Promises of reconstruction ring hollow in disaster areas

Voter cynicism, skepticism run high in Tohoku

JIJI

Masami Minato sees a wide gap between the commitments made by Upper House candidates to promote reconstruction in disaster-hit areas and what she has witnessed on the ground.

“Every candidate talks about reconstruction, but local residents are frustrated because little progress has been made,” said Minato, a 64-year-old hairdresser in the coastal town of Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, which was hit hard by the tsunami unleashed by the March 11, 2011, earthquake.

As campaigning for Sunday’s Upper House election enters its final hours, candidates’ talk of economic recovery also rings hollow to her.

“The population has fallen and no industry is growing in disaster areas,” she said. “I wonder what country they are talking about.”

Minato’s reaction echoes widespread cynicism and skepticism among voters in disaster areas in the Tohoku region.

In Kamaishi, a city on Iwate’s Pacific coast, Mineo Kimura, 77, lives in temporary housing on his pension. His fishing boat was destroyed by the tsunami.

He is hoping the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will mean a better life for disaster victims, but he is also prepared for price increases that will undoubtedly follow the consumption tax hike expected next spring.

“I’ll have to cut back on food expenses,” he said. “I had hoped the government would give more consideration to disaster areas when raising the tax, but to no avail,” he added.

Like others, Kimura believes the memory of the disaster is beginning to fade in unaffected areas.

In the tsunami-hit Yuriage district of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, Hiroko Sato, 48, operates a delicatessen in a makeshift shopping area after losing her house and factory in the disaster.

“All the political parties promise to push ahead with reconstruction, but I doubt if they’ll really deliver on their promises,” she said. “No decision has been made yet about a new house for me.”

Chieko Ouchi, 42, who works for a “kamaboko” fish paste shop, is also calling attention to delays in reconstruction.

“In the Yuriage district, debris has been cleared away but no further progress has been made some two years after the disaster,” she said. “I want lawmakers to be at the forefront of reconstruction.”

Due to a lack of real debate between candidates on the future of nuclear energy, disappointment among disaster victims is feeding voter apathy.

In Fukushima Prefecture, some 150,000 residents still live as evacuees due to the reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Susumi Yanai, 73, lives in temporary housing in the city of Iwaki after being evacuated from the town of Naraha.

He feels candidates are avoiding serious discussion about nuclear power.

“They say nothing of what really matters,” an impatient Yanai said of campaign speeches by candidates.

Criticizing candidates for not offering specific plans for reconstruction, he says residents at his temporary housing complex have little interest in the election.

“It strikes me that candidates are deliberately leaving questions (about nuclear energy and reconstruction) unanswered,” said a clearly discontented Yoke Kimura, a 64-year-old housewife in the same complex.