Keep tsunami-stricken isatomae community alive

 
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Raised Remaining
Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA)
Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA)

The Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) is working very hard to organize attractions to bring visitors there. They seem to be succeeding in attracting a large number of people to events, especially during the summer. Some of scheduled events are “Japanese Ice Fish
Festival,” “Azalea Festival,” and “International Friendship Festival” in May, “Righteye Flounder Fishing Festival” and “Night Shops” in June, “Work Experience Opportunities for Junior High Students,” “Mini-soccer Day,” “Live Band Play,” “Decorated Cars,” and “Utatsu Summer Festival” in June, “Everybody’s Festival,” “Tour de Tohoku 2015” in September, “Mishima Shrine Festival,” “Kesema Oshima Shrine Festival” in October, “Abalone Festival” in December, “Senior High Futsal Festival” in January 2016 and “Junior High Futsal Festival” in February, and “Spring Wakame Festival” in March. People in IFSA are working extremely hard to bring people from outside to keep their business going.     

Governmental regulations related to an emergency situation in a disaster-stricken area were temporarily suspended to facilitate quick recovery and redevelopment. But now, before redevelopment is completed, the government started stopping the suspension and tightening up regulations. This change clearly started influencing the moving schedule of the IFSA. It was supposed to move to a temporary place in August 2015. Although an elevated land for a temporary location was completed, due to governmental document clearance, IFSA still needs to wait for a few months until November 2015. People in IFSA even found that electric poles moved from an old road to a new one even require governmental document clearance, possibly further delaying the schedule of move. Now, the Prefectural Government is requesting the Central Government to allow some exceptions to the regulations, especially when changes are only for a temporary location used until December 2016. Although IFSA people are used to this type of delay, they are disappointed because they just cannot follow their own plan.  

This type of delay is making people impatient even for their houses. A mountain was flattened for public housing areas, and the Minami-sanriku-town Government asked who would like to move in. Previously fifty houses were planned, but now the number was reduced to 45. One piece of land for a house is about 330 m2, costing about 3.52 million yen, which is rather inexpensive. But a new house has to be built with only 2 million yen subsidy and the rest self-financed. Besides, due to a huge demand for construction, the cost of house building is rising extremely high. Now, construction companies from the Tokyo area are taking a significant portion of orders with a fairly high price. Local carpenters can construct much more inexpensively, though they can construct only up to five houses per year, requiring a new customer to wait for four or five years before a house is completed. Most of local money is now sucked up by Tokyo construction companies. Some present shop owners at IFSA are planning to operate their business from their houses. But unfortunately, in December 2016 they may not have their houses ready for both living and conducting their businesses. Some people without sufficient saving or with remaining debt, just cannot plan to move forward in their lives.

In the previous report, I reported that the 7-11 Convenience Store will take over a half of the space in the Final Shopping place. Because of their ATM operation, a local bank and even a post office are hesitating to move into the Final Sopping place. Again a monopolistic situation of a Tokyo company is reducing options previously very familiar to local people. Post-disaster struggles and frustration still continue without the end of tunnel in sight.  

Elevated Land for Temporary Shop
Elevated Land for Temporary Shop

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Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade
Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade

One good news is that the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) now has a clear schedule of moves to a temporary place (in August 2015) and also to the final place (December 2016). Now, people there started seeing the long-waited end of a tunnel..

The other good news is that a support by a labor union of a company mediated by the DSIA may come to be soon finalized. Three people from the labor union came to discuss with the Head of the IFSA, and proposed to sell some of seasonable commodities to about 6,000 full- and part-time union members. For special events organized by the IFSA, union members can voluntary come to not only help their events, but also participate in events. The labor union also offered to purchase a winner’s cup and medals for a football competition among eight grade school teams in the area. They even offered to give discount tickets to all participants to purchase their food sold by dispatched kitchen cars from the company. They are now trying to work out the details.

One very sad news is that the Head of the IFSA was refused to move into the final Arcade to be started in December 2016. He was the one the DSIA negotiated for establishing a temporary shop tent in 2011, has been the key representative of local organizations to receive GlobalGiving donations, and is now trying to organize a system of support to be provided by the labor union mediated by the DSIA. He is the present head of the IFSA, has organized many events to bring tourists, and has been negotiating with the city government for reconstruction. He has been truly devoting to the development of the Isatomae Community.  

Why did this happen? In the next month, a new company, which manages shopping arcades in both Sizugawa and Isatomae, will be established. Since the preparatory committee of the company is trying to prevent the future bankruptcy of the company, they developed very strict standards. Their goal is to prepare for the company’s sustainability of the next twenty years. This sounds a very good idea. But the committee asked consultants from Tokyo to evaluate the businesses of all members, and decided that members not having a prospect of survival for the next ten years will not be allowed to move into arcades, even if they have money and wish to join. Since the IFSA Head is operating a clothing and sport goods shop, consultants informed him of future market prediction, which will clearly decline due to shrinking children population. Their prediction turned out to be that he may do well for the next five years, especially due to the reconstruction of the area, but after that, it may become fairly difficult to continue his business. To me, what is taking place now is quite wrong. One reason is because nobody can decide to exit from one’s business other than those who operate businesses themselves. The other reason is that he has been diversifying into a few other businesses just recently which is not yet becoming big. But in many rural areas, it is very common to operate several small businesses to generate some decent revenues. Since I lived in a remote area in Niigata, I saw some companies expanding their businesses frequently through diversification. In a sense, he can dynamically cope with changes in the market as he faces environmental changes. Tokyo consultants treat the situation of each member very statically, and do not see evolutionary potentials. I personally feel that such decision should be left to the initiatives of individual members whether one is to take a risk or not and that the market will come to pressure individuals to make their decisions.

In order to keep the stability of this arcade company, this company is to invite a Tokyo-based convenience store. I am in favor of bringing it to the arcade, as long as they work to help local economy develop rather than simply sucking up the business opportunities of the local. How can it be done? This is clearly another difficult area, since it is far less costly to bring everything from what has been mass produced in other areas. A less populated area will not succeed in generating its economic dynamics without the base of community support and movements. People in Isatomae may end up facing much tougher situations than before if the community disintegrates. Some people criticize some types of consultants for their motives to make money from government subsidies with little interest in helping community development, though how to develop a less-populated area is a difficult issue and a central issue discussed presently in Japan.

The temporary shop tent still used as a storage
The temporary shop tent still used as a storage

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Elevated land where arcade will move temporarily
Elevated land where arcade will move temporarily

A big advancement in reconstructing the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) will take place this coming April. The land lifting of three meters for a temporary location of the arcade has been completed, and IFSA is informed that a move will take place in April this year. Presently, processed is a legal procedure of leasing the land from the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation Japan (SME Japan) to the Minami-sanriku-cho Government. When all legal documentation is completed, the SME Japan will build a new temporary shop arcade, and start dismantling the present one to be reused as a part of the full arcade, scheduled to be completed in December 2017. Still three more years are in need before the complete reconstruction. This arrangement, however, makes it possible for shops to continue operating their businesses without closing shops. News that they will be moving very soon to a new temporary location and that they do not have to close their shops are big relief for them. It is a big celebration to reach a little bit closer to the end of the reconstruction tunnel.

This means that the IFSA will not use the temporary shop tent which the DSIA helped to establish in 2011. Now, the tent is officially donated to the IFSA by a local NGO which operated the tent, and then the IFSA donated it to the owner of the land which was leased to the IFSA for free. This very much ended the involvement of the DSIA over the issue of the tent. However, it does not mean that DSIA’s support roles to the IFSA will end. A new stage even for the DSIA’s support started.

So far, so good. But this advancement came with new headaches and uncertainties. All discussions that the IFSA made for establishing their own Arcade Corporation, independent from Shizukawa, was turned down by the Central Government. They made a rule that only one development corporation will be established in each township or city. This decision made some of IFSA’s past discussions meaningless, though some plans are still effective to be implemented. The corporation will be established in June this year. But new information generated an enormous headache for some present shop owners at the IFSA. They were informed to pay 1,500 yen per one square meter for their shops. But they are now informed to make an initial investment by 500,000 yen for shops using below 50 square meters and 10,000 yen for every additional one square meter. Most likely, an additional capital investment will be required sometime at the end of this year. For some shop owners, this amount itself may be too high, needless to say about an additional payment at the end of this year. To make the situation worse, they are also informed to pay for a guarantee fee for construction, which is worth about a 10 month-rental-fee based on a shop size. Some of shop owners started thinking about withdrawing from the shop construction plan.

Additional concern came from their research on diverse success cases of town rebuilding, all over Japan. What they found was that there has never been any shop area where people do not live. The disaster-stricken Tohoku area is the first to be experimented in that way, since a residential area has to be built on the mountain side. This means that residents in Isatomae may not come to shop for their daily needs at the IFSA, since diverse shops are already operating in several locations, much closer to their residential area. The key success factor identified in the cases is restaurants and food they sell inside a new arcade. Thus, food-related business may prosper, but shops dealing with daily living goods may not have any good prospect, despite heavy investment they have to make. Some owners even studied what are employment opportunities if they move to Sendai, the closest big city. They are finding that anybody above age 50 may find a job only in a construction-related business, which is physically severe with very low payment, making not possible to keep a family living in Sendai. Some shop owners are seeing quite a gloomy prospect in the future.

One solution now they are approaching is to talk to diverse organizations, including the Minami-sanriku-cho government, to invest a small amount, so that the IFSA can ease the amount of needed investment to be made by shop owners.  They are hoping to succeed in achieving the solution. Another solution is to continuously attract tourists, so that shops can rely less on residents whose population is declining. This means that they need to continue developing events and are even thinking about developing a system of selling local products through a direct order system.

DSIA happened to be contacted by a labor union of one company which is interested in developing programs to support the disaster-stricken Tohoku area. The IFSA is really pleased to hear this news, and provided diverse ideas to inform to the labor union, hoping the union will choose one of the proposals they made during the DSIA’s present visit. As the stage of reconstruction advances, the DSIA is also shifting to new ways of supporting Tohoku redevelopment.

The shop tent finally donated to the land owner
The shop tent finally donated to the land owner

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Past young bike-freaks gathered to help Isatomae
Past young bike-freaks gathered to help Isatomae

People at the Isatomae Redevelopment Archade (Fukko Shotengai, FS) still feel a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. They are working on diverse issues to rebuild their community. So far, they started seeing a small portion of land raised to half a level of the original plan, where the FS shops will move temporarily while the land level of the shop’s permanent location will be raised. Shops will move to the half-raised temporary place in 2015, precisely when not yet known. It was surprising for them, since the temporary place will be below the land level of main road and the permanent shop place when the rest of the land is raised to the level originally planned. But at least, the plan is advancing relative to the past. It was a good news.

Then another surprise came. The government passed a law that the present government-funded temporary shops have to be continuously used for the next five years. This law generated two serious concerns. One is that the present shops have to be closed and moved to the temporary location, meaning that they have to stop operating their business completely for two months. This law was passed, assuming that shops are moving from a present temporary location to a permanent one. The Isatomae’s situation is to move from the present temporary location to another temporary one and then finally to a permanent place. Does this mean that they have to move present temporary shops and facilities twice? Concern is that moving old shop buildings is as expensive as building new ones. They are now negotiating with the government whether they can build new shops in the permanent place while they use old shop materials in a newly moving temporary place. If moving old shops costs the same or more than building new ones, then it is better to build new ones. But does the law allow this to happen since all of two moves will take place within five years? Amid their worries, one good story is that they are going to use the temporary shop-tent which was built by donations from the Refugee International Japan, the Japan Forest Biomas Network, and the GlobalGiving mediated through the DSIA.  They may have to operate their business in the tent for two months when old shops will be dismantled and rebuild in the temporary place and to store their equipment and facilities for quite a long time. The FS is highly appreciative of the existence of the tent, which helps to make their transition much smoother.  This means that, thanks to your kind heart, understanding and donation, we are still helping them to rebuild their community.

The other problem could be much tougher than the first one. It could become quite a demotivating factor for people in the FS since they have been working to build their new shops with dream for almost two years. The FS very much decided to establish an Isatomae Redevelopment Company which will own new buildings and charge rents to tenants, rather than to establish an association. A company form enables the FS to borrow money from banks and even allow outside tenants to come in when vacancies in shops occur. This makes the company operation securer. However, despite their two-year discussions, the Minami-sanriku Township suddenly informed them that it will establish a company and provide them a building. The plan was informed suddenly as a surprise. Now, they have to engage in negotiation all over again despite a well-thought plan by the FS. This could be quite a tough negotiation and be demotivating.

Separate from these problems, the FS is organizing many events as usual. On October 20, they have a group of past young bike-freaks to bring in about 100 unusually decorated cars (see pictures). They wanted to show their willingness to contribute to society. The FS is also planning to have an exhibition of their soccer team flags in the Sendai Stadium when a soccer game will be held there, hoping to find willing partners to contribute to the FS. They are working very hard to get events organized and planned, so that they can bring in customers to the FS. But even on this point, they worry that the lack of clear planning when they can move to the temporary as well as the permanent places makes it quite difficult to plan and organize events, which are a very important source of bringing in customers.

When they start seeing the raised temporary place to move in, it gave them a sense that they start seeing a small light at the end of a long and dark tunnel, moving one step closer to their dream. But then, new problems, one of which may even make their two-year efforts meaningless, arose. They are engaging in negotiations, very much hoping that they can follow their original plan. Given this uncertainty now three years after the disaster, they look much more tired than before. But they are extremely appreciative of the tent-shop, established with the help of the DSIA, the GlobalGiving, the Refugee International Japan, and the Japan Forest Biomas Network. 

Past young bike-freaks to help Isatomae
Past young bike-freaks to help Isatomae
Donated tent to be used again by Isatomae shops
Donated tent to be used again by Isatomae shops

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Pre-game Lecture on Japan
Pre-game Lecture on Japan's Strategies

The Happy Shopping Arcade () (HSA) in Isatomae, Minami-sanriku-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, has been extremely active to organized many events and bring people from outside of the local community, since Isatomae having the population of only 5,000 is not big enough to keep the shopping arcade going.

Since the Isatomae became the first training camp for the J-league (the Japanese professional soccer league) when it was established in 1991, it has been keeping good relationships with diverse J-league soccer teams. These relations turned out to be highly valuable assets for keeping HSA to bring soccer fans to support the community. The HSA is the only place where you can see many flags of J-league soccer teams flying. Hence, the HSA organized a public viewing of Japan- Côte d'Ivoire game in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Game held in Brazil. They established a tent, set two big-screen televisions, and an NTT-provided projector which unfortunately was difficult to watch due to sun shine. They also had the attendance of Mr. Hisago Sato who became the 2013 scoring leader in Sanfrecce Hiroshima, six present J-league players who signed on a soccer ball, two 2010 world soccer Japan team players, and a famous soccer game commentator who is the coach of the Sendai University Soccer Team. HSA kept a list of attendants and found that even several people came from Kyushu District. A women soccer team from Sendai, Vegalta Sendai Ladies, donated 40 tickets for the August 3 game which was given away in a lottery and two uniforms. Before the game, six J-league members touched a ball to send spirit to the Japan team in Brazil.  Everybody was quite excited during the game until Japan lost two points.

About 200 people came to attend the public viewing, and four television stations reported about the event which was broadcasted as a national news (see the attached newspaper article). Among blue-color-shirt supporters to the Japan team, a group of red-color-shirt supporters were in the crowd. They were supporting Chilean team, since Minami-sanriku-cho and Chile’s Easter Island has a friendship relation. Forty people at Minami-sanriku-cho lost their lives due to tsunami caused by the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960. To commemorate the recovery from the disaster, Minami-sanriku-cho commissioned a sculptor in Easter Island to make a Moai which came to be placed at Shizukawa High School. Unfortunately, this sculpture was lost in the 2011 Tsunami Disaster. Then, the Easter island sent a gift of a Moai sculpture to the town. Since there was a strong sense of good relations with Chile, a group of students wore red shirts to cheer the Chilean team.

After the game, the HSA was hoping to sell a lot of food and drinks, while providing some food for free. Unfortunately, everybody was so discouraged by losing the game, they did not stay at the HSA. In a sense, the public viewing was very successful, but the HSA could not make as much business as expected. Although it was unfortunate that the Japan team lost the game, the public viewing was really successful.

On August 3, the HSA is planning to have a fishing competition for which participants pay for a boat and go ocean fishing. On August 10 and 11, they are to have a summer festival, in which diverse participants play on the stage. The key attraction is BEGIN from Okinawa who also participated to commemorate the return of a Utatsu (Isatomae) post which drifted to Okinawa via Hawaii Islands. After many performances by participants, the festival will end with fireworks to commemorate those who lost their lives on 3.11. On August 16, they will have a Minami-sanriku Festival, and September 14, the town becomes a resting place for the Le Tour de Tohoku for 200 km bicycle competition. In October, they are planning to have an exhibition of 30 decorated and painted cars.    

With regard to raising the level of land, unlike Rikuzen Takata City and Shizukawa in Minami-sanriku-cho, hardly anything is taking place, while the planning of shopping arcade and the new housing area are very much coming to the final stage. People are now applying for housing to be built. The delay in land raising in Isatomae relative to other cities seems to be causing additional frustration, but at least they are eagerly participating to develop overall land planning, the construction of the shopping arcade, and other facilities. But there are many who just cannot wait for this slow development and purchases their own land and house outside of scheduled places. This is generating another psychological problem to those who are not capable of leaving temporary houses, giving them an identity of losers. Now, different are the financial conditions of those who had a tsunami insurance which was only 3% of disaster-stricken people and those who had fire insurance in Ohfunato whose houses were destroyed by fire rather than tsunami from those who did not benefit from these types of insurance.

Previous GlobalGiving donation to Isatomae was used to have this World Soccer Game Viewing, and they were extremely appreciative of the donation, especially because it turned out to be a big success. As written above, since they are planning to organize more events to become the No. 1 event organizing arcade in Tohoku for keeping their arcade alive, future donations are indispensable. They will very much appreciate future donations.

Sending Hearty Cheers to Japan Team
Sending Hearty Cheers to Japan Team
Viewing Game with J-league Flags on Ceiling
Viewing Game with J-league Flags on Ceiling
News Reporting of Public Viewing
News Reporting of Public Viewing

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Project Leader

Yoshitaka Okada

Tokyo, Tokyo Japan

Where is this project located?

Map of Keep tsunami-stricken isatomae community alive