Jun 3, 2019

Radically Improving to Satisfy Needs of Children and Parents

Kirarin Go Out in Rainbow House before Visitors
Kirarin Go Out in Rainbow House before Visitors

As soon as the final location and the date of move will be determined, Kirarin Kids (KK) is ready to move. However, things are not that clear. At least, KK hired one additional full-time and two part-time staffs, to be ready for expected increase in participants and activities in the very near future in a new location near newly established Apasse Takata.

On April 27, 2017, a commercial complex, Apasse Takata, opened, where fourteen shops and several large-sized stores started operating on a raised land. They are leading the redevelopment of formerly disaster-stricken center of Rikuzen Takata City. It is now becoming the center of commercial and city activities. Apass is a local dialect, meaning “Let’s go together”. People’s expectation is that they come together, enjoy, and have a fun through community interactions. To commemorate the second year of the Apasse Takata opening, KK is joining and moving together with people in Rikuzen Takata. As one indication, KK had “Odekake Kirarin (Kirarin’s Go Out)” at Apasse Takata for commemorating its second year.

As a matter of fact, KK conducts this outing in three locations at Rainbow House, House with Sun Shine, and Apasse Takata. They are highly active to get the children and parents of KK to join diverse city activities to contribute to redevelopment. Such activities all started when they were in the previous shopping arcade. Since the playroom there was too small, they looked for a larger place for children to play around. It started from the Rainbow House. But KK expanded this outing to the House with Sun Shine, since it is located a little bit far away from the city center. It tried to provide opportunities for children in that area to benefit from diverse activities which KK can offer. However, since Apasse Takata will be very close to where KK hopes to finally move into soon, it conducts its outing there in order to make the name of KK known and introduce their activities to people who may come to live or work in that area. For example, in outing held on May 14 at Apasse Takaya, KK organized some craft-making for children to show one of their creative programs to attract children and parents and how communications among participants can be stimulated in KK’s program, instead of simply bringing their toys and equipment there.

KK decided to close their facility for a long golden week, which was exceptionally long due to the change of reign in the Imperial Household. Given this unusual occasion, despite some requests to open KK facility, it decided to close completely to allow staffs to rest. Hardly any construction truck was moving, which generated a real sense of peace and quietness, suggesting how peaceful it will be when all rebuilding finishes. The center of the city was noisy with homecoming people and tourists, though.

KK is also getting involved in a quite unique program. It proposed to develop a program for “Redeveloping a Child-rearing-friendly Town with Community’s Preparedness for Disaster with Security and Safety.” KK won a grant from the Sumitomo Japan Redevelopment Fellowship Program, and tries to offer divers seminars on security and safety from disasters, combined with child-rearing practices. On May 21, they organized the second seminar, in which they crafted bracelets made out of very strong strings even used for parachute, which can be used to pack, stop breeding, and even make fire. Inside the string, it has several thin threads which can be used even to start fire. Although a bracelet is fairly small, it is made out of three-meter-long strings, which can be used for many different purposes highly convenient at a time of disaster. KK now has its own disaster prevention advisor, who will help organize diverse seminars. When this program will be over in March 2020, KK is planning to create a booklet to have all of these seminars recorded and distributed.

KK is performing diverse schedules as they did before. They are Summer Evening Festival and Parents-Children Festival. Both of events are considered quite important to develop a city with very friendly environment for child rearing. This year, they are trying to have these activities at Apasse Takata, so that they can attract more participants as well as to have KK’s existence known to city people. Although there are several organizations to take care of children, which has contracts with the city government, KK is the only one having an NPO status, giving them freedom to organize things they believe is extremely important.

All staff gather in the morning of every Wednesdays, exchange information, discuss diverse issues for improvements, and make case presentations. They are all working very hard to fit to the changes of needs in parents-children relations. It is providing a good opportunity to make KK constantly evolving. It is simply because their needs are constantly changing. For example, immediately after the disaster, KK functioned as a place to provide information to obtain necessary goods for children. However, now KK is a safe and comfortable place for parents to have relaxations and exchange information and for non-Japanese parents to look for guidance and advice. KK hopes to satisfy parents’ needs as much as possible.

Bracelet of Paracode
Bracelet of Paracode
Newly Built Center of Kesennuma
Newly Built Center of Kesennuma

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Mar 11, 2019

Challenging Redevelopment with Ingenuity

Picture One (New City Office Location)
Picture One (New City Office Location)

In our visit to Kirarin Kids (KK) in Rikuzentakata City, we recognized that the redevelopment of the coastal area is advancing fairly well. The level of a fairly large portion of land was raised, and now we see electricity polls standing in some areas. The development seems to be advancing from the stage of land raising to that of infrastructural installations. Shops seemed to start appearing in the order of  convenience stores, temporary shops, schools, a large-sized mall, and redevelopment housing. After these constructions, individual’s houses came to be built, following the last year’s rush for building temporary shops. It took eight years to see the beginning of restoration in people’s living. However, it is also true that some people decided not to come back to where they used to live and sell their restored piece of land which has a sign of “For Sale”. The new City Office will be built behind redevelopment housing (Picture 1). Many people must have been forced to change their living style, needless to say, about their living itself.

According to KK, family structure has been drastically changed due to the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The nuclear family, which is very much a characteristic of urban area, replaced the traditional extended family structure of rural area in Tohoku. Grandparents used to take care of their grandchildren, whose mothers are at work. Now, younger generations move out of rural area, while grandparents remain in the mountain side or their old places. Now, only twenty percent of parents bringing children to KK had the experience of the earthquake, but the remaining eighty percent of parents are those who moved in anew to this area, in order to engage in redevelopment works.  

Playground for Children and Parents (Oyakono Hiroba) has been developed in many communities all over Japan for promoting interactions and exchanges among parents and children. However, some groups carry fairly big responsibilities in their communities. KK is clearly this case. It plays very important roles of exchanging information and sharing their feelings among parents and children, which the City Government uses as a monitoring place of opinions and feelings. KK contributes to providing information for formulating City Government’s policies. Because of their important roles, KK feels that they are nurturing children by providing comfortable environments for good parents-children relations and are helping to retain young generations in the city. KK is one of key actors to create the future image of the city. In a sense, as we see electric polls being established as a part of hard infrastructure, KK is now trying to establish soft infrastructure in the city.

From the days of New Year Celebration, KK has been extremely busy to move to a new, but another temporary place. The present temporary shop arcade is placed in a private land, to which the Government provided subsidies for free rents. Despite that the Redevelopment Agency promised to keep free rent until the next place can be found, the land and shop owners agreed to end the free provision of facilities and land. From October 2018, KK’s place has been costing them \90,000 (about $800) per month. KK’s operation has been provided free of charge, especially to allow children to come out of their own houses and join together to play around. The philosophy also applies to children’s parents. Hence, it is extremely difficult to suddenly charge money for their fun time. But if they pay \90.000 per month, KK will soon bankrupt. After a tormenting period of discussions with the City and staffs, they decided to move to a place in a higher elevation, donated by the Rotary Club and owned by the City, which happened to be previously used as another Playground for Children and Parents. The temporary place is better owing to a larger playground and an adjacent office (Picture Two). It is safer and more efficient. Besides, it is free of charge. But this place is until they move to a place in the central part of newly developed city center.   

KK is moving into a new house this coming Fall, built by the support of a company, where they pay a far lower rent than the previous place. After they move to the new place, in order to provide KK’s activities to many parts of the city, they are planning to conduct satellite activities (Odekake Hiroba). Given their sense of responsibility to contribute to the development of the city, they would like to expand their activities to many parts of the city. They may be able to respond to much wider needs of children and parents. Naturally, this additional operation with two new staffs joining this Spring costs money, and KK has to figure our how to financially manage such activities. But it is also nice to know that they have built networks with many of such professionals as nursery teachers, counselors, nutritionists, retired kindergarten presidents, etc.

KK is growing and evolving as the City gradually redevelops. Instead of rushing to do many things, they always stick with their goals and sense of responsibilities, which enabled them to keep stuffs motivation very high all the time. Relative to the period of the disaster, KK’s roles and responsibilities to the community grew big. Consequently, KK came to be trusted and relied by people in the community and the city.

Undeniably, declining population is advancing in many rural areas in Tohoku. Rikuzentakata is not an exception. To cope with this difficult problem, attracting younger generations to move into this area is indispensable. KK’s summer events attract many young students from big cities. Some come every year. Having them come to the city and see how development is taking place itself is already a contribution to the city, simply because attracting young people to come to city is the beginning of getting young people moving into the city. But their traveling cost is high, which also works negatively to attract young students to come to the city. For the sustainable development of rural areas in Japan, people need to learn how development takes place and know what they can do for the goals. It still requires time and ingenuities. KK is struggling with their ingenuity to fight against this big trend of depopulation.

Picture Two (New Place Outside Look)
Picture Two (New Place Outside Look)
Picture Two (New Kirarin Kids Inside)
Picture Two (New Kirarin Kids Inside)

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Dec 10, 2018

Family Festival Shines Children's Faces

Dream Arena Takata
Dream Arena Takata

In April 2018, a new building called Dream Arena Takata (Picture 1), officially called as Rikuzen Takata City Community Exchange Center, opened at a location where the City Gymnasium used to stand. The facility stands in the area of 10,000 square meters, located at 30 meter above the ocean. People can look at beautiful ocean there, but it can be used as a shelter to run away from tidal waves in case of Tsunami disaster. It has multi-purpose halls, an arena, a swimming pool, etc. The Family Festival organized by Kirarin Kids (KK) was held in the biggest area, where many parents and children came to enjoy playing together. Especially, children enjoyed running around this large space. There was also poster exhibits of KK’s events, which several participants stared at (Picture 2).

In this district, the Dream Arena is the biggest event place. At 10 am, as soon as the door opened, one family came in rushing. There, they found wood blocks for children, a large-size slide, a tricycle corner, go-carts, etc., full of equipment, good for children from a baby to a toddler. It is an environment, even brothers and sisters can play with whatever equipment they choose, instead of fighting over their turns. KK planned well, so that parents and children can play from their hearts (Pictures 3 and 4). Surprisingly a large number of fathers joined the event, when it is very rare to find the attendance of fathers in many KK events.

In the past, one staff obtained a city subsidy and operated it. Now, this event is carried out by KK, which successfully obtained helps from many cooperators, such as local companies, the Male Nursery Attendant Association, an NGO to promote children’s playing, etc.

KK, a very small NGO with firm belief for children’s happiness at the time of the disaster grew up to be a significant force even to organize the biggest event in the area. It took eight years to reach the present stage, not because they wished to be, but simply because they wanted to contribute to develop humanly warm parents-children relations. This speed of growth was also helpful, since women not wishing to work full-time managed both their household works and KK’s voluntary works (Picture 5), which facilitated the local awareness of KK’s contributions to the local community. This is an excellent outcome to show how many of small-amount donations, such as GlobalGiving ones, continued to give energy and nourishments to KK, just like intravenous injection, resulting in an unrecognizably big and competent organization. It is clearly a big achievement for KK.

In contrast, the disaster-stricken area is still in the middle of big constructions, now witnessing a big road, a shopping center, and several new houses there (Picture 6). To report about KK to GlobalGiving allows us to look at the rebuilding process from the residents’ perspective. The area is still lacking many human supports to enable people live in a comfortable way. People still needs places to consult with or meet others. In this situation, KK played a vital role in not only providing information, but also acting to help those who are in needs.

However, KK’s activities are remote from covering its costs and sustaining its operations, needless to say about satisfying community needs. Achieving such sustainable operations will still take a long time to come, as the disaster-stricken area indicates still an enormous amount of time to complete construction works. KK is now facing a pressure to look for a new place to move in. Despite such painful situation, they continue to shine as an organization to provide smiles to parents and children in the community.

Participants Staring at Posters
Participants Staring at Posters
What a Fun to Play There
What a Fun to Play There
I Want to Play This One Next
I Want to Play This One Next
Staffs Happy to See Children Playing
Staffs Happy to See Children Playing
New Road, but Still Underconstruction
New Road, but Still Underconstruction

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