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Campaigns focus on economy and Constitution, but nuclear disaster-hit Fukushima sees other priorities

Kibo no To candidate Izumi Yoshida campaigns in the coastal area of Ena in Fukushima Prefecture on Tuesday
NIHONMATSU/IWAKI, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the two biggest election-defining issues of Sunday’s Lower House poll are how to spend the additional revenue from the planned consumption tax hike in 2019 and how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat. Leaders from other parties see either proposing or preventing revisions to the Constitution as their main priority.
But for residents of Fukushima Prefecture — many of whom are still recovering from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami that triggered a nuclear disaster — the focus is on when their lives will return to some semblance of normalcy.
That sentiment is strongest in the Fukushima No. 5 electoral district, site of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which forced many to evacuate from the no-go zone more than six years ago.
Candidates in the constituency have focused their campaigns on reconstruction and decontamination of the area.
However, campaign strategies are split between the two front-runners — reconstruction minister Masayoshi Yoshino, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and Izumi Yoshida, a former vice reconstruction minister who had recently left the Democratic Party to join Kibo no To (Party of Hope), headed by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike.
Yoshino, 69, is taking time to woo voters living in temporary housing and less-populated areas, while Yoshida is campaigning in the more densely populated city of Iwaki.
In pouring rain on Monday, Yoshino’s campaign car appeared at a temporary housing complex in the city of Nihonmatsu, where about 10 residents came out to listen. Although the city is located outside Yoshino’s electoral district, many evacuees from the town of Namie, which is in the district, now reside there.
Evacuation orders for parts of Namie were lifted in March, but only 381 people lived in the town as of the end of last month, while the vast majority of former residents have not returned, according to a town official.
“I’m eager to reconstruct Fukushima. I need your help in order for me to take part in national politics,” Yoshino said in his five-minute speech.
Residents were surprised to see him making the effort to travel out there.
“I don’t think other candidates have come here. I sense that (Yoshino) cares about us,” Jinichiro Tajiri, 76, who lives in nearby reconstruction housing, said after the speech.
Tajiri, who used to live in Namie, has occasionally visited his hometown since March.
“Reconstruction is what I expect the most,” he said.
Tajiri’s wife, Yoshiko, also 76, added, “I want better medical care. A majority of the people here are elderly.”
Yoshino has so far used three days of campaigning to visit evacuees dispersed throughout the prefecture, said Koichi Ito, Yoshino’s election aide.
“While Futaba has 55,000 voters, Iwaki has 370,000. But Yoshino, as a reconstruction minister, has a strong will to continue supporting disaster victims,” Ito said.
Meanwhile, Kibo no To’s Yoshida, 68, who lags behind Yoshino in the media polls, is focusing more on Iwaki.
“Many have already left temporary housing. … Some have built homes in Iwaki. We understand that we must visit (the temporary housing communities), but there aren’t many people living there now,” said Yoshida’s secretary, Toshifumi Sato. “It’s a short battle, so we need to prioritize efficiency.”
On Tuesday, about 300 voters gathered to hear Yoshida’s campaign speech in Ena, the coastal area of Iwaki.
“Revitalization comes from the citizens. We must share our knowledge,” Yoshida said during his speech.
Listening to the speech, Katsuya Kanenari, who heads Ena’s residential group, praised him for his locally focused policies.
“The area used to have a thriving fishing industry, but this was destroyed and ships no longer come. What remains now is the beautiful scenery,” Kanenari said.
“We want public facilities to be built in the area. We want people to visit. Otherwise, the area will remain undeveloped,” he said.
Two other candidates, backed by smaller parties, are also running for the election; Tomo Kumagai, 37, from the Japanese Communist Party and Yoko Endo, 67, backed by the Social Democratic Party.
In line with the parties’ policies, Kumagai and Endo are vowing to eliminate nuclear power plants from Fukushima, unlike Yoshino and Yoshida, who spoke less about that topic.
During a live online debate held Oct. 13 by the Junior Chamber International Japan, Kumagai stressed the need for a government that will rid the prefecture of nuclear power plants.
Endo, on the other hand, said during the same program that the majority of Fukushima residents want the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants decommissioned, adding that all nuclear power plants in Japan should be phased out.
Few would feel stronger about abolishing nuclear power than the residents who directly faced the fears and damage from the triple meltdown in Fukushima.
“Nuclear power is not something humans can control. (The disaster) is unforgivable,” said Kazuo Akama, 70, a long time resident of Iwaki.
“You must be a victim to understand that. (Nuclear power) is no good. It’s no good,” he said.

October 22, 2017 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Overemphasis on economic growth led to Minamata, Fukushima: NPO forum

TOKYO — Marking the 60th anniversary of the official recognition of Minamata disease, speakers hosted by a nonprofit organization say that an overemphasis on economic growth was behind the mercury-poisoning illness as well as the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

“Japan has put priority on economic development, rather than valuing human life, and such an attitude caused the problems of Minamata and Fukushima as well as grave fatal accidents, such as explosions at coal mines,” said Kunio Yanagida, a freelance journalist.

“The problem is that lawmakers and bureaucrats have tried to avoid their responsibility, rather than determining the truth behind the incidents, and they have failed to make the lessons learned from them universal,” he told an audience of around 1,000 at the event in Tokyo last week.

“Japan is still driven by a wartime policy of increasing its wealth and military power,” he said.

Tatsuya Mori, a film director and writer, referred to a Minamata disease patient who once said, “I was aware that I am Chisso.” The patient meant that while he is a victim of the disaster caused by Chisso Corp, a chemical maker which dumped industrial waste into the sea, he himself had enjoyed the benefits of its products and might have gone along with its actions if he had belonged to the company himself.

Mori said, “In a similar way, we could say, ‘I am Fukushima,’ or ‘I am Tokyo Electric Power Co.,’ as we have depended on the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant” operated by the utility.

“We need to realize we have supported the system that caused the issues of Minamata and Fukushima,” he added.

The Tokyo forum was organized by Minamata Forum to mark the 60th anniversary since a public health center in Minamata in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kumamoto received a report from a local doctor about four people with unexplained neurological disorders—considered later to be when Minamata disease was first recognized.

Before starting the session, the audience observed a moment of silence before 500 portraits of Minamata disease victims put up behind the speakers on the stage.

So far, only around 3,000 among over 33,500 applicants have been officially recognized as Minamata disease patients in Kumamoto and neighboring Kagoshima prefectures as well as Niigata Prefecture, where a similar disease was confirmed in 1965, caused by wastewater from a Showa Denko K.K. plant.

Critics claim that six decades after Minamata disease was first recognized, the issue has still not been resolved with the full number of sufferers yet to be fully acknowledged. Several damages suits are still pending.

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment