7 years after 3/11 / Soaring land prices hinder evacuees from moving on

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The lights of a large commercial facility are seen in an area being prepared for housing in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on March 4.

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the second installment in a series.

Toshihiro Kanno, a 65-year-old company employee who lives in a temporary housing unit in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, lost his 30-year-old house in the tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Kanno decided to move to an area that is being developed by the municipal government in inland areas and rebuild his house. The municipal government purchased the land where his home was located before the disaster.

This scheme is part of a project that aims to relocate residencies en masse as a disaster prevention measure, an approach that has been adopted by many local governments affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Kanno sold his 150 tsubo of land, or about 495 square meters, to the city. With one tsubo (3.3 square meters) going for ¥27,800, he received ¥4.17 million.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Two years ago, the city told him the price of a 100-tsubo housing plot in the inland area. Kano was shocked by the price — ¥72,000 per tsubo, or 2.6 times the sales price of his land. This means he is ¥3 million short of the amount he needs to buy the land.

Kanno must also pay to build a new house.

In the urban areas in Rikuzentakata, vast flooded flat areas were designated as disaster hazard areas, thereby increasing the demand for residential lots in inland areas. As roads and commercial facilities have been built around the residential areas, land prices have soared with the improved convenience for residents.

His wife, 63, has been in poor health since the disaster.

“I want to relax in my house as soon as possible,” Kanno said. However, he continues to live in the temporary housing unit while still worrying about the situation.

“If disaster victims can’t buy land for housing, what on earth is that reconstruction project for?”

The mass relocation project for residences was launched 46 years ago but has yet to be used for such a massive disaster.

The project has “failed to deal with the long-term aspect of operations across wide areas,” said Masaaki Minami, a professor of urban planning at Iwate University. “It’s imperative to review the project, such as by creating a scheme to control land prices to a certain extent.”

Specific details about reconstruction projects have finally come into view, but the restoration itself has yet to progress. Those who are involved in local industries are also frustrated by the current situation.

One such example is seen in the case of a factory operated by Nagura Bussan Co. in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, which produces ika no shiokara salted fermented squid and other marine products.

After the original facility, located in the coastal area, was destroyed by tsunami, the firm reconstructed the plant about one kilometer inland in November 2012.

However, Keita Asada, 39, the company’s official, said the situation is “at a standstill.”

Nagura Bussan was able to secure just 22 employees, or about 70 percent of what it had before the disaster. The company said it could not operate newly purchased machines at full capacity. With the exodus of the working population, there has been competition for workers.

Staff who can check long-matured salted squid by tasting it are indispensable, according to Asada. The average age of employees is 50, and it is expected to be difficult to pass the skill on to future generations.

Some new events have been happening over the last seven years. For one thing, more young people are securing jobs in their hometowns in Iwate Prefecture.

Among high school students who graduated in March last year in Iwate Prefecture, the rate of those who found a job in the prefecture was 63.6 percent, according to the Iwate Labor Bureau. This was more than 14 percentage points higher than in March 2011.

Kazuhiro Matsuda, 19, of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, started as a nursing care worker in spring last year in the city. The 2011 earthquake occurred when he was a sixth-grade elementary school student. He grew up watching adults working for local communities.

“I wanted to help people who led Kamaishi,” he said. Speech

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