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Only 59% of 3.11 disaster area shops that left temp spaces reopen in permanent locations

A temporary commercial complex is seen in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture. The tenant, Takata Osumi Tsudoi no Oka Shotengai, has decided to continue operating in the facility after taking it over from the municipal government. (Mainichi)

Less than two-thirds of shops that moved out of temporary commercial areas in the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster zone have reopened in permanent locations, a study by a government-backed business support organization has found.

The Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation (SME Support) tracked the activities of 933 businesses that left the temporary shop spaces from fiscal 2013 to 2016, and found that just 59 percent of them had reopened in new locations. The results come just a year and a half before the March 2019 end to a government subsidy program to help businesses move from the temporary communities to permanent locations.

The relatively low rate is thought to be caused primarily by lack of capital and worries over the slow recovery of areas badly hit by the March 2011 triple disaster, making the road to reopening a rocky one.

SME Support began building the temporary commercial areas in fiscal 2011 to help businesses in the disaster areas get back on their feet. The buildings were then offered to the municipal governments concerned to be leased out free of charge to businesses. SME Support put up a total of 1,270 temporary commercial buildings in six prefectures, including Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, and some 2,800 businesses moved in.

The SME Support study sought to discover what had become of businesses that have already moved out of the temporary communities to evaluate the future of the project. The organization obtained information on businesses that had left its 1,235 temporary commercial buildings in the three most badly disaster-hit prefectures from fiscal 2013 to 2016.

The organization found that 554 businesses had restarted elsewhere after moving out, while 379 had not secured a permanent location to reopen. Of those, 180 had moved to other temporary communities. Furthermore, 106 told SME Support that they had not set a date to reopen or did not know when it would be possible. Sixty-three businesses, or 7 percent, had shut down entirely, while 3 percent took over a temporary shop space from their local municipality.

Meanwhile, land elevation and town rebuilding work continues apace around the temporary commercial areas. However, the construction has been delayed due to building material price spikes and a persistent labor shortage, and many residents of disaster-stricken communities have not returned.

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