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Grief of Japan quake laid bare in new documentary
by Staff Writers
Busan, South Korea (AFP) Oct 8, 2011

Japan cabinet approves $156 bln recovery budget
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 7, 2011 - Japan's cabinet on Friday proposed a basic outline for a third 12-trillion-yen ($156 billion) budget to help fund the reconstruction of disaster-hit regions and help revive the economy.

Parliament still has to approve the plan that will see around 9.0 trillion yen go towards rebuilding the northern region hit by the March earthquake and tsunami that left 20,000 people dead or missing.

It will help pay for the relocation of survivors and the creation of a fund to revitalise Fukushima prefecture, the centre of the worst nuclear crisis for 25 years after post-tsunami meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

"We will take measures toward full-fledged reconstruction," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a cabinet meeting, adding that he would take "a flexible stance" in accommodating the views of the opposition.

The budget also includes outlays for a central region hit by a recent deadly typhoon and to supplement the public pension fund that was temporarily used as a funding source for earlier earthquake relief programmes.

The government plans to pay for the budget through spending cuts, sales of public assets, tax hikes, bond issuance and use of non-tax revenues.

Tokyo plans to submit the budget to parliament by the end of this month.

It comes after two earlier extra budgets, worth four trillion yen and two trillion yen, with the government estimating the quake damage to be at least 16.9 trillion yen.

The government plans to spend 19 trillion yen in an initial five-year focused phase of reconstruction, followed by more spending programmes at a slower pace.

Ministers and ruling party officials have promised to negotiate with the opposition as the budget contains divisive tax hike proposals.

The cabinet confirmed an earlier government decision on a provisional tax hike plan that would raise up to 9.2 trillion yen over ten years to produce some of the funds needed to rebuild the Tohoku region.

To limit the tax hike to that amount, Tokyo plans to secure another two trillion yen in non-tax revenues, including proceeds from the possible sale of its entire stake in Japan Tobacco Inc.

Noda faces opposition to tax hikes from some lawmakers charging that such a move, if timed poorly, could threaten a fragile post-quake economic recovery faced with a soaring yen and weakening overseas demand.

Japan has remained mired in recession for three consecutive quarters.

Filming grieving survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan often earned producer Takaharu Yasuoka a shocked and angry response. Now he wants audiences to react the same way.

"311" follows four documentary filmmakers -- Yasuoka, the film's director Tatsuya Mori and their friends Takeharu Watai and Yoju Matsubayashi -- as they head into the devastated areas of northeastern Japan after the massive quake.

Like the rest of the world, the group watched on as the disaster played out live on television.

"Once the disaster happened we talked to each other and we knew we had to get up there and record what had happened," said Mori, speaking after the film's world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.

"We had no idea whether we would turn it into a film now, a year later, or make four different films."

From the eerie silence of the evacuated landscape near the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the filmmakers head to what remains of the towns and villages near the coast, witnessing and capturing on film not only the physical devastation but the very human cost of the tragedy.

Survivors often act with a mixture of horror and fury when they see the cameras capturing their grief and Mori said the team was constantly forced to question just what they were doing -- documenting or intruding.

"We felt we had a duty to record what had happened and there is certainly a degree of egoism to filmmaking," said Mori.

"But we were constantly asking ourselves how do we approach this, what do we do to help those who survived and those who are dead? In the end I think that became the theme of the whole film -- how do we react to such a thing?"

Yasuoka said he wanted audiences to feel the same sense of anger as the survivors.

"Thats how we want them to react, at first," said Yasuoka. "We want them to question why we made this movie, why we were there."

"311", one of the first independently made documentaries to hit the international festival circuit, is nothing less than a challenging experience for its audience.

The sheer scale of the tragedy is played out in full view, from bodies laid out on the bare earth to the affected families desperate search through the rubble for survivors.

"Mostly we found they were a very calm people," said Yasuoka. "It was a natural disaster so they just accepted it as there was nowhere to direct their anger."

The filmmakers also had to face first-hand the confusion that surrounded the immediate aftermath of the event and the lack of information about just how much danger still existed due to the damage sustained by the Fukushima plant.

They initially entered the area with little or no protection against -- or even knowledge about -- the extent of radioactive contamination.

"Part of the problem is that we Japanese are too polite," said Mori. "The government told people to stay away and they did -- even the mainstream media. But sometimes you have to ask questions, no matter what the risk. So the actual effects of what happened are still unknown."

Producer Yasuoka, who edited down the hours of raw film the group had collected, believes the actual scale of the disaster is something Japan is still coming to terms with.

"I can assure you there will be more documentaries about what the actual effects of this disaster are coming out over the next five to 10 years," he said.

"311" is screening as part of the Wide Angle documentary showcase at the 16th Busan International Film Festival, Asias leading cinematic event, which continues until Friday.

This year's edition of the festival is screening 307 films, among them 135 world or international premieres.

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Japan tsunami psychological injuries slow to heal
Ishinomaki, Japan (AFP) Oct 7, 2011 - Doctor Shinsuke Muto runs an unusual health service in the tsunami-battered Japanese city of Ishinomaki.

Patients come to his clinic to be treated for physical pain or therapy to help their bodies recover from the injuries they received when a 15-metre (45-foot) wave swept through their homes on March 11.

But many also come to the health centre he established nearby to have their emotions healed, to have the mental wounds patched up and the loneliness and isolation soothed.

Elderly people who lived their whole lives in Ishinomaki saw their homes, their families and their friends and neighbours washed away, says Muto.

"I found that the treatment of the elderly lacked warmth. They of course need treatment, but they also needed a place to meet," he told AFP.

His health centre aims to provide just that.

Of the 20,000 people killed nationwide in the massive waves generated by the magnitude 9.0 offshore earthquake, a fifth were from Ishinomaki.

The once-thriving fishing port sits around 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the Fukushima nuclear power plant where workers are still trying to tame the world's worst nuclear emergency since Chernobyl.

Piles of rubble still scar the city where many of the 165,000 inhabitants were made homeless by the devastating waves.

Muto arrived in the city two months after the disaster, when the need for acute medical care had subsided a little.

He founded the You Home clinic, offering the normal array of medical services.

Then, with a grant from French charity Secours Populaire Francais and the Nippon Foundation, he founded a health centre nearby to offer all-round care to his patients.

It offers free consultations, including with specialists in Tokyo, using equipment that allows them to examine patients remotely.

The centre, which opened its doors in September, provides pastoral care for its clients and much needed employment in a region whose economy took a battering in the disaster. Of its 10 employees, seven are local.

But one of Muto's main aims is to give patients the chance to meet with other people.

Many of those he sees are living in the temporary accommodation thrown up in the months after the tsunami, often cut off from the people they know.

"At the health centre, young people can organise a film screening, older people have a coffee or dinner with friends," said the doctor.

This chance for human interaction is vital if Ishinomaki is to get back on its feet, says Julian Laupretre, president of Secours Populaire, who came to inaugurate the centre.

"Friendship does not solve everything, but it is irreplaceable," he said.

For him, the centre is a place where patients can feel that they are not alone and have not been abandoned to their fate.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, donations and offers of help flooded in from all around the world, but it is long-term care that is needed now, says doctor Ismail Hassouneh of Secours Populaire, who worked in Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

"It is important that we keep a close eye on what happens to those caught up in the disaster," he said.

"An event of this magnitude brings with it long-term psychological issues that must be addressed."


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The waste from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami
Tokyo, Japan (SPX) Oct 07, 2011
On 11 March 2011 there was a legal vacuum in Japan concerning radioactive waste resulting from a nuclear disaster. Current waste management Law places technical and financial responsibility for waste from natural disasters with local authorities. However, this excludes radioactive waste. The Law on rehabilitation of contaminated soil excludes from its scope radioactive soils and waste. The ... read more

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