The G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors' Meeting is scheduled to be held in Sendai from May 20 through May 21.
During the two-day meeting at Hotel Sakan in the famed Akiu hot spring resort in a suburb of the Miyagi Prefecture capital, finance ministers and central bank governors are expected to discuss topics ranging from macroeconomic policy surveillance, the international finance system, development to emerging market economies.
Influential figures from international bodies such as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank president are also slated to attend the Sendai meeting.
Held about a week before the G7 Ise-Shima summit in Mie Prefecture, the gathering carries gravity as it would lay groundwork for the summit in terms of topics of global economy and trade.
For Sendai, there are three purposes the city wants to achieve through hosting this internationally high-profile event; expressing gratitude for the support it received after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011; showcasing the charm of the city and the Tohoku region, including their recovery progress from the massive disaster; and further promoting the Miyagi capital as an international convention city.
"We'd like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for the support we received from around the world after the Great East Japan Earthquake," Sendai Mayor Emiko Okuyama said.
The G7 countries are among those who extended a helping hand. An Italian school presented violins and violas, which are now used by the Sendai Junior Orchestra, while Britain's Prince William paid a visit to Ishinomaki and Onagawa in the prefecture in March last year, providing encouraging words to the disaster victims.
The U.S. military in Japan joined in activities to clean up Sendai Airport, which was hit by tsunami, as part of their disaster relief mission, while France supported the revival of oyster farming in the Sanriku area and Canada helped build the Canada-Tohoku Friendship Pavilion, Maple Hall, in Natori.
For Germany's contribution, Frankfurt donated about ¥25 million, which was used to reconstruct Madoka, a welfare center for the disabled, in Sendai, while the EU's Netherlands donated bulbs of a new variety of tulip named TOHOKU to the city.
Mayor Okuyama also hoped the Sendai meeting would be a springboard for the city and the entire region to develop further by dispelling harmful rumors that stemmed from the disasters and increasing the number of international visitors, as well as encouraging more investment.
"We aim to show the world the reconstruction of Sendai and the Tohoku region five years after the disasters in addition to a variety of charms of Tohoku such as its rich history, culture, food, industries and hot springs."
Since the 2011 disasters, Sendai has steadily promoted reconstruction, which finance ministers, central bank governors and relevant officials are expected to observe during their visit.
The city has embarked on boosting disaster prevention with the idea of "building back better," featuring reconstruction efforts aiming to rebuild areas and facilities that are more resistant to natural hazards than before the disasters hit.
In a bid to reduce potential damage from large tsunami in the eastern part of Sendai, the city has implemented several preventive measures, including a plan to raise the height of the Shiogama-Watari Line prefectural road in addition to other roads, which would serve as breakwaters.
On the energy front, the city launched a laboratory for an algal biomass development project in April 2013 at the disaster-stricken Minami-Gamo Wastewater Treatment Plant in a coastal area of Miyagino Ward, in collaboration with the University of Tsukuba and Tohoku University. The project aims to introduce a recycling system turning sewage treatment plants into energy-producing facilities.
Visiting the wastewater treatment plant is included in the itinerary for the finance ministers and central bank governors on the first day of the meeting, which enables them to observe reconstruction efforts by the city firsthand. They are also scheduled to visit the now-closed Arahama Elementary School in coastal areas of Wakabayashi Ward. The public elementary school was heavily affected by the 2011 tsunami and its building will be preserved as a reminder of the disasters.
The G7 meeting in Sendai adds another honor to the list of an already impressive track record of holding major international conferences.
To name a few, Sendai hosted the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction last year, which had around 6,500 participants; the third Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Senior Officials' Meeting III in 2010, which had about 950 attendees; and the first Asia Parks Congress in 2013, which had some 800 participants.
With not only hot spring resorts equipped with facilities suitable for international conferences, but also the Sendai International Center convention hall and a number of hotels capable of hosting large gatherings, Sendai hopes to shore up its reputation as a top-class international convention city by successfully holding this event.
In the meantime, the city launched a public-private committee in August in an effort to support the preparations for the meeting, foster a momentum of welcoming and send information about Sendai and Tohoku. The committee is comprised of relevant entities including the Miyagi Prefectural Government, Miyagi Prefectural Police, local economic communities, parties engaged in accommodation and transportation and the people of the Akiu district.
The committee has held several briefing sessions for the convenience of Akiu residents earlier this year, while the Finance Ministry — with the support of the committee — had an explanatory meeting for the G7 embassies in April.
To create the welcoming mood among Sendai residents, the committee has conducted various events and projects. In a project dubbed "Thank You to the World," area residents were invited in October and November to write words of thanks in various languages in appreciation of support after the disasters. The committee shot pictures of them holding their messages, which are exhibited throughout the meeting.
The committee also held events called "Cafe Summits" in January and February, in which participants enjoyed talks by speakers from six G7 countries and learned a variety of cultures.
Besides such approaches to area residents, the committee has also made promotional efforts overseas. One instance was that for the emperor's birthday receptions at the Japanese embassies in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. last year, the committee provided brochures of the Sendai meeting. Another was that reporters from foreign media outlets were invited in March to get to know about the Sendai and Akiu hot springs area.
In terms of addressing communication in English, the committee has strived to nurture personnel with such skills in light of an expected increase in the number of international visitors.
The committee offered English lessons for taxi and bus drivers so they can conduct basic conversations when they serve international customers. Furthermore, 130 Sendai residents are registered as language volunteers and will be dispatched at various locations during the G7 meeting.
For those international visitors to the Akiu hot spring district, the committee set up information boards featuring multiple languages at several locations such as the Akiu Sato Center (tourist information center), Akiu Traditional Craft Village and Akiu Otaki Falls. In addition, newly created English maps of Akiu are available at facilities, including hotels there.
During the two-day meeting, information booths are set to be in place at Sendai Station, Sendai Airport, Hotel Sakan and the press center at the Iwanumaya hotel.
For journalists covering the event, the committee has planned to welcome them by holding the G7 Akiu Festival at Akiu Sato Center on the night of May 20. The event enables them to experience local culture and tradition such as wadaiko Japanese drumming and the carrying of portable shrines by area residents. Guests are expected to be served notable local dishes including gyutan grilled beef tongue, handmade soba noodles, sake and whisky produced at local distilleries.
Furthermore, a free study tour and an excursion has been planned for meeting attendees and media personnel from May 18 through 22.
Lasting about three to four hours, the study tour takes participants to disaster-hit spots such as the Minami-Gamo Wastewater Treatment Plant and Arahama Elementary School to observe reconstruction efforts by the city and consider disaster prevention.
There are three kinds of excursions, one of which takes about an hour to experience traditional craft making at the Akiu Traditional Craft Village. Another 90-minute excursion takes participants to enjoy the Akiu Otaki Falls and traditional rural landscape in the Akiu area. In the other excursion, participants spend a couple of hours visiting famous spots, including the Sendai Castle Ruins, at which finance ministers and central bank governors are scheduled to take commemorative photos, and the Sendai Mediatheque public facility combining library and art gallery functions, which was designed by famed architect Toyo Ito.