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Displaced Japanese youths see bleak future

Tsunami leaves northerners with limited options

- - Sunday, April 17, 2011

HIGASHI-MATSUSHIMA, Japan | Healthy and educated, Kizuki Ishimori, 27, should be the future of his hometown.

A chemical analyst who enjoys horseback riding and learning English, he honored his parents by staying close to home instead of going 300 miles south to Tokyo like so many youths in this northern region.

But sifting through the wreckage of his family's home a few miles from the ocean, he says he doesn't see much of a future for himself in Higashi-Matsushima, where local officials say 931 are dead and many more are missing from the March 11 tsunami, which still looks like it hit only a few days ago.

"I'd like to stay here in Miyagi [province], but there won't be any jobs here because everybody is homeless and out of work, and nobody has money to hire us. There are jobs working at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, but it's too dangerous, no matter how much they might pay," he says.

Based on the nightmarish reality around him, Mr. Ishimori's bleak outlook, commonly heard across the disaster zone in northeastern Japan, stands in contrast to the robust sentiment of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who visited Japan on Sunday.

"We are very confident that Japan will recover and will be a very strong economic and global player for years and decades to come," Mrs. Clinton told Prime Minister Naoto Kan during her brief visit to Tokyo.

"There has been a great outpouring of concern, sympathy and admiration for the great resilience and spirit the Japanese people have shown throughout this very difficult experience," said Mrs. Clinton, who also met the emperor and empress.

Mrs. Clinton also praised Japan's efforts to manage the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. "The constant efforts to respond to the situation at Fukushima have required intense analysis by Japanese, American and international experts, and we have been very supportive of what Japan is doing to take the appropriate steps," she said.

Mrs. Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto also announced the formation of a public-private partnership to encourage U.S. investment in the recovery effort.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of the hobbled Fukushima nuclear plant, announced a plan Sunday for stopping radiation leaks and stabilizing damaged reactors within the next six to nine months.

Under orders from the prime minister, Tepco drew up the blueprint and publicly explained its long-term strategy for the first time since the disaster, the Associated Press reported.

Tepco plans to deal with the crisis in two stages: In the first, it will focus on cooling the reactors and spent-fuel pools and reducing the level of leaking radiation. It also will aim to decontaminate water that has become radioactive, reduce the amount of radiation released into the atmosphere and soil, and lower radiation levels in the evacuation area.

In the second stage, the company will aim to control the release of radioactive materials, achieve a cold shutdown of the reactors and temporarily cover the reactor buildings, possibly with a form of industrial cloth, the AP reported.

U.S.-Japan relations have been improving since about 20,000 U.S. troops joined a post-tsunami relief mission called "Operation Tomodachi," or "Friend."

"We will never forget, and we will keep in our memory that the U.S. has provided such robust support," said Mr. Kan, whose predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, resigned over friction involving U.S. Marines' presence in Okinawa.

It's not clear, however, how U.S. pledges of support for Japan can help unemployed youth such as Mr. Ishimori.

Removing debris piece by piece, including boat parts and someone's car, which smashed into his living room, Mr. Ishimori said he might try looking for work in the northern provinces of Akita or Yamagata, away from the tsunami zone, or as a last resort, the Tokyo area.

"I never wanted to go work in Tokyo, because it's so crowded. I like the freedom of riding horses in wide spaces. But maybe I have no choice," he said.