Tsunami-hit city a hit on Facebook

Kyodo

The coastal city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, devastated by last year’s earthquake and tsunami, has gotten global attention thanks to its use of Facebook.

In July, the city set up an official page in both Japanese and English on Facebook, the first municipality to do so among those on the northeast coast that bore the full brunt of the March 2011 catastrophe.

Since then, officials have been updating the page to display and keep the world updated on the reconstruction process, an unusual move for a municipal government. The posts, mostly written in Japanese, include articles on Rikuzentakata from Japan and around the world, advisories on earthquakes and floods, and the mayor’s participation at a local festival.

When Rikuzentakata’s officials made a fundraising page in English to help preserve the city’s famed “miracle pine tree,” donations came in from around the world.

“The strength of Facebook is that you can communicate as easily as if you are chatting with your friends. We can’t make the most of its strength if city officials hesitate in posting information and comments,” said Ryuichiro Koga, who is in charge of the Facebook effort.

Koga, 42, a municipal official from Takeo, Saga Prefecture, is on loan to Rikuzentaka. Takeo was the first municipality in Japan to fully transfer its official website to Facebook.

Rikuzentakata tells its city employees to “actively access and comment (on Facebook) during work hours,” stressing it is “part of their business,” in stark contrast to other local governments that seem to struggle over where to draw a line between private and public access to social media in the workplace.

Rikuzentakata also allows officials to respond to comments from the public without prior approval from their superiors.