A Year Later, Japan Slowly Recovers

It's the one-year anniversary of Japan's devastating earthquake and Tsunami and there's still plenty of work to be done. There's frustration about the government's response, concerns over nuclear reactors, and overall dampened spirits as those who evacuated have abandoned their towns all together. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz checks in with NPR's Anthony Kuhn about the progress of Japan's slow recovery.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

It's already Sunday in Japan. And people across that country will begin to commemorate the victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck one year ago. In a moment, we're going to hear about a group of volunteers who have been working with survivors, helping them get back on their feet.

But first to our correspondent Anthony Kuhn who's in Japan. And, Anthony, tell us, first of all, where you are and how it compares to what you saw a year ago.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, Guy, I'm in the town of Minamisanriku, which is in one of the four prefectures at the northern end of Japan. It was hardest hit by the tsunami last year. And I have to say, one year on, progress has been pretty slow here. There are actually huge piles of debris in the town, and the northern end of Japan as a whole has gotten rid of less than 10 percent of the debris, you know, and hasn't really begun rebuilding at all. A lot of people are still living in prefab housing here.

Police in this town are still searching for more than 3,000 people who are missing, and there are still more than 500 bodies in the area, which are still unidentified. So I think people are sort of upset about this.

RAZ: I imagine - does it feel like the recovery has happened a bit too slowly? Is that what people say to you?

KUHN: Absolutely. A lot of people are frustrated at it. They're frustrated that the central government has dithered and bickered politically in Tokyo. You know, they didn't even get an agency to supervise reconstruction established until last month. And budgets have been slow. People are also a little bit frustrated at sort of local apathy. People at the local level not participating in meetings, in civic activities, and waiting for the politicians to do something to rebuild the area.

RAZ: And, Anthony, of course, a lot of concern last year over those nuclear reactors. What's the status of those damaged reactors right now?

KUHN: Well, the government said at the end of last year that the reactors that melted down are now cool and they're stable. But some experts are a little bit worried about that assessment and they're worried about further quakes. Of course, it'll take years and years to decommission those plants and finally dispose of all the radioactive waste.

RAZ: What is the mood like there? What do people say to you about this year on?

KUHN: Well, the mood in the area has been sort of grim for quite a while because the area is aging and depopulating, and young people are moving to the cities and don't want to stay around here. And after this quake, I think a lot of the evacuees will not be coming back here. And for the many, many people who lost homes and loved ones, one year is really nothing. And although a lot of ceremonies are going to be held both at the local level and in Tokyo, it's really sort of an artificial marking point and it's impossible for people to really achieve much in the way of closure.

RAZ: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn covering Japan a year on after that earthquake and devastating tsunami. Anthony, thank you so much.

KUHN: Thank you, Guy.

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