Mayor of Yokohama City Fumiko Hayashi has an illustrious career. Armed only with a high school diploma, she became the CEO of one of Japan's biggest supermarket chains (Daiei) after selling BMWs as the president of BMW Tokyo.
Her motto as the mayor - "Sympathy and trust in government".
She didn't count on having a major nuclear accident on her second year in office, but here it is, and what has her city administration done to deal with the crisis?
Tokyo Shinbun conducted the exclusive interview with the mayor and reported on August 31 in its Kanagawa local version:
Mayor Fumiko Hayashi (age 65) has agreed to speak with the paper on the 2-year anniversary of her mayorship in Yokohama City. About the city's response to radiation issues arising from the nuclear plant accident, "We have appealed safety for Yokohama. I think we've done our best". About the construction of the new city hall building, she thinks "Upgrade of the Ward Offices should have the priority".
- What have you achieved in the two years in office?
37% reduction of the number of children on the waiting list at the city-approved nursery schools has been achieved. Telephone consultation for obstetrics and the 24-hour hot-line for emergency pediatrics have been set up, resulting in substantial improvement in medical environment. I hope city residents are pleased.
- Beef from cows that had been fed with contaminated feed was served in elementary school lunches. Some criticize the city for being "behind the curve" on the problem.
I don't think so. What we feared most was the spread of vague fear of radiation. We thought it necessary to spread the correct information and knowledge, and we focused on that. Excessive reaction would cause anxiety among city residents. We have to avoid "baseless rumors".
- About the construction of the new city hall?
The city hall is is 50-year-old and deteriorating. Rooms are too small, and departments are housed in different private buildings leading to a lower quality of service for the residents. We absolutely must have the new city hall. Our goal is to come up with the base plan by the fiscal 2013. However, the priority should go to the earthquake retrofit of the Special Ward Offices. During the earthquake of March 11, there were some Ward Offices whose service was interrupted because of fallen bookshelves.
- What are the challenges?
Because of the baseless rumors (of the nuclear plant accident), the number of (foreign) tourists to Yokohama has dropped dramatically. We want them back. Yokohama is full of tourism resources but they are not fully utilized. Yokohama hasn't yet been fully developed as tourist destination. I would like to increase the contents of various arts.
Her idea of correct information about radioactive beef served in schools was to repeat over and over again that she firmly believed it was safe because "it was sold in the market". When the news of potentially contaminated cows reached her, she apparently said "it's only the surface, and inside (meat) is OK". After the cesium beef was actually discovered, the usual "no health effect" mantra was repeated.
In addition to the big construction project (City Hall), she is also doing a small "upgrade" of her official residence, to the tune of $220,000, paid for by Yokohama residents.
It would never occur to her (as it hasn't to most of the country) that the best way to have foreign tourists back again is to deal with radiation and radiation contamination issues openly, with numbers. No one would be willing to risk their health no matter how people like her scream "It's safe, it is below the national provisional safety limit, no effect on health, if you worry you'll get radiation disease".
In Mayor Hayashi's case, if Yokohama has a lively art scene, foreign tourists will flock to the city.
(Well, young Chinese couples may still come, thinking they would conceive boys. )
A fish rots from the head, and the head is still very important in a place like Japan where many ordinary people still look up to the top for leadership, wisdom, knowledge, or whatever virtue they think the "leaders" possess.