On October 10, 2015, an operation to build a temporary shopping arcade finally started on the raised land of 9,900 m2 which accommodates a temporary shopping arcade of ten shops and a parking place. This is what they have been waiting for a long-time, and shop owners are relieved to see the advancement. However, soon after hearing this good news, they encountered several unexpected problems. First of all, although the shop building is constructed by a subsidy from the SME Support Japan, a government-sponsored organization to help small- and medium-sized companies, they do not provide any facility at all to each shop, even the minimum decoration. They now find that they have to install all necessary equipment and shelves by themselves even for one year operation. It is a new headache that shop owners are facing.
Secondly, since the shop is located in a much higher place than the road, passers-bys are not easy to stop at the shop arcade. Thirdly, the temporary shop is established very close to the ocean where a dike for protection has not yet been completed at all. Even though the land level is a little bit higher than before, if they get another tsunami, they are very easy to be swallowed. Many of them actually experienced the awful power of tsunami, and feel very insecure remembering many lives that disappeared in front of their eyes at the disaster. They are feeling quite uneasy to stay in shops.
Lastly, a very disappointing factor is that no new shop, especially a restaurant, is joining them, which is to some extent understandable for a duplicated cost involved to be in a temporary shop. Despite soliciting many shops to join the arcade, none expressed its interest. The present shop owners feel that the existence of a restaurant is really important, since visitors tend to remain inside the complex for a longer duration than otherwise. When people from the Nihonbashi Rotary Club in Tokyo visited there in October, the shop served locally-produced fresh sea-weeds. They all expressed that a restaurant to taste this really-delicious locally-produced see-food should be there. Unfortunately, we cannot meet such demand. In September for a bicycle event of the Tour de Tohoku 2015, they served sea-food curry rice for 1,400 people. The shop was really crowded and many people tut-tut for the excellent taste of the curry rice. Opportunities to attract visitors are there, but visitors cannot be fully attracted without a good restaurant. On this issue, there is another serious problem. From the ocean in front of the shop arcade, many types of fresh see food, such as salmon, octopus, mackerel, etc. can be caught. But since all sea food processing plant was washed away, we are just purchasing see food even to serve during an event from neighboring towns, not helping to rebuild the local economy at all. In August, voluntary concerts performed by students from Anjo Gakuen in Miyagai Prefecture were also very successful to attract many visitors. However, organizing events to attract visitors to the shop arcade is becoming increasingly difficult due to diminishing donations and the shortage of helping hands.
We are pleased very much with the advancement in the construction of a temporary shopping arcade, but it is accompanied by ever increasing uncertainty and anxiety. Sometimes, we are relieved by some voluntary visitors. For example, 40 graduating high school students from Tsurugashima Seifu High School visited the shop for their last school trip. In the school, from April, they have been studying on disaster and recovery by finding out about life immediately after the disaster, emergency equipment that helped people to survive, change of life style caused by the disaster, and efforts for reconstruction. Students were very eager to learn from our experiences, raising many questions, while shop owners were really pleased to be able to help younger generation amid a situation where they are simply receiving abundant help from outside people. They felt dignity in the fact that they can be any help to others.
In short, they are still facing a situation where maintaining their living is still extremely difficult and where they have to live through with ever increasing uncertainty and anxiety.
The Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) is working very hard to organize attractions to bring visitors there. They seem to be succeeding in attracting a large number of people to events, especially during the summer. Some of scheduled events are “Japanese Ice Fish
Festival,” “Azalea Festival,” and “International Friendship Festival” in May, “Righteye Flounder Fishing Festival” and “Night Shops” in June, “Work Experience Opportunities for Junior High Students,” “Mini-soccer Day,” “Live Band Play,” “Decorated Cars,” and “Utatsu Summer Festival” in June, “Everybody’s Festival,” “Tour de Tohoku 2015” in September, “Mishima Shrine Festival,” “Kesema Oshima Shrine Festival” in October, “Abalone Festival” in December, “Senior High Futsal Festival” in January 2016 and “Junior High Futsal Festival” in February, and “Spring Wakame Festival” in March. People in IFSA are working extremely hard to bring people from outside to keep their business going.
Governmental regulations related to an emergency situation in a disaster-stricken area were temporarily suspended to facilitate quick recovery and redevelopment. But now, before redevelopment is completed, the government started stopping the suspension and tightening up regulations. This change clearly started influencing the moving schedule of the IFSA. It was supposed to move to a temporary place in August 2015. Although an elevated land for a temporary location was completed, due to governmental document clearance, IFSA still needs to wait for a few months until November 2015. People in IFSA even found that electric poles moved from an old road to a new one even require governmental document clearance, possibly further delaying the schedule of move. Now, the Prefectural Government is requesting the Central Government to allow some exceptions to the regulations, especially when changes are only for a temporary location used until December 2016. Although IFSA people are used to this type of delay, they are disappointed because they just cannot follow their own plan.
This type of delay is making people impatient even for their houses. A mountain was flattened for public housing areas, and the Minami-sanriku-town Government asked who would like to move in. Previously fifty houses were planned, but now the number was reduced to 45. One piece of land for a house is about 330 m2, costing about 3.52 million yen, which is rather inexpensive. But a new house has to be built with only 2 million yen subsidy and the rest self-financed. Besides, due to a huge demand for construction, the cost of house building is rising extremely high. Now, construction companies from the Tokyo area are taking a significant portion of orders with a fairly high price. Local carpenters can construct much more inexpensively, though they can construct only up to five houses per year, requiring a new customer to wait for four or five years before a house is completed. Most of local money is now sucked up by Tokyo construction companies. Some present shop owners at IFSA are planning to operate their business from their houses. But unfortunately, in December 2016 they may not have their houses ready for both living and conducting their businesses. Some people without sufficient saving or with remaining debt, just cannot plan to move forward in their lives.
In the previous report, I reported that the 7-11 Convenience Store will take over a half of the space in the Final Shopping place. Because of their ATM operation, a local bank and even a post office are hesitating to move into the Final Sopping place. Again a monopolistic situation of a Tokyo company is reducing options previously very familiar to local people. Post-disaster struggles and frustration still continue without the end of tunnel in sight.
One good news is that the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) now has a clear schedule of moves to a temporary place (in August 2015) and also to the final place (December 2016). Now, people there started seeing the long-waited end of a tunnel..
The other good news is that a support by a labor union of a company mediated by the DSIA may come to be soon finalized. Three people from the labor union came to discuss with the Head of the IFSA, and proposed to sell some of seasonable commodities to about 6,000 full- and part-time union members. For special events organized by the IFSA, union members can voluntary come to not only help their events, but also participate in events. The labor union also offered to purchase a winner’s cup and medals for a football competition among eight grade school teams in the area. They even offered to give discount tickets to all participants to purchase their food sold by dispatched kitchen cars from the company. They are now trying to work out the details.
One very sad news is that the Head of the IFSA was refused to move into the final Arcade to be started in December 2016. He was the one the DSIA negotiated for establishing a temporary shop tent in 2011, has been the key representative of local organizations to receive GlobalGiving donations, and is now trying to organize a system of support to be provided by the labor union mediated by the DSIA. He is the present head of the IFSA, has organized many events to bring tourists, and has been negotiating with the city government for reconstruction. He has been truly devoting to the development of the Isatomae Community.
Why did this happen? In the next month, a new company, which manages shopping arcades in both Sizugawa and Isatomae, will be established. Since the preparatory committee of the company is trying to prevent the future bankruptcy of the company, they developed very strict standards. Their goal is to prepare for the company’s sustainability of the next twenty years. This sounds a very good idea. But the committee asked consultants from Tokyo to evaluate the businesses of all members, and decided that members not having a prospect of survival for the next ten years will not be allowed to move into arcades, even if they have money and wish to join. Since the IFSA Head is operating a clothing and sport goods shop, consultants informed him of future market prediction, which will clearly decline due to shrinking children population. Their prediction turned out to be that he may do well for the next five years, especially due to the reconstruction of the area, but after that, it may become fairly difficult to continue his business. To me, what is taking place now is quite wrong. One reason is because nobody can decide to exit from one’s business other than those who operate businesses themselves. The other reason is that he has been diversifying into a few other businesses just recently which is not yet becoming big. But in many rural areas, it is very common to operate several small businesses to generate some decent revenues. Since I lived in a remote area in Niigata, I saw some companies expanding their businesses frequently through diversification. In a sense, he can dynamically cope with changes in the market as he faces environmental changes. Tokyo consultants treat the situation of each member very statically, and do not see evolutionary potentials. I personally feel that such decision should be left to the initiatives of individual members whether one is to take a risk or not and that the market will come to pressure individuals to make their decisions.
In order to keep the stability of this arcade company, this company is to invite a Tokyo-based convenience store. I am in favor of bringing it to the arcade, as long as they work to help local economy develop rather than simply sucking up the business opportunities of the local. How can it be done? This is clearly another difficult area, since it is far less costly to bring everything from what has been mass produced in other areas. A less populated area will not succeed in generating its economic dynamics without the base of community support and movements. People in Isatomae may end up facing much tougher situations than before if the community disintegrates. Some people criticize some types of consultants for their motives to make money from government subsidies with little interest in helping community development, though how to develop a less-populated area is a difficult issue and a central issue discussed presently in Japan.
A big advancement in reconstructing the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) will take place this coming April. The land lifting of three meters for a temporary location of the arcade has been completed, and IFSA is informed that a move will take place in April this year. Presently, processed is a legal procedure of leasing the land from the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation Japan (SME Japan) to the Minami-sanriku-cho Government. When all legal documentation is completed, the SME Japan will build a new temporary shop arcade, and start dismantling the present one to be reused as a part of the full arcade, scheduled to be completed in December 2017. Still three more years are in need before the complete reconstruction. This arrangement, however, makes it possible for shops to continue operating their businesses without closing shops. News that they will be moving very soon to a new temporary location and that they do not have to close their shops are big relief for them. It is a big celebration to reach a little bit closer to the end of the reconstruction tunnel.
This means that the IFSA will not use the temporary shop tent which the DSIA helped to establish in 2011. Now, the tent is officially donated to the IFSA by a local NGO which operated the tent, and then the IFSA donated it to the owner of the land which was leased to the IFSA for free. This very much ended the involvement of the DSIA over the issue of the tent. However, it does not mean that DSIA’s support roles to the IFSA will end. A new stage even for the DSIA’s support started.
So far, so good. But this advancement came with new headaches and uncertainties. All discussions that the IFSA made for establishing their own Arcade Corporation, independent from Shizukawa, was turned down by the Central Government. They made a rule that only one development corporation will be established in each township or city. This decision made some of IFSA’s past discussions meaningless, though some plans are still effective to be implemented. The corporation will be established in June this year. But new information generated an enormous headache for some present shop owners at the IFSA. They were informed to pay 1,500 yen per one square meter for their shops. But they are now informed to make an initial investment by 500,000 yen for shops using below 50 square meters and 10,000 yen for every additional one square meter. Most likely, an additional capital investment will be required sometime at the end of this year. For some shop owners, this amount itself may be too high, needless to say about an additional payment at the end of this year. To make the situation worse, they are also informed to pay for a guarantee fee for construction, which is worth about a 10 month-rental-fee based on a shop size. Some of shop owners started thinking about withdrawing from the shop construction plan.
Additional concern came from their research on diverse success cases of town rebuilding, all over Japan. What they found was that there has never been any shop area where people do not live. The disaster-stricken Tohoku area is the first to be experimented in that way, since a residential area has to be built on the mountain side. This means that residents in Isatomae may not come to shop for their daily needs at the IFSA, since diverse shops are already operating in several locations, much closer to their residential area. The key success factor identified in the cases is restaurants and food they sell inside a new arcade. Thus, food-related business may prosper, but shops dealing with daily living goods may not have any good prospect, despite heavy investment they have to make. Some owners even studied what are employment opportunities if they move to Sendai, the closest big city. They are finding that anybody above age 50 may find a job only in a construction-related business, which is physically severe with very low payment, making not possible to keep a family living in Sendai. Some shop owners are seeing quite a gloomy prospect in the future.
One solution now they are approaching is to talk to diverse organizations, including the Minami-sanriku-cho government, to invest a small amount, so that the IFSA can ease the amount of needed investment to be made by shop owners. They are hoping to succeed in achieving the solution. Another solution is to continuously attract tourists, so that shops can rely less on residents whose population is declining. This means that they need to continue developing events and are even thinking about developing a system of selling local products through a direct order system.
DSIA happened to be contacted by a labor union of one company which is interested in developing programs to support the disaster-stricken Tohoku area. The IFSA is really pleased to hear this news, and provided diverse ideas to inform to the labor union, hoping the union will choose one of the proposals they made during the DSIA’s present visit. As the stage of reconstruction advances, the DSIA is also shifting to new ways of supporting Tohoku redevelopment.
People at the Isatomae Redevelopment Archade (Fukko Shotengai, FS) still feel a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. They are working on diverse issues to rebuild their community. So far, they started seeing a small portion of land raised to half a level of the original plan, where the FS shops will move temporarily while the land level of the shop’s permanent location will be raised. Shops will move to the half-raised temporary place in 2015, precisely when not yet known. It was surprising for them, since the temporary place will be below the land level of main road and the permanent shop place when the rest of the land is raised to the level originally planned. But at least, the plan is advancing relative to the past. It was a good news.
Then another surprise came. The government passed a law that the present government-funded temporary shops have to be continuously used for the next five years. This law generated two serious concerns. One is that the present shops have to be closed and moved to the temporary location, meaning that they have to stop operating their business completely for two months. This law was passed, assuming that shops are moving from a present temporary location to a permanent one. The Isatomae’s situation is to move from the present temporary location to another temporary one and then finally to a permanent place. Does this mean that they have to move present temporary shops and facilities twice? Concern is that moving old shop buildings is as expensive as building new ones. They are now negotiating with the government whether they can build new shops in the permanent place while they use old shop materials in a newly moving temporary place. If moving old shops costs the same or more than building new ones, then it is better to build new ones. But does the law allow this to happen since all of two moves will take place within five years? Amid their worries, one good story is that they are going to use the temporary shop-tent which was built by donations from the Refugee International Japan, the Japan Forest Biomas Network, and the GlobalGiving mediated through the DSIA. They may have to operate their business in the tent for two months when old shops will be dismantled and rebuild in the temporary place and to store their equipment and facilities for quite a long time. The FS is highly appreciative of the existence of the tent, which helps to make their transition much smoother. This means that, thanks to your kind heart, understanding and donation, we are still helping them to rebuild their community.
The other problem could be much tougher than the first one. It could become quite a demotivating factor for people in the FS since they have been working to build their new shops with dream for almost two years. The FS very much decided to establish an Isatomae Redevelopment Company which will own new buildings and charge rents to tenants, rather than to establish an association. A company form enables the FS to borrow money from banks and even allow outside tenants to come in when vacancies in shops occur. This makes the company operation securer. However, despite their two-year discussions, the Minami-sanriku Township suddenly informed them that it will establish a company and provide them a building. The plan was informed suddenly as a surprise. Now, they have to engage in negotiation all over again despite a well-thought plan by the FS. This could be quite a tough negotiation and be demotivating.
Separate from these problems, the FS is organizing many events as usual. On October 20, they have a group of past young bike-freaks to bring in about 100 unusually decorated cars (see pictures). They wanted to show their willingness to contribute to society. The FS is also planning to have an exhibition of their soccer team flags in the Sendai Stadium when a soccer game will be held there, hoping to find willing partners to contribute to the FS. They are working very hard to get events organized and planned, so that they can bring in customers to the FS. But even on this point, they worry that the lack of clear planning when they can move to the temporary as well as the permanent places makes it quite difficult to plan and organize events, which are a very important source of bringing in customers.
When they start seeing the raised temporary place to move in, it gave them a sense that they start seeing a small light at the end of a long and dark tunnel, moving one step closer to their dream. But then, new problems, one of which may even make their two-year efforts meaningless, arose. They are engaging in negotiations, very much hoping that they can follow their original plan. Given this uncertainty now three years after the disaster, they look much more tired than before. But they are extremely appreciative of the tent-shop, established with the help of the DSIA, the GlobalGiving, the Refugee International Japan, and the Japan Forest Biomas Network.
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