Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is being honored for his innovative work..He’s won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often called the industry’s Nobel Prize. He’s been devoted to humanitarian relief efforts, designing and building temporary structures using easily obtainable materials like paper tubes and sand bags. For more on Shigeru Ban, here’s Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK.
Jury members announced their decision on Monday. The US prize honors living architect who make a significant contribution to humanity. Ban's works include the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France. He's designed other cultural facilities and residences in countries around the world. But jury members made special note of Ban's creative designs for disaster situations. He used paper and wood, for example, to build a temporary cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand. The original building was devastated by an earthquake three years ago. In the same year, Ban turned shipping containers into multi-storey housing units for people in northeastern Japan. They had lost their homes in the earthquake and tsunami. Pritzker prize jury members said Ban creates quality architecture to serve society's needs.
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.
The panel members heard testimony from 240 witnesses including several defectors from North Korea. The commission concluded, based on the evidence, in many cases the country committed crimes against humanity.
It’s a unanimous report, it’s a report which speaks of the great wrongs that have been done to the people of North Korea, and which calls for attention from the international community.
UN investigators say political prisoners are subjected to torture, rape, and other forms of violence. They estimate the number of people in political prison camps is between 80-thousand and 120-thousand, even though leaders in Pyongyang deny their existence. The report also recognizes the abduction of foreign nationals by North Korean authorities is systematic. They believe agents may have abducted more than 200,000 people including more than 100 Japanese citizens. The commission acknowledges officials use land, naval and intelligence forces for abduction. They say operations were approved at the level of the supreme leader
Members of human rights groups in Japan welcomed the report. They held a news conference in Tokyo. Shigeru Yokota and his wife Sakie attended. Their daughter Megumi was abducted to the North in 1977 when she was only 13.
Sakie Yokota / Abductee's mother:
I think whether the UN Security Council sincerely discusses this issue and takes action is crucial. It took many years for us to see the world starting to understand the situation.
We continue to push Japanese government, as well as other key governments who sit at the Human Rights Council to adopt the very strong resolution to put this human right situation on North Korea at the Security Council.
Japanese Abduction Issue Minister, Keiji Furuya, called the report unprecedented. He said the findings are in depth. North Korean leaders have rejected the report. Their UN representative said they have been no cases of human rights abuse in the country. Investigators are now advising the UN they should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
Protests in Thailand aren't letting up. For months anti-government demonstrators have filled the streets of Bangkok. They're calling for an end to the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. With her main offices blocked by protesters, Yingluck moved to a temporary office within the defense ministry and protesters have rallied to shut her out. With the latest on the unrest in Thailand, here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.
Anti-government protesters are targeting businesses linked to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s family in their drive to force her to resign.
Demonstrators led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban gathered near a property development firm owned by Yingluck’s family. Thailand’s elite and middle class form the core of the anti-Thaksin faction. They want Yingluck to resign and eliminate the influence of her older brother, former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra. He now lives in self-imposed exile.
Yingluck now has another political crisis on her hands. More than 2-thousand protesting farmers drove from Central Thailand to Bangkok on Thursday in a convoy of farm vehicles. They want the government to make good on its pledge to buy rice for about 40% more than the market price.
We don’t go back until we get our money. We’ve been waiting for four or five months. If we weren’t running out of food to eat, we wouldn’t have come.
The elite and the middle class say the Thaksin family has used government money to buy votes, mainly in the northern and northeastern parts of Thailand. Yingluck, earlier this month, went ahead with a general election. But protests caused officials to cancel voting in nearly 20% of the country’s electoral districts. Thailands’ Electoral Commission rescheduled elections for late April, but on Wednesday decided to postpone voting in those constituencies until an unspecified date. Thailand’s political divide seems only to be deepening as anti-government protesters vow to topple the government.