One key question I ask when I visit Isatomae, Minami-sanrikucho, every three months is whether a plan for reconstruction has been finalized. According to the Isatomae Shoko Kai (Isatomae Chamber of Commerce = ICC), it seems that the plan is very much finalized, but what I heard this time was also a little bit different from the previous plan I heard three months ago. The height of the dike will be 8.70 meters high, which was the same as before, while the height of raised land for shops changed from 5 meters to 7 meters, which enables residents to see the ocean with footsteps. They are hoping to see the completion of land raising by the end of 2015, but they sounded quite uncertain. Whenever I ask a question, “When will the construction of shops be completed?” They just cannot tell even when the land raising will be completed, needless to say about the completion of their shopping complex. They were very lively to tell about their shopping- complex plan, but when I ask about the completion date, their faces looked dark, showing their fatigue and a situation where they still do not see the end of the tunnel. They are quite tired, though they have a lot of issues to be decided. For example, one big issue presently is whether the shopping complex will take a corporate form or an association form. Some residents are even refusing to allow their land raised by the government, and the ICC even has to convince them to go along with a new plan.
One fortunate factor of the Isatomae community is that it has a 260-year-old “Contract Association (Keiyaku Kai)” consisted of about 80 households, and owns a large piece of land in the mountain as commons. Its history is so old that they never thought it to be useful. But a new residential housing complex will be built on this land, making their cost of land acquisition for their houses much cheaper. It is reported that the town purchases 1 m2 of destroyed land for \10,000, while a newly developed land in the mountain will cost about \12,000 to \18,000. Those who are a member of the Contract Association can reduce the cost of land acquisition, though they still have to pay for building houses. Many residents may simply choose renting public apartments instead of building a new house due to financial reasons.
Despite a small population size of 4,500 residents, in the past, ocean views, good ocean food, and country-side living in Isatomae attracted tourists. Now, everything is completely new, not different from big cities, and ocean views are blocked by the dike. Can they succeed to attract visitors? At this moment, with limited resources, they are doing their best to show the attractiveness of Isatomae by planning diverse events. They even added a playground for children. Naturally, since their attractiveness is ocean food, such as urchin, scallop, abalone, octopus, crab, sea weed, etc., they are planning to have festivals at the peak periods of these catches. Ezo scallop raised at Isatomae was offered to the imperial household for celebrating the Coronation of the Showa Emperor in 1928. They are even bringing out such an old historical fact to attract outside visitors.
Such attractiveness is not different from other communities in the Pacific-Ocean coastal area. To differentiate the Isatomae, they are developing their unique activities. Now in January 2014, the ICC borrowed 280 bamboo sticks from the Miike Light Bamboo Festival Committee in Fukuoka Prefecture, and are showing beautiful candle-light art works at night in the Temporary Shopping Arcade (see attached pictures). In the past, they succeeded to receive supports from all professional soccer teams in Japan and obtained their flags. They applied for a Guinness Record as one place having the largest number of soccer team flags. Unfortunately, it was not recognized as a record. Now, in June they are trying to have a public viewing of the World Soccer Game with diverse supports from these Japanese soccer teams. Naturally, they plan to have summer festivals, summer fireworks, and locally particular festival called “Donto Festival” held in diverse places in Miyagi Prefecture.
Despite financial and resource limitations, they are trying to make use of any chance for making the Isatomae Community known to outside. Given a small population of Isatomae, they believe that attracting outside visitors is the only way for them to survive and redevelop their community. Since a small community like Isatomae is rather difficult to obtain supports, they are still in disparate needs of continuous financial supports. Although they are quite tired and still do not see the end of tunnel at all, they are solely relying on their strong motivation and spirit to keep the community alive and going.
Dear Precious Donors,
Please excuse my delay in sending my report on the Isatomae Tent Shop to GlobalGiving, since the Typhoon 18 which brought quite heavy rain and land slides on September 16, 2013, prevented me taking a trip there. It was too risky for me to travel and I might have been stranded in a train.
The shop tent at Isatomae is still there being used as a storage, while the Fukko Publicly-financed Temporary Shops are attracting people over weekends with a newly added children’s facility. Situations are just the same as before. except that some serious discussions are taking place among diverse-involved partners about who will take care of the shop tent. This issue became really serious, since the strong wind and heavy rain of the Typhoon 18 might have torn the tent apart. One issue was that nobody was clear who owns the tent. In an early stage of emergency, the biggest concerns among partners were to have the Isatomae Community restarted and get the local economy working. Everybody was hoping to see the good effects of the tent, which was amazingly well achieved. But in this process, some tacit agreement seems to have existed who takes care of the maintenance of the tent.
Until all members moved out of the tent in August 2012, the Isatomae Chamber of Commerce was fully taking care of the tent. Then, the remaining mountain school, which was closely affiliated with the Japan Forest Biomas Network, was maintaining the tent, according to the head of the Tengu Nature Mountain School in Isatomae. Since they also moved out in September, 2013, the issue of who owns and maintains the tent became a serious issue. The owner of the land where the tent is located seems to be claiming that the tent should be either removed or his company will use the tent for their storage. Discussions involving the Forest Biomas Network, the local Chamber of Commerce and the land owner seem to have reached a temporary solution that the land owner uses the tent for its storage under his maintenance, until newly arising needs of the local Chamber of Commerce comes out in the near future. The reason is that within two years the Fukko Publicly-financed Temporary Shop will be removed, since the land will be elevated to seven meters high adjacent to 8.5 meter-high dike (previously the elevation was reported to be five meters). All equipment and facilities currently used at the Fukko Temporary Shops will be stored in the shop tent, until they can all move into newly established permanent shops. When this final stage comes, three partners will discuss what to do with the tent, to be continuously used as a storage for the land owner or to be removed. This was a nice solution, since the tent is still usable and will be continuously used to support people in the Chamber of Commerce, though the final stage may be about five or seven years away.
Thus, the cost for maintaining the shop tent does not have to carried by the local Chamber of Commerce. But donations are still in need to keep the dynamics of the Fukko Publicly-financed Temporary Shops. Your kind help for this cause is still very much appreciated by people in the Isatomae Community. I am very grateful for your help, since they still have a long and long way to go before they can really find their home and community in a permanent condition. Until then for about, may be seven years, everything will be temporary. It is a psychologically and really tough situation for people in the Isatomae Community.
The Isatomae shop tent still remains there, but it is closed for many days. Its usage has not been changed since my last visit. The nature school frequently uses the tent during a summer break for children, while it remains as a storage for shops in the Fukko Temporary Shopping Center located close to a shore road. But I have clearly identified the location of a new housing relocation area. As my picture shows, houses will be constructed in the nearest forest area from the tent. Since nobody is allowed to live along the coast any more, except building a shopping complex, people will move into the forest area. I am certain that this tent, being very close to the housing area, will be lively with people again as a community center.
I visited Rikuzen Takata City first, and saw some construction of banks along the coast. But I could not find any bank construction work in Isatomae, Minami-sanriku-cho. It seems that an agreement among Isatomae residents has not yet been reached, though it seems to come very soon. They have agreed to build 8.5 meter banks along the coast and river, while the road will be elevated to 4.5 or 5.5 meters. It seems this road height is the source of disagreement. For residents, the elevated level of road determines the height of a wall created by banks, either 3.0 meters or 4.0 meters. The psychological effect of the difference will be quite big and important. Naturally, another issue is a disagreement between the government and residents whether the former has enough budget to accept local demand. So, they are getting a little bit behind relative to other cities, though they are advancing this issue democratically even asking a younger generation to develop an ideal redevelopment plan.
Despite their delay, the local chamber of commerce is doing an excellent work to develop their local economy. The Isatomae community is too small to keep its economy going, and has to develop some mechanisms to bring outside people over weekends. They succeeded in doing so by organizing a local fish festival, a wakame (sea weeds) festival, weekend markets, a music festival organized young people, etc. It seems a reputation is well developed that if people come to Isatomae, they can always find some events and activities. In one event, they succeeded to attract about 12,000 people in the market. As a matter of fact, they have been so successful that the local police started having headache, since these events are eating into the police security budget.
On Auguest 11, 2013, an event called “Festival for Utatsu Post: An Ocean Path which Linked People in its Drifting Trip” will be held. It involves a famous Okinawan singer, Mr. Shoei Higa, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIAC) which owns the Japan Post Corporations, and the Isatomae Chamber of Commerce. One red post box originally located in Isatomae was swept away by the Tsunami, and then one year and nine months later, it suddenly came ashore in Iriomote Island, Okinawa Prefecture. According to a specialist, it must have drifted away to the Hawaii Islands and back to Nishi Omotejima. Mr. Shoei Higa learned about this story, and his producer decided to use this post box as a symbol of helping the Isatomae Community. One day the Minister of MIAC invited Mr. Higa, a representative from the Isatomae Chamber of Commerce, and related others to give a permission to use this box for a festival and also to develop a plan for future use by the Isatomae Community. This August 11 event will become an enormously big one, which is naturally a serious headache to the local police. Students at grade schools and junior high schools are also to write about the wonder of how this post box linked people through its ocean passage. The local chamber of commerce is also to invite a group of hula dancers from the Spa Resort Hawaiians in Fukushima Prefecture, another victim of the disaster, to symbolize the distance the post traveled. The Isatomae Community is now much more livelier than three months ago.
Presently, a mountain school providing nature training to children is the only user of our tent shop, located in the mountain side of Isatomae in Minami-sanriku-cho, Miyagi Prefecture. During Winter, this school is now closed, due to extremely cold weather even on the coast side. But the tent is still functioning as storage for keeping goods to be sold at the Fukko Temporary Shops down close to the ocean side. Since a new community will be built right next to the tent, it will be again used as a community center in Isatomae, though it could be several years later when the community construction will be completed.
Now, since the population is declining, efforts are made to bring tourists to Isatomae in order to boost the economic activities of the Temporary Shops. They have organized diverse events with very limited funding, such as a Mountain Bike show, and brought several music bands (Gypsy Punk Jazz, Jiki Jiki, etc.). One of their magnificent achievements was to collect flags of J.League Professional Soccer Teams (in Japan). Since they were very successful in soliciting supports from Japanese professional soccer teams, they decided to challenge a Guinness record, whose video is attached to this report. They do continuously create such events not only to bring visitors from outside, but also to keep their motivations high. DSIA made some proposals to organize business activities, but these talks are not advancing well, since they require some initial investment and risk taking. Given this situation, donations from the GlobalGiving are deeply appreciated, especially because the feeling of being supported remains important to keep their motivations high.
In two months, the disaster-stricken Tohoku will be holding the second memorial service of the Higashi Nippon Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster which took place on March 11, 2011. Although many people have found their daily routines and ways of sustaining their lives, situations for many have not really improved. To make the situation worse, supports to them are diminishing day by day, forcing them to face real struggles for survival.
Our shop tent located in the mountain side of Isatomae in Minami-sanriku-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, is presently used only by a mountain school providing nature training to children throughout a year. It is used mostly on weekends. At a glance, it turned into a storage for keeping goods to be sold at the Fukko Temporary Shops down close to the ocean side. In a sense, the tent is still a useful facility to people in Isatomae. Learning about the development of an Isatomae rebuilding plan, I found that a consensus has not yet been well established delaying the start of reconstruction. Besides, I learned that the Fukko Temporary Shops will be moved to a closest place, while the main planned shop area will be elevated, thus reusing the tent as tent shops may not work out. But since it is located right next to a new community to be established in the mountain side, it will be used for community activities and continuously remain important to people in Isatomae.
Since the population of Isatomae has dropped, shop owners are looking for ways to bring customers from outside of Isatomae. They are trying to reorganize traditional festivals to bring outside Isatomae supporters to take part in festivals. They also happen to receive huge supports from the J League Soccer teams, thus having a large number of Japanese soccer team flags. They are trying to expand this flag collection to international soccer teams, to bring their attention to Isatomae redevelopment. Any kind of your help in expanding this effort is very much appreciated.
Talking about a new redevelopment plan, I came to recognize that diverse unique ways exist to link between new dikes and the characteristics of Isatomae community and to possibly be used to attract people from outside. I am contacting several friends of mine to see if certain projects can be started, though it is quite premature to disclose new ideas. In a visit, several hours are spend to exchange ideas and search for ways to link to the DSIA network. Thus, the DSIA help is shifting from sustaining the tent to providing ideas and linkages them to people in Tokyo to see if any future-oriented supports can be developed.
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