The Yomiuri ShimbunMIYAKO, Iwate — Major ports in Iwate Prefecture have changed in the years since they were severely damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, reshaped by progress in restoration work and improvements to the road system.
The prefecture’s first regular ferry service opened in Miyako Port, while Kamaishi Port has been handling a growing amount of cargo from container ships. By dividing the functions of each port and making use of their unique characteristics, the prefecture hopes to improve the area’s logistics and tourism. The ports are expected to become a driving force in spurring the Sanriku Coast’s continued reconstruction.
July 22 marked one month since the ferry service began connecting Miyako Port and the Hokkaido city of Muroran, located more than 300 kilometers away. The ferry makes one round-trip a day, arriving at Miyako at 6 a.m. from Muroran and then leaving the port at 8 a.m.
Gyosai Ichiba, a market located in the heart of Miyako, has 24 shops and restaurants mainly offering marine products. The number of tourists visiting in the hours after the ferry’s arrival has increased.
Don no Mise Oikawa serves bowls of rice topped with sashimi and other dishes using local products. People begin lining up in front of the restaurant before it opens at 7 a.m., and on some weekends and national holidays all 15 or so of the seats are occupied as soon as the restaurant opens.
“I didn’t expect [the ferry] to have this much of an impact,” manager Yusuke Oikawa, 33, said. “I hope this trend lasts for a while.”
The aging market will be renovated at the end of this year.
“We want to come up with an array of products attractive to tourists,” the market’s official said.
Miyako Port was established in 1615 by the Nanbu clan as an outer harbor, following a massive tsunami in 1611. The port was the scene of a battle in 1869 between forces loyal to the former Tokugawa shogunate and the new government’s army. It was designated a national important harbor in 1951 because of its status as a maritime transportation hub. It is currently trying to attract visits from cruise ships.
The tourism industry is showing great interest in Miyako Port.
Bus company Northern Iwate Transportation Inc. is working with Muroran-based Donan Bus Co., Sanriku Railway Co. and the ferry operator to release a special boarding ticket allowing ferry passengers to efficiently travel around the coastal area.
The Morioka-based bus company believes the ferry is a great opportunity to boost the so-called nonresident population, which includes tourists and other outside visitors.
However, many tourists take buses or cars straight from the ferry to their destinations rather than spending time in Miyako, limiting its economic effect on the area.
“We’re racking our brains trying to think of ways to boost the economy,” said Keiko Sasaki, 73, chair of an association that promotes the Suehiro shopping district in front of Miyako Station.
Behind the launching of the ferry service is the expectation that the opening of the entire Sanriku Coastal Road (connecting Sendai and Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture), scheduled to occur by fiscal 2020, will help connect the coast to the prefecture’s inland area via the Miyako-Morioka Odan Road.
The ferry’s operator, Kawasaki Kinkai Kisen Kaisha Ltd., has set a goal of carrying 20,000 passengers, 20,000 trucks and 10,000 commercial vehicles annually. Its one-month totals were “about the same as our estimate for passengers and cars, but lower for trucks,” according to the Tokyo-based company.
Though July was a stagnant season for transporting goods, passengers have been steadily booking the ferry through the August summer vacation, the company said.
The tourism industry expects foreign tourists and educational tours will help boost the area.
Hokkaido boasts the largest number of foreign visitors after Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture, attracting about 6.35 million in fiscal 2016, with about 1.01 million foreigners visiting the Iburi area where Muroran is located.
Hoping to lure those tourists to Iwate Prefecture, the executive committee of Gyosai Okoku — an association of municipalities and hotel businesses in the prefecture’s coastal region — will visit Iburi this fiscal year to learn about the area’s tourism efforts.
Meanwhile, 53,577 people from 698 schools in Hokkaido visited Iwate Prefecture last year on school trips. However, most schools picked a route that traveled via Shinkansen to Hiraizumi, a town with a World Heritage site, and other areas. The Iwate prefectural and Miyako city governments are urging schools to visit the Sanriku coast to learn about disaster prevention measures by visiting disaster remains.
Even within the prefecture, competition is fierce. A convention of tourism associations from Hanamaki, Tono and Hiraizumi, all located in the prefecture’s inland area, visited Muroran in early July to promote their sightseeing spots.