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Tourism Industry Reconstruction in Affected Areas in the Iwate Coastal Region and the University’s Role| Professor Hideki Yoshino Faculty of Policy Studies Iwate Prefectural University [Date of Issue: 28/February/2014 No.0228-0921]

Date of Issue: 28/February/2014

Tourism Industry Reconstruction in Affected Areas in the Iwate Coastal Region
and the University's Role

Professor Hideki Yoshino
Faculty of Policy Studies
Iwate Prefectural University


The Great East Japan Earthquake impacted severely on the tourism industry in the three affected prefectures in the Tohoku region, with inbound tourism and tourism spending both shrinking by more than 20 percent after the disaster. Almost three years later, accommodation facilities are being rebuilt in the affected coastal region of Iwate Prefecture using SME Group Subsidies, and guided tours of disaster-hit areas have also begun. Iwate Prefectural University is beginning to play an important role in tourism reconstruction on both the support and research fronts.


1. Impact of the disaster on tourism

The Great East Japan Earthquake has impacted heavily on the Tohoku region's tourism industry.
With accommodation facilities destroyed, the transportation network disrupted, and various constraints introduced in response to radioactive fallout from the nuclear accident, as well as the concomitant reputational damage, the number of visitors to tourist areas has plummeted.

Based on the Tourism Agency's common standards, the number of inbound visitors (including both overnight and day visitors) to the three disaster-affected prefectures-Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima-and tourism spending there shrank more than 20 percent from 54,813,000 people and 516,697,000,000 yen respectively in FY2010 to 42,368,000 people and 402,829,000,000 yen in FY2011. In FY2012, these figures lifted to 50,865,000 visitors and 508,759,000,000 yen in tourism spending, but tourism still has far to go to recover to pre-quake levels. Iwate Prefecture in particular has suffered a decline in day visitors; taking inbound tourists and tourism spending in 2010 as 100, both continued to decline to 90.0 and 83.6 respectively in 2011 and 73.8 and 66.9 in 2012. In 2013, the NHK television series Ama-chan prompted a surge in tourist numbers, but over the long term, there are also many challenges remaining.

Now, almost three years since the quake, the number of volunteers visiting the affected areas is falling. Conditions now need to be set in place toward the reconstruction of the tourism industry, bringing into play the various resources of the Tohoku region to enable visitors to rediscover the region's attractiveness and preserve the memory of the disaster. This article examines directions in the reconstruction of the tourism industry in the affected coastal area of Iwate Prefecture, focusing on the reconstruction of accommodation facilities and other facility development, as well as the current status of efforts in relation to new programs such as guided tours of disaster areas. It also explores some of the support and research underway at Iwate Prefectural University as a public university in an affected area and discusses the university's role in tourism reconstruction.

2. Reconstruction and reopening of accommodation facilities

Many of the accommodation facilities in the coastal area suffered tsunami damage and were forced to suspend operation. Accommodation facilities on high ground which were not damaged by the tsunami were kept fully occupied dealing with evacuees, taking in people affected by the disaster and providing land for the construction of temporary housing. As of around six months after the disaster, SME Group Subsidies from the government made it possible to begin reopening business and tourist hotels.

The SME Group Subsidy scheme, which provides subsidies for the restoration of commonly used facilities that belong to business cooperatives of SMEs, was introduced in June 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake as a new recovery support policy funded from the government's supplementary budget. Targeting the SMEs underpinning backbone industries, corporate groups with a large economic scale, supply chains and local shopping areas, the scheme enables companies to establish groups and create recovery plans which, if approved by the prefecture, receive a 50 percent subsidy from the national government and a 25 percent subsidy from the prefectural government for the restoration and development of facilities and equipment. From the first round of applications in 2011 (in which applications opened in June and adopted in August) through to the ninth round in 2013 (opened in September and adopted in November), 423.1 billion yen (including 282 billion yen from the national government) in subsidy dispersion has been approved for 562 groups from Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba. Applications for the 10th round (opened in December 2013) are currently being screened.

Many accommodation facilities along the Iwate coast have rebuilt using these SME Group Subsidies, private-sector funds and a range of other support measures. In January 2012, the Houraikan inn in Kamaishi City reopened for business, followed by the Rikuchu-Kaigan Grand Hotel (Kamaishi City) in November and Hotel Ragaso (Tanohata Village) in January 2012. In August 2013, the Namiita Kanko Hotel (Otsuchi Town) resumed business under the new name Sanriku Hana Hotel Hamagiku. In November 2013, Capital Hotel 1000 in Rikuzen-Takata City reopened in new premises on higher ground. The reconstruction of accommodation facilities represents a major stimulus for the region, with the recovery of food supply, linen supply and other accommodation-related businesses now likely to progress together with a hike in local employment.

The reopened Houraikan inn

The reopened Houraikan inn

The reopened Hotel Ragaso

The reopened Hotel Ragaso

3. Guided tours of disaster-affected areas

While the redevelopment of accommodation facilities has continued from an early stage backed by large-scale fiscal support from the government and corporate funds, there are also many cases where local areas have planned and begun to implement their own programs such as guided tours of disaster-affected areas. Along the Iwate coast, as of a year after the disaster, disaster storytellers and guides have been providing tours on a range of scales from a single passenger car through to large tourist buses. Individually crafted by the disaster-affected areas, these programs are characterized by a diversity of content and pricing.

A volunteer tour guide association existed in Kamaishi City prior to the disaster, showing people around sights such as the Hashino Blast Furnace site, which has been submitted for inscription on the World Heritage List. The disaster brought the association's activities briefly to a halt, but it is now back in operation, preparing new tours through affected areas enriched by commentaries from volunteer tour guides.

In Tanohata Village, the NPO Taikenmura Tanohata Network, which was launched in 2008, has operated sea tours on small "sappa" fishing boats from before the disaster. Since the disaster, it has also introduced giant tsunami storytelling and guided tours whereby local residents affected by the disaster take visitors around the region and tell them about their experiences. According to the 22 January 2014 edition of the Iwate Nippo (the local daily newspaper), where tourism numbers slumped heavily after the disaster, in 2013 they reached around 12,000 per annum, double the number in FY2010 prior to the disaster.

In Miyako City, the Miyako Tourism Association has created a guided tour program for learning about disaster prevention which is attracting a large number of participants. This tour takes visitors around the Taro district's massive seawall, which stretched a total length of 2.433 kilometers and was dubbed Japan's "Great Wall of China" yet still suffered severe tsunami damage, and the Taro Kanko Hotel, which was hit directly by the tsunami, exposing the building's steel skeleton through to the second floor. Video footage is added to help convey to visitors the horrors of such disasters and lessons learned from the experience. Around 50,000 people participated in the tour between April 2012 and December 2014, with the Taro Kanko Hotel selected as the first site to which the government will commit funds for the preservation and utilization of disaster remains.

In Yamada Town, local store-owners affected by the disaster have formed the Shinsei Yamada Shotengai Kyodo Kumiai (Cooperative for the Regeneration of the Yamada Shopping Area) and are in the process of developing an organization that can apply for an SME Group Subsidy, as well as acting as guides through disaster-hit areas and conducting storyteller taxi tours. Some restaurants are also offering a storytelling service, whereby the restaurant owner personally describes their disaster experience to restaurant customers. Guided tours of disaster-affected areas are also being conducted in a variety of forms in Iwaizumi Town, Ofunato City, Rikuzen-Takata City and elsewhere.

A volunteer guide in Kamaishi City with his explanation board

A volunteer guide in Kamaishi City with his explanation board

Taikenmura Tanohata Network giant tsunami storytelling and guided tour

Taikenmura Tanohata Network giant tsunami storytelling and guided tour


Miyako Tourism Association guided tour program for learning about disaster prevention

Miyako Tourism Association guided tour program for learning about disaster prevention

Shinsei Yamada Shotengai Kyodo Kumiai storytelling restaurant

Shinsei Yamada Shotengai Kyodo Kumiai storytelling restaurant


4. University's structure and role in support and research activities

At Iwate Prefectural University, which comprises four faculties and two colleges, teachers and students have been providing emergency support since immediately after the disaster. In April 2011, we established the Disaster Recovery Support Center to direct the university's recovery support efforts, while a disaster recovery research division was created within the Regional Policy Research Center (which was also established in April 2011), preparing the university to make a regional contribution from the perspectives of both support and research. The disaster recovery research division tackled 15 topics in FY2011-12, while the local collaborative research division dealt with 20 themes in FY2012 and 19 in FY2013. The research theme of tourism reconstruction that forms the basis of this article too was undertaken as part of the research program of the Regional Policy Research.

Currently, with progress being made on accommodation facility reconstruction and interest growing in guided tours of disaster areas, we have reached the stage of developing a fully-fledged tourism strategy for the affected area. In November 2013, Iwate Prefectural University concluded a basic agreement on industry-university-government partnership in relation to Miyako tourism with Miyako City and the Miyako Tourism Association, implementing initiatives such as monitoring tours for university students. Looking ahead, we plan to develop research programs utilizing the social survey methods and information and communication technologies which are a particular strength of our university, hold public seminars, utilize the Iwate Prefectural University recovery support offices we have established in Miyako City and Kamaishi City, and encourage various types of academic associations to hold their national conventions here. Our aim in these initiatives is to provide to the region the specialist knowledge of our staff and fresh new ideas from our students as the bearers of the region's future to lend further momentum to tourism reconstruction based on industry-university-government partnership.

(original article : Japanese)
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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