At age 39, Yoshiaki Suda, the new mayor of this town that was destroyed by last March’s tsunami, oversees a community where the votes, money and influence lie among its large population of graying residents. But for Onagawa to have a future, he must rebuild it in such a way as to make it attractive to those of his generation and younger.
“That’s the most difficult problem,” Mr. Suda said. “For whom are we rebuilding?”
The reconstruction of Onagawa and the rest of the coast where the tsunami hit is a preview of what may be the most critical test Japan will face in the decades ahead. In a country where power rests disproportionately among older people, how does Japan, which has the world’s most rapidly aging population, use its dwindling resources to build a society that looks to the future as much as to the past…?
So after the tsunami destroyed all 15 of the fishing villages that make up part of Onagawa, Nobutaka Azumi, then the mayor, proposed a reconstruction plan that seemed sensible enough: consolidate the villages. Having just a few centralized communities would save the town money, Mr. Azumi said, and perhaps increase their chances of long-term survival.
But the village elders fought back, saying they wanted the government to rebuild their ancestral villages so that they could spend their last years there. Younger residents, many of whom supported consolidation but were vastly outnumbered, were left grumbling among themselves.
After the mayor persisted, he was pushed out of office by Mr. Suda, who was backed by opponents of consolidation. Mr. Suda now says that all the villages will be rebuilt, including a hamlet with just 22 inhabitants and an island village whose residents are on average 74 years old.
“There were 15 locations, so there will be 15 locations,” Mr. Suda said. “We’re moving forward under the premise that there will be no centralization, though I’m thinking of asking them one last time if this is really O.K., whether their young relatives are in agreement.”