On March 9, the DPJ International Department held the 9th session of Café Democrats, the regular briefing and exchange forum organized for diplomats stationed in Japan, at party headquarters. The briefing focused on the situation one year on from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March11 2011, with DPJ Supreme Adviser Naoto Kan, who served as Prime Minister at the time of the disaster, making the main speech, which was followed by a question and answer session.
Parliamentary Secretary of the Environment Satoshi Takayama attended the event on behalf of the administration, and explained the government’s ongoing response to the disaster. From the party side, Administration Committee Chair Hideo Hiraoka, International Department Director-General Issei Tajima and Vice Directors-General Marutei Tsurunen, Shino Aihara, Mieko Tanaka, and Eriko Fukuda participated in the event.
Kan expressed his gratitude for the warm support and assistance that Japan had received from around the world in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, assistance which continues up until this day. He commented, “Thanks in large part to this support we received from you all, the citizens of our nation have been able to respond calmly and stoically to this massive disaster. The after effects of the disaster are still deeply felt, and the damage caused by the nuclear accident is still ongoing, but we are continuing to move forward one step at a time on the road to reconstruction.”
Kan went on to express the opinion that “We have experienced large earthquakes many times during our history… but we have perhaps become negligent in recording the extent of the damage to hand down to future generations and to prepare for further occurrences.” He suggested that it some senses Japan should have been better prepared for a huge earthquake and tsunami like the one that occurred on this occasion, and pointed out that preparations for the occurrence of a nuclear accident in such a case had also been lacking. He commented that the national unpreparedness for a triple disaster on such a scale was, “the greatest regret that I myself feel. I believe that there are many lessons that we must learn from this when we are considering our national response to such problems in future.” Kan then explained the response following the disaster, saying, “We have worked together as a nation to engage in rescue efforts during the initial stages, and then to deal with disposal of debris and construction of temporary housing.”
Kan also explained that approximately 19 trillion yen’s worth of funding for reconstruction had been realized through the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011, and that moreover the Reconstruction Agency had been established as a new government body in February. He said that reconstruction efforts were now in full force, and mentioned a visit he had made two days previously to Higashimatsushima City in Miyagi prefecture, explaining that a plan to move the city to higher ground was currently being developed there. He commented, “Actual reconstruction will begin once differences of opinion between local residents have been ironed out… There is also a movement to set up solar panels in low-lying areas and to use them for the production of renewable energy. Real construction efforts are progressing in each region.”
Kan went on to say, “As you are all well aware, an extremely serious nuclear accident occurred simultaneously with the earthquake and tsunami.” He commented of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, “The location was originally on high ground 35 metres above sea level, but when the nuclear power plant was built forty years ago, soil was removed to a point ten metres above sea level and the plant constructed. In other words, despite the fact that looking back over history this was a location where tsunamis had occurred on many occasions, the plant was constructed without allowing for the possibility that it might be struck by a tsunami.” Kan added, “The main reason that led to the occurrence of this accident was that preparations had not been made [at the plant] to deal with such an earthquake or tsunami prior to their occurrence.” He went on to explain about the ongoing response to the accident. He also referred to the importance of renewable energy, and exchanged opinions on this and related issues with the assembled members of the diplomatic community.