In the Air Japan
Japan rises again
In most parts of Sendai, it is hard to believe that one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded happened off-shore just three months ago.
In most parts of Sendai, it is hard to believe that one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded happened off-shore just three months ago. For centuries, the largest has been known all over Japan for its greenery. In late June, the parks are in impeccable condition, and you hardly notice any damage in the buildings, either.
Of course, the picture is dramatically different in the easternmost part of this city of one million inhabitants. The coastal strip, three to four kilometres wide, is a scenery of almost total destruction. Whole communities have been washed away, and many of the few buildings left have to be demolished, too. But here, too, the amount of clean-up work already done is impressive. The endless, neatly organised piles of car wrecks are one of the surreal scenes (in Sendai and surrounding Miyagi prefecture alone, 150 000 cars were destroyed).
The human cost due to the disaster is still rising. People who have lost their close ones, or everything they own, and who have to live in temporary homes are susceptible to many threats. Research after the 1995 Kobe earthquake has shown that social and mental problems, including suicides, are taking their toll among the survived victims years after the disaster.
I feel privileged to work in Sendai in these times of hardship. The Sendai – Finland Wellbeing Center and its Research and Development Unit have existed for six years now. The core mission of the unit is to facilitate creation of solutions for aging societies. By bringing together researchers, companies, policy makers and citizens, it strives for innovations, be they technologies, services, policies – or combinations of them.
Right now, the unit is identifying ways in which it can best boost recovery, and help those in most acute need. This is done together with the local administration. Having worked together with Sendai City for years, the unit has the advantage of direct communication with those who are in charge of the recovery.
Although life in central Sendai looks perfectly normal when observed from the streets, there is one difference compared to the time before the disaster. This can be best seen by entering any major hotel. People from other parts of the world are missing. This is regrettable, since lack of business and research collaboration means worse economy and slower pace of recovery. Even if it is true that still a lot needs to be done in Fukushima Daichii power plant, no-one can claim that the work is not proceeding. And you might not know that the amount of radiation in Sendai has all the time been well below that of southern Finland. False pictures of an uncontrollable crisis going on are unfortunately slowing down the recovery. Please, come over and look around by yourself!
(Juha Teperi was appointed as director of Sendai-Finland Wellbeing Center Research and Development Unit earlier this spring, and he returned to Japan in May).