Apr 17, 2017

After Six Years, Finally New Shop Arcade Completed

New Shopping Arcade Waiting for Final Decoration
New Shopping Arcade Waiting for Final Decoration

The Isatomae Temporary Shopping Arcade will be reborn on April 23, 2017, as a permanent one with the name of “Minami-sanriku Hamare Utatsu” (Utatsu Arcade). It went through several stages of development, starting from a big-size tent-shop which DSIA offered six months after the disaster, to the temporary arcade from December, 2011, and finally after six years, to a new permanent shopping arcade. It took unimaginably and painful long time for redevelopment.

Two buildings with outside panels made from locally-produced-woods were completed, and now interior decorating is advancing. The Arcade has a large space for parking and events. Eight shops and two restaurants, the latter operated by young entrepreneurs, will enter into these buildings. The Arcade will be quite lively with the participation of young generations, which Isatomae Community needs for its future redevelopment.

However, how has its environment changed? The neighboring area about 10 km or about 20 minute-car-ride away, called Shizugawa, now has a newly established Shopping Arcade mostly with restaurants. It has been frequently reported by media and has successfully attracted tourists. There in this March, six wooden one-floor buildings, accommodating 28 shops, designed by Mr. Kengo Sumi, famous for designing the main stadium of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic, were completed. He also designed the Utatsu Arcade. Though the buildings are nicely designed, the number of shops accommodated are drastically different between Shizugawa and Utatsu.

In both places, dump cars are busily running around, still raising the level of land in other places, and no other building can be seen around those shopping arcades. They are the first facilities opened as symbols of redevelopment. And if you go by car for about half an hour to Tome City, a shopping arcade by a road is opened, selling locally produced vegetables and serving locally-popular food at restaurants, and even having a convenience store. The parking space tends to be filled with cars over week-ends.

Although local people are with enormous joy, expecting the prosperity of business and the development of Isatomae Community in the future, their alertness about the toughness of competition and concern over their future were easily felt.

The former head of the Isatomae Shop Arcade Association (ISAA) has been helping to redevelop the community and watching the growth of children as a member of the District Education Board. This year, he hoped to have at least one full class of 40 for newly entering students in both elementary and junior high schools. Among five elementary schools in Minami-sanriku City, Isatomae has the largest number of student enrollment, 32 students, and a bigger city of Shizugawa only 21, other schools less than 20 students. These numbers suggest a serious problem of population decline in the area. The success of this small Isatomae community may be because of fishing industry they worked hard to redevelop. These schools are getting together to support the growth of children in the whole district.  

The former head of ISAA also recollected his experiences in the past six years. He remembered how tough it was at the very beginning and stated, “We took an unnecessary long way to come to the present stage. Since politicians requested us to suggest anything the community needed to develop, we spent a large amount of time to discuss what we wanted to have. However, hardly anything was realized at the end. This process turned out to be purely wasted.” For the redevelopment of the community, he organized many events and offered many interesting ideas to gather outside visitors. Unfortunately, he could not pay enough efforts to get his business going and became not feasible to enter into the Utatsu Arcade. Although he was really unfortunate, he was happy that he could help and serve his community.

In the disaster, he lost his own house, his father’s and his own shops, and ended up carrying a huge amount of debt. Despite he sold away two pieces of land in Sendai City and Isatomae to return his debt to banks, he still has to carry some debt. He still cannot realize his obligation to his family to established a tomb for his deceased mother. He stated, “I worry about the future of children. But the eldest son really became serious in studying by himself. The disaster really changed him. Since we cannot afford to send him to a university, he entered the Self-defense Force. I am very proud of him.” “Now, he cannot borrow money from a bank. But since her daughter started working for the City Government, she may be able to borrow money and build a house for his family as well as his company.” He is waiting for the answer from a bank. Even if he succeeds to obtains the funding, he still has to wait for his turn of construction, since a limited number of local carpenters, who construct with much lower costs than big nation-wide construction companies, are extremely busy in building houses. He still does not know when this will take place. Given the situation, it may still take time to move out of the present temporary housing. Though the Isatomae Shopping Arcade started its new road to build its future, individual shop owners are continuously having their own unsolved difficulties and still struggling to find their own future.  

The DSIA is very sad to inform you that this will be the last report we make on the Isatomae Shopping Arcade. Although each individual still continues to struggle for building their future, the Isatomae Shopping Arcade became renewed and started getting a path of future development. In this point, we withdraw our support to the Isatomae Community. The DSIA is extremely thankful to those who concerned about people in the Community and donated money to show your support, which has been well appreciated and recognized by local people. They are quite indebted to your kind heart, which is basically the key reason why they can continue to struggle for rebuilding their future, especially for their children. The DSIA has been happy to be with you to have been able to support them. Finally, we would like to thank cooperation of many people in the Isatomae Community who enabled us to continue reporting about their amazing stories on their struggles and to learn about the value of human essence.

A Large Parking and Even Space
A Large Parking and Even Space

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Mar 13, 2017

Helping Women at the Most Stressful Period

Event Flier at Yasunaga Waiwai Arcade
Event Flier at Yasunaga Waiwai Arcade

Kamaishi Kitchen Car (KKC) members knew very well that disaster-stricken Kumamoto people will feel most stressed around the end of the first year since the earthquake. This is precisely the reason why they visited the Mashikicho Techno Temporary Housing (MTTH) to discuss about future events. One coordinator of future events from the KKC team met the heads of the Techno Temporary Housing Shop Arcade, the Neighborhood Community Association, and NPO Cannus (an association for home-visiting voluntary nurses) , and also each heads of A-F Blocks of Neighborhood Communities. The coordinator feared that they were not aware of stress people were feeling, because only a few months have passed since these Neighborhood Community organizations were established. These heads did not really understood how events that the coordinator is organizing will build a system of generating interactions among people and the expansion of Shopping Arcade business activities. Thus, discussions about events with these people always resulted in different reactions and levels of expectations. Now, the KKC members started discussing about the post-one-year memorial events, since, based on their own experiences, they knew how important it is to organize an event at the most stressful period.

Contrary to their expectation, KKC members are finding it easier to work with people at the Yasunaga Waiwai (Chatting) Arcade and organize events, since several Kumamoto Kitchen Car members are operating in that arcade. On February 25, they had an event at the Yasunaga Waiwai Arcade (see pictures of a flier and a crowd at the event), where Kumamoto and Kamaishi kitchen car members came together and sold food. Unlike relations with MTTH, this event was initiated by Kumamoto Kitchen Car members, which requested the participation of KKC members. Their initiative meant that they are actively trying to recover from the disaster and aggressively working to redevelop the area. This eagerness to rebuild the Yasunage Community can also be recognized in their charging the minimum price to food and services and donating all profit to rebuild the Yasunaga Shrine. They are trying to solicit cooperation from local people for rebuilding their own community, one of whose symbols in the area is the Shrine. They even agreed on February 25 to organize a big event on April 16 in cooperation with KKC members.

Because KKC members knew that disaster-stricken people feel most stressed about one year after a disaster and also that the public offices do not pay proper attention on the difficulties that ladies and wives are facing, the KKC members made a very unusual and excellent initiative to bring a mother who helped to operate kitchen cars and opened a restaurant, working as a cook, manager, and waitress. Actually this person was invited to this event, because of requests from the wives of Kumamoto Kitchen Car operators, who could not find anybody to consult about their problems. Since serious attention to the role of women in the process of redeveloping business has never been paid before, this person attracted a fairly large number of attendants to this meeting. They expressed problems about their roles in businesses, how to maintain their lives, to balance childrearing and business, relations with customers, etc. Especially, their worry about children is serious. Since they cannot find a daycare center or post-school centers for school children, they have to keep their children at a very small space of a kitchen car or a restaurant, which is not only dangerous but also unfavorable for children to face. Needless to say, they worry a lot whether they can make the recovery of their businesses, whether they are making a good business plan, whether they should make a decision to quite the present attempt, or how and when they can estimate the probability of succeeding in the present business. Wives’ worries are actually much more straight forward than husbands, who keep a lot of information confidential. The KKC members are providing really valuable supports to people who usually do not have any access to consultation and information. Many Yasunaga women were really delighted to have this type of support, and will continue to have personal communications through SNS, even though a long physical distance between Kumamoto and Kamaishi exists.

With some groups, the KKC members have been having difficulty to convince the value of community-based events due to very weak neighborhood associations, while with other groups, they have been successful in developing good relations, organizing events, and providing valuable supports. They have made especially valuable and rare supports and contributions to the wives of Kumamoto Kitchen Car operators, who suffers from serious stresses without having anybody to consult with about their problems. 

Crowd at the Event 1
Crowd at the Event 1
Crowd at the Event 2
Crowd at the Event 2
Event Organizers
Event Organizers

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Jan 20, 2017

Unknown Future, But Keeping Children Happy

Snow Scene of Temporary Shop Arcade
Snow Scene of Temporary Shop Arcade

New Year days are known for bargaining sales in shopping arcades, where many people gather for shopping in Japan. On January 16, the temporary shop arcade where Kirarin Kids (KK) operates was really quiet, though it had New Year decorations. Cold weather of that day might have influenced the gathering of people. The business of temporary shops is highly vulnerable to changes of weather, partly because they tend to be located in isolated places (Picture 1: Snow Scene; Picture 2: Empty Archade with New Year Decorations).

However, during events organized in November and December, a large number of children and parents gathered and filled event rooms with sounds from talking, laughing and crying. For example, Rikuzen Takata City has one 23-year-old puppet group, which lost everything during the disaster, but thanks to donations from many people, they came back to perform in front of children. KK invited the group, and parents and children enjoyed a puppet show. On the Christmas Day. KK organized a Christmas Concert for the first time in its history. It borrowed one music hall, possible to have 300 audiences, Naturally, the area does not have the enough number of children to fill the hall. Fifty pairs of parents and children listened to gospel music and even participated in singing songs.

This event had a special pre-concert arrangement, so that children can enjoy the event. KK invited a lecturer to have children learn and enjoy the rhythm of gospel songs at the Arcade, and then organized the concert. The concert is also expected to become an opportunity for parents to relax from tough child-rearing days by letting out loud voices. Because of togetherness in signing, participants felt close relationships among themselves.

Thus, KK has been organizing many events, but each event has been carefully crafted in a way that participating mothers express their appreciating, saying that we really felt happy in the concert.

Such mothers’ expressions were really encouraging to staffs, who share works among themselves so that they can sustainably work, rather than overburdening themselves. So, the encouraging words of mothers and feeling of staffs come together viry nicely, raising work motivations and generating trust in the community owing to the long-term commitment of staffs. Although such work sharing has been the focus of attention and discussed in the urban area for many years, not many organizations have been successful. KK seems to be, in a very small way, succeeding in developing this environment among staffs. Such effectiveness of work sharing also enables KK to raise hourly wage, starting from April 2017.  

The capability building of staffs is also a serious concern. Instead of inviting lecturers on music, KK decided to have a training session so that they themselves can teach the joy of music to children.

Despite six years will soon pass since the disaster, the town is still busy in rebuilding the city. Undeniably, it is a painful long process to rebuild the destroyed and disappeared city.

In this painful process of rebuilding, a plan for rebuilding the City Office started moving. They have been operating in spaces constructed from pre-fabricated thin-wall panels. But a question is where it is going to be built, sine the location makes an enormous influence on the development of the city. With newly built houses, community centers, and a disaster-prevention center on the mountain side, a new community is coming into existence. Some people want to have the city office in that community, while others do to build in the old portion of the city where land level is presently raised. A public hearing is schedule to make a good choice, fitting to the interests of local people.

KK is also planning to have a “meeting with the mayor” to discuss about the location of the city office. This will be a good opportunity for the city to hear the opinions of young people and understand their interests. This is actually an amazing event, since there is hardly any city which hears opinions from young mothers and people. This fact suggests that KK is taking a new role of bridging young people and the city based on their participation.

For the past six year, KK has been thinking with staffs about what child rearing is. By organizing diverse events, it came to recognize that it is not to support, but to nurture the growth of individuals. Although the future of KK and the temporary shopping arcade is unknown, KK will continue to worry, think together with parents, and observe parents and children expressing their happiness through diverse events KK organizes. 

Quiet Temporary Shop Arcade on New Year Days
Quiet Temporary Shop Arcade on New Year Days

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