Australian Embassy

Australia and Japan - relationships for the future: Tohoku, a case study

5 February 2015


Good afternoon everyone, my name is Bruce Miller and I am the Australian Ambassador to Japan. It’s a great pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank Professor Seaton and the Hokkaido University Modern Japanese Studies Program for inviting me to speak here today. I’ve been asked to talk about Australia’s role in the efforts to rebuild and reconstruct the Tohoku area after the disaster of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

But while I will talk about Tohoku, I want to say how pleased to be in Hokkaido. We have a good relationship – Consulate, trade and investment, food ingredients, horses, lots of Australia tourists and a growing university-to-university relationship.


1. Basic facts about Australia

First, let me just briefly give you some background information about Australia, and about our relationship with Japan.

As I’m sure you know, Australia is located in the southern hemisphere, meaning it’s now the middle of summer. The climate varies from city to city, but there was one area in Western Australia which recently recorded a temperature of 50 degrees! It’s hard to imagine that as I stand here today in snowy Sapporo.

Australia is the world’s largest island, and the only country which is also a continent and is roughly the same size as the United States. In fact, the small island state of Tasmania at the south-east of Australia is actually a little bigger than Hokkaido.

Because the country is so large and covers so many climatic zones, we can have a drought in one area, floods in another, and snow storms in another, all on the same day. Our hot dry summer means wildfires, known as “bushfires”, are frequent events. I would say that Australians’ attitudes towards bushfires are similar to the Japanese mindset toward earthquakes. We are always prepared for the risk of bushfires, and ready to respond when they occur.

Despite our country’s large area, Australia’s population is only about 23 million, or 20% of the population of Japan. But 40 years ago was 12million and 10 % of Japan’s. And by 2040 will be one-third. Our population is growing.

In Australia – like Japan – we are lucky to enjoy safe cities and a high quality of life. The United Nations measures the richness of the lifestyles of people from around the world using something called the ‘Human Development Index’. Australia currently ranks second on this index, after Norway.

Australian cities have received similar recognition.
World-famous British journal the Economist has ranked Melbourne as the world’s most liveable city for four years in a row. And if we look at the top ten cities in this ranking, four of them are Australian cities.

Like Hokkaido, Australia has a significant indigenous population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have lived in Australia for more than 40,000 years.
But today, one quarter of the people living in Australia were born overseas. Australian people have roots in 200 countries from around the world. As you can imagine, this means we have a diverse range of cultures and ideas.

Our tradition, our values , and our political institutions work to make sure the people of Australia, who have such different cultures and backgrounds, can live together in prosperity. These values are: democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and human rights and tolerances – values and interests which are shared by Japan.


2. Australia-Japan relations

The Australia-Japan relationship is a close, longstanding relationship, and I’m confident saying it is in great shape.

Indeed, during Prime Minister Abbott’s visit to Japan last April, he and Prime Minister Abe affirmed their intention to further strengthen this friendship and elevate our strategic partnership to a ‘new special relationship’ based on common values and interests. Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Australia in July last year highlighted the continued importance of the bilateral economic partnership to both sides.

It also demonstrated the strength and breadth of our bilateral links in a range of other areas, including science and education, culture and the arts, and people-to-people links. In fact, in almost every field, the interests of our two countries overlap.


3. Tohoku support from Australia

A year which truly demonstrated the strength of our friendship was 2011, when both our countries dealt with natural disasters.

In January 2011, the north-eastern state of Queensland experienced a devastating flood disaster. Japanese businesses and ordinary Japanese citizens rushed to donate money to Australian charities. And Japan provided Australia with a great deal of support, for which we are truly thankful.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on 11 March, the Australian Government was quick to respond. It donated around 900 million yen to the Australian Red Cross Japan and Pacific Disaster Appeal. We also sent a 76-member Urban Search and Rescue Team to the town of Minami Sanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, to search for survivors there. A Royal Australian Air Force C-17 jet transported more than 500 tonnes of relief stores, food, water and personnel around Japan. A further two aircraft transported specialised pumping equipment to help bring the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant under control. Important point – Japan’s SDF do not have airlift capability of this sort. So our support actually made a difference (A problem is always in coordinating disaster assistance – not too much of one thing).

Our prime minister at the time Julia Gillard visited Minami Sanriku in April 2011, and was the first foreign leader to visit after the disaster. She announced that the Government would donate a large food package to Minami Sanriku during her visit. A charity dinner at the time of her visit raised about 19 million yen for Tohoku.

The Australian public and Australian businesses were also deeply moved by the events of 2011, and they gave generously. Save the Children Australia and World Vision Australia were able to get on the ground in Tohoku almost immediately, after the disasters, providing assistance to those affected by distributing food, clean water, warm clothing and blankets and helping to clean evacuation centres.

It is a tribute to the strong people-to-people links between our two countries that the Australian community, including those living in Japan, donated around 2 billion yen through the Red Cross appeal. And many Australians travelled to Tohoku to volunteer in local communities.

A ‘Team Australia’ perspective drives our support for the reconstruction of Tohoku.

That is, the Australian Government, businesses, NGOs, and citizens are united as one team, to work towards helping Tohoku once again to become a successful, thriving region of Japan.
Once emergency relief and search and rescue efforts in Tohoku subsided, Australia turned its efforts towards helping with the long-term recovery of the region and supporting the people who survived the disaster.

We have formed particular connections with the town of Minami Sanriku in Miyagi, which was where our search and rescue team was deployed, and Iitate, a town in Fukushima Prefecture. For example, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Brett Mason visited Minami Sanriku in October 2013 to show Australia’s continued support for the area’s reconstruction.

I’d like to introduce some of the activities we have conducted in Tohoku to date.

Recovery market

Soon after the tsunami, more than 60 Australians (and honorary Australians) visited Minami Sanriku one weekend to help the locals at their monthly 'recovery market'. The recovery market, which gives locals and others an opportunity to sell food, crafts and other goods, was designed to attract visitors back to Minami Sanriku and help the local economy. The Australians – including staff from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo and members of the expatriate community – set up a 'sausage sizzle' and sold Australian cakes called lamingtons and Australian wine and juice. All proceeds were donated back to the town.

Leaders’ visit to Australia

Some months later, we invited community leaders from the Tohoku region to travel to Australia to share their experiences of disaster recovery / to learn from one another. Minami Sanriku Mayor Jin Sato and Iitate Village Council Chair Chohei Sato visited the area of Queensland that was badly damaged by the floods. They met Australian leaders and residents affected by the disaster. As Iitate is a producer of premium beef cattle, the leaders also visited a nearby beef farm to share knowledge and experiences.

Minami Sanriku school visit program

Taking care of children affected by the disaster is central to the success of recovery efforts. That is why Australia has also supported a program of school visits designed to send students from Minami Sanriku to Australia. Study tours took place in March 2012, 2013, and 2014. The fourth will be held in August this year.
Groups of about 20 or 30 junior high students attend classes at schools in Australia for about a week. They stay with host families and are given opportunities for sightseeing and other cultural activities. Each year the students have come back very enthusiastic, and the number of applicants is increasing each year as younger students hear about the experience from their sempai.

Mobile library

Another Australian effort to support youth in the disaster-struck areas was a mobile library service, which we donated to the residents of Iitate, who were evacuated to Iino, Fukushima. It was partially funded by a Queensland High School which has a strong connection to Japan through a long-term student exchange program. We have been told that the mobile library gave residents of Iino somewhere to congregate and talk, and helped to bring the community closer together.

Koala House

In February 2013, a facility was opened in Minami Sanriku called the “Minami Sanriku Town Australia Friendship Learning Centre”, affectionately known as Koala House. It was the first non-temporary public facility built in the town after the disaster, and was funded by a private sector contributor – one of a largest companies, the Australia and New Zealand Bank.

Australia House

A facility for the arts was also born as part of Australia’s efforts to help with the recovery in Tohoku.
Australia House in Niigata Prefecture has become a base for exchange between Japan and Australia. Its design includes galleries and residential space for Australian artists to stay, work and exhibit, and allows collaborative projects between Japanese and Australians. The original Australia House was destroyed in a powerful aftershock that his Niigata on 12 March 2011, and the Australia House Reconstruction Project was launched soon after that. Based on the concept of 'reasonable, robust and small' hazard-resistant construction, an international competition for the building's design was launched. A Sydney architect Andrew Burns was chosen as the winner. The design takes into consideration environmental sustainability and natural disaster-prevention, and reflects a merging of Japanese and Australian culture.


Arts-led projects like our “Jazz Journey” project have been a powerful tool in the recovery process. After the essentials of food and temporary shelter have been secured, and communities are trying to reconnect, music is a good way to reflect on what has happened, and to express what they have been through in ways that sometimes words cannot do. Every year since 2011, the we have organised visits to Tohoku by prominent Australian jazz musicians with the aim of helping build a new sense of community, reducing feelings of isolation, helping people develop new personal and creative skills, and creating a shared sense of hope and optimism. The musicians have performed for local schools and in community festivals, sharing their love of music with people in the region. The visits have been very well-received, particularly by school students.

Oyster harvesting

When the tsunami came, it decimated the Tohoku oyster industry with many farmers losing their lives, family members, and livelihoods. 98% of the industry’s infrastructure, including oyster rafts, work facilities and oyster culture beds were lost. However, even prior to the tsunami, the industry was in trouble. Japan is a large oyster producer, but most of the farmers use traditional methods that produce low value produce, and hence annual earnings of a coastal fishery household are only 190,000 yen per month.
Australia-Japan oyster linkages go back seventy years. In fact, the Pacific Oyster, a popular variety produced in Australia, originally came from Japan.

Because of these ties, and because Australia has now become the world leader, in 2013 we sought to identify how Australia could contribute to the reconstruction of the oyster industry in Tohoku. We consulted with local farmers and fishery associations and found that the Tohoku industry was seeking to modernise its techniques, increase the quality of its product, and become a viable industry in the future.

To help farmers rebuild the aquaculture industry, Australian Government and business collaborated to introduce Australian expertise and technology into the Tohoku region. For example, we hosted an Australian Oyster Culture Technology Seminar in Ishinomaki, in February 2014 which was attended by around 100 oyster farmers. One Japanese industry leader described this event as a ‘turning point’ in the region’s reconstruction. The farmers were interested to hear how Australia overcame challenges similar to those that the farmers were facing – an ageing population, unstable income and gruelling work. They heard about Australian technologies which have automated and increased efficiency. Then in June 2014, we took 12 Japanese oyster farmers to Tasmania, including three from Miyagi Prefecture. The four-day program enabled delegates to work on Australian farms to experience for themselves what Australian technologies could do for them in practice.

I’m pleased to say that trials of Australian culture methods are now being conducted in several oyster production regions as a direct result of these efforts.

MLA scholarship program

Another way Australian farmers have been able to share their farming knowledge with their Japanese colleagues in Tohoku, and build closer people-to-people relationships, is through Meat and Livestock Australia’s “Together in Japan” program. In 2014, Australia’s association of cattle, sheep and goat producers launched a scholarship program for farmers in Tohoku. Five students from Tohoku went to Australia to study English and farming, gaining skills and experiences that are sure to shape their futures.

Future Embassy support projects

In 2015, Australia will continue to support the people of Tohoku. In August, children from around Tohoku, including Minami Sanriku, will again go to Queensland on a study tour.

Well-known Australian children’s theatre company ‘Polyglot’ who performed in Tohoku in 2011 and 2013 will visit once again, holding a creative workshop to create a giant walk through manga comic book. This public installation will be made by the community in Minami Sanriku and available for everyone to enjoy.

On the Oshika Peninsula, we have a project in collaboration with the School of Art and Design at the University of Tsukuba, which will investigate innovative approaches to aquaculture, agriculture and forestry.

We will send people from Momonoura in the Oshika Peninsula to Tasmania to investigate ways tourism can assist rural communities become sustainable.

And in March, the Australian Minister for Justice will attend the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, to discuss ways to manage disaster risk.

Such international cooperation will improve livelihoods, biodiversity and human well-being not only in Tohoku, but around the world.

Challenges for Tohoku support

Now of course, there are challenges in any project.

The main one for Australia is how to make our support for Tohoku sustainable over the long term. We know that the recovery of Tohoku will be a lengthy process.

Our programs have moved from immediate aid and assistance, to rebuilding, and now move into a new third phase of public-private partnerships, working with and through private companies and organisations. For example, our student visit program will now be conducted in partnership with a non-profit organisation, Support Our Kids, an expert in student exchange programs.

However, I believe the surest way to aid recovery in Tohoku is to improve the region’s economic growth and prosperity.

For this reason, I attended a promotional ‘buy and support’ event last week hosted by Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori, with Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Koya Nishikawa and Reconstruction Minister Wataru Takeshita.

Australia was one of the first to lift all restrictions on Japanese food imports, and with the Ambassadors of Canada, New Zealand and the U.K, I visited this shop which promotes Fukushima produce, to show Australia’s support for its farmers and citizens.

I have to say, their onigiri and ginjoshu sake were absolutely delicious.


4. Two recent moves in the Australia-Japan relationship


As I mentioned at the start, Australia and Japan have enjoyed a strong two-way trade relationship since 1957 when the Agreement of Commerce was signed.
To elevate this economic relationship to an even higher level, and with the aim of improving Japan’s economic growth and prosperity as a whole, in July last year, we signed a treaty called the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, which we call JAEPA, entered into force on 15th January, 2015.

When products are imported to Japan from another country, a tax called a tariff is added to the cost of the item. This is paid for by the importing company. JAEPA will promote business between Japan and Australia, by reducing these tariffs, and creating better environments for direct investment.

I’d like to share an interesting piece of data here. 40 per cent of the beef imported to Japan from Australia is produced at farms that are owned or partly-owned by Japanese companies. So, Japanese companies produce beef in Australia, bring that beef to Japan, and sell it to the Japanese market. JAEPA will increase the number of cases like this, where Japanese companies do business in Australia and bring their products back to Japan.

JAEPA officially came into force last month, so you can also expect to see cheaper prices at the supermarket for things from Australia like beef, cheese, fruit and vegetables, ice cream, and wine.

As I mentioned, Australia’s seasons are opposite to Japan’s, so it is summer in Australia now. So that means that you will be able to buy summer fruits and vegetables in Japan in the winter.

And we can also think about JAEPA within a bigger picture, looking at the Asia-Pacific region and the entire world. Many developing countries are struggling to secure food sources, and JAEPA will strengthen Japan’s food security program. JAEPA will also benefit Japan in terms of energy security.

One example in which JAEPA will benefit the Tohoku region is through the reduction to tariffs on Japanese cars. The Toyota group established Toyota Motor East Japan in Tohoku in July 2012 as part of its efforts to support Tohoku. The company built factories in Miyagi and Iwate and has been strengthening links to suppliers in Tohoku. From 1 January this year, ahead of the entry into force of JAEPA, Toyota Australia lowered the price of its imported cars from Japan by an average of $8,000 or around 800,000 yen. This means JAEPA has created an opportunity for Toyota to boost their sales in Australia. If more Japanese cars are sold in Australia, this is likely to increase demand for manufacture in Japan, including in Tohoku.
Trade liberation fuels economic growth. And the TPP – if agreed, and where Australia and japan are both participating in –will take this further.

New Colombo Plan

In addition to the strong economic links between Australia and Japan, we also enjoy strong people-to-people links.

Many of these involve our sister city and sister state scheme, and the many study abroad programs our students take part in.

From the 1950s to the 1980s Australia executed a program called the Colombo Plan, which brought foreign students to study in Australia.

In 2014 the New Colombo Plan was launched. This works in the opposite way, and means young people of Australia are sent to study in the Indo-Pacific region.

By the way, do you know what foreign language is the most studied in Australia? That’s right, it is Japanese.

There are several Australian exchange students here at Hokkaido University, and I enjoyed meeting Amelie and Max earlier today. Around 360,000 students study Japanese from primary to tertiary level, which ranks Australia fourth in the world in terms of the number of Japanese learners.

There is also a great deal of exchange between Japanese and Australian schools.

The New Colombo Plan is a scholarship program which provides university students with money so they can study in countries in and around Asia. By doing this, they are able to learn about the region and its culture, and gain knowledge and skills that will help them in the future. Last year, more than 450 Australian students came to Japan under the New Colombo Plan, and we expect even more this year.

We are happy that 13 Japan Exchange Teachers or JETs are living and working in prefectures of Tohoku and of course in Hokkaido this year.

We hope that many of these Australian students will contribute to the recovery effort in Tohoku while they are here, through volunteer activities and by interacting with people from the region to further strengthen the bond our countries share.


4. Conclusion

I am pleased to be able to say that, as a true friend would, Australia supported Tohoku in its recovery after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. This cooperation was multifaceted, and included the Government, Australian business, regional authorities, and community groups. We focussed our efforts on the town of Minami Sanriku believing that it would be most beneficial to concentrate on helping one area rebuild. As the recovery effort progressed in Tohoku, we have shifted to address the next challenge – long-term, sustainable restoration. We are working together to create student programs to invest in human resources.
We are developing cultural exchange programs to promote people-to-people links.

And we are collaborating to improve economic growth and stability in the region by finding technology and innovative solutions to address long-term structural problems.

I am delighted to have been able to give this speed on Australia-japan relationship, focusing on Tohoku reconstruction and to do so in Hokkaido.

Australia is Japan’s friend and partner, and will always remain so.