Recently the BC Wood Japan office welcomed some special guests to Japan: BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thompson and the Federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver. Working with our Canada Wood partners in Japan we arranged visits for Minister Thompson to see a large concrete building using over 1000m3 of wood in finishing applications, a large importer of WRC products, a senior’s home being built in 2×4, a pre-cut plant using hem-fir, the Tokyo Lumber Terminal, two temporary housing projects that were built with Canadian materials, and Sendai Port. Minister Oliver was also able to join some of these stops while also taking part in a customer appreciation dinner in Sendai for companies operating in the earthquake affected region.
The main event for the combined Ministerial Mission was a joint press conference in Tokyo to announce $4.5 million in funding to construct wood framed buildings in the tsunami devastated region of Tohoku as a part of Canada’s earthquake relief efforts. As the location of the project and the type of facility to be built has yet to be decided, we took Minister Thompson to the coastal towns of Onagawa (90% destroyed) and Minami-Sanrikucho (95% destroyed). Meeting with the mayors and other officials the Minister was able to learn about the magnitude of the tsunami as well as scale of the human tragedy. One story that will be hard to forget was about how the Mayor of Minami-Sanrikucho and 9 colleagues survived by hanging on to a steel fence on the roof as the tsunami crashed over and submerged them. Sadly the other 50 workers at city hall were not as lucky and perished in the deadly wave.
Town officials were overjoyed by the news of Canada’s proposed donation and were quick to suggest ideas on the types of buildings that are needed. The Minister was also told that all of the homeless survivors were now in temporary housing units so the next major issue for this area is to rebuild their industries/economies. Until there are local employment opportunities, people will not be able to return to normal daily life. This is an important point that we will have to keep in mind as we review possible projects to be built with the Canadian donation.
Talking with both companies in Tohoku and other parts of Japan recently, it seems that the reconstruction efforts in the north are creating a shortage of carpenters across the country. The scarcity of workers and resulting higher labour costs are leading builders to look at importing wall panels as a part of house packages. The same phenomenon was seen after the Kobe earthquake with Japanese companies importing large numbers of house packages as well as North American carpenters.
As reconstruction is picking up speed, the BC Wood Japan office is now beginning to focus on the March Nikkei Show with this unique situation in mind. That show will give members a great opportunity to get involved with reconstruction projects and also benefit from the overall strength of the Japanese housing market.