The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami flooded the Fukushima Daiichi power facility, and caused a nuclear meltdown at three of its reactors. Since then workers have been scrambling to store the massive amounts of radioactive water, well over 90 million gallons, and keep it from leaking into the ocean.
At least 18,000 people were killed by the earthquake and tsunami. And more than 270,000 people were displaced by the disaster. Efforts to rebuild homes will take years. That situation is especially complicated in Fukushima, where people have been dealing with damage from the tsunami as well as the effects of the nuclear crisis. And three years later, people in the region are still waiting to learn when and if they'll ever be able to return home to restart their lives. In the meantime, they're stuck in temporary housing. With more on how they're getting by, here's Japan's public broadcaster, NHK.
One of the few pleasures Soiichi Saitou enjoys these days is spending time with his dog.
I walk my dog every morning and evening. That helps me more than anything. I don't have to think about anything when I'm with you right?
Saito tries not to dwell much on how life used to be in his hometown Futaba. His family farmed there for more than 500 years. They were particularly proud of their spinach. It won prizes for its high quality. Saito did worry about one thing, his house and field were about three kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi. He was concerned that an accident could occur at the plant, particularly that it could be hit by a tsunami. His worst fears came true. He remembers the repeated discussions he had with staff from the nuclear plant.
I had asked the plant's operator over the decades to protect the plant against tsunamis. They just laughed and said that kind of accident would never happen.
The nuclear accident forced Saitou and other residents to flee. He now lives in another city about 40 kilometers away.
These temporary houses were built as a quick fix solution, but about three years later, they still serve as the main residence of evacuees. Saitou shares a small unit with his wife and his mother. They say the idleness of living in temporary housing has weakened them physically and mentally. They miss the days when they worked hour after hour in the fields. But their hometown is still off limits because of high radiation. Residents need special permission to go back. This footage was taken when Saitou visited his house about a year after the disaster. He was able to stay for only a few hours. He was devastated by what he saw. His spinach greenhouses were overgrown with weeds. And rats had invaded his home. Still, Saitou did not give up hope that someday he would return. But last year he received another shock. The government announced a plan to build a storage facility for nuclear waste in Saitou's home town. His property is on the proposed site. The facility would hold radioactive soil collected from areas across northeastern Japan for 30 years. Saitou knows if that plan goes through, he'll never return to Futaba.
I remember my hometown and I wonder why were we forced to leave? Why do we have to be here? I want the government to decontaminate our land and save our community no matter how long it takes.
Many evacuees are still living in limbo three years after the disaster. Saitou is still hanging on to the hope that he'll be able to return to his house and farm, a hope that he knows is growing more distant by the day.
How much would you pay for a pair of jeans that someone's worn for a year to give them that broken in look, unique to the way that individual wears them? One Japanese company is heading a campaign to do just that. And they're hoping it will revive its local economy.
This temple in Onomichi City in Hiroshima prefecture was built more than 600 years ago. Its chief priest is wearing not traditional robes, but denims. And the chef at this sushi restaurant famous for using locally caught fresh fish is also wearing jeans. The priest and the chef are part of the Onomichi Denim Project now underway in this western city. The organizers are asking people of all ages and from all walks of life to wear their denims for a year. Participants include carpenters, doctors and ship builders. The goal of the project is to make bonafide used denims.
Its leader is Yukinobu Danjo. His family runs a generations old sewing business in Onomichi. They once owned several plants, but cheap imports have forced them to scale down their operations over the past decade.
I grew up here and I'm a part of Japan's manufacturing industry. I don't want to abandon it.
Danjo wanted to create special denim clothes that would help revitalize the local textile sector. This thought prompted him to get creative with people in and around Onomichi. He asked for help from a renowned local denim designer. They decided to create a special kind of vintage denim through techniques used up to the 1960s. The thread was died at this 120 year old firm. Only the outer part of the thread was dyed. So the core remained white. The technique creates beautiful shades of color and patterns when the fabric is rubbed.
The different movements each person makes while wearing the jeans create unique patterns. After being worn many times, the denims don't just become old or used. They become like vintage jeans.
The Onomichi Denim Project aims to tell each person's story through denim. The denim takes on something akin to a real feeling. Danjo visits a participant at a fishery cooperative in the city.
It looks like the knees are faded well, maybe too much. But isn't it better for pants to be faded more evenly?
No no, your way is best.
Fisherman Nobuchika Tagashira participated in the project. He has worn the jeans almost every day for the past year. They have faded greatly and turned yellow due to exposure to seawater and the wind.
I grew to like the jeans after wearing them for the first six months. Then I was eager to see what they would be like after the full year.
If all the workers in Onomichi wear jeans as their work pants we can build a new denim town. I'll be overjoyed if that helps revive Onomichi in a way we haven't seen in a long time.
The people of Onomichi have collaborated to create a new style of denim, and the jeans will go on sale next month. But that isn't the end of the story. A second denim project is under consideration, and could lead to another round of unique creativity for this celebrated textile heartland.
In Japan, government officials are moving ahead with plans to revive nuclear power. Prior to the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi meltdown, 30% of the country's electricity was generated by more than 50 commercial reactors. Previous leaders had vowed to phase nuclear out, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe released a new policy redefining it as an important energy source. Here's NHK with more.
Toshimitsu Motehi, Japanese Industry Minister:
We will figure out how much nuclear power we need and we will secure that amount.
The draft document adopted by a group of cabinet ministers endorses a major change in Japan’s energy policy. The nuclear accident in Fukushima 3 years ago triggered a nationwide debate over nuclear power. The ruling party at that time promises to phase-out nuclear energy within 30 years. Shinzo Abe’s return to power in the December 2012 election changed the situation. The Prime Minister called elimination of nuclear power irresponsible.
The draft energy policy adopted on Tuesday says the government will re-start the reactors once they clear the latest safety regulations.
The document also underlines the need to learn from the nuclear accident and the importance of safety. But some people question whether it is really safe to resumes operations at nuclear power plants.
Among them, the governor of Niigata. His prefecture hosts the world largest nuclear plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company.
Hirohiko Izumida, Niigata Governor:
TEPCO hasn't learned from the Fukushima accident. It's not qualified to operate nuclear plants.
Paul Scalise is an expert on Japan’s energy policy. He explains the rationale behind the government renewed emphasis on nuclear power.
Paul Scalise/ Research Fellow, Temple University:
You have Japan's very precarious lack of natural resources and the hope that by moving away from fossil fuels like imported gas, oil, and coal, you can avoid very disrupted shocks to both electricity prices as well as gas prices that took place in the 1970s.
Scalise said the energy policy will be welcomed by the business community. But he adds the utilities and the government needs to display more transparency in order to convince the general public.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama has stepped front and center into the argument over history between his country and South Korea. He is famous for the so-called ‘Murayama statement’ in 1995 apologizing for Imperial Japan’s aggression in the first half of the 20th century, he said, "Japan…through its colonial rule and digression caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations," he further went on to say "[I] express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and submit my heartfelt apology."
During a recent visit to Seoul, Murayama said all Japanese prime ministers are bound by the apology he made back in 1995. And the current one, Shinzo Abe, had no choice but to do the same. Murayama’s statement got wide play in South Korea and Japan. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.
Murayama is the former leader of Japan’s Social Democratic Party, which is currently in opposition. He is on a private visit to South Korea – invited by the country's opposition lawmakers.
I am convinced that my statement has national consensus. Therefore, I can assure you that Mr. Shinzo Abe, as prime minister of Japan, cannot deny my apology.
Murayama called on South Koreans to work to improve relations with Japan that have soured over historical and other issues.
Japan and South Korea must maintain friendly ties. For their mutual benefit, the development of the whole Asian region and world peace.
South Korean president Park Guen-hye reportedly considered meeting with Murayama, but decided not to.
And in Japan, farm fresh is now just a text message away. Farmers and grocers have teamed up to feed the growing demand for fresh produce through farmer's markets. There are now more than 17,000 of them in Japan. Customers love the cheaper prices and fresh produce. NHK shows us how managers of one market have found a way to ensure their apples are even crisper, and greens even greener.
Every year more than a million people pull into this parking lot in Utsunomiya north of Tokyo. This is one of Japan's busiest farm markets. Last year it sold over 5-million-dollars' worth of produce. There's a huge variety of fruit and vegetables, all sourced from 150 local farms. The big draw is price. Most items cost 10% less than an ordinary supermarket.
There's such a great variety. I shop in many different places, but I always end up coming back here.
The secret to the market's success? A great selection of produce that's literally farm fresh. Nothing is left to chance. Each purchase is logged and analyzed at the cash register. The data is then sent direct to suppliers, the farmers themselves. Akemi Ikeda supplies more than 30 varieties of vegetables to the market. Even out in the fields she's kept in the loop.
It's from the farm market.
Each farmer gets data on their sales sent to them by text message once an hour.
Twenty bunches of chrysanthemum greens. I'll pick some more straightaway.
Right away, Ikeda starts pulling up more of the greens. She and her husband tie them in bunches, then rush them over to the market. This is how the market always keeps its produce fresh, by adjusting supply to meet demand in real time.
It's really encouraging to see how much I've sold each day. It's great.
This just in time supply system was set up by the market's manager, Yuzuru Matsumoto. Matsumoto has overseen a sharp rise in business. In the past five years, the number of visitors has risen by over 25%.
We try to look at it from the customer's point of view, and give them the service they want. We're always looking to improve the way we do things.
There's another factor that helps to motivate the farmers. The market lets the growers set their own prices for their produce. It takes just a 15% commission. Everything else goes to the farmers. The farmers coordinate closely with the market staff in deciding which vegetables to grow.
As for the spinach between December 27th and the 31st we were about 300 kilograms short.
I'm thinking of sewing some after my tomatoes. If I put in 2- 300 square meters, that should be about right.
Holding regular meetings like this has changed the way the farmers think about their crops. Makoto Watanabe started working the land 7 years ago. He now grows six kinds of carrots. Most of these are new varieties that he'd never thought of before.
It's really fun coming up with new products to sell and ways to create a market for them.
I think the producers feel much more involved as participants in this business.
From the field to the market and then straight to customers. It's an approach that works for everyone.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants Japan’s military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to be bigger and more active. But he’ll need to make changes to Japan’s pacifist constitution, drawn up by the US after the defeat in World War Two. To push for the changes, Abe assembled a panel of experts to study the issue and make recommendations. The experts agreed that lawmakers should act. Here's NHK.
Members of the panel met on Tuesday. Sources say they backed the government's view that the constitution should allow the right to collective self-defense. That would give the SDF the right to defend an ally under attack.
Some panel members said the current legal framework does not allow the SDF to use force in anything short of a direct military strike.
Abe said the current law allows the forces to act only in cases of systematic and premeditated attacks on Japan. But he noted there might be cases that do not involve the use of force.
Many believe the SDF must respond to situations where there is a grey area. As when contingencies occur on remote islands, and if police and the coast guard cannot immediately respond.
Abe's views have been causing concern abroad. Neighboring countries such as China and South Korea are worried that Japan is taking a shift to the right. But an expert on security policy says the panel's decision is a necessary step in light of increasing tensions in the region.
Japan's security and civility in the region heavily depends on the global environment. So, it's not appropriate to name the specific region, but still as we can see, the tensions are very high in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
The panel members will issue a final report to Abe as early as April. It will likely list the conditions that the SDF will be able to exercise collective self-defense. Kotani says the panel members need to hold more discussions about how the government would authorize such actions.
The key issue is of course the civilian control, or in other words, how the Diet should be involved when the Japanese government exercises collective self-defense.
Debate among lawmakers and the public is likely to grow heated before the panel members submit their final report.
South Korea and Japan seem to be in disagreement over what to call the body of water that lies between them. Japanese call it the Sea of Japan, but to South Koreans it's the East Sea. That dispute is now causing waves in the US. One state wants to publish both names in school textbooks. Here's Japan's NHK.
The delegates voted 81 to 15 to pass the bill. It’s expected to pass the state’s Senate and be signed by the governor. The bill would require new textbooks from July to note that the body of water that separates Japan from the Korean Peninsula is also known as the 'East Sea.' Japan's ambassador to the United States , Kenichiro Sasae has been urging the governor and state lawmakers to oppose the bill. Japanese officials maintain that the 'Sea of Japan' is the only internationally established name for the waters. They note that the US government recognizes it as such.