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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Upcoming Third Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake

Monday, March 10, 2014

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

1. Introduction — “The year in which reconstruction first made headway”
2. A year in which people are able to perceive reconstruction in tangible ways
3. Psychological recovery
4. The lifting of the evacuation directive in the city of Tamura
5. The reconstruction of Fukushima
6. In closing

1. Introduction — “The year in which reconstruction first made headway”
Tomorrow will mark exactly three years since the Great East Japan Earthquake struck.  It will be the second March 11 since I took office as Prime Minister.
As I begin my remarks I once again express my heartfelt condolences as we mourn those who lost their lives as a result of the earthquake disaster.  I also offer my profound condolences to those who lost their beloved family members. 
I would also like to extend my deep sympathies to the families of those who remain unaccounted for even today and to all others who have been affected by the disaster.
Over this past year, I have visited the disaster areas nearly every month.
Last spring, over and over I heard people say that it was difficult to secure land for rebuilding.  There was at the same time a large amount of land that was not being utilized.
There were two things we carried out in order to accelerate reconstruction.  We rigorously approached issues in a hands-on way that focused on the priorities and concerns of the people in the disaster areas, and we dismantled the vertically-segmented administrative structures found in government offices.
We have resolved the issues faced there on the ground one by one, and now work has gotten underway in roughly 70 per cent of the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation and the construction of public housing for disaster victims.
In the winter, I was able to visit for myself some fully completed public housing for disaster victims in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures.  In the city of Kamaishi [in Iwate Prefecture], families and children who had moved into this housing welcomed me with smiles from ear to ear.
I consider this past year to have become “the year in which reconstruction”—which had been extensively delayed—“first made headway.”

2. A year in which people are able to perceive reconstruction in tangible ways
The reality is that there are many people living evacuated even now.
I want even more people to be living in new housing as we observe the next March 11.  By the end of March 2015, we will complete the transfer of housing to high-elevation areas in 200 districts and finish the construction of more than 10,000 residences.
I had the opportunity to try wakame seaweed sold at the Tarou Fish Market, whitebait landed at the Somaharagama fishing port, and oysters cultivated in Ishinomaki Bay.  The taste of seafood eaten right where it was caught was truly exceptional.
In the town of Hirono in Fukushima Prefecture, in front of rice fields which had been planted for the first time in three years, farmers told me of their joy at being able to resume farming.
Activities such as pulling weeds, maintaining the paths between rice fields, and retaining proper water levels have been recognized as techniques to ensure a rich harvest.  These have come to be called “nariwai” over the ages, a word that now also means “one’s occupation or livelihood.”
This year, we expect that agriculture can be resumed on 70 per cent of the farmland affected by the disaster.  We will also step up our efforts towards the recovery of occupations and livelihoods that sustain people’s daily lives by promoting agriculture and fisheries as well as other industries that are firmly grounded in these local regions.
I am determined to make this next year “a year in which people are able to perceive reconstruction in tangible ways.”

3. Psychological recovery
But regardless of how much the reconstruction of infrastructure and housing may progress, such progress does not heal the scars left on the hearts of the disaster victims.  Three years have passed since the earthquake disaster.  Living lives as evacuees over a prolonged period has also become an immense psychological burden.
Maintaining the connectedness between people, we will create systems within local communities that keep an attentive eye out for others, so that disaster victims do not become isolated.  We will move forward in having health outreach workers and others visit temporary housing on a regular schedule, and we will place importance on assistance that is in close harmony with the way of thinking of the disaster victims.
It is particularly imperative that we provide care to children.
Up until now we have dispatched counselors to schools, but we will provide back-up support for families with small children and others by also having counselors visit temporary housing facilities.
In addition, we will convert vacant residences within the temporary housing facilities into play spaces and study areas, thereby creating places for children to spend time with peace of mind.
We will go forward stepping up our efforts still further to bring about not only physical reconstruction but also psychological recovery.

4. The lifting of the evacuation directive in the city of Tamura
With regard to Fukushima Prefecture, today a decision was taken to lift the evacuation directive for the city of Tamura as of the first of April.  The return of people who had evacuated will finally begin.
This is not the goal.  It is nothing more than the start of the restoration of these hometowns.
The day before yesterday in the Miyakoji district of the city of Tamura I listened to the stories of people awaiting their return to their hometown.
One woman told me that despite her various worries regarding the return, “the only thing to do is to move forward.”
Our efforts will not be over until the people who have returned get rid of their concerns regarding their health, their jobs, and so on one by one and restore their daily lives in which they can enjoy peace of mind in their hometown.
We will implement full-scale measures to address concerns regarding the health impacts of radiation.  For those who desire it, we will conduct detailed supervision and analysis of the quantity of radiation to which they have been exposed and enable them to receive thorough explanations from specialists.  We will also prepare a system through which the residents continue to receive health checks into the future and can easily have consultations somewhere close by.
Stores jointly operated by local shop proprietors will be open for business beginning next month.  We will eliminate the concerns of the residents regarding shopping by inviting a new convenience store to open in the area.
Moreover, rice has been planted in this Miyakoji district since last year, preceding the lifting of the evacuation directive.  Into the future, through countermeasures that protect crops from radioactive materials and other such efforts, we will continue to support farmers who resume farming as a business.
Deliberations within the Diet have been underway day after day, but in between these deliberations I have been getting a boost in power by eating Fukushima-grown rice daily at the Prime Minister’s Office.
This autumn, I am looking forward eagerly to also eating rice grown in Tamura.  We will continue to inspect this rice in its entirety.  In addition, I myself will take the lead in working to dispel reputational damages from radiation-related rumors.

5. The reconstruction of Fukushima
It goes without saying that we will continue to undertake all possible measures to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company and tackle the issue of contaminated water, with the national government standing at the fore.
Based on this, we will aim to lift the evacuation directive and move forward on decontamination and on restoring infrastructure, not only in the city of Tamura but also in other municipalities, in order to respond to the feelings of those who wish to return to their hometowns at an early time.
We will also extend the measures that eliminate expressway fees for those who have evacuated because of the nuclear accident.
At the same time, for those who will begin their lives in other places, next month we will launch the procedures for receiving compensation.  We will work to implement these steadily so that these people will be able to develop an outlook quickly on rebuilding their lives.
As I have said repeatedly, “Without the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture there can be no revival of Japan.”
Fukushima Prefecture’s Hamadori coastal region sustained severe damage as a result of the nuclear accident.  The completion of the Joban Expressway, which runs through the region from north to south, will surely provide a major spark for recovery.
At present, it is possible to travel from Tokyo to Tomioka, which is within the disaster area.  Beyond that, a portion is still under construction.  The timeframe for completing construction on the entirety of the expressway has yet to be clearly decided, and it was expected that the completion date would be delayed into fiscal 2015 or later.
However, in order to accelerate Fukushima’s reconstruction dramatically, we will expedite the construction plans to the greatest possible extent.
While the route from Sendai to Namie, which is inside the disaster area, was scheduled to connect these areas by the end of March 2015, we will accelerate this so that the route opens before the end of 2014.
On that basis, we have decided to ensure that the entirety of the Joban Expressway is open to traffic before the Golden Week holiday period in May 2015.  This will enable a large number of tourists to visit Tohoku’s disaster areas, including Fukushima.
6. In closing
In 2020, the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held here in Japan.
Preparations for the Games must not stand in the way of reconstruction.  Needless to say, the national government will continue to lead efforts by taking all possible measures to secure the necessary human resources and materials for reconstruction.
Instead, we must take this as an opportunity to send out to the world a message reflecting the extent to which Tohoku has achieved reconstruction.
I hope to see the Olympic torchbearers running in the Tohoku disaster areas, from the Sanriku Coast down past Sendai Bay to Fukushima’s Hamadori coastal region—a disaster area that will by then have achieved marvelous reconstruction from the damages wrought by the tsunami and the nuclear accident.  I am certain that this sight would encourage not simply Japan but rather people all the world over.
I would like the athletes and other people who will gather from around the world to pay a visit to Tohoku for themselves.  We will also devote ourselves to developing the means to make this a reality.
There are some children in the disaster areas who will celebrate their third birthday tomorrow.  These are the children who were born on the very day of the earthquake disaster.
The progress in the growth of this generation, who will be in their fourth year of elementary school six years from now, can also truly be regarded as our progress towards reconstruction.
In 2020, I would like to invite to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as many children as possible, including those in the disaster areas who will be in their fourth year of elementary school, who may properly be called “symbols of reconstruction.”
I would like them to show people all throughout Japan, and people around the world, how they have grown.  At the same time, I want the scenes of the world’s athletes giving a great showing to make a lasting imprint within their sparkling eyes.
Fifty years ago, watching the Tokyo Olympics left a profound impression on me, a fourth year elementary student at the time.  I still remember it even now.
I very much hope to have the children who will carve out the future, both from the disaster areas and from around Japan, experience that profound inspiration for themselves.
I will end my opening statement here.

: We will now open the floor to questions from the press. Please raise your hand if you would like to ask a question.  When you are called on, please first state your name and affiliation before asking your question.  Please make your questions concise, as later we would also like to take questions from representatives of local media based in the disaster areas. 
Please go ahead.
REPORTER (ENMAN, ASAHI SHIMBUN): I am Enman, with the Asahi Shimbun, one of the coordinators of the press club.  I would like to ask you a question, specifically about livelihood rehabilitation in the three disaster-stricken prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima.
There are media reports that the percentage of housing starts within the reconstruction efforts has remained lower than what was planned.  A large number of public works projects recently nationwide, higher prices for construction materials, and a lack of workers are among the causes that have been pointed out.  How does the Abe administration intend to address this issue going forward?  I would like to hear your thinking on this matter.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I have visited the disaster-stricken areas 13 times since taking office as Prime Minister.  Roughly last spring, people in various locations were saying with urgency that it was difficult to secure land.  In particular, there were no firm prospects whatsoever regarding when or how many residences would be reconstructed.
Against that backdrop, the Abe administration was fully committed to accelerating the pace of our efforts, with the entire government working fully in unison.  We broke down the administrative vertical divides that exist among government ministries and agencies and conscientiously implemented a hands-on approach that concentrated on the needs identified by the local communities themselves. The challenges that confront the disaster areas are wide-ranging and include both institutional and implementation issues.  Focusing on the concerns identified as priorities by the local communities, we provided well-tailored responses, such as by expediting the procedures for acquiring land and also supplying human resources to assist the local authorities.
Moreover, in order to enable projects to be executed smoothly, we built additional ready-mixed concrete plants and increased workers’ wages, among other measures.  As a result of these efforts, work has gotten underway in roughly 70 per cent of the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation and the construction of public housing for disaster victims.  By the end of March 2015, we expect to have completed the construction of more than 10,000 public housing residences for disaster victims.  In the winter I visited some of the public housing that has already been completed and I was able to see for myself the smiles of the families now living there.  Regarding the reconstruction-related public housing in Fukushima, which has been running behind schedule, we are working to complete preparations as soon as possible.  We are, for example, aiming to secure by the end of the current fiscal year (ending March 31, 2014) the land necessary for some 80 per cent of the 5,000 residences that have been requested by the local people.  In addition, with regard to the 1,190 residences to be prepared as an additional measure, we intend to set forth a definite orientation indicating the way forward before the end of the current fiscal year.  We will continue to resolve issues one by one as we go forward and make our utmost efforts to enable the disaster victims to return to their regular lives as quickly as possible.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next I would like to take a question from a media agency coordinating the press club.
REPORTER (ADACHI, TV ASAHI): This is the second question from a company coordinating the press club.  I am Adachi, with TV Asahi.
I would like to ask about nuclear power plants nationwide, whose operations are halted as one of the aftereffects of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
There is deeply rooted opposition to the restart of nuclear power plants, as seen in the fact that it also became an issue in the Tokyo gubernatorial election.  Mr. Prime Minister, you emphasized the importance of restarting the plants at the Committee session that was just held, as well as at other occasions.  I would like you to tell us your views on how your administration will handle the restarting of nuclear power plants, including your sense of the schedule for doing so, in concrete terms.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I believe that after experiencing the accident that occurred in Fukushima, it is only natural for the public to harbor concerns about the safety of nuclear power stations.  Ensuring the safety of these power plants based on the lessons learned from the accident in Fukushima is a major premise [for restarting the plants].  Grounded in this premise, our policy is for the independent Nuclear Regulation Authority to examine the plants meticulously on the basis of the most rigorous level of regulatory standards anywhere in the world and then to move forward in restarting the operations of those nuclear plants recognized as conforming to those standards.
As for the schedule, safety reviews under the Nuclear Regulation Authority are currently underway, so I would like to refrain from prejudging the outcome of those deliberations.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next I would like to take a question from someone not affiliated with the coordinators of the press club. Jonathan?
REPORTER (SOBLE, FINANCIAL TIMES): I am Soble with the Financial Times in the UK.  I would like to inquire about the situation in Ukraine.  I suppose that at first glance, it does not seem to be directly related to the earthquake disaster, but I believe Japan is in an extremely difficult position insofar as it is importing a large amount of natural gas from Russia while Japan’s nuclear power stations are halted.  Mr. Prime Minister, I understand that you yourself have been giving special attention to improving relations with Russia while making efforts to resolve the issue of the Northern Territories, strengthen economic cooperation in the field of energy and elsewhere, and so on.  What sort of impacts do you believe the current situation surrounding Ukraine will have on negotiations regarding the Northern Territories?  In addition, how do you view the pros and cons of imposing economic sanctions in the future, in light of Japan importing natural gas?  If you have a concrete vision that, for example, Japan would consider sanctions if certain conditions were satisfied, please share that with us.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: With regard to the situation surrounding Ukraine, Japan strongly urges all the parties concerned to behave with maximum self-restraint and responsibility, to fully observe the relevant international laws, and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. 
In the near future, I intend to dispatch Mr. [Shotaro] Yachi, Secretary General of the National Security Secretariat, to Russia in order to convey once more Japan’s views on this matter.  We will also intend to act in close cooperation with dozens of other countries in urging a resolution to the situation through peaceful means.
At the same time, the development of our bilateral relations with Russia contributes to Japan’s national interests.  I intend for us to continue to build up our dialogue into the future and for us to remain tenaciously engaged in resolving the issue of the Northern Territories.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Now I would like to take questions from the media based in the disaster-affected areas for as long as time allows.
Mr. Wakabayashi, your question, please.
REPORTER (WAKABAYASHI, KAHOKU SHIMPO): I am Wakabayashi with the Kahoku Shimpo newspaper.
There continues to be a population outflow from the disaster-affected areas even at present.  The population in these areas is still contracting even now, three years since the disaster occurred.  As my first question, I would like to hear how you view this situation, Mr. Prime Minister.
At the same time, the government is aiming to create a new Tohoku region through this reconstruction.  There is some movement towards establishing a new school of medicine in the Tohoku region, for example.  I would like you to discuss your determination regarding such measures as well as the outlook for the timeline for such projects into the future.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I believe that rather than simply restoring the disaster areas to their pre-disaster state, it is critical for us to utilize the reconstruction from the earthquake disaster as a turning point for resolving such issues as decreases in the local populations, the graying of the region, and the hollowing out of industry there.
In Miyagi Prefecture this past December, I had the opportunity to personally observe research and development on an automobile transportation system of the future which was being conducted through the local area cooperation of government, industry, and academia.  I felt that the hope of Tohoku will be endeavors such as these that keep their vision fixed firmly on the future.
I intend for the government to be solidly engaged in the creation of a new Tohoku, whereby Japan becomes a model for the world.
Those are my thoughts on that matter.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next, I will take a question from Mr. Watanabe.
REPORTER (WATANABE, FUKUSHIMA MINPO): I am Watanabe, with the Fukushima Minpo newspaper.
More than 1,600 people have died within Fukushima Prefecture as a result of the stress of long-term evacuation caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.  This has transformed into such a social issue that locally there is even a word for this—“death related to the nuclear accident.”  Some say that with regard to compensation issues, it is necessary to have legislation related to officially recognizing a causal relationship between the nuclear accident and such deaths.  Please give your views on how you will handle such matters.  Also, you spoke just now about enhancing support for psychological recovery.  What kinds of measures you will take going forward in order to eliminate deaths related to the nuclear disaster?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: It is truly heartbreaking that there are people under evacuation who pass away while longing somehow to return to the homes that are so dear to them.  I recognize that it is necessary to take proper measures to address this situation.
In order to prevent deaths related to the disaster, the government is working to accelerate the rebuilding of housing, reconstruction, and community development.  At the same time, in order to take measures appropriately in terms of both the health and daily lives of the evacuees, we are first of all working to provide guidance on health-related matters, conducted by heath outreach workers who tour around local areas, while also providing assistance to [enable local areas to] secure those workers.  Beyond that, at support hubs within the disaster areas, we will provide, among other things, counseling and support, livelihood support services, and also assistance for exchanges among people in the local areas and other such community-centered functions.  I intend for the government to continue to act fully in unison while implementing these efforts.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We are nearly at the end of the allotted time, so I will take just one last question. Go right ahead, Ms. Kanda.
REPORTER (KANDA, IWATE NIPPO): I am Kanda with the Iwate Nippo newspaper.
The people in the affected areas are worried that the earthquake disaster will fade from people’s memory.  Please explain whether or not the Abe administration will continue to move forward in its efforts positioning reconstruction as a topmost priority, as it has up until now.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: The Abe administration takes the stance that “Without the reconstruction of the disaster areas, there can be no revival of Japan.”  Based on this way of thinking, we are taking on the reconstruction of the disaster-affected areas as one of the administration’s topmost priorities.  I believe that the people in the disaster areas may harbor deep concerns that the events of three years ago will gradually fade from people’s memory.  However, the government will never allow such a thing to happen.  We will thoroughly tackle the challenges going forward.  Moreover, this administration believes that it is important for us to undertake these efforts with the spirit of public support, with solid national attention given to the reconstruction of Tohoku.
I want to make it possible for the people in the disaster areas to return to their regular lives as soon as possible.  That sentiment has not changed whatsoever.
I recognize that in the areas now being reconstructed, there are fervent wishes for the rebuilding of residences in which people can enjoy peace of mind and for the restoration of livelihoods that will support people’s daily lives, as well as for the reconstruction and revival of Fukushima.
Moreover, I believe that as people come to spend a longer time living as evacuees, it is imperative that we place even greater focus also on the psychological recovery of the people in the disaster-affected areas, notably including the psychological care of children.  I intend for the government to work in unison to accelerate reconstruction as it resolves various issues by staying mindful of the priorities and concerns of the people there in the local communities.
Over this past year, there is no question that reconstruction made dramatic headway.  However, I want to make this fourth year since the earthquake disaster a year in which people in the disaster areas are able to perceive reconstruction in tangible ways.
With that, I would like to end today’s press conference.

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