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.
It was very nice to see the Government-established temporary shops (now I call the Isatomae Community Shopping Complex = ICSC) with full of people and interesting events (Picture 1), such as singing, games, fireworks, etc. on Saturday, October 20, 2012, when I visited Isatomae in Minami-sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture. People there are now feeling that the community is on its way for reconstruction. I learned from the Head of our Shop Tent (also the Vice Head of the ICSC) that the last two shops in the tent moved out. Learning about such change, I went to see the Shop Tent only to find closed. On Saturday when I expected to see many activities, the tent was extremely quiet and was even locked (Picture 2). I learned that the nature school still operates there when scheduled and the tent still functions as the place for community activities and storage. But this sad situation for me was really a sign of recovery, development and our success, which we have been working for.
I went to see shop owners of the last two shops. The barber opened a very nicely decorated and modern shop a little bit off the center of ICSC only a few days ago (see Picture 3). But the pre-fabricated complex was really nice, and the barber was really happy to be able to restart her own shop. She must have saved a fairly big sum by operating in the free-of-charge Shop Tent, though she had to put up with hot or extremely cold temperature during summer or winter respectively. She decided to locate her shop in a little elevated place, since she does not have to move out to raise the ground-level two years later. Also, a sake shop owner opened a small container shop (see Picture 4), which is very easy to remove, right next to the ICSC. The two owners were extremely thankful to the operation of the tent. As a matter of fact, without a long period of tent operation, they could not have started the present shops. When they expressed deep appreciation of our help, I am firmly convinced that the tent played a key role in the early phase to help Isatomae people to move forward despite enormous difficulties they were facing.
The government will first of all build an eight-meter-high dike along the coast, but it will also raise the present roads by five meters and build a shop area right next to the ocean after raising the land level by three meters. Shops will remain close to the ocean, while houses will be built in places as high as 30 to 50 meter above the sea level. But following the government plan means that within two years or so, the ICSC has to move out of the present place again to raise the land level, and that it will take another two years before all constructions will be completed. For four more years, they will continue to use temporary facilities including our Shop Tent. The Head of Shop Tent gave me a planning map, and to my great surprise, the newly established housing area will be located very close to the Shop Tent (Picture 5). This suggests that the tent will be again fully used two years later to accommodate temporary shops and possibly long after as a community center.
Now, the present role of the DSIA is advancing to a new stage to help the ICSC alive and active. It intends to support their activities during another torturous and long period of transition. At this moment, it is very difficult for them to think two years ahead other than developing a blue print, since they are really preoccupied with making their living especially by bringing back supporters from non-disaster-affected areas and reactivating their economy. As a matter of fact, there were four or five mobile kitchen cars in the ICSC on Saturday, whose operators came all the way from Tokyo simply to make events lively and donate earnings to the ICSC. The volunteer work of such people now makes a drastic difference to support reconstruction activities.
During winter due to extremely cold weather, the tent for shops in Isatomae, Minami-sanrikucho, was rather quiet. Only a barbershop was in operation with several transparent and thick plastic curtains to prevent oil-heated warm air leaking out of the enclosed section. In this cold weather, despite free rent in the tent, many shops moved out to government-constructed temporary-shops with much nicer, warmer-in-winter, and cooler-in-summer environments, but naturally with a highly expensive monthly charge.
Now in summer time, not only the barbershop is there in operation as usual, but also a mountain school (Tengu no Yama Gakko) is offering mountain survival lessons to children. They rented a piece of land close to the tent to teach children not only how to survive in the nature, but also how to cultivate vegetables and construct temporary shelters. Everyday many children gather in the tent to join lessons as one of children’s summer vacation activities.
The school also brought an electric sign board to attract people to come to the tent shops over the weekend, when two additional shops are operating. The liquor shop which was previously operating frequently on weekdays is now operating only over the weekend, since the owner got a bus driver job to prevent him from opening the shop on weekdays. He, however, developed private-brank sake, named “Utatsu,” the old name of the location, attracting some customers. A food shop is also open over the weekend to attract customers to the tent. So, basically four shops are in operation in the tent.
The tent is also becoming a convenient place for diverse town events. The mountain school often holds a parents-children party, and the tent is especially helpful when it rains outside. The mountain school also created a children’s mikoshi for a summer festival, and the tent became the center of mikoshi construction as well as a practiceground for children parading around Isatomae with the mikoshi. The government-constructed temporary-shops also hold events frequently, but when it rains this tent becomes the place of events.
Isatomae received a large number of paper-folded cranes (orizuru) after the Tsunami Disaster, and now the town government is hanging them on a side of a steep hill with a sign written, “To people in the world, thank you very much.” But, to my great surprise, preparations for this displayed orizuru by coating with plastic and piercing them through with a thread have been conducted at a corner of the tent. They still have far more orizuru to process. This is a reason why I say that the tent is becoming a multipurpose community center.
Another surprising finding is that now a Isatomae reconstruction plan is in a process of being formulated. The Central Government is showing a blue print to Isatomae people, while it is trying to incorporate local opinions in the plan. What is clear now is that the government is going to elevate the present government-constructed-shop area by piling up sand from the mountain. When this is to be implemented, these shops will be dismantled and have to be moved back to the tent until every construction (elevated land, dike, road, and shops) is completed, which will take a couple of years. Meanwhile, the tent will become the center of commercial activities in the village. Besides, one of two newly-planned residential areas to be constructed for people in the temporary housing to move in will be right next to the tent. In a sense, this tent may transform into a frequently-used community center even after the government construction plan is completed.
Although the use of the tent has been experiencing ups and downs, I think that the tent offered diverse and valuable supports to different groups of people with different purposes in different periods. I am really grateful for your donations, and without your help Isatomae people might have suffered further without a proper substituting location in diverse stages of transformation.
Thank you very much.
Isatomae tent shops are a little bit busier than Winter season. A barber shop is the busiest one in the tent. The owner installed the second haircut chair and also a modern massage equipment which provides massage while a customer is sitting in a haircut chair. Sometimes, customers have to wait for their turn. The owner decorated the shop in such a nice way that customers do not feel that they are inside a tent. Other than the barber shop, a liquor shop has a display of a large number of alcohol beverages. And also small food shop and a mountain school are in operation. Sometimes NGOs come and conduct their activities. The tent is in a good use, though the number of customers is not as large as shop owners wish, except the barber shop owner. However, since the tent is operated free of charge, shop owners are not losing money.
Temporary shops are operating in the government-provided temporary housing. They are attracting customers, because they are situated in the foot of a small mountain, whose top the tent shops are located. Since the temporaryshops are much nicer and warmer, and are holding diverse events to attract customers, it is becoming quite difficult to attract a large number of customers to the tent shops. But now, a reconstruction talk is taking place. The Isatomae community requested the government to elevate the land and roads where the present temporary shops are located. As soon as redevelopment starts, may be within a year, they have to evacuate the present place. As a solution to this problem, they are discussing to move all shops back to the place where the tent shops are. This means that when the construction starts, the tent shops will be the center of shopping in Isatomae until construction will be completed. Since temporary shop owners have to pay a fairly big sum to prepare themselves to dismantle the temporary housing, in the end shops might not gain much more in the operation of a fairly short period than those owners operating in the tent shops. It is, however, much nicer to feel in the temporary shop that their business is in demand by a fairly good number of customers. But the Isatomae shop tent may become the center of community activities again in a near future.
Dear Kind-hearted Donors,
Thank you very much for many donations brought to Isatomae people in Minami-Sanriku Cho. They really appreciate your donations and were given big encouragement through human interactions in the tent-shop we constructed. They are encouraged to move forward.
A big change is taking place now with the tent, passing almost one year after the 3.11 Tohoku Tsunami. This area is quite cold, having temperature between -5 and -15 degrees in centigrade during winter time. Tent is too cold for customers to come and enjoy shopping. Although the Biomas Network Japan brought a big stove, it was not adequate enough. Besides, in the middle of December, the Government constructed temporary shop houses which can create a warm and nice shop environment with an electric air conditioner. No way a tent shop can compete. Asa matter of fact, cold temperature brought a couple of incidents of burst water pipes, causing several days without water. Since computers left in the tent broke down due to moisture and cold weather, a volunteer-operated computerschool decided to move out.
Despite such conditions, the tent shop is functioning to serve the needs of local people. Presently, four shops are still in operation (a lady’s hair salon, a wine shop, a coffee shop and convenience goods), and two NGOs have their places for community activities. Community events are taking place there, turning it more like a community center. Since the tent is operated with little charges, in terms of financial conditions it is more attractive to shop owners who have less favorable financial conditions. The government-provided temporary shop-houses require a little big amount for rent and a deposit for removing the housing which will take place three or four years later. Besides, the number of shop-houses constructed is very small relative to those constructed in the main town of Shizugawa. So, the tent shop still remains attractive to some people who are contemplating to open a shop. It offers a good ground for generating shop start-ups, which can move out of the tent once they start accumulating some fund and regular customers. Besides, once spring comes, it will bring back customers, and community center activities by NGOs and the computer school.
In a sense, the tent is now functioning as an incubation center for very small shops and a community center. It is still satisfying vital needs of Isatomae people, and will bring more activities once spring comes. Since it will take several years before Isatomae people will finally have a permanent location to live and have economic activities up in the mountain side, not next to the ocean, the tent will continuously serve the vital needs of Isatomae people, though its function transforms as the stage of recovery and redevelopment advances..
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