This last weekend saw Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit the prefecture of Iwate, one of the three in the northeast region directly hit by the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, for the first time since his December election. Visiting the city of Rikuzentakata, one of the coastal communities destroyed by the disaster, Abe vowed the government would accelerate its efforts to rebuild the affected areas.
While in Rikuzentakata, Abe visited a memorial and was shown some of the land preparation work for a project to relocate some communities to higher ground. Speaking somewhat harshly, Mayor Futoshi Toba told the Japanese premier that it took 13 months from when the contract was signed to when recovery work began. He stated directly that he wanted the central government to begin helping the reconstruction of communities as early as possible. During the period leading up the mid-December election, candidates were seen paying very little attention to disaster survivors or addressing the long-stalled reconstruction plans of the Tohoku region. On this visit, Abe stated that the government “will make our best efforts,” explaining that one of the plans was to determine the specific needs of each area in recovery, then tackle them one by one, while the country is already one month shy of the disaster’s two-year anniversary.
Following Abe’s election, he made official visits to Fukushima and Miyagi in December and January, respectively, the two other hardest-hit prefectures of the region. Also in Rikuzentakata, Abe went to a temporary housing facility and talked with residents there. Little is said of what he addressed, but more than likely he didn’t come up with a direct way to address the fact that the construction of new housing for those who lost their homes is going incredibly slow, and even now only 60% are expected to be completed when the 2014 fiscal year ends, meaning April of 2015.