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Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1999

Regional Special: KYUSHU


Reclamation project splits locals, power elite> Staff writer

KAGOSHIMA — A resident of the city whose skyline is dominated by Sakurajima — one of four active volcanoes in Japan — has mixed feelings about the prefecture's plan to reclaim part of the Kinko Bay waterfront district and create a man-made island.

"When I think about how it may affect the environment, I can't agree with the plan," said Naomi Imabeppu, a 29-year-old office worker. "But if it is a plan that would increase tourism in Kagoshima, I have to accept it because we don't have any other industries."

Imabeppu's words reflect the confrontation between the local government and some residents, the result of mutual concern for the future of Kagoshima.

While the prefectural government and the business sector see the project as an effective measure to revitalize the local economy, citizens' groups have recently begun to express increasing concern about the project's potential pitfalls.

Pointing out that construction of a man-made island would cause damage to Kinko Bay's ecosystem and further imperil the financially troubled prefecture by wasting over 24 billion yen in taxpayers' money, the groups have launched a campaign calling for a plebiscite to be held on the project.

"We want to make the government realize that there's an immense gap in what they are doing and what the people really want," said Hiroshi Kirihara, director of the citizens' group heading the campaign.

Facilities for cruise ships

In September, the central government approved Kagoshima's application to reclaim 24.7 hectares of the planned 67-hectare man-made island in the district, which faces Sakurajima. Construction will probably start before the end of the year.

According to the prefectural plan, the island will have a port capable of accommodating large passenger liners and other facilities, including major international convention halls, a marina and helipads that will be used in the event of an emergency on islands south of Kagoshima.

Both the prefecture and the business sector claim the project is a must if Kagoshima wishes to develop as it enters the 21st century.

"Tourism, by attracting people to the (prefecture's southern) islands, for example, is the only way we can vitalize Kagoshima for the future," said Shunyo Yamashita, general manager of the Kagoshima Chamber of Commerce and Industry's planning division.

One of the islands to the south is Yakushima, one-fifth of which has been on the United Nations World Heritage List since 1993.

Since the early 1970s, Yamashita said, efforts have been under way to attract more major luxury cruise liners to Kagoshima. To increase their number, the construction of a new port is necessary because the city at present lacks the special berthing facilities needed for large passenger ships.

Planned national projects designed to improve the prefecture's transportation system are also encouraging the business sector to be aggressive in their promotion of the reclamation project.

Efforts are also afoot to make Kagoshima more accessible from other parts of Japan. A project to establish a two-hour bullet train service between Kagoshima and Fukuoka is to be completed by 2003, and construction of expressways between Kagoshima and other parts of Kyushu will get under way soon. At present, Kagoshima airport is the fifth largest in Japan in terms of domestic flights.

"Of course, we know that building the port in the reclaimed land won't automatically bring in the ships and the people. It's up to us to make the effort to actually attract them here," Yamashita said.

Despite the enthusiasm of the prefecture and the business sector, it was not until last year that the central government approved the reclamation project.

In 1995, Kagoshima's application to carry out the project — initiated by the prefecture, the city of Kagoshima, the business community and academics, and with the unanimous support of the prefectural assembly in 1993 — was turned down.

But after informing the central government that the scheme will make use of ash and rock from Sakurajima for the reclamation work, the plan finally won the state's approval last year as a so-called frontierland project.

Once the government recognizes that a project will use waste as well as earth and sand, local governments are entitled to subsidies.

Impact on environment

However, the approval of the central government has alarmed some local citizens.

Residents who oppose reclaiming part of the bay criticize the prefectural government for the way it carried out its environmental assessment of the project.

Although the plan to reclaim all 67 hectares in the future has already been approved, Kagoshima has only assessed the impact on marine life for the 24.7 hectares it initially plans to reclaim.

According to that study, the impact on the ecosystem is likely to be "minor."

"We've never said that it won't have any effect on the environment," said Akira Morinaga, counselor at the harbor division of the prefecture's public works department. "But we are complying with the various environmental regulations."

But Masanori Sato, vice professor at Kagoshima University and a specialist in tidal environments, warned that there is precious little natural coastline left around the city.

"Kinko Bay was originally not that shallow, and that's why we need to keep these places as they are, no matter how small the effects (of the reclamation) may be," he said. "Many living things that help to purify the water live in the bay's shallow waters."

In response to calls from the citizens' groups, 101,674 Kagoshima residents had signed a petition opposing the reclamation work as of Oct. 1, according to Kirihara. The petition campaign kicked off Aug. 29.

The petition has already received the required number of signatures for the governor to draw up a bill for a plebiscite. However, the group plans to continue its campaign until Oct. 15, because it has set a goal of 280,000 signatures — a fifth of all Kagoshima voters.

The bill will probably be voted down, however, because conservative members make up a majority in the prefectural assembly. But Kirihara said they have had a positive response from the public for their campaign.

"The prefectural government lacks the mind-set that a plan can be reconsidered. It's like they're driving a vehicle without any rearview mirror or reverse gear," he said. "We have to show them that they can't do things that easily."

G8 summit to put spotlight on Miyazaki, Fukuoka> FUKUOKA — With Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's Cabinet making the success of the July 2000 Group of Eight summit meeting one of its top priorities, the host cities in Kyushu are striving to prepare for their international debut.

This will be the fourth time that Japan has hosted the summit — but the first outside of Tokyo.

Okinawa was awarded the main attraction — the heads of state meeting. But Miyazaki and Fukuoka prefectures, which will host the foreign and finance ministers' meetings, respectively, are hoping that the international events will be of long-term economic benefit.

But they have a long "to do" list, ranging from constructing infrastructure to educating locals to ensure they will help visitors have a comfortable stay.

"By putting on the summit meeting, we can gain the experience and confidence to invite more international conventions here," said Norihito Maruyama, director of Miyazaki Prefecture's Summit Promotion Office.

For Miyazaki especially, which has long struggled to boost its economy, staging any part of the summit is a dream come true.

Blessed with sunshine and a breathtaking coastline, Miyazaki was once a mecca for Japanese honeymooners, but it reached its peak of popularity in the 1970s.

Many sports teams, including the Yomiuri Giants, habitually hold their winter training camps there. But Miyazaki's popularity as "Japan's tropical south" faded as more people began to vacation abroad. By the early 1980s, the number of annual visitors had declined about 20 percent from peak times to nearly 4.32 million.

To revitalize the tourism-reliant local economy, a public-private joint venture was launched in 1988 named Phoenix Resort, and the firm established a mega resort complex in 1993.

Located by the sea, Seagaia includes luxurious hotels, golf courses, sports facilities and Ocean Dome, the world's largest water theme park, in addition to the SUMMIT international convention center.

However, Phoenix Resort has fallen deep into the red during the recession, with a deficit of over 111.5 billion yen as of the end of March.

"Because (the summit) might help make up for the deficit of Seagaia, I'm sure that businesses are pleased," said Takae Tomitaka, 29, a resident of the city of Miyazaki.

In addition to preparing for the summit, Miyazaki is struggling to define the unique aspects of the prefecture that it can promote to the international community, as well as to Japanese.

"We've been trying to emphasize the beauty that a regional city in southern Kyushu can offer, by stressing our natural environment full of greenery and the ocean, as well as our culture and facilities," said Maruyama of the Summit Promotion Office. "I think the city is different from the stereotypes of Japan that people may hold."

Meanwhile, for Fukuoka Prefecture, the central government's decision on the split siting of the summit was disappointing, as it was widely rumored that Fukuoka would host the entire event.

"Fukuoka has been doing great in hosting international events, so I thought we could have the entire summit meeting here," said Hirofumi Morishita, 23, who volunteered to work as an English translator at a hotel in the city during the general meeting of the Asian Development Bank in 1997.

"I think it's very important that the meetings will be held in the Kyushu region," said Hiroshi Kadota, secretary general of the Promotion Committee of the Fukuoka Finance Ministers' Meeting. "It'll be a chance for us to show to the world that there are cities that have different attractions from Tokyo or Osaka."

As one of the largest cities in Japan and the leading city in Kyushu, Fukuoka has successfully promoted itself as "Japan's gateway to Asia," and has been recognized as one of Asia's most livable urban centers.

"Fukuoka is urbanized like Tokyo or Osaka, but we have many local things mixed up in the atmosphere," said Fumihiko Kinno, director of the public relations department of the promotion committee.

Fukuoka is happy, but a touch concerned, that the early July summit will coincide with the Hakata Gion Yamagasa festival, one of Fukuoka's biggest, which features racing of huge human-borne floats.

"It will be a chance to spotlight this exciting festival, which attracts over 2 million visitors, but considering security, it will be difficult to have both at the same time."

But for many in Fukuoka, the summit meeting is still far away.

"Well, I think the Daiei Hawks' victory has caused more excitement here than next year's summit," said Toshie Morita, 57, a Fukuoka native.

How well locals will communicate with and accommodate their foreign guests is another concern.

"It's really exciting to think that the city I grew up in will be in the world spotlight, because such an opportunity is pretty rare," said Toshie's 26-year-old daughter Sachiko. "I just hope that the meeting will not alienate local people." (S.K.)

Events to commemorate Xavier's 1549 arrival> KAGOSHIMA — This year marks the 450th anniversary of the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier, a Spanish missionary who introduced Catholicism to Japan; as the site where he chose to land, Kagoshima is hosting an array of events commemorating him.

Born in 1506, Xavier became a Jesuit priest in 1537. In 1541, he left from Lisbon on a mission to Asia and preached in India and Ceylon, modern-day Sri Lanka. In Malacca, he met Yajiro, a Japanese from the Satsuma domain, part of today's Kagoshima Prefecture.

After hearing Yajiro's descriptions of his homeland and the Japanese people, Xavier decided to continue his mission in Japan. He and Yajiro reached Kagoshima on Aug. 15, 1549.

After being granted permission by Satsuma lord Shimazu Takahisa to preach Christianity, Xavier stayed on in Kagoshima for nearly a year. Over 100 people in the area are reported to have been baptized by him.

His followers included a Satsuma samurai who adopted the Christian name Bernardo and was later sent by Xavier to Europe, becoming in 1555 the first Japanese to meet the pope. This was about 30 years earlier than the well-known visit of four junior Japanese envoys in 1585.

"Because of such strong connections (between Xavier and) Kagoshima and its people, there are many historic sites for visitors to follow in Xavier's footsteps," said Hidehiro Kurano, head of tourism promotion at the Kagoshima Prefectural Government.

To commemorate Xavier, his mummified right arm was brought from Rome.

The arm was last on display in Japan in 1949 — the 400th anniversary of his landing. It was on public display again last weekend at St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church in the city of Kagoshima, where a commemorative Mass was celebrated Monday.

Xavier's arm will also be taken to nine cities, including Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture, as well as Yamaguchi and Oita, other sites where he pursued his missionary work.

Xavier left Japan in 1551 — a little more than two years after he arrived — to set off on a new mission. He died in December 1552 at the age of 46 en route to China after visiting Cochin and Malacca.

Since his death, his mummified body, which now lies in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India, has been venerated for its miraculous preservation.

The right arm was severed at the elbow in 1614 and sent to Rome as proof of Xavier's preservation. It has been kept in a golden reliquary in the Church of Gesu. (S.K.)



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