SENDAI – Towns and cities in the three Tohoku prefectures damaged most by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami are moving forward with plans to reuse abandoned land plots under a group relocation program aimed at disaster prevention.
With the central government designating such plots as disaster danger zones, making them inadvisable for living, municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima are looking for new ways to utilize them ranging from solar power generation to tomato farming and sheep tourism.
According to a Jiji Press survey in December covering 26 municipalities that adopted the program, authorities have purchased about 2,013 hectares of abandoned land. About 1,466 hectares, or 73 percent, have already been put to use or are scheduled to be.
The plots are mainly used for industrial sites, parks and afforestation for disaster prevention. The survey excluded the town of Yamamoto in Miyagi, which does not calculate ratios for the use of such plots.
A newly built farm in Iwanuma, also in Miyagi, has become a place where residents and tourists can interact.
Iwanuma Hitsuji Park has a pasture for 29 sheep and an area for dogs. The site was previously owned by a farmer, who later brought in sheep for weeding purposes in 2015.
After former residents helped prepare the 3-hectare site, it became popular on weekends as visitors were offered a chance to try feeding the sheep. The farm attracted some 30,000 visitors in fiscal 2018.
“This is a place with sad memories, so I wanted to make it one linking people,” said Yoko Matsuo, 41, an official of the Japan Overseas Cooperative Association, which was commissioned by the Iwanuma Municipal Government to administer the project.
“This place should be utilized rather than abandoned,” said Kimio Kobayashi, a former resident who is a member of the project.
“We need to make more efforts to attract people,” Kobayashi, 72, said, pointing to the difficulty of reinvigorating areas where people are no longer able to reside.
After calamity struck in March 2011, the Minamisoma Municipal Government in Fukushima designated areas wrecked by tsunami as wind and solar power generation bases in an effort to make renewables responsible for all of the city’s electricity by fiscal 2030.
About 150 hectares in the Kashima and Haramachi districts started solar operations in 2018, producing enough electricity to supply roughly 32,000 standard households every year.
“We were able to secure land plots for power generation by utilizing the abandoned areas,” a Minamisoma official said.
Combined with electricity from other solar power plants, renewables will be able to cover about 80 percent of the city’s electricity needs in fiscal 2020, according to the city.
The Ofunato Municipal Government in Iwate has discussed plans for reusing abandoned plots with residents of 12 of its 26 disaster-hit districts.
A tomato cultivation facility that can monitor temperatures and humidity around the clock has been built by a local agriculture company on a 3.2-hectare plot in the Massakicho district.
Starting in June 2019, the facility produces 50 tons of tomatoes per month at peak periods and distributes them mainly to large supermarkets in Tokyo and surrounding areas.
Konosuke Hashimoto, president of the company, decided to build the facility despite the high risks associated with operating businesses in such designated danger zones.
“We thought maybe we could utilize our know-how for the plots, rather than just see them abandoned and dying,” Hashimoto, 39, said.
Some 40 part-time workers at the company reside in Ofunato and in devastated Rikuzentakata next door.
“We hope the farm will help stimulate the local economy,” a city official said.