Keep tsunami-stricken isatomae community alive

by Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA
Vetted
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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Newly Established Temporary Shops
Newly Established Temporary Shops

From the beginning of 2016 New Year, shop owners at the Isatomae Fukko Shopping Arcade (IFSA) have been very busy preparing for their third move to another temporary shop. In order to raise the land level of the area where the main shop will be constructed, they have to move again to another temporary shop. This is their third time to move, including the initial GlobalGiving-supported tent shop.

At present, their schedule is to remain there for one year and nine months, though this schedule works for them is naturally uncertain in the disaster-stricken area. The temporary shop stands alone in an elevated land, facing the Pacific Ocean, nothing to prevent ocean winds and views. The entrance to the building is on the ocean side. It may sound nice for outside visitors, but for many of those who experienced the disaster, the view simply reminds them of the terrible experiences of the disaster. Many local people complain that they do not feel easy to visit the newly established shop. To make the situation worse, this building stands along a national road still situated at the unraised level, and it is rather difficult for drivers to recognize the existence of the building. But when a small bridge over a corner of ocean, which has been remaining destroyed, will be reconstructed for bypassing town traffic, drivers will rather easily recognize the existence of this temporary shop. But there is also uncertainty whether this bridge will be completed in time before the final move to the main shop. Shop owners are now waiting for an official opening of the temporary shop scheduled on February 7, 2016, worrying whether local people will come back to the shop or whether the bridge will be completed rather quickly.

Torment between hope and anxiety is much worse when shop owners talk about the main shop. What is unusually nice is that the main shop will be designed by Mr. Sumi who just won a competition over the design of the national athletic field for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. He is a well-known architect using woods and green, which raises local people’s expectation for the use of local lumbers. However, they have to raise a question about the cost, 3/4 of which will be subsidized by the government, while 1/4 will be financed by the local shop owners. Shop owners have to invest a certain amount and still have to pay for a monthly rent of a shop space with a ten-year land lease. If the number of shops declines, their financial burden increases. At an event, shops can make extra sales, but their business basically remains catering for the needs of the local. The size of their business is small. To aggravate shop owners’ worries, since most of local people own cars, local people have a tendency to go shopping within a 30 to 40 kilometer range to big shopping malls, including Kesennuma City. With the completion of the Reconstruction Highway, people will easily stretch their range of shopping, meaning that IFSA have to make constant efforts to attract customers.

Nationally-appointed and –paid consultants are helping to plan redevelopment facilities. Presently, they are proposing to bring a large-sized nationally-known convenience store in the main shop. Their expectation is that the convenience store increases visitors to the shop. However, there is one example of failure. One town, as a way of reactivating local economy, brought a convenience store before the disaster only to force local shops closed within ten years and keep only the convenience store alive. To prevent such occurrence, shop owners are now frequently engaging in discussions whether they can develop their original goods or organize events to stimulate shop’s development. For example, in December, they decided to appeal that abalone used in the Abalone Festival in Kesennuma came from Isatomae. Since fishermen can catch abalone only four or five times a year under a conservation program, they decided to appeal that Isatomae is the place in this area where abalone is caught and attract people who could not enjoy abalone at the Kesennuma Festival to come to Isatomae. They also delivered fliers to neighboring cities. Consequently, they found people from neighboring cities to come to buy abalone at the IFSA.

These struggles of IFSA shops may suggest that they are now shifting their management activities from survival to sustainability. Now, five years have passed. Mr. Yamauchi, who was formerly the Head of IFSA and is now providing detailed information to the DSIA, recognized that five years have passed. His 91 year old father due to his old age moved to Sendai, because of the lack of space in the temporary housing in Isatomae and the existence of large hospitals. Now, after five years, he expressed his wish to come back to Isatomae. He is preparing to build a house, instead of keeping his shop in the main shopping arcade, partly to accommodate his business office in his house as well as his family living together including his father. To complete his plan, it will still take a few more years to offer a comfortable living back in Isatomae to his father. Redevelopment involves time-consuming struggles, involving unusual worries and often unexpected outcome.

Facing Ocean from Shops
Facing Ocean from Shops
National Road Taken from the Shops
National Road Taken from the Shops

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Students at the last school excursion in Isatomae
Students at the last school excursion in Isatomae

     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.

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Organization Information

Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA

Location: Tokyo - Japan
Website: http:/​/​dsia.or.jp
Project Leader:
Yoshitaka Okada
Tokyo, Tokyo Japan
$3,750 raised of $20,000 goal
 
60 donations
$16,250 to go
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