Jan 20, 2017

Lessons from New Attempts without Human Resouces

Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 1
Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 1

Since it was such a cold day, shoppers at the Isatomae Temporary Fukko Arcade quickly finished their necessary shopping and hopped into their cars. The final Shop Arcade currently under construction, right next to this temporary one, was planned to be completed in March this year. However, as the attached picture (Picture 1 and 2) shows, the construction is still at the stage of raising a land level and installing the basic infrastructure such as electricity, water and sewage. It looks as if people have to wait for a while before the Final Shop Arcade will be completed. They still need to be patient.

The construction of the Main Shop Arcade in Shizugawa, which is about 10km away from Isatomae, is also taking place. This arcade often appears in the media for restaurants offering local tastes, especially to tourists. The temporary arcade was already closed and the main arcade will most likely be completed in March this year. In contrast, the Isatomae arcade is basically for the local community with a large portion of residents senior people, rather than for tourists, thus being covered less by the media and continues to be in need of external supports.

The constructions of highways leading to Sendai are also taking place. Shizugawa looks like a construction factory, where you can find many construction equipment everywhere, creating fairly dry and noisy environments. Local people must be having difficulty to live in these environments. Students in only one high-school in Minami-sanriku-cho located on a hill side (Picture 3) must be watching the same scenery every day, while temporary houses fill the athletic and play grounds even now. Six years have passed since the disaster, a long time to suffer, but one positive effect of this suffering is that students are graduating with ever stronger wish and dream to contribute to the local community.

A Moai statue which symbolized the Chile Earthquake of the 1960s and stone monuments which used to be in destroyed sea-shore parks are placed in the high-school ground. Despite that the Moai status and stone monuments were washed away in the disaster, they were later found in different locations. What is interesting is that in the past people used to live in the mountain side fearing tsunami and disasters, but once recovery takes place, many of them just forget about their experiences and move back to the area along the sea shore, where it is easier to develop businesses.

Not to forget the memory of the disaster, the town decided to establish “a room of disaster memory.” They are making use of an empty classroom, available due to the decline of the number of children enrollment. How to convey and what type of messages are to be conveyed are currently discussed. An ample amount of digital information and pictures are available and need to be stored. Through these materials, they would like to convey the threat of disaster and the importance of life. Although donations from companies covered hardware, such as PCs and exhibits, the soft side of the room, such as how to display materials, operate the room and archive materials, need to be developed. But hardly any expert on such issues live in the town. Human development in diverse areas, such as schools, shopping arcade, municipalities, and the whole area, seems to be in an urgent need. This process may be what enables the sustainable development of a society and what we can learn from the disaster.  

Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 2
Construction Site of Isatomae Shopping Arcade 2
Only One Senior-high-school in Minami-sanriku-cho
Only One Senior-high-school in Minami-sanriku-cho

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Dec 16, 2016

Nurturing Community Relations in Kumamoto-disaster

Picture 1: Redevelopment Shop Arcade
Picture 1: Redevelopment Shop Arcade

The Kumamoto Earthquake took place on April 14, 2016, and continued to have earth shakes until the end of August. Although the difficulties of the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami generated a lot of delays in building temporary housing and developing emergency schemes, the government in the Kumamoto Earthquake was much quicker to respond to the needs of disaster-stricken people, owing to lessons learned from the East Japan disaster. As fast as three months after the earthquake, there were already the developments of temporary housing areas with an adequate number of houses.

Despite so, the nature of people’s fear toward the earthquake is quite different, since the fear started taking place after several days of shakes. Some families found themselves safe at the first shake, while the second and the third shakes gradually destroyed their houses, making them impossible to continue living. When the fear took place at once just like in the East Japan disaster, efforts can be made to give up what they lost and start thinking about rebuilding their communities. However, if the loss was gradual and if they found many places previously safe became all unsafe, their unusual experiences shattered their sense of efforts for rebuilding communities.

Along with this sense of deep fear for any place previously considered safe in their communities and also ease in moving to another place without any geographical restrictions make them feel less committed to rebuilding their communities. In a period when a community was destroyed by a natural disaster, rebuilding good human relations become the base of building community relations. People in the East Japan disaster learned in a very hard way how important it is to redevelop good human relations for nurturing a sense of community and redeveloping a community itself.

However, building human relations in the Mashikicho Tekuno Temporary Housing (MTTH) is found especially difficult, since HTTM consists of more than 500 houses and since the area was divided into six different blocks despite the fact they all live in one place and use one shopping arcade. These characteristics resulted in MTTH’s delay in establishing the Neighborhood Community Association (NCA) until as late as the middle of November, while people started moving into the area in July. Actually, it took four months to develop the NCA to collectively cater for the needs of disaster-stricken people. This failure very much suggests a difficulty of building good community relations and speeding up the redevelopment of the area.

People in Kamaishi experiencing the East Japan disaster, in an abrupt way, learned how important it is to develop good human relations for nurturing a sense of community. This is precisely the reason why the Kamaishi Kitchen Car (KKC) team took their roles as a facilitator for bringing people in MTTH together, and planned to have a Winter Festival in MTTH on Dec. 11, 2016 (Sun.). This festival was organized by the Kitchen Car National Disaster Support Network, which is initiated and operated by the KKC, presently operated by the Kamaishi Platform Co. Ltd. Four organizations provide funding, one of which is the Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA. Another supporting organizations is Yashiro Fishermen’s Cooperative, which has already developed long-term mutual cooperative relations with oyster producers in Kamaishi, actually their relations going back before the East Japan disaster. This Cooperative sent seven people to participate in this festival by serving their oyster to people in MTTH.

The KCC team was acting based on their experiences of the East Japan disaster where human relations in communities are traditionally strong, especially because each community tends to be small and isolated by high mountains or deeply indented coastal lines. The KKC team started organizing the festival several months ago by contacting those whom they have met at the initial stage of serving free food. And in order to make sure that the festival works out smoothly, the team along with the author entered Mashikicho a few days before the festival.

The KCC team has earlier developed good relations with people at a temporary shop arcade, called Redevelopment Shop Arcade (RSA) (Picture 1), consisted of fifteen shops, built on a parking space borrowed from a damaged Kuroshio-Honryu-Supermarket building. However, suddenly the supermarket decided to rebuild its shop and requested the return of the parking space for bringing in construction equipment, and informed RSA to move out by December 2016. After negotiating with the supermarket, shops in RSA succeeded in postponing the deadline until June 2017. This was the very reason why many shop owners have been consulting with the KKC team, especially some of which were seriously thinking of shifting to kitchen cars to continue their businesses. At this moment, only one shop decided to do so and just recently purchased a kitchen car produced by a company the KKC team has been purchasing for their Kamaishi project (Picture 2). What is good about the KKC team was that they become one stop place for learning how to operate a kitchen car, purchasing a kitchen car, and receiving advises on conducting businesses. This team also closely coordinate with the Kumamoto Catering Car Association, which facilitates the smooth acquisitions of government permissions and advises on locations where kitchen cars can operate with some good sales. As a matter of fact, one company, which has a very good reputation of producing high-quality and constantly-improved kitchen cars, works closely with the KCC team to give advises on kitchen car operations. The company even joined this festival by bringing a newly developed kitchen car to serve food to people. The outcome of such coordinated activities in Mashikicho resulted in two kitchen car operators: one which sells coffee during day time and alcoholic drinks at night; and the other which sells sweets. The latter kitchen car even developed its original “Mashiki Pudding” (Picture 3), which has been frequently reported in local news. The KKC team has already made some impacts to develop kitchen car operators in the Kumamoto disaster.

The head of the Temporary Shops Association in MTTH has been rather taking a passive stance to solve several issues due to the difficulty of coordinating diverse interests. It was clear that a sense of community was not well nurtured in MTTH, especially because NCA was established only three weeks ago. Even though a sense of community may be different from East Japan, the difficulty of coordination itself actually suggested the importance of developing a sense of community in MTTH and the importance of activities, such as the festival, by the KCC team.

Naturally, the KKC team encountered a lot of miscommunications among participants and visited each shop in MTTH on Dec. 9 (Fri.), cleared misunderstanding, and obtained the promises of their participation. Since solving miscommunications was quite a tough work, the KKC members even started worrying whether there will be enough participants to this festival. Fearing a possible unexpected outcome, on Dec. 10 (Sat.), the team delivered announcements to all 500 households and went shopping to prepare for food to be served.

Anxieties that the KKC team had was meaningless. Although only twenty people were waiting for the opening at 9:00 am, people started gathering around 10:00 am. It was the idea of the KKC team to have games for both adults and children. For adults, people could get for free a fairly large amount of potatoes and onions, may be worth about 500 yen, if they had the right amount of weight, while if not, they had to pay 100 yen. Even so, this was a bargain. Many people lined up waiting for their turn, and loud voices of one in charge of this game created quite lively atmosphere (Picture 4). Next to that place, children played ring throwing, which was operated by high school volunteers, some of whom were from MTTH and some from outside (Picture 5). Then, around 11:00 am oyster soup and yakisoba (Picture 6) came to be served. Many people were just waiting for lunch-time food, especially for yakisoba. which ended up having a line of 20 to 30 people waiting. An interesting phenomenon is that when one person asked if she could bring her own pan for oyster soup and when she was approved to do so, then many people went back home and brought small-sized pans. Consequently, giving a bigger serving to a pan than a small soup cup at the same price, this practice ended up reducing the number of people who could be served out of one large-sized cooking pan. Since heat from LP gas was rather weak, cooking oyster soup took a long time and created a longer line. Although many people lined up, they did not mind at all to wait for a fairly long time, since the soup was really good with an unexpectedly many oysters in it.

Adult weighing game with vegetables was priced at 100 yen (93 cents). children’s game at 50 yen (46 cents), oyster soup at 50 yen (46 cents), yakisoba at 50 yen (46 cents), and coffee and corn soup at 10 yen (9 cents). Free food was considered not good, since some shops in MTTH tried to get their own customers on that day. If it is completely free, those shops will not get any customer. But the earning of about 30,000 yen through these activities actually suggests that a fairly large number of purchases and playing took place. It was donated to the Temporary Shop Association for their activities. At the end of the day, everybody who helped to make this Winter Festival success gathered for picture taking (Picture 7). Surprisingly, the number was about 25 people, quite many volunteered to make this event successful.

Thus, people seemed to be very happy to attend the Winter Festival, and offered a lot of opportunities for them to meet with each other. They relaxed at tables located in the center of the arcade. And many people expressed their appreciation for the kind offering of helping hands to them, though many people still do not know where they are going. Some expressed that they will never be able to go back where they used to live, simply because they do not have any saving to build a house, while the government cleans up a piece of land for them. Quite a significant portion of people in MTTH may belong to this category, greatly due to their age. Many people who attended the festival, at least for a moment, had a sense of warm community relations, which might have triggered future-oriented thinking.

Picture 2: Newly Purchased Kitchen Car
Picture 2: Newly Purchased Kitchen Car
Picture 3: Mashiki Pudding Kitchen Car
Picture 3: Mashiki Pudding Kitchen Car
Picture 4: Game for Adults (Weighing Vegetables)
Picture 4: Game for Adults (Weighing Vegetables)
Pictuire 5: Children's Game (Throwing Rings)
Pictuire 5: Children's Game (Throwing Rings)
Picture 6: Long Waiting Line for Yakisoba
Picture 6: Long Waiting Line for Yakisoba
Picture 7: Volunteers for Winter Festival
Picture 7: Volunteers for Winter Festival

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Oct 24, 2016

A Good News to be Able to Stay Two More Years

Mobile Toy Library
Mobile Toy Library

On Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, Kirain Kids (KK) opened a mobile toy library (Picture 1), which provides opportunities for children to play with toys not used in diverse childcare centers over weekend. Children were really enjoying to play with toys, even forgetting where their parents were.

Rikuzen Takata City opened this month a new childcare center, since the number of new born babies is increasing to about 100 every year. Now, the city has three childcare centers and one parent-child play circle (KK). They all offer services to both parents and children, while three childcare centers are city-operated, having childcare specialist and nurses and providing advises to children. They are operated by semi-professional staffs. In contrast, KK is rather operated by people who have experiences in childrearing and high motivation. The city now has a wonderful environment for children, and parents can choose which childcare center to go.

KK has been contributing significantly to developing such environment. And many childcare centers follow the pioneering KK. Since it is a private operation, it has a strength of flexibly organizing programs and events as children’s needs and interests change. When events are offered, usually twice more children participate than the number KK usual have in weekday operations. Thus, it is important for KK to organize events at least once a week, since they effectively bring joyful interactions between children and parents. Naturally, weekend evens impose extra works for its staff.

One interesting phenomenon is that when mothers from foreign countries participate such evens, they all show quite different ways to solve children’s fightd over toys. Mothers from foreigncountries are learning how Japanese come to settle conflicts, while Japanese mothers also learn different ways of raising children. This rich educational environment is a pride for the staff to keep organizing diverse programs in KK.

The Second KK’s Athletic Meeting for toddler between age zero and two was held this fall, and the number of participants increased twice relative to the last year, counting twenty-four pairs of parents and children. Quick responses to participate this event came from the neighboring communities, suggesting quite effective dissemination of the even information. Renting a bigger community center also encouraged the participation of grandparents and other family members. KK worked so hard that they even developed an event for infants. Since KK offered a highly enjoyable and heart-warming even to the communities of this region, a local newspaper also reported this even with pictures of smiling children.

Also, the first Apple Picking Event was also well appreciated by KK members. In the past, KK was taking children for excursion in a bus. However, due to the budget cut, this year they changed their way of thinking and took children to a neighboring place in the city. Since Rikuzen Takata is a well-known city for a fairly large number of apple orchards, they went to pick apples and made desserts from pickled apples. The lack of the budget generated an opportunity to think about an interesting idea.

Now, the temporary shop arcade where they currently operate will be sustained for the next two years. Nobody knows what is going to happen after that. A housing area is currently developed on a higher ground with noises and dusts of dump cars going back and forth. They may have to think their future by keeping close eyes on changes taking place in the city.

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