Towards "Open Reconstruction"

<br>KUNIO TAKAHASHI

March 20, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 05 No. -17 Mar. 16-2012 (Chaitra 03, 2068)<BR>

One year ago on March 11th, at 14:46 in Japan, that is 11:31 in Nepal, a massive seismic shift took place 130 kilometers offshore of the Oshika Peninsula, a tiny protruding tip of Miyagi, one of the Prefectures in north-eastern Japan. The accumulated energy released by this shift was phenomenal, triggering the most powerful seismic jolt in the recorded history of Japan, evoking a gigantic Tsunami that reached as high as 40 meters, or 130 feet, destroying many cities and villages along the seashore of the area with nearly 20,000 people dead or missing, and damaging the electric cables at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, thus, leaving the cooling system crippled, and rendering the station out of control.


The Great East Japan Earthquake, as mentioned earlier, is the largest earthquake in the recorded history of Japan, and with the magnitude registering 9.0, it is also the fourth largest earthquake in the world in more than one hundred years. The overwhelming images carried in the footages of the breaking news were, therefore, unmatched. The towering Tsunami, which  initially travelled with jet-speed, started devouring whatever was in its way. The mighty murky wall of icy water, after having effortlessly overrun the highest ever-registered seawall, began its monstrous march, transforming what used to be a carefully groomed bucolic landscape into a total pandemonium. Nothing could stem the tide, the houses barely survived the great jolt were left defenseless, and the line dividing life and death, it seemed, has never before been so brutally pronounced.


While the scenes were shocking and dreadful, as we still recall vividly today, I would like to think that many of you might also have noticed other extraordinary footage that appeared in the hiatus of enraged nature. That of resilience, patience, and refusal to succumb to panic displayed almost stoically by the ordinary Japanese citizens even in the face of this unprecedented disaster. The Earthquake and Tsunami, as well as nuclear accident might have destroyed the foundation of life, claimed lives, and displaced many, but deep-embedded social system that makes Japan what it is today remained untouched, and the quintessential national character of self-restraint and solidarity, once again, came to the fore, only to be strengthened in the face of bitter adversity.


Almost immediately after the first shock had passed, reconstruction efforts, amidst the series of massive aftershocks, were initiated by local communities and individuals. Today, the life lines of millions of households, including electricity, gas, and water supply, which were destroyed by the catastrophe, are all but completely recovered. Restoration work on damaged expressways and the Tsunami-swallowed Sendai Airport was quickly undertaken and they were in operation within three weeks of the occurrence of the great disaster. The major task of removing the enormous amount of debris has also made remarkable progress, leaving only 30% to be cleared today. The troubled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, too, achieved “cold shutdown” last December and strenuous efforts to keep this status, as well as that of containing radioactive substances are being conducted with unflagging determination, along with stringent monitoring of radioactive material in various products. Equally, the speedy recovery of supply chains was witnessed and the production index of the mining and manufacturing industries has bounced back to pre-disaster level in less than three months. As Japan is located on one of the world's most criss-crossed active seismic fault lines, the Great East Japan Earthquake, obviously, was not the first mega-earthquake that hit Japan. And like in the past, with the same orderliness and discipline, the work of recovery has been undertaken and led by the hands of ordinary people in close coordination with the Government. We are still on a steep hill climb, but, as I mentioned, we have made steady progress in the last one year, and are confident to say that “we are back on track again”.


Even with our strong national characteristics, which have been forged and re-forged through the test of time, the Great East Japan Earthquake, nevertheless, left a deep scar on Japanese society and its people. The challenge that lies ahead is monumental, and the stumbling economic situation seems to make future projections even dimmer. But with the various forms of support and encouragement that we have been receiving from the international community, including Nepal, and the friendly nations as well as the organizations Your Excellencies represent, Japan has managed to come this far. The sense of “Kizuna” or “Bonds of Friendship” has been, and will remain, one of the most powerful inspirations in overcoming the wounds, and in our efforts toward rebirth and recuperation.


The Government of Japan, thus, branded this effort of recovery as “Open Reconstruction”, wishing to incorporate various types of vigor from foreign countries in its endeavor, such as encouraging foreign investment in disaster-hit areas, inviting skilled foreign workers to contribute in revitalizing the Japanese economy, and expediting sales routes for products from affected areas. Prime Minister Noda, in his message upon this first memorial, also stressed that, “we must draw upon the unique strengths of the Japanese economy, seek an open and cooperative approach with our international partners, and intelligently exploit the promise of new growth areas”.


Japan in reciprocation, wishes to make its due contribution to the international community by proactively sharing the lessons learned from this disaster, especially on nuclear safety and risk management. High-level international conferences on both agendas are being planned separately, and are expected to be held in the second half of 2012. The “Kizuna Project”, aimed at fostering friendship between future generations, will also be launched this year, with the program featuring voluntary work in the disaster-hit areas joining hands with Japanese students. The total of 440 students from SAARC countries will also be invited for the program, with the mission to share and pass their experience in their respective communities, upon their return, as a “Youth Ambassador”.


Excerpts of the statement by Kunio Takahashi, Ambassador of Japan, delivered, On the occasion of a Reception in Commemoration of the Great East Japan Earthquake

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