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After the Wave Pt. 2: Rebuilding Hope and Infrastructure
A small countryside community in northeast Japan rebuilds with the help of one man leading the way.
Fukushima Prefecture, Japan -- Nearly 2 years after the great east Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, communities in the countryside near the Daiichi plant remain ruined, empty deemed too toxic and irradiated for human life.
Travel a little farther, and pruned trees and road construction shows signs of recovery. Signs of a small countryside community is rebuilding not only it's infrastructure, but its hope as it's people refused to step down with the help of one many leading the way.
You can say it was his sense of duty that pushed him to make the please. But then again, Mayor of Minomisoma, Kastunobu Sakurai, had no idea his cry for help would gain international attention and launch him to Time Magazine’s Top 100 People of the Year.
“I didn’t mean to have it posted online,” Katsunobu said. “It was the help of the citizens that got it posted to YouTube. I got totally unexpected attention worldwide. Japanese media said it was still unsafe to come here, but then foreign media came flocking in. It was interesting to see the difference.”
In the 11-minute video posted to YouTube 2 weeks after the March 11 disaster, all pride aside, the Japanese politician asked volunteers to act on their own risk and bring he and nearly 20,000 residents food and supplies.
The Fukushima Daiichi Plant is 15 miles away and its meltdown only furthers the anti-nuclear position the majority of the city takes on Japan’s energy policy.
"We've never hosted the nuclear plant, but because of the accident we have to suffer regardless,” Katsunobu said. “We are almost 100 percent against nuke plants, but there are questions of how we go about reconstructing the economy without the it."
The government has compensated individuals financially but those who have lost business are completely stagnated.
"Business owners need loans to restart, and it's not going smoothly they've lost business,” Katsunobu said. “I would like the financial aide to go faster, overall I am not satisfied with the way things are going.”
In other parts of town the sound of breaking ground resonates the roadside.
An outstretched field of dirt will soon be home to 2,000 solar panels built to grow greens for the local community. The solar agriculture park is spearheaded by a man who knows both sides of the energy spectrum.
"Seeing all of Odaka and the sea and paddy fields, it's completely different than it was before the tsunami,” said Mr. Eiju Hangai, Solar Agricultural Park. “Going back and seeing this I was dismayed and I felt despair.”
Hangai grew up in Odaka and was a TEPCO board member, the company responsible for the nuclear power plant meltdown. Building the solar park is his way of giving back to his community and helps ease the sense of guilt he feels.
"I want to help other people and I want to instill a sense of mission in our kids so they will become people who think and do things for themselves,” Hangai said. “Because if we can instill that in our children they will become the leaders of the region and this is why I am no longer sad."
The goal is to have the field providing produce for people by springtime, a season known for rebirth and rejuvenation meant not only for the field, but for the people and future generation.