Chicago Shimpo
Tohoku Update: Three Presenters Speak about Real Life in Tohoku

• Seven years after the great earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku area, what has being done so far to build a positive future of Tohoku was reported by Yoshiyuki Takasago, Director General for International Affairs and others in Miyagi Prefecture government, Yasushi Kotouno, Executive Officer of Suenaga Kaisan Company, and Toko Shiiki, a freelance photographer. The event was held at the Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall on March 12.

Recovery and Business Opportunities in Miyagi

• Takasago spoke about the recovery and business opportunities in Miyagi Prefecture. The damage that the disaster brought to Miyagi totaled $81 billion, but the people in Miyagi are positively working to recover the damage day by day.
• Sendai Airport was renewed and connects eight cities domestically and four cities internationally. Japan’s number one strawberry producer Watari Town has come back to pre-disaster level, Sanriku Expressway has continuously been rebuilding, and the Shiogama new fish market opened. Construction of the Synchrotron Light in Tohoku Plan is coming to Miyagi, and its designated site is Tohoku University campus.
• Miyagi Prefecture has been actively inviting businesses with various subsidy offers. The business operating costs are low in Miyagi. For example, cost of residential, commercial and industrial land is only 10 % of Tokyo’s. The office rent fee is about 55 % and the average wage is about 75 % of the Tokyo areas.
• The amount of radiation in Miyagi was 0.06 uSv/h measured last February. Compared with New York states’ 0.046, Paris’ 0.043, and Berlin’s 0.073, Miyagi’s level is similar to those places. The dose of radiation is much higher in London (0.108), Singapore (0.1), and Seoul (0.117) than Miyagi. (The doses were measured last January; only Paris was measured last October.)
• In Miyagi, the number of American visitors is the third biggest, just after Taiwan and China. The lowest temperature is 33 degrees and highest is 78 degrees. Takasago said that Miyagi had congenial climate throughout the year, so Chicagoans could have a comfortable life in Miyagi.

Ishinomaki’s Seafood Business Thrives Abroad

• According to Yasushi Kotouno, about 70 % of the land in Ishinomaki was flooded by the tsunami in 2011, one of the most hard-hit areas in Tohoku.
• Ishinomaki’s seafood business had been moving downwards, but lost all of the domestic sales channels after the disaster. While Kotouno was thinking about a breakthrough, JETRO suggested participating in a food expo in Hong Kong in 2012. After the foreign experience, five seafood processing companies together founded “Hitakami-no-kuni Group” and embarked on export business.

• The members of the group visited Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, and started their business with business card exchanges. They developed seafood packages for supermarkets and department stores, but their sales weren’t good because the prices were twice as high as the domestic ones. They rearranged the seafood packages for supermarkets, then the sales increased three years later. When they begin a business with foreign buyers, they invite buyers to Ishinomaki, so they can build trust with each other.
• A success came from an unexpected area. The fishermen used to remove oyster shells before they ship to the market; however, all shell removing facilities were washed away, so they were looking for ways to sell shell-on-oysters. Fortunately, a Hong Kong dealer was looking for such oysters. Recently, they sold 50,000 oysters per month.
• They started to sell seafood in the U.S. two and a half years ago. So far, their products are sold in Chicago and New York. They have promoted their seafood at food fairs and events.
• Hong Kong’s Japanese restaurant held a Miyagi food fair for two months that attracted about 100 reporters. About 10 people including fishermen went to the restaurant and developed a new menu with the restaurant chefs, such as oyster steamed rice and scallop gratin.

• Beside the seafood business, Kotouno talked about a hand-made-wood plan. The tsunami-washed coast area spread to 375 miles long, and nobody is able to live in the area.
• Isinomaki city decided to plant trees in the area and the first nursery trees were planted last September. Kotouno said that real resurgence meant seeing children’s smiling faces. “We want to enrich the hearts of the next generation through making wood by our hands and wish the wood becomes a place for international exchanges,” he said.

Real Voices of the People in Fukushima

• Toko Shiiki moved to Michigan when she was a child. After receiving several awards, she became a freelance photographer. After the disaster, she thought that she had to do something for the people of the disaster areas.
• She organized a fund-raising project, dragon making tour by using letter-size papers, and toured from the U.S. to France. The tour destination was Fukushima where she thought that children were unable to play outside.
• She held a dragon making exhibit in Minamisoma, Fukushima, but few people came. She learned that the children were playing outside, and the information she had was wrong.
• With help from the education board in Minamisoma, she collected questionnaires from 2500 children. The comments in the questionnaires revealed what the children in Fukushima were really thinking.
• One said, “There is radiation in Fukushima, but we are not irradiated. It’s not infectious. Don’t discriminate against us.” Another said, “If you think about the people in Fukushima, why don’t you think about methods to prevent such an accident from ever happening again.”
• Shiiki revisited Fukushima to directly talk with the people and made a documentary film. Tomohiro Hayashi, a food writer and journalist, said in the video, “A lot of negative news is reported, but the people in Fukushima are spending ordinary lives, not living with grief and anger. I want the people in the world to see Fukushima where the ordinary people spend ordinary lives.”

• After the presentation by the three, sake tasting was held. The sake was served by Tenzing Wine and Spirits, Joto Sake (Kobrand Wine and Spirits), and Vine Connections.
• Kotouno served steamed and smoked oysters and scallops from Ishinomaki. They were delicious.

• The event was organized by JETRO Chicago, Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago, Japan America Society of Chicago, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, and Chicago Sister Cities International Osaka Committee.

Yoshiyuki Takasago

Yasushi Kotouno

Seafood products that Suenaga Kaisan and Kotouno developed

A restaurant in Hong Kong where a Miyagi food fair was held.

Toko Shiiki