Keep Tsunami-Stricken Isatomae Community Alive

by Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA
Keep Tsunami-Stricken Isatomae Community Alive
Keep Tsunami-Stricken Isatomae Community Alive
Keep Tsunami-Stricken Isatomae Community Alive
Keep Tsunami-Stricken Isatomae Community Alive
Keep Tsunami-Stricken Isatomae Community Alive
Keep Tsunami-Stricken Isatomae Community Alive
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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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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Trucks busy for raising the land level
Trucks busy for raising the land level

Still many dump cars are going back and forth, busy in raising the level of land (Picture 1) to be use for building the final main shop arcade. It is scheduled to be completed in April 2017. On Oct. 19th, 2016, the ceremony of starting to build the arcade was conducted. Besides, an exit of a highway will be also constructed. Since the temporary shop arcade this weekend will organize an event, it has quite many young people gathering. It seems that the place is busy with people and trucks, giving a strong impression of redevelopment (Picture 2). But people in the town seems to be split into two groups of those who remember the old scenery before the disaster and elementary school children up to the third grade who do not remember the past scenery and grew up with the sound of redevelopment.

 During the past five years, children took school buses for the safety of children, funded by the redevelopment budget, costing 0.2 billion yen a year. With the government budget cut for redevelopment, now a discussion is taking place even to cut school buses, unless the Minami-sanriku Township will finance the operation, which is unlikely to come up with a budget of such a big sum.

 Besides, children used to walk a long distance, while the younger generation has been riding the school bus, losing a valuable opportunity to build their muscle. Although school buses are likely to be maintained, while dump cars are speeding in the main street, local culture, which used to maintain a sense of community as well as the physical strength of children, seems to have disappeared. How can the redevelopment of the past culture be achieved? It is quite a difficult question, since they feel that they are moving to a completely unknown direction.

When redevelopment construction ends and when the scenery and people’s practices change, how do people face this new stage? On October 1, 2016, the Tomura Community Center was opened, which was in the past a junior-high-school building whose first floor was destroyed by Tsunami. The school was forced to merge with another school. With some repairs, it is now used as a community center, which includes the Disaster Learning Seminar Room and a room for collecting and keeping disaster-related materials. Only existing high school, Shizukawa High School in the neighboring part of the township, now suffers from the decline of student enrollment, and decided to reduce one class down to three classes from the next April. Now, the township is planning to use the unused classroom to keep documents related to the disaster, so that people do not forget the incident.

Job opportunities for the younger generation has also changed. In the past, they all worked as fishermen, but now a significant number of them work in construction businesses involved in the redevelopment of the area. They work in small- and medium-sized construction subcontractors, which pays far less salary than that of an ordinary businessman. A big question is whether they will be continuously employed after the completion of redevelopment construction. Can they find a job a few years later? This also generate a worry to shop owners in the arcade, since the consumption will drastically decline when no job is available to young people. Besides, inequality between young fishermen and unemployed people will be a serious social problem.

According to the Committee for Redeveloping Isatomae Community, the number of people participating in its meetings have drastically declined. The redevelopment of hard infrastructure is undeniably advancing, while that of soft side is carrying a hidden bomb of aggravating community problems.

One informant to this report decided not to move into the newly built arcade. Instead, he will use a part of his new house, to be established in a redevelopment community of 100 houses. In this way, he believes that he can respond better to the needs of familiar local people and provide goods and services. Other than fishing business, this community may be the only source of stimulating economic activities in Isatomae.

Young people helping the event of the arcade
Young people helping the event of the arcade

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Land Raising for the Permanent Arcade
Land Raising for the Permanent Arcade

Blue ocean spreading in front of the Temporary Fukko Shopping Arcade in Isatomae, Minami- Sanrikucho, is really beautiful. But visitors to the temporary arcade is not likely to buy goods there, since they are basically for local people to satisfy their needs. Tourists who visit there are returnees to witness town’s redevelopment. They are supporters of Isatomae redevelopment, and come back to see community developments and beautiful blue ocean. However, very soon eight-meter high dike will be completed, blocking even the view of this beautiful blue ocean. Rumors are spreading that the dike construction is even influencing the catch of fish and shellfish in the bay area of the Isatomae. Nobody has provided adequate explanation.  

 In addition to the dike construction, the land raising for the main shop arcade across the present temporary one (see Picture 1) is taking place. Due to these construction works, many trucks are driving by the arcade. It may take additional three years to see the total picture of Isatomae, which adds up to ten years after the disaster. But two thirds of residents in a temporary housing in an elementary school have moved out to either publicly-provided housing areas or their self-constructed houses. At least, some changes and advancements are taking place.  

 According to the Minami-Sanrikucho City Government, the main shopping arcade will open in March, 2017. However, due to the government’s past failures to meet its schedule, shop owners are highly skeptical of this schedule and have to be mentally prepared to flexibly cope with any change to come. One fortunate fact is that the designer of the main shopping arcade is the same one as that of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo to be completed in 2020. Shop owners are hoping that this fact itself will attract more visitors and local shoppers to come to the shopping arcade.

 Now, the reduction of tourists and local customers is becoming a serious issue. The location of the temporary shop arcade is not conspicuous due to construction activities. To show its location, they are showing the flags of J-League Soccer Teams, with which in the past they try to win a Guinness record in vain (see Picture 2). It seems to be catching the eyes of some visitors. But since its location is too far away from the newly built redevelopment housing area, they are not quite succeeding to attract local customers, especially so with senior residents. They even placed picknick tables in front of shops (see Picture 3). However, a group of young people drove to the temporary arcade in order to buy soft-ice-cream, since no other place in the area sells it. It seems that local people know what kind of goods are available at the temporary arcade, though many residents still feel inconvenient to come to this distant place.   

 The main business of Mr. Yamauchi, who was formerly the head of the Shopping Arcade Association and is providing information about the development of the arcade to DSIA, is to sell sports goods. But more recently, the orders of curtain rails are increasing, hinting that local house constructions are developing. But the amount of order seems to be limited, since the order comes only from local construction companies, not from large-sized construction companies. Their bulk-purchases enable them to obtain curtain rails expensively from large shops in big cities. As this trend suggests, shop owners of the arcade is flexibly and wisely operating to supply whatever local people need.

 In this sense, they are more concerned about the movement and development of the area as well as brining people back to the area, rather than the sales amount of their own shops. For example, a large number of children in the community attended the Night Market organized by the temporary arcade in early July. The number of attendants was so large that every child in the community seems to have participated. It is greatly owing to having delivered fliers to all nurseries and schools in the community (two nursery schools, two elementary schools, and one junior high school). The temporary arcade is well contributing to stimulating community activities. They are now planning to organize one event like this every several months. However, unfortunately, Isatomae could not become an aid station of the Tour de Tohoku due to the construction. In August, there will be the Summer Firework Festival and a baseball game of Rakuten Team in the minor league at a ballpark near the arcade. They are working very hard to make the best use of such opportunities to attract visitors to the temporary arcade.

 Population wise, Shizukawa in Minami-Sanrikucho is twice bigger than Isatomae. They have been trying to redevelop the town by building restaurants with nice menu and low price to attract tourists. The next year, a roadside station to sell local food will open. In contrast, the Fukko Shopping Arcade has been maintaining their business based on human relations with local customers.

Mr. Yamauchi decided not to keep his shop in the Main Shopping Arcade when it is completed. He is to rent a publicly-provided house with a shop space in the Area of Redevelopment Housing. It is much more manageable than purchasing a new house or renting a space in the Main Shopping Arcade. The rule is that the size of the shop should not exceed the half of the house size. He is managing his own sustainability by making use of publicly available help. The general impression of this area is that they are sustaining their community and businesses by combining every available means.

J-League Soccer Team Flags to Show their Location
J-League Soccer Team Flags to Show their Location
Picnic Tables to Attract Visitors
Picnic Tables to Attract Visitors

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Temporary Shop Arcade Right Next to the Ocean
Temporary Shop Arcade Right Next to the Ocean

Two months have passed since the temporary Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade was opened. A very serious problem which shop owners in the arcade face is that the number of visitors to the shop drastically declined. Unlike the previous temporary place, this arcade was located much closer to the ocean. To make the situation worse, many trucks drive by for the construction of dikes. Besides, the entrance to the arcade is difficult to be found, and access there became uneasy for drivers. The road was originally planned to be built much closer to the ocean, situating the arcade looking closer to the inland and enabling to guide customers to the arcade much easier. However, the construction of the road was suddenly stopped. Over weekends, no car has been parked, though a significant number of visitors walked to the arcade. These days, they do not even see any visitors walking to the arcade, simply because it involves quite a long walk and even going across a traffic heavy road without any signal or crossing. It is quite natural for many visitors simply not to come to the arcade.

To overcome this difficulty, only solution is to make the arcade more attractive. They are planning to have many events, such as an event of eating local sea food, a summer festival with famous singers and fire work in August, a stop of Le Tour de Tohoku in September to which over 3,000 cyclists will attend, etc. However, visitors are mostly coming from outside of Isatomae and are not likely to purchase many goods from shops which are basically selling the necessities for daily living. Since there is only one restaurant, some of shop owners close their main business and try to sell food at the arcade during events. Thus, increased attractions are not necessarily strengthening the attractiveness of the arcade. Besides, the police these days warn about the safety of visitors, thus requiring more cost for security guards. May be, much more efforts are necessary to nurture long-term attractiveness of the arcade itself.    

In April, a new school year starts. There are five grade schools close to the arcade. The total number of newly entering students is less than 80, suggesting a decline of newly entering students. These schools may be unified in the future, and even high school may not be continued. Shizugawa whose population is about twice bigger than Isatomae, located about half an hour away from Isatomae by car, is now trying to build a public housing complex starting this year, while the land level of a large area still requires to be raised. Once Shizugawa is fully redeveloped, small shop arcade in neighboring areas may face a difficulty of attracting customers in a car-based rural living. It is a serious problem. And in March 2017, the renewal open of the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade will take place, while construction to raise the land level continues until February 2017. The planned date of Arcade Renewal is different between the government and shop owners, while abrupt changes of plans by the government are rather frequent. Shop owners just have to tolerate and cope with such uncertainty.

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Organization Information

Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA

Location: Tokyo - Japan
Website:
Project Leader:
Yoshitaka Okada
Tokyo, Tokyo Japan

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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