Raising awareness of the ILC among the people of Japan is the remaining challenge

The original article was published in the Tanko Nichinichi (May 13th edition). Read the original here.

The Japanese government will have to make an indication this year about whether it wishes to host the International Linear Collider (to be sited in the Kitakami mountains of Iwate.) However, the people of Japan still lack an awareness and understanding of the project. People involved with the project consider this to be “the last remaining issue.” They have been putting effort into using social media and the internet to increase awareness, but it may not be easy to gain recognition from the people of Japan in the half-year remaining (until Japan must make its decision).

On the afternoon of March 10th, the Tohoku ILC Promotion Council held their general meeting in a Sendai City hotel. Around 200 people were in attendance, including researchers and officials from local governments.

This general meeting, which takes place once a year, saw governors from both Iwate and Miyagi, and mayors from municipalities surrounding the Kitakami site get on stage in a ceremony to express their commitment to getting a decision on the ILC. The speeches this year had an awareness that we are in a very critical year for the ILC. Kimiaki Toda, the mayor of Ofunato City and who has taken over a councilor role this year in the promotion council, said that they were positioning the Ofunato port as a hub for receiving parts for the ILC, and vowed, “I hope to cooperate to the fullest in making the ILC a reality.”

In the special seminar following the meeting, Professor Satoru Yamashita (ICEPP of University of Tokyo) gave a report on the current status of the ILC in Japan. He stressed that much of the work was proceeding at a good, steady pace, such as discussions at the administrative level with the US and Europe, and creating plans to develop the area to receive the ILC.

However, the largest hurdle to be cleared is getting the people of Japan to be aware of the project. Prof. Yamashita said, “In order to get a positive answer from the Japanese government within the year, we need the support of all of society.”

On April 16th, a press conference was held for the ILC Supporters, a group created by Mamoru Oshii, the director of Ghost in the Shell and other hits. Video game directors, voice actors, and other famous people not otherwise related to science have joined together to grow awareness of the ILC. Fellow director Koji Morimoto designed a sticker which fellow supporters can put on things to show their support. They put those pictures on social media to help spread the word about the ILC.

These stickers were passed out at the Tohoku ILC Promotion Council general meeting, where there was a corner set up for photos. Oshu City Mayor Masaki Ozawa and Ichinoseki Mayor Osamu Katsube put the stickers on the back of their hands, took photos, and quickly posted them online.

Officials are working very hard as we approach the time limit for the ILC. However, the general public and media are focused on controversies surrounding the current national government, the situation with North Korea, and scandals in the entertainment world. It will certainly be a daunting task to raise awareness of the ILC in such a short amount of time. Even in Iwate and Miyagi, which have been working to bring about the ILC since before the 2011 disaster, has different levels of awareness among cities that are directly part of the candidate site, and cities that are not.

Dr. Atsuto Suzuki, president of Iwate Prefectural University and director of the Tohoku ILC Preparation Office, knows that this will not be an easy task, taking account the current political environment in Japan. However, he looks to the future: “Rather, it is because we are in this situation that we need a project like the ILC to revive Japan. I hope to do all I can to make the ILC a reality.”