Build Back Better Tohoku

Nov 7, 2012

Special Update: Limited time to double donations!


The Japan Matching Campaign ends in just a few short days!  Please help us by donating now to double your donation in helping Architecture for Humanity with our efforts to Build Back Better Tohoku!

Again, all donations will be doubled (matched 100% by Global Giving) until November 15 11:59pm EST or until matching funds run out.  This means that if you donate $25, another $25 will donated to us by Global Giving.  Please take this special opportunity to double your impact during this limited time!

Please also help us spread the word - tell your friends, family, and colleagues, make phone calls, send emails, post on facebook, tweet on twitter, etc.  Here are some sample tweets:

  • Donations DOUBLED (matched 100%) for a limited time! Help @archforhumanity #BuildBackBetter #Tohoku by donating today!
  • Don't miss this chance to DOUBLE your donation & help @archforhumanity help #Tohoku #BuildBackBetter! Spread the word!
  • 8 days left to DOUBLE your donation!  #Tohoku still needs your help. Help @archforhumanity help #Tohoku. Donate today!

You can share it in a fun way too!  One idea is to host a donation dinner party, where you have a computer set up to have friends give donations on the spot!

Any amount is greatly appreciated, as it helps us ensure that we continue helping Tohoku Build Back Better.

kitakami ridgepole raising ceremony   maeamihama foundation prep   banya near completion

Because Architecture for Humanity is often one of the last responders in the event of a disaster, our activities are now ramping up!

With your generous support, we have been able to work on a number of projects in the Tohoku region.  These have been specifically focused in the areas of Economic Development, Access to Sports, and Education and Welfare. To date, we have designed and constructed 7 projects, are currently constructing 3 more (check our here for more info), and have many more to come!  Recent updates on current projects include:

We are also very excited to announce that we will open our first regional office in Japan in just two weeks; a business support center for affected small and medium enterprises to aid in the development of a new and sustainable economic system in the Tohoku region.  Please follow our updates, posted on our Architecture for Humanity Tohoku page.

These projects would not have been possible without your generous donation.  We would like to sincerely thank you again.

We cannot stress enough how much your donations mean to our program and hope for your continued interest and support!


Best Regards,
Architecture for Humanity 

Oct 31, 2012

Tohoku Reconstruction Update: October 2012

November 2012 Tohoku Newsletter Banner


Temperatures have dropped, the days are shortening, and Fall foliage is currently at its best in the Tohoku region, fully signifying Autumn.  November begins with Culture day (bunka no hi) on the 3rd, promoting culture, the arts, and academic endeavor.  Many culture related events occur this month, so take this opportunity to participate!  Later in the month is Labor Thanksgiving Day (kinro kansha no hi) on the 23rd, commemorating labor and production and giving thanks to one another.  We would like to take this opportunity to give a special thanks to everyone who has supported us in our efforts!

With November just around the corner, our activities are ramping up!  We have had some exciting news in the past month, and special events coming up, including Global Giving's Japan matching campaign beginning November 1st.  Please read below for details! 

As always, we hope you enjoy seeing where your support has taken this program, and our doors are always open for feedback.

We hope you're enjoying season and are happily welcoming the upcoming winter.




Double your impact in supporting our efforts in Tohoku!  

Global Giving is running a special matching campaign from November 1 - 15, for projects working on Tohoku recovery and relief efforts.  During this period, Global Giving will match 100% of all donations made through their site, up to $1,000 per donor per project until funds run out.  

Please take this opportunity to support us in helping the Tohoku region.  Any amount can go a long way!

There is only a limited amount in matching funds available, so please consider supporting us as soon as it begins at 12:01 EDT on November 1, 2012 (13:01 JST on November 1st) on our Tohoku fundraising page.  Please also tell your friends, family, and colleagues about this special opportunity - share the link on your blogs or social networks, use the tell-a-friend feature on the project page to email your network, or just bring us up in conversation!  

We greatly appreciate every donation made, as it helps ensure that we continue helping the Tohoku region.


Office Opening

We are happy to announce that we will be opening our Ishinomaki office in just a few weeks!  This is our first regional office in Japan, and will act as a business support center for affected small and medium enterprises to aid in the development of a new and sustainable economic system in the Tohoku region.


First Job Creation

Yukino HaranoWe recently had the opportunity to provide advice  and presentation training to Harako Yukino in her application for a subsidy from the Cabinet office.  We are very happy to hear that she was able to pass the screening and receieve a subsidy to start up her business in Ishinomaki - something she could not have done without the money.

She will start an acupuncture clinic (home visit service) geared towards: elderly who live in temporary housing who would otherwise have difficulty receiving these services, and young mothers who are under much stress, raising children in their community without relatives to rely on.  She will also provide oil massage seminars for mothers to eventually hire as an assistant or independent therapist, thus creating new job opportunities for locals.

We're looking forward to seeing her success!




looking above to catch rice cakes being thrownKitakami "We Are One" Market and Youth Center (in construction)

The ridgepole-raising ceremony (jyotoushiki) was held on October 15th.  This ceremony is held across Japan to pray for the continued safety of the workers and project construction.  Following the ceremony, carpenters climb up scaffolding with boxes full of red and white colored (colors used at celebratory events) sweet rice cakes and coins wrapped in paper and thrown out to the community.  Many neighbors came out to celebrate and pray for this unique event.  Check out a video of this special event made by our Japan staff here!


Banya building near completionShizugawa Fishermen's Workplace "Banya" and Oyster Bar (in construction) 

On October 26, our design fellow Toru met with Mr. Sato (our client) at the site to check the state of construction.  Construction of the roof has been completed, and sashes installed.  With only a few minor fixes to make, the project is very near completion!


Maeami reviewing drawings on siteMaeami-hama Community House (in construction)

On a breezy and cold Sunday morning, staff from KMDW (architect of record), local fishermen, and AFH design fellows, joined contractors in preparing for the concrete pour of the foundation.  Holes were drilled into the perimiter of the existing foundation,  portions of the site were excavated, and rebars set in place.  Unfortunately, concrete is still difficult to obtain in this region (especially on schedule) with the many rebuilding projects occuring in this area.  With only the concrete pour remaining, construction of the foundation will be complete, once the concrete is delivered.




Tohoku Recovery Matching Campaign

During November 1 00:01 EDT - November 15 23:59 EDT, all donations to our Tohoku project through Global Giving will be matched 100%.  Double your impact by participating in this campaign!


Seminar by MAKOTO

Business development seminars in Ishinomaki.  

Dates:  November 23, December 7, December 14, December 21, January 11, and January 25 from 18:00~19:30

Place:  AFH Ishinomaki Office

For more information and to register, email us with your name, address, phone, and email.




In Progress
Shizugawa Fishermen's Workspace "Banya" - CA 95%
Kitakami "We Are One" Market and Youth Center  - CA 50%
Maeami-hama Community House - CA 05%

Akahama Covered Alley - Completed Jul/2012
Oshika House - Women's Collaborative - Completed Jul/2012
Paper Crane Sculpture - Completed Jan/2012
Shizugawa Judo Juku - Completed Dec/2011
Ohya Green Sports Park - Completed Dec/2011
Hikado Marketplace - Completed Jul/2011

CA Construction Administration / ; CD Construction Documents / ; DD Design Development / ; SD Schematic Design / ; PD Pre-Design /  - About the Phases


Oct 30, 2012

In "Topping Out" Kitakami Market, rains are sweet

October 15, the Kitakami "We Are One" market and youth center celebrated a milestone in construction: the roof laying or "topping out" ceremony. Common to construciton projects, the ceremony brings with it some rituals that have over time become staples amonst the community, and dozens gather to share with the builders and architects a pleasant afternoon. See photos and video brought to us by the Architecture for Humanity Japan team:

Folks gathering from as far as the Nikkori Sun Park temporary housing units
Folks gathering from as far as the Nikkori Sun Park temporary housing units

...To what will be the "Topping Out" Roof Framing completion ceremony at the Market

Among the heavy timbers and framed roofs, a shrine is built to honor the Mountain goddess
Among the heavy timbers and framed roofs, a shrine is built to honor the Mountain goddess

Construction crew gathers on site
Builders, architect and design fellows gather at the temporary shrine

Shrine detail
The shrine in detail. Food and sake offerings

Meanwhile, outside...
Meanwhile, another group gathers outside...

Honoring the mountain goddess: two bow, two clap, one bow
Aki takes his turn to honor the mountain goddess

A song is sung by the priest
Individual honors followed by song 

Setting up for the last part of the ceremony
Setting up for the last part of the ceremony

People seem to know what's coming
People seem to know what's coming

GO!! The sweet buns and yen are showered down to the community

As multigenerational as it gets...
A ceremony as multigenerational as it gets

Make room for the gents
Make way for the gents...

Some bits are reminiscent of Halloween. May be just human nature to count your "stash"
Some bits are reminiscent of Halloween here in North America. The counting of one's stash may be universal

Udon noodles served after. Delish.
Afterwords, udon noodles are served from an open tent #delish

The Team's 7-minute video of the day provides a great sense of the people living in Kitakami:

Oct 9, 2012

Tohoku Reconstruction Update: September 2012


October 2012 Tohoku Newsletter Banner

Following a hot and rainy summer, October brings a much awaited coolness to Japan.  Leaves have begun to change colors in the Tohoku region, bringing a renewed colorful landscape to the region.  Taiiku-no-hi (Sports and Health Day), promoting physical and mental health is in the second week of October, and many schools and communities hold their annual undou-kai (Field Day) during this season, creating opportunities for community cohesion and a healthy competition amongst members of the community.  We hope that you are able to take this opportunity to appreciate the change in season, and remain active in your daily life.


As the Tohoku Rebuilding program expands in scope and capacity, activity ramps up. We'll be capturing progress on a monthly basis via these reports, sent to everyone who has supported Japan's recovery since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. We hope you enjoy seeing where your support has taken this program, and our doors are always open for feedback.


The featured projects show a glimpse into the work we have been involved in over the past few months!  Please feel follow more frequent updates on our Tohoku website

Updates /

Kitakami foundation pourKitakami "We Are One" Market and Youth Center (in construction)

Construction began in September and we are right on track with our schedule.  With the foundation taking form, the scale of the project is becoming clearer, and one can now picture the completed project with children running about.

  • The Ground Breaking ceremony was held on July 17, where Shinto priests from the local Tsuriishi shrine came to hold the ceremony praying for safe construction of the market and youth center.  The owner, land owner, architect, and AFH staff attended this ceremony.
  • The first two coats of the concrete pour are done, with the final finish coat expected later in construction.
  • The color scheme has been finalized with dark blue for the roof, and white for the walls
  • The ridgepole-raising ceremony (jyotoushiki) is scheduled to be held on October 15th at noon.  Locals will be invited to this ceremony.



  • 717(AFH)
  • 1015

Banya building in constructionShizugawa Fishermen's Workplace "Banya" and Oyster Bar (in construction) 

We are in our final stage of construction, and we're only about 2 or 3 weeks away from completion to provide the proper workspace that the fishermen deserve.

  • roof work (waterproofing) has begun
  • some minor work (interior, exterior, foundation) coming soon



  • 10

Maeami hama modelMaeami-hama Community House (pre-construction)

We're partnering with KMDW (Kobayashi Maki Design Workshop) to construct a community house for the people of Maeami-hama.  With their experience in constructing a similar community building in Miyagi using tsunami washed plywood sheets as structural framing, the Maeami-hama Community House will have an innovative structure, consisting of slits in horizontal sheets of plywood fit into vertical ones.

  • We are in the process of obtaining a building permit, and are expecting to recieve it by November at the latest
  • project completion expected by January 2013



  • 11
  • 20131

Oshika HouseOshika House (completed)

Since this project - a food shop and community space, is in a restricted area where most buildings are temporary, this buidling was designed differently with a more permanent and comforting aesthetic.  The use of Japanese cedar for the walls, and the traditional gable roof construction bring a sense of comfort to visitors, with the low-pitched roof capable of withstanding strong sea winds for years to come.  While giving a sense of permanency, the building was designed and constructed in such a way that it can be easily relocated if government determines to ban permanent construction in this area in the future.

This winning entry from our Build Back Better Tohoku competition was completed in mid-July.




Akahama covered alleyCovered Alley (completed)

Many in the community of Akahama village, are currently in temporary housing, where placement is random and sense of community is dissipated.  With the help from NPO Midori-no-ie School, we proposed a covered alley between units, to connect the upper and lower units of a temporary housing complex.  The stairs and roof were designed to reflect traditional architecture, utilized local materials, and encouraged residents to lend their hand for construction to cultivate a sense of community.  

This project was completed in mid-July.  Residents can now finally safely navigate through the complex, inviting opportunities for impromptu social gatherings at covered landings.




News /

Events /

Seminar by MAKOTO

Business development seminars in Ishinomaki.  Details coming later this month on our website.  Stay tuned.



Tohoku Recovery Matching Campaign

During November 1-15 EDT, all donations to projects to our Tohoku Recovery activities through Global Giving will be matched 100%.  Double your impact by participating in this campaign!  Details to come soon.


 112131  11161359Global GivingGlobal Giving100

Tohoku Project Status Report /

In Progress
Shizugawa Fishermen's Workspace "Banya" /  - CA 70%
Kitakami "We Are One" Market and Youth Center /  - CA 20%
Maeami-hama Community House / - Pre-Construction

Akahama Covered Alley /  - Completed, Jul 2012
Oshika House - Women's Collaborative /  - Completed, Jul 2012
Paper Crane Sculpture /  - Completed, Jan 2012
Shizugawa Judo Juku /  - Completed, Dec 2011
Ohya Green Sports Park /  - Completed, Dec 2011
Hikado Marketplace /  - Completed, Jul 2011

CA Construction Administration /  ; CD Construction Documents /  ; DD Design Development /  ; SD Schematic Design /  ; PD Pre-Design /  - About the Phases 

Aug 29, 2012

August in Tohoku - Half the Season

The end of July marks the half-way point for the Tohoku construction season, and we figured we could take stock of how our collaborative rebuilding projects are helping the tsunami-stricken region recover. The four featured cast a wide net of methods, materials and the unique conditions demanding their careful consideration.


(See project details & imgs further below)

Akahama Covered Alley Completed
In the beginning of May, the second phase of the construction finally started with the local community members and volunteers from Tokyo under the supervision of the master carpenter, Mr. Hoshino. In the middle of June, we mostly completed the construction. We still need to put some finishing touches after the typhoon season ends in July such as solar-powered lighting fixtures on each landing and add some landscaping around. We expect the project to be completed by the end of August.

Shizugawa Banya In Construction
The government paved the site in the end of May. It pushed back our schedule a bit, but it was good that they did before we started our construction. Building permit was finally approved on June 20, 2012. Then the pre-fab contractor started to coordinate the factory to build two units. The fabrication phase was extended because the contractor could not find a local sub-contractor to work on the interior finish, so they had to order the job at the factory instead. Due to the fact, we are expecting the units to come on site on August 20, 2012. As soon as they are delivered, we should be able to complete the project within a month to finally provide the proper workspace that these fishermen deserve. Our most urgent challenge ahead is to keep the sense of urgency and to push to better their delivery schedule.

Oshika House Completed
After three months of search for a contractor, we broke ground for the Oshika House on June 15, 2012. Even after we started the construction, challenges kept coming. Since the construction season in Tohoku is short and many reconstruction projects are going up, there is severe shortage of building materials and labor right now. The contractors had hard time tracking down necessary lumber, equipment and paint. With great help from volunteers, the team finished up the construction on July 17, and held an opening event on July 21.

Maeami-hama community house Pre-design
Professor Hiroto Kobayashi at Keio University and his students designed and constructed a similar community building in Utazu area of Minami-sanriku-cho, Miyagi Prefecture. They used plywood sheets that were washed out by the tsunami to create the structural framing. (See the photos on Page 10.) This innovative new building technique allowed them to construct the building inexpensively with much help from the community members and student volunteers during the construction.

Professor Kobayashi agreed to partner with us to design and build a community house for the people in Maeami-hama. We are very excited about this partnership.

Akahama Covered Alley sequence AKAHAMA COVERED ALLEY - COMPLETED

This is the second place winner of the first round of Build Back Better Tohoku. Akahama village lost 100 residents out of 900. Most of them moved into the temporary housing. Because of the random placement of residents and the callous layout of units, the sense of community is dissipated.

The community with the help from NPO Midorino-ie School proposed a set of covered staircases between units built on the terraced site in order to connect upper units and lower units. Currently they have to walk on a steep slope, and they are worried snow and ice on the slope in winter making extremely dangerous to walk on. The residents are encouraged to lend their hand for the construction to cultivate the sense of community. The stairs and roof are designed to reflect the traditional architecture as well as utilize local materials.

HIGHLIGHTS The first set of four covered stairways was built by the end of December 2012. The stairway was constructed with the traditional Japanese joinery.

The second phase construction began immediately after the phase one, but, due to the snowy winter weather in Tohoku, the outside construction work has been slowed significantly.

Meanwhile, the community leader, Mr. Okamoto, told us that the first set of the covered stairs has been very useful during the snowy winter. He also mentioned that everybody appreciates the high quality of work and its beauty in their dreary temporary housing complex.

Finally the residents can safely navigate through the complex, and perhaps have some impromptu social gatherings happening at covered landings. The final photos will be posted on the Akahama Alley page when they become available.

Framing on second flight; roof on third flight

The installation of the staircase with roof to link housing units on the terraced site. This will vastly improve the communication between families and provide an accessible route.

800 residents of Akahama Temporary Housing Complex in Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture

Partially funded by Punkt - $51,000 construction grant (total)

Shizugawa Banya August 2012 sequence SHIZUGAWA BANYA - IN CONSTRUCTION

A group of 15 fishermen who lost everything for the Great East Japan Earthquake would like to rebuild their workplace and warehouse (called Banya in Japanese) as their new base of the town's fishing industry, which is the key industry of the area. These fishermen were used to operate individually, but now they would like to bring in each unique experience and idea to rebuild the collective aqua-farming business. They hope the return of fishing business would encourage the speedy reconstruction of the rest of the town.

The project provides a storage and workspace for local fishermen, and will help them build back their business and boost morale of the community.

• 15 Motohama fishermen and their families
• 6,800 residents of Shizugawa who would benefit from their aqua-farming business and products directly and indirectly

8,993,250 JPY construction grant (approx. 114,000 USD at exchange rate of July 16, 2012)

Oshika House August 2012 sequence OSHIKA HOUSE - COMPLETED

This is the first place winner of the first round of Build Back Better Tohoku RFP (Request for Proposal) program. Women’s Group of Oshika Peninsula Fishing Union in Ayukawa-hama in Ishinomaki has been making and selling woven bracelets with strings that fishermen use to fix fishing nets since a few months after the earthquake devastated their village. After the earthquake, they realized that they would need to diversify their economic structure in their village to build back their society, and become sustainable. Therefore they proposed to create a space for bracelet making and community gathering as well as serving prepared food to the community and tourists using local produce and seafood.

Oshika House build sequence
Oshika House build sequence

IMPACT Installation of a work space / café will allow the Women’s Group to empower them to become financially independent, and contribute to build the sustainable economy of the community.

• 7 Mermamaid members and their families
• Approximately 1,000 Ayukawahama residents CONSTRUCTION COST $51,000 construction grant (final)

Community house site sketch MAEAMI-HAMA COMMUNITY HOUSE - PRE-DESIGN

Meami-hama is located on the Oshika Peninsula – about ninety minutes east of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. People have to drive a long narrow and windy road, which is still left scarred by the earthquake-led landslides. The government aid hardly reaches the remote villages like Maeami-hama because the repair of damages in larger towns’ infrastructure gets more priority.

The earthquake and tsunami wiped out almost the whole village of Maeami-hama. Only five houses out of forty survived. The Maeami-hama Reconstruction Project Team has established in May 2011 after the residents lamented the government's slow response to the reconstruction of their village. The team has the total of nine members, and leads the community of eighty people.

Most of residents works for the aquaculture industry, and used to live on the water. The government laid out the no-build zone along the coast, and built a temporary housing complex for the residents of Maeami-hama on a higher ground, away from the coast where they work. It takes them about five minutes by car to commute now. The peninsula is mountainous with very limited flat land to build. Hence their temporary housing complex does not have an enough community space to have family gatherings such as weddings, funerals and other community events. Architecture for Humanity will design and construct a community house with the Meami-hama Reconstruction Project Team. The site is located at the entrance to the village, and owned by the fishermen’s union whom generouslydonated the land for the community. It is on the higher ground, so hardly gets under water.

Construction method as implemented on the Tokyo Chapter's Veneer House in minami sanriku

The project will allow the community member to have a large gathering such as annual festivals, weddings, family reunions and so on.

100 community members of Maeami-hama

$100,000 construction grant (estimated) / $40,000 (secured)


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Project Leader

Hiromi Tabei

San Francisco, CA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Build Back Better Tohoku