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Economy

Kyushu quakes hit Japan's broader economy

Some of the cars of this bullet train, which was not running at the time, were derailed by Thursday night's big preshock. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

TOKYO -- Two powerful earthquakes and a series of aftershocks in the Kumamoto region on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan have cut air, road and rail services, causing wider disruption to the country's already sluggish economy.

     The quakes and aftershocks have halted parts deliveries, forcing even factories left untouched to suspend operations, at least for the coming week. They have also brought tourism -- one of the economy's few bright spots -- to a standstill.

     When a second deadly earthquake hit the area in the predawn hours of Saturday -- following a temblor on Thursday night -- it dislodged ceiling panels in the terminal building of Kumamoto Airport. The terminal was unable to operate on Saturday. All flights to and from Kumamoto were canceled; some 6,000 passengers were affected.

     Shinkansen lines in Kyushu, as Japan's southern region is known, had already been shut down since Thursday night.

     It has not been determined when these transportation services will restart.

     The lack of transportation has already begun affecting the region's manufacturing activities. Kyushu accounts for more than 10% of the country's car production, or about 1.3 million units. Toyota Motor makes its high-end Lexuses in Fukuoka Prefecture. Its Kyushu factory was forced to suspend operations on Saturday when parts failed to arrive.

     Mitsubishi Motors, meanwhile, has decided it will halt production at its Mizushima Plant, in Okayama Prefecture, not far from Kyushu. The suspension will begin on Monday night and run through Tuesday. A partner factory in Kumamoto has been damaged by the earthquakes.

     Sony on Thursday suspended operations at a semiconductor plant in Kikuyo, Kumamoto Prefecture. The factory, a major hub, makes image sensors that go into cameras and smartphones.

     Renesas Electronics' Kawashiri Factory, in Kumamoto, also has been shut since Thursday. The continuing aftershocks are preventing workers from entering the plant to check for damage. 

     All the rumbling is also preventing Honda Motor employees from inspecting a motorcycle plant in Ozu, Kumamoto. The automaker has decided it will suspend operations on Monday.

     A factory of an Aisin Seiki subsidiary in Kumamoto, where car engine parts are made, has also suffered damage. Toyota Motor Kyushu and Nissan Motor Kyushu, both of which procure parts from the Aisin subsidiary, halted operations on Saturday.    

     As for tourism, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday instructed its citizens not to visit Kumamoto Prefecture until May 16. It also advised travelers to carefully deliberate before going anywhere in the Kyushu region.

     According to the Yonhap News Agency, Hana Tour, South Korea's leading travel agency, has decided to cancel all Kyushu-bound tours from South Korea beginning Sunday. The cancellations will last at least through Tuesday.

     The Kyushu region is geographically close to other Asian nations and is gaining popularity among foreign tourists. According to the Kyushu District Transport Bureau, the number of foreign arrivals to Japan through Kyushu grew 69% in 2015 to some 2.83 million, the fourth annual record in a row. South Koreans accounted for about 40% of these arrivals, with another 30% coming from elsewhere in Asia.

     At least 15 tourist accommodations have been damaged by the earthquakes, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. And popular sightseeing spots in the region, including Kumamoto Castle, have at least partially crumbled.

(Nikkei)

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