokkaido government, at least 8,290 residents of Sobetsu and Abuta have evacuated their homes and are living with relatives.

The Hokkaido government will accept applications for the housing and will consider constructing additional houses after analyzing results of a survey of evacuees on housing issues conducted Monday and Tuesday.