Apr 2, 2018

Creative Initiatives to Redevelop Rikuzentakada

Picture 1: Healthy Lunch for Mothers-to-be
Picture 1: Healthy Lunch for Mothers-to-be

Since one goal of Kirarin Kids (KK) is to transmit Tohoku culture to younger generations, on the Lunar New Year Day, it is KK’s custom to make colorful dumpling skewed by dogwood to pray for the productiveness of grains, and mothers and children eat dumpling coated with soy bean powder or sweet soy sauce syrup. Participants take the dogwood home. KK organized this event in January 11 (Thrs.). In January 22, KK also organized “Hallo Baby, Pre-mothers’ Day”, as a monthly activity. Since they have been operating this event only about one year, they are still struggling to find a better way of conducting this event. On that day, only nine pairs of mothers and children and mothers-to-be participated, while the largest number of participants in the past was twenty. Since mid-wives and health nurses also attend, this event is becoming a place where mothers or mothers-to-be to consult specialists over diverse issues, such as developmental disorder, skin rush, etc. Because of this event, some mothers become frequent visitors to KK’s events. On January 27, it was Fathers’ Day, when fathers and grandfathers come to make buckwheat noodle with children or grandchildren. Though not many, three groups of fathers, grandfathers and children participated. Although most of them have never made the noodle, they all enjoyed tasting self-made noodle. This is becoming a regular event held in January for KK, which is hoping to increase the number of participants.

On February 15th, in collaboration with Rikuzentakata Social Welfare Council, KK organized a session for grandmothers and grandfathers to have physical exercises with grandchildren at the Yonezaki Community Center. All had 30 minutes’ exercises and then had fun time over tea. Grandmothers and grandfathers sitting on chairs danced with grandchildren who danced with a very popular song for children, “Anpanman Song”. The interaction was so fruitful that the event generated amazingly good inter-generational interactions, KK now hopes to have this type of event more frequently. On February 28th, KK organized a session titled “Story about Tummy Banana (Ochinchin no Hanashi) in order to provide an opportunity for parents to discuss about any boys’ issues with a doctor. Since this event was advertised through Facebook and SNS, twenty groups of parents and children attended, some even coming from Ofunato City, located about 20 km away from Rikuzentakata City.

March was a rough month with many warnings for turbulent winds and waves. KK, thinking of the safety of their clients, decided to temporary close their place, consequently, closing many days of the month. Even the day this interview was conducted was also closed due to strong wind, which was informed to clients through Facebook and SNS. Predicting good weather, KK prepared for an event called, “Pounding Rice Cake (Mochitsuki) and Farewell”, which is for the graduation of some parents and children from KK, since its clients are only for children before entering a grade school. They pounded steamed rice to make cakes and eat them with soy source or mixed with soy bean flour, red bean paste, or sweet soy source syrup. This time, three high school graduates, going to Tokyo for university education, came to help, since they used to work as interns at KK when they were in the high school. Many mothers and children, for the first time in their lives, enjoyed pounding steamed rice and making rice cakes. It was a quite memorable day for them. 

A scheduled event for April is another “Hallo Baby, Pre-mothers’ Day”. By inviting a health nurse from the Oofunato City Public Health Office, KK hoped to raise awareness of mothers-to-be over the type of work the Office does to help mothers-to-be, mothers, and children. KK plays a very important role to introduce what kind of organizations provides what kind of services and resources to support mothers for their birth and childrearing. Additional attraction of this event is a chance to eat healthy food for mothers (Picture 1), since what they eat becomes the source of nourishment and mothers’ milk for babies. One specialist on micro-bio-technology comes all the way from Ichinoseki City to prepare the lunch, and gives recipes and lessons to mothers-to-be so that they can cook by themselves at home. These days, “Sanchoku Hamanasu”, an organization to promote locally produced food, also provides help to KK. On April 27th (Fri.), KK will organize “Outside Kirarin Activity” at Apasse Takata, a commercial building newly opened last year. In its public space, mothers and children will enjoy throwing rings and creating stamps out of pieces of clothes. KK is participating the first anniversary of Apasse Takata to create a lively environment of the facility.

An increasing number of buildings, including a new Public Library (Picture 2), opened around Apasse Takata (Picture 3). And on April 1st, the JR Rikuzentakata Station moves to a location right next to Apasse Takata, where Rikuzentakata Station of JR Ohfunto Line used to exist. Presently, JR operates a BRT bus, because the railroad between Kesennuma Station and Morioka Station was badly damaged or even partly wiped away. Soon, the new JR Rikuzentadada Station opens as a bus stop, instead of a train one (Picture 4). Although you do not yet see many people in that area, seven years after the disaster, you start seeing some redevelopment of the city center. It looks quite different from the past with elevated land and high walls of dikes, about which diverse opinions are expressed by local people. Anyway, it is quite important to keep eyes on the development of the city, to which a very small organization, KK, is taking a valuable initiative and actively contributing as much as it can. DSIA is pleased to continuously support this tiny, but highly creative and valuable NPO, generating a big impact within their capacity.

Picture 2: New Public Librar Building
Picture 2: New Public Librar Building
New JR Rikuzentakada Station
New JR Rikuzentakada Station
Picture 4: Shopps Around Apasse Takada
Picture 4: Shopps Around Apasse Takada

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Jan 29, 2018

Young People Struggling to Create New Mashiki

Waiting for the Opening of the Event
Waiting for the Opening of the Event

One year and eight months have passed since the Kumamoto Earthquake. But redevelopment in Mashiki-town is still at the stage of repairing infrastructures. Since many damaged roads are still in the process of repairs, the rebuilding of residential houses needs to wait for one or two years. Consequently, people are moving out to Kumamoto City located about half-an-hour drive. Population in Mashiki-town is declining. Besides, at present only a few roads from Mashiki-cho to Kumamoto City are available. The aggravated traffic jam in the morning is becoming not only a serious concern for commuters to the city, but also another reason for moving out of the community.

 Disaster-stricken shop-owners established a volunteer organization, called “Revival Mashiki (RM)” represented by a young entrepreneur in Yasunage Area in Mashiki-town. The area has an active fault line below their residences. People there, especially children, still suffer from the trauma of earthquake and have lost their smiles. The goals of RM are to bring back smiles to children’s faces and prevent the disintegration of the community by preventing disaster-stricken people from leaving the community. In Fall 2016, six months after the disaster, RM borrowed a small piece of private land, cleared debris, and organized the first “Mashiki Yasunaga Wai Wai Square (MYWW Square),” a starting point of organizing community activities. They had such events four times in 2016 in cooperation with Kamaishi Kichen Car members. On December 17, 2017, they organized a Christmas event in MYWW Square from 11:00 to 16:00 (Picture 1: Waiting for Opening of the Event).

Many people of diverse generations from Mashiki-town participated to the event as volunteers. They are children from the town, disaster-stricken shop owners, people from neighborhood temporary shops, township officials, wives of fire station workers. The total number of participants is estimated to be about 220.

Some children were busy preparing for shops and some calling for donations to repair a local shrine (Pictures 2 and 3). The Head of the local community proposed to have children experience mochi-pounding, one of typical year-end activities in Japan, and rented his mochi-pounding stone. The mochi-pounding became the opening event at 11:00. The Head was actively cooperating with MR, even to solicit the participation of town people. But it is also true that after four past MR events, people came to recognize its activities.

As a Christmas event, established was a Marche where local vegetables and food were sold. Several participants came from all over Kyushu, performing dances, playing music, and singing Christmas Carroll. Two groups of 30 children, one elementary school children and the other pre-school children from the community, performed dances, attracting attentions of many participants, especially parents and community residents watching them dance with heart-filling smiles on their faces. Children who participated to dancing with Christmas costumes were also given special sweet treats. Three amateur bands played as volunteers, and four group belonging to Christian Churches Association performed Christmas Carroll and Gospels. 

In Mashiki-cho, there has never been any community-based event, such as mochi pounding or bon dance festival. MR also produced fliers, created banners, and sent announcements through SNS. They even made two public announcements of this event through the public emergency radio system, which enabled to reach many senior people. This type of announcement is extremely unusual. It is simply because, for the first time, people came to recognize the importance of building community activities, and the earning of this event will be donated to rebuilding the local shrine. Naturally, local newspaper was reporting this event by interviewing participants.

Many people attending the Christmas Event came to enjoy, especially the first two hours. For the first time, all shops were organized by local people without any Kamaishi Kitchen Car team, while the representative from the team participated as advisors to many aspects of organizing such a big event.

One suggestion made by the Kamaishi Kitchen Car team was to create banners, so that the festival location can be easily identified. Most of cars going by the Festival slowed down, wondering what kind of events were taking place. The more information people have, the more people come to attend. However, the location where the Festival was held was not big enough to accommodate a large size of people. There is no alternative space. Besides, the two-lane road which this location faces is now planned to be expanded into a four-lane road, which makes it dangerous to organize an event due to a large number of cars on the road. This is a serious problem, since RM plans to expand activities by involving a larger number of community people and participants. Shops along the road will not be able to rebuild until the four-lane road is completed, delaying the process of shop redevelopment to a much later time. The idea of RM is very nice, while the reality is much tougher than what they originally thought. 

The Kamaishi Kitchen Car team this time committed simply to advise young entrepreneurs of RM, since it is about time for them to carry their own ideas forward by themselves. Providing free food and support is not difficult, but the real difficulty is when to shift responsibilities to the local and to charge money to people instead of free food. This transition is not easy, requiring the right understanding of people’s willingness to contribute to community activities, entrepreneurs’ motivations to take initiatives, and watching other young entrepreneurs’ movements who have not joined RM.

The key of the present movements is whether young local entrepreneurs think about their own community, take initiative, and lead the movement. In a disaster-stricken area, community leaders, in many cases, come from formerly non-active members. People from RM should lead such movement, though supports from Kamaishi Kitchen Car team and Mashiki-Kamaishi cooperation undeniably remains as supporting elements.

One male in Picture 4 was to have his shop opened on the very day the earthquake took place, and the newly built shop was destroyed completely. Now, he is operating a kitchen car, whose idea was given by the Kamaishi Kitchen Car team. He was actively participating in organizing the event, dreaming of a day when he can establish his own shop.

In Kumamoto, there is a word pronounced, “Dekusshiko.” It means that you do things you can or you do start things from what you can do. It seems that everybody is actively participating by doing what they think they can do for the development of the local community, despite many problems they personally have. The next event is scheduled to be help on February 11 (Sun.), 2018, at MYWW Square.

Children Calling for Donation
Children Calling for Donation
Children Helping to Operate Shops
Children Helping to Operate Shops
Reviving Mashiki through Kitchen Car
Reviving Mashiki through Kitchen Car

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Jan 3, 2018

Finally Moving to A New Place with New Problems

Hallow-baby Mothers' Day 1
Hallow-baby Mothers' Day 1

It was Christmas, a big day for children. Although no Christmas decoration was seen in Rikuzen Takata City, Kirarin Kids (KK) is naturally offering a Christmas Party with home-made food and fun activities for children and parents to enjoy the occasion. As a special event of the day, they invited a local poppet-group which has been active for the past 25 years in Rikuzen Takata. Since the group bases their performances on traditional stories, it was a very good opportunity for children, young mothers, and families who have just moved into the city to know local culture. Instead of offering free performances, KK charged 300 yen, but they also gave a present to the audience.

Another event offered on that day was “Hallow-baby Mothers’ Day” for mothers whose babies are less than one year old (Picture 1 and Picture 2). The purpose was for new mothers with the first baby to have relaxed lunch while they can consult a district nurse attending the lunch. Mothers can have a rare opportunity to consult a nurse, make friends in a similar situation of having the first baby, and share their problems and interests. Not having excessive stress is considered important for mothers, since it may also prevent any abusive behavior of mothers. Most of staffs attend and pay special attention to mothers and babies, so that mothers can enjoy eating lunch. The room is filled with laughers and smiles (Picture 2). All food is home-made, well balanced in nourishment with an unusual menu, hoped to be replicated at home. The event was well thought-out and heart- warming. This type of event is organized once every month on the fourth Mondays, which children and mothers really enjoy attending. However, when a baby becomes one year old, mothers cannot attend the session and often get disappointed, since no continuous program is available.   

Despite more communications takes place through SNS these days, this type of event is informed to mothers by fliers. Since quite many events are organized, SNS mails tend to be forgotten or ignored, while mothers keep fliers close to their hands as reminders. Fliers are also a good means to inform new events.

Two new programs have been added since the beginning of 2017. One program is to offer a temporary baby-sitting and the other is to offer events initiated by staffs. The temporary baby-sitting is frequently used by families who newly moved into Rikuzen Takada and do not have any relative to whom they can entrust their babies when necessary. KK staffs feel really satisfied when they hear that the mothers are extremely happy to move into Rikuzen Takata because of a nice environment of “Community-based Childrearing.” This feeling really fits well to the goals of KK, which has been working very hard to build such environment.

New ideas and plans from seven staffs often come to the Head of KK, who encourages them to think of new events. Since the strength of the private sector is speed and flexibility, they just try and see how each idea will come out. In December, one staff taught how to create letters and designs made of moss. Since it became quite popular among mothers and children, the staff herself became quite motivated to create more and do better throughout a year. Thanks to her efforts, this program became quite successful in digging up needs. It is quite important to judge what staffs can do and cannot do. For difficult parts, KK is trying to cooperate with experts, who can help to make a project attractive and successful. For example, in a initiative for cooking, a new menu was offered by a specialist from Ichinoseki, about one or two hour distant away from Rikuzen Takata. During the winter, since the road becomes icy and snowy, KK is thinking of looking for another person from a city along the coast where road conditions are better. As a side effect of such activities, KK has been succeeding to identify new talents of the area, and have developed the connection of many quite talented local people.

There will be a big change in 2018. Dump cars are still going by and unloading soil to raise the land level of a huge area (Picture 3). But a new shopping mall was completed the last year, and a new City Hall will be completed this year. Although it may still take a few more years before other buildings will be completed, seeing a few buildings built up on a huge empty area gives a hint of a new stage in rebuilding the area and raises people’s expectation of seeing a new city soon.

In one corner of the huge area, the private sector will build a building in which Social Welfare Council, Tourist Association, and other public entities will move in. KK will also move into the building. Presently, it is in a stage of designing, involving a famous architect, Mr. Kengo Kuma. It may still take a little bit of time before KK can move into the building.

The KK’s move to the building was proposed by the City Office. This fact may suggest that KK’s activities have been contributing significantly for stimulating and activating residents’ living. They are highly proud of this proposal, since the public has recognized their achievements. However, their old experience of Tsunami torments them, since the new place will be located right next to the ocean. They really have to figure out how to protect children when a disaster situation occurs again. Another worry is how to allocate staffs, since the new place is much bigger than the present one. Presently, seven staffs are rotated with the salary for two full-timers. If this place requires to allocate additional staff to keep eyes on children, how can it be financially managed? To create the sustainability, it may become necessary to increase revenue. In 2018, they are trying to persistently improve supports to childrearing in Rikuzen Takata. But a new set of problems started tormenting them in a new stage of redevelopment, though they are really happy with the unexpected result. 

Hallow-baby Mothers' Day 2
Hallow-baby Mothers' Day 2
Construction Site
Construction Site

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