Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Temporary Housing Limbo & Grassroots Rebuilding in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture

On 3/11, tidal waves swept over 46% of Ishinomaki, killing more than 3,000  and destroying 20,000 homes. 400 people remain missing. The small coastal town of 164,000 (now 150,000), the second largest city in MIyagi prefecture, was one of the hardest hit two and a half years ago.

Many survivors are unemployed and homeless.   29,000 disaster survivors still live in temporary housing and rentals around Ishinomaki. About 80 households are still waiting for temporary housing units to become available.

"Elderly residents huddle against the cold on benches outside their temporary housing estate in Ishinomaki,
 the Tohoku region of Japan, in March 2012. They're among hundreds of thousands of people waiting for 
the government to build them new homes more than one year after the earthquake and tsunami."
 (Text and Photo: Alex Zolbert, CNN, Dec. 14, 2012)

Temporary housing in Ishinomaki in September, 2013. 
(Photo: Ted Chion Jun, Asia Report)

16,000 Ishinomaki residents are in their third year of living in cramped temporary housing. Permanent housing is still in the planning stage and mired in understandable controversy: the city wants to appropriate land for public housing from survivors without compensation for loss.  

In January of this year, Tokyo extended the number of years disaster victims could stay in temporary housing from three to four years. Under Japan's disaster relief law, residents are allowed to stay in emergency housing for only two years. 

Many locals think that the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima has diverted the Japanese government's attention from supporting the recovery of survivors in Tohoku.

Ishinomaki used to house Japan's third largest fishing port; the battered industry will never recover completely; and is now under threat from repeated intentional radiation leaks from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean.

As with the rest of Miyagi, Ishinomaki lacks adequate medical services:
“Some people have stopped going to hospitals,” an Ishinomaki official said.

The city’s health consultation services have been concentrated mainly on preventive steps for evacuees living in temporary housing.
However, progress has been made in clearing disaster debris , as Ishinomaki Photo Blog's two-year comparison of landscape photos reflect:

1-Chome Center. 
 (Photos: Ishinomaki Photo Blog 

And, at the grassroots, locals and volunteers are moving towards reconstruction, albeit at a creeping pace.

Residents who can afford to, have rebuilt on the sites of their former homes, without government assistance; resulting in a boom for small construction companies.

The Ishinomori Manga Museum, which is dedicated to  manga creator Shotaro Ishinomori, has reopened. The museum was originally opened in 2001 to celebrate Ishinomori whose career spanned from 1954 until his death in 1998. Although the building was damaged by the earthquake, the museum’s collection of 90,000 pages survived,, and are now on display

Young small business owners who lost their businesses have created Ishinomaki 2.0 (post-3/11 junior chamber of commerce) lost their businesses together to consider the future of the town. At a space called "The Revival Bar," these entrepreneurs bring together resources, ideas and people from across Japan seeking to regenerate Ishinomaki's shopping district, much of which was closed because of economic malaise even before 3/11.

According to a National Police Agency  Sept. 10, 2013 report, 15,883 people in 12 prefectures died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and aftershocks;  2,654 people still missing in six prefectures; and 6,146 people were injured in 20 prefectures.


Disaster victims expressed anger when they were informed of the industry ministry bureaucrat’s remarks.

“They were uttered by someone who does not know anything about the disaster area,” said a 59-year-old man who lives in temporary housing in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. “He may be smart, but he does not have the mind and heart of man.”

A 60-year-old woman who runs a restaurant in a temporary shopping area in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, said: “We are trying to restore what we built over the years (and lost). As long as there is someone like him, reconstruction is impossible.”
With so many survivors still living in cramped temporary housing units, Yamada said, a lot of people aren’t happy to see the government spending so much cash on Olympic-related events.
But the problem of solitary deaths among survivors could be more widespread, as many moved into accommodations rented by municipal offices over a broader area, potentially severing community links, the survey suggested Wednesday.

Complaints are also being raised over the differences in assistance levels in the Tohoku region. Many survivors are stuck in temporary housing because they lack the funds to rebuild.

At least 81 evacuees have died alone in temporary housing in Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures since the 2011 quake and tsunami, a survey says.
"Disaster areas critically short of manpower" (Jiji via JT, Sept. 10, 2013)

"Tohoku still in dire need of medical support" (Jiji via JT, Sept. 11, 2013)
Thirty months after tsunami devastated the Tohoku coast, residents are still facing a lack of medical services because of delays in restarting damaged hospitals and clinics and the closures of others.

"Tsunami victims still waiting for new homes" (Asia Report, Sept. 2, 2013) 

"Trillions for rebuilding Tohoku go unused" (Jiji via JT, July 13, 2013):
The Reconstruction Agency said Wednesday that ¥3.4 trillion — 35.2 percent — of the ¥9.74 trillion in the fiscal 2012 budget slated to rebuild areas hit by the March 2011 disasters went unused.

The year before, 39.4 percent of the reconstruction budget, or around ¥5.9 trillion, went unspent, indicating the recovery effort has suffered from poor planning...

Last year, ¥4.73 trillion was allocated to rebuild roads and embankments, as well as to relocate residential areas, but 43.9 percent in this category was unused.

Of the ¥655.6 billion earmarked for washing away contamination from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, 67.9 percent was unused, the agency said...

Unless rebuilding moves forward, devastated communities will keep shrinking, further slowing the process, observers said.
"Tohoku Has Been Rent Asunder for Future Generations" (Roger Pulvers, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, March 13, 2013)

"Quake victims allowed to stay in temporary housing another year" (Asahi, Feb. 25, 2013)
Victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake will be allowed to stay in temporary government housing for an additional year as new public housing construction lags in the three hardest-hit prefectures, sources said.

The central government's decision to extend the temporary housing limit to four years came after it was found that only 55 percent of the new houses planned in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are expected to be completed by the end of fiscal 2014.

The extension also means around 110,000 people still living in prefabricated temporary housing will have to continue to endure harsh living conditions.

About 300,000 people now live in temporary housing, including accommodations offered by the private sector and whose rent is subsidized by the government.
"Japan election a world away from tsunami-hit town" (Alex Zolbert, CNN, Dec. 14, 2012)

It's been nine months since I took the photos, but as the temperature drops below zero at the start of another Japanese winter, one image stubbornly dwells on my mind.

It's not of the tsunami-inflicted destruction -- the flattened homes, mangled cars or piles of debris -- in Ishinomaki, one of the worst-hit areas in the Tohoku region, in the country's north.

Instead, it is an image of retirees huddled on small benches outside their temporary homes...

Sixty-seven-year-old Katsuji Ogata lost his wife in the tsunami. He used to run a small restaurant in Ishinomaki. Now it's a simple food truck.

He is even more outspoken, saying "the government hasn't done a thing for us. They've only cleared the debris."

"City slowly returns to life ten months after disaster" (Kimberly Hughes, TTT, Jan. 21, 2012)

Today is the last day of Washi Candle Garden decorated with washi (Japanese paper) 
illuminating messages from Tohoku residents and Tokyoites.
 ("Candles to remember Tohoku" by Magdalena Osumi, JT, Sept. 19, 2013)

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