Reconstruction Agency of JapanMr.

Hiromichi Watanabe


On December 10, 2018, the International School Network visited the Reconstruction Agency to interview the Minister for Reconstruction, and a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Hiromichi Watanabe. Mr. Hiromichi Watanabe explained to us the current state of the disaster-struck areas and outlined their next task which is to eliminate the negative reputation of Fukushima (one of the main disaster-struck areas and the site of the nuclear disaster). He emphasized that Fukushima, along with other disaster-struck areas are now safe and showed his appreciation to the multiple countries that aided Japan when the Tohoku earthquake occurred.

Japan’s Natural Disasters
Mr. Hiromichi Watanabe commenced the interview by giving us an overview on the natural disasters of Japan. He stated that Japan is not only an earthquake-ridden country, but also subject to tsunamis and typhoons. The Tohoku Earthquake on March 11, 2011 has left great damage to Northeastern Japan leaving it as not only a natural disaster site but also a nuclear disaster site. Although it has been 7 years and 9 months since the catastrophe, the reconstruction of Tōhoku has remained as the most important task for the government. He stated that without the reconstruction of Tohoku, there is no rebirth of Japan.


Japan working as one
Japan has various ministries and agencies, such as Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of International Affairs and Communications. All ministries and agencies serve different functions but are all involved with reconstructing Tohoku in some way.
Mr. Hiromichi Watanabe was appointed as Minister of Reconstruction on October 2, 2018, and on October 3, 2018, he was already meeting the Governor of Fukushima. On October 5, he met with the Governor of Miyagi and the Governor of Iwate. Since then, he has met with the Local Government for Disaster-struck areas and 44 Mayors of Municipalities to visit the site of disaster and to confirm the current status of the areas. He believes that one must understand on the ground to be able to come up with a hands-on approach for the people living in the afflicted area. He has worked hard to listen to the voices of those people and strongly hopes for a fast recovery of Tohoku.


The Current State of the Disaster-Struck Areas
The Minister has visited 44 Mayors of Municipalities to discuss the reconstruction of Tohoku. He has also visited the site of the disaster soon after the earthquake struck in 2011. From his observations of visiting the site himself, he concludes that the areas although not completely, have made remarkable instauration. However, the disaster sites can be divided into two types; areas affected by earthquake and tsunami, and areas affected by nuclear power plant. Consequently, there is a difference in the instauration process between the two areas, which he mentioned that there should be no none. The Ministry of Reconstruction is putting effort in working together with the Local Government in reconstructing Tohoku. 

As for areas damaged by nuclear power-plants, there are still more than forty-thousand people who have not been able to return to their homes. He emphasized that it is the most important task to return the people to their hometowns and reconstruct the towns like they were before the disaster; a place where one can live a “normal life”. Mr. Watanabe explained that the “normal life” of towns that should be brought back is defined by a clean environment with a secure supply of food and necessities, access to medical care, and sound educational systems.


Efforts to accelerate the instauration.
Minister Mr. Hiromichi Watanabe explained to us that the most crucial process in accelerating the instauration is to create a budget. It is very important for one to establish a works budget. 
As for the sites affected by nuclear power plant, one must begin with decontamination work to reduce the levels of the radiation dose, so that the victims can return to their hometowns safely.

In order to achieve this goal, Mr. Watanabe visited the disaster sites himself. The Minister described a current project taking place in Ōkumamachi and Futabamachi. He states that the people of these two towns have not been able to return to their homes due to the high levels of radiation. The project aims to bring back the safe environment for just even a handful of people with the hopes of eventually bringing back the whole town.

Bringing back the image of Fukushima
The rumors and image of the nuclear power plant still remains around the disaster-stricken area from March 2011. However, Mr. Watanabe noted that in numerical terms, the radiation of Fukushima is generally not too different compared to other places in Japan. As the Agency of Reconstruction, Mr. Watanabe expressed his aspirations to further encourage and disseminate information for Fukushima’s safety. He hopes that people can know about Fukushima, eat Fukushima’s food, and visit Fukushima.

International support
Minister Mr. Watanabe expressed his gratitude for the many countries who sent help to Japan after the Tohoku Earthquake. He explained that Japan received support in various forms, such as necessities, donations, and people, from 160 countries. He stated that “we cannot thank them enough for their support”. He explained his hopes for showing his appreciation in various forms in the future, and noted to the International School Network to please say thank you to the many Ambassadors for their country’s support to Japan during difficult times.


Japan’s International Exposure 
Minister Mr. Watanabe commented on how international competitions in Japan in the near future, the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, and the World Cup for Rugby in 2019, will be a good opportunity to show the world Japan’s situation of reconstruction. Mr. Watanabe explained that this international exposure would be a chance for Japan to express appreciation to countries around the world and also demonstrate how far that the reconstruction has progressed. He hopes that this can tell people from overseas to pay attention to and come to the affected areas, so that Fukushima’s food industry and tourism can expand.
Mr. Watanabe stated that the Olympic torch will be lit first in Fukushima before it will be passed around the whole country. Furthermore, the torch path is scheduled to go to disaster areas for longer than 3 or 4 days. Mr. Watanabe also mentioned the games will host baseball and softball competitions at a stadium in Fukushima. Mr. Watanabe explained that there are various tasks that still need to be done in organizing the Reconstruction Olympics, so Reconstruction Agency aspires to work with the three affected prefectures and the Olympic Organizing Committee in the future.
Furthermore, alongside the many projects for the reconstruction of Fukushima, Mr. Watanabe explained to us a project in Fukushima that uses the concept of Innovation Coast, for robotic and technological innovation. This project aims to produce hydrogen for use at the Olympic Games, as a new source of energy. There are metropolitan buses in Tokyo of which about 70 vehicles with be fueled by hydrogen by the time of the Olympics. The Minister mentioned that using hydrogen as a new energy source that does not emit carbon dioxide would bring about a new initiative and stronger relationship and reputation of Fukushima.


Message to Japan
As the world is getting more globalized, Mr. Watanabe commented that it is important to think about Japan in respect to the entire world. To do so, Japanese students should take opportunities to interact with many foreigners, especially as it has become much easier to do so in recent days. When the Minister was young, he did not have many chances to interact with foreigners because there were only a few foreign students studying at university. Mr. Watanabe commented that as a junior high school student, although he did not have a specific career path in mind, he has always wanted to become a person who can contribute to the society. Mr. Watanabe explained that he grew up in the rural area, near rice fields, and was fond of sports, especially baseball, during his youth.

By reducing the resistance of interactions with people from different backgrounds from an early stage, Mr. Watanabe noted that we can not only learn about the other culture but also firmly realize our own culture of Japan. 
Mr. Watanabe also commented on the values of Japanese culture that focuses well on coordination and consideration. However, he noted that compared to other cultures, Japanese people tend to feel hesitant expressing their own opinions and expressing their ways of thinking. The Minister hopes that Japanese children can become more open and comfortable expressing their opinions. He believes this is especially important for disseminating Japan in a global perspective, as children can learn a lot and apply it for the future. 
Finally, as the Minister of the Reconstruction Agency, Mr. Watanabe expressed his gratitude for being able to convey the situation of the reconstruction of Japan to a young audience. He hopes that foreigners and Ambassadors in Japan can also understand his appreciation for foreign support to Japan, and the situation of how Japan has been reconstructing from the devastating earthquake.