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.
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