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Japan wants to reciprocate the Aloha

By Yoshihiko Kamo

LAST UPDATED: 1:45 a.m. HST, Mar 11, 2012

On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. It left nearly 20,000 people killed or missing, and many more lost their homes and livelihoods. The ensuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima compounded the tragedy.

After the disaster, Japan received a lot of assistance and words of encouragement from all over the world. Of all of those who reached out offering assistance, the United States was the first in line and touched our hearts the deepest. Operation Tomodachi, commanded by Adm. Patrick Walsh of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, showed us the U.S. military's far-reaching capabilities in a mission that exemplified the U.S.-Japan Alliance. U.S. nuclear experts helped their Japanese counterparts tame the troubled nuclear reactors.

Of all the U.S. states that sent Japan support and goodwill, Hawaii was exceptional. We deeply appreciate the kindness and generosity originating from Hawaii. The people of Hawaii responded resoundingly to the statewide fundraising campaign "Aloha for Japan" under the leadership of Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, which raised millions of dollars for the disaster victims. Hawaii also sought to give encouragement to the displaced Tohoku citizens and youths by inviting them to Hawaii for healing and revitalization through grassroots programs such as the "Aloha Initiative" and "Rainbow for Japan Kids."

How is Japan now, one year later?

Japan is doing well and normalcy has returned to most of the country except for certain stricken areas in Tohoku. The positive momentum in reconstruction efforts continues there and, though the tasks before us are challenging, we are committed to rebuilding Japan. In fact, $260 billion has already been allocated for that purpose in this fiscal year and the FY2012 budget includes many initiatives for reconstruction to follow. Apart from the tremendous burden caused by the disaster, Japan faces daunting challenges pertaining to a mature economy. She is, however, determined to demonstrate to the world a new growth model and become a front runner in solving global issues such as disaster management, an aging society, a declining birth rate and environmental problems. It is our hope that we turn this adversity into a transformational opportunity. We have confidence in our ability to execute this once our vision takes form and our budget gets prepared.

But what about the nuclear issues? Safety continues to be a top priority. Japan has made substantial progress in addressing the situation — having brought the plant to a state of cold shutdown — and is following a concrete plan toward decommissioning. Initiatives to thoroughly decontaminate living spaces to ensure the health of all community members and restore confidence in the safety of the food, are underway. Energy is another vital issue. Nuclear energy accounted for nearly 30 percent of the power supply in Japan prior to the accident. Now almost all our nuclear power plants are out of operation for safety checks. We are now reviewing our energy mix to pursue the optimum balance that ensures a safe, cost-effective, sustainable and stable supply of energy.

The drifting debris issue continues to loom in Hawaii. This is a legitimate concern for anyone in the Pacific. U.S. and Japanese experts met this February in Honolulu to exchange views and data to effectively solve the problem. The efforts will continue.

By the way, is anyone up to visiting Japan? She is now ready to welcome visitors from abroad with her natural beauty, impeccable service, cultural, culinary and shopping delights, let alone the local hula shows at Fukushima-based Spa Resort Hawaiians, which has recently fully reopened. We are eager to reciprocate the hospitality we received from Hawaii.

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