Japanese city reborn from poisoned pariah to model

By Wan Lixin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, December 10, 2013
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Promoting tourist exchange, rising problem of urban mobility, and the need to redefine the role media were the major topics of the 8th Asian City Journalists’ Conference in Fukuoka, Japan.

The annual conference is a platform for Asian journalists to exchange views, share knowledge, and to network.

Titled “Bridging Asia and Kyushu: the Media Link,” the latest conference was co-organized by the Kyushu Economic Federation, Kyushu Information Liaison, and UN-Habitat’s Fukuoka Office.

In his keynote speech, Wataru Aso, president of Fukuoka Airport Building Co Ltd, talked of strengthening ties among Asian countries, the importance of sustained development, and the need to involve all countries in the region in development and innovation.

First-time visitors to Kyushu are inevitably impressed by its fresh air and pristine environment, little knowing that Kyushu has come a long way to reach this admirable state. Aso talked about the region’s environmental destruction as a result of heavy pollution during Japan’s economic takeoff, the gradual public awareness and concern, and the subsequent healing process.

Cleanup effort

Kitakyushu, in the northernmost part of Kyushu, was one of the worst polluted cities in Japan in the 1960s, with its conglomeration of heavy industries. As a matter of fact, the now world-known Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning from chemical factories, was first discovered in Minamata, Kyushu, in 1956.

Acutely aware of the damage caused by unbridled economic development, local residents, particularly women distressed by children’s birth defects and mental impairment caused by mercury poisoning, took the lead in challenging the local government to fix the mess and make the region safe, by organizing themselves.

The mothers made a documentary film titled “We Need Blue Sky,” and their effort helped bring about the first environmental protection law in Japan in 1967.

Thanks to the successful cleanup effort, Kitakyushu today is an eco-model city that showcases its cleanup experience to cities in other developing countries suffering from reckless growth.

As Aso pointed out, such vicissitudes raised questions about the meaning of development — when it must be achieved at the cost of people’s health.

Hopefully, such understanding should serve as basis for building a framework in Asia to confront such problems as global warming.

But Kyushu aspires to become more than an environmentally friendly city and transport hub. It is renovating itself to become a tourist center. Kyushu boasts some of the best food in Japan — among which Mizutaki hotpots and Tonkotsu ramen — and a vigorous pop culture scene: manga, anime, fashion, and music.

Next year will see the opening of a food fair (Food City Fukuoka 2014, March 22-24).

Famed as the gateway to Japan, Fukuoka is advantageously situated in Japan’s southwest, and outside visitors like to use the airport conveniently situated very close to downtown. It is just a 10-minute subway ride from the domestic terminal to Tenjin in downtown.

According to Kazuo Iida, director of Asia Strategy Department of RKB Mainichi Broadcasting Corp, for Kyushu to become more than a gateway to the rest of Japan, it needs to discover and develop its unique tourist resources.

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