Disaster hardship comparisons

A Massey University student has returned from a trip to parts of Japan ravaged by last year's earthquake and tsunami with plans to draw comparisons between political handling of the 2011 disaster and Christchurch's own earthquake.

Rebecca Butler this week returned from a Japanese government-funded trip as part of its Kizuna, or bond, project.

Ms Butler, who is studying foreign policy and Japanese language, was one of nine Massey students and 68 New Zealanders who spent 10 days this month visiting the Tohoku and Kita Kanto regions devastated in Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster last year.

Ms Butler said the force of the economic blow the disaster dealt the country was visible in the refugee settlements surrounding the Fukushima Prefecture.

The area was struck by a 15-metre tsunami which compromised a nuclear power plant's reactors, forcing evacuations.

Conversations with people there revealed they were struggling to make ends meet with few jobs, and business was slumping as people did not want to buy things produced in the area for fear of radioactive contamination, Ms Butler said.

"Because of those negative views they were having difficulty coping economically.

"People don't want to go there," she said.

Tsunami refugees were given a government allowance equivalent to US$10,000 (NZ$12,066) a month per household but still struggled as they had fled with little but the clothes on their backs, not realising their evacuation was permanent.

"All those refugees lost their homes and possessions and were looking for jobs."

Ms Butler said the mood was optimistic. "It was actually really hopeful, which I thought was interesting . . . they had a positive attitude that things would change."

While in Japan she was accepted on an exchange programme with Kyoto University, and will be heading back in August next year to take up the four-month placement.

Ms Butler has begun independent research into the political factors around the disaster's aftermath and hopes to draw comparisons with last year's devastating Christchurch earthquake as part of her Masters degree in politics.

Manawatu Standard