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Nagoya aid for tsunami-hit city starts to pay off

Chunichi Shimbun

A shiitake grower farmer in disaster-hit Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, is working to cultivate a sales channel in the Chubu region, while a Nagoya-based civil engineering company launches an office near the Tohoku city.

These are just a few examples illustrating how Nagoya’s reconstruction support project for Rikuzentakata is gradually bearing fruit in the form of economic exchanges.

Rikuzentakata lost 68 of its 295 municipal officials to the March 11 tsunami.

Nagoya has dispatched 127 officials over the course of the last year to help restore various civil functions, and it has been engaged in fundraising activities for the Tohoku city.

It has also invited students from Rikuzentakata to Nagoya and promoted products from the city.

In one of his plastic greenhouses on a hill that commands a panoramic view of the surrounding area, mushroom farmer Hirofumi Sato, 51, showed a shiitake about 8 cm in diameter to Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura when he visited the city last month.

“Salt carried by the sea breeze stimulates vitality of mushrooms. They have a unique flavor. I hope the people in Nagoya will enjoy them,” Sato said.

The mayor put his nose close to the mushroom and responded in his Nagoya accent, “What a huge mushroom!”

Sato used to grow tree ear mushrooms in greenhouses set up along the coast.

It was immediately after he built an additional greenhouse and started mass production of shiitake that he lost them all, along with his house, in the tsunami.

It caused nearly ¥100 million in damage and left him nothing but debt.

His shipment volume plunged by half as the sales network for mushrooms that survived the disaster was cut off.

But in October, when Sato visited Nagoya to promote local produce, he met Kawamura to express gratitude for Nagoya’s support, and that led to the mayor’s visit to his farm.

“To rebuild the town from devastation, its local economy must prosper. In Nagoya, we will promote shiitake mushrooms that you have grown carefully,” Kawamura told Sato.

He plans to help promote the mushrooms in Nagoya department stores.

With subsidies from the central government, Sato will expand his greenhouses again next year.

“I want to cultivate a sales channel in a city with large consumption. I have my hope in the mayor as a reliable salesman for our products,” said Sato.

In November, Jun Ooka, a 50-year-old Nagoya resident and owner of a construction company, set up an office in Ichinoseki, a town adjacent to Rikuzentakata, through the Aichi capital’s initiative. He envisions establishing nursing homes and caretaker training centers in affected areas such as Rikuzentakata.

Initially, Ooka planned to concentrate on scrapping damaged buildings, an area of his company’s expertise. But he couldn’t get orders as the priority is to hire local companies.

That got him looking for other options.

“What is needed in the affected area, which faces a shrinking population, is to create jobs for the people and places for the elderly to live,” Ooka said.

Last July he joined an inspection tour of Rikuzentakata organized by Nagoya, geared toward company managers in search of business opportunities.

After visiting the devastated area, a local company president gave a presentation.

“There is no electricity or running water here,” Ooka recalls him saying. “So we would like to have someone with a strong will who can manage even in these conditions.”

While other tour members saw no business opportunities, Ooka decided to establish an operational base there.

Since then, he has visited the city office every day and is trying to lease the land where a school has been shut down due to the declining population. His aim: establish a nursing home there.

“It will take time to rebuild the disaster-afflicted area. So I would like to settle down and commit to working here so that I can gain trust from the local people,” Ooka said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 23.