Project Visit to Tohoku by Jane Best

Some visits turn out to be more positive than expected!

This was the case with my visit to projects in Tohoku on 7 and 8 November 2012.

At the Onagawa Chime of Hope shopping centre I met with Aoyama san from the Onagawa Chamber of Commerce and the staff who are working on the website, see: http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/onagawa_2012  for more details.
Maho from Peace Boat facilitated the meeting and joined us for the meeting.
The website is still under preparation but Saito san and Sawaya san have learnt a great deal and will be ready to handle the website once their six month training is up.

They have started up a Facebook page which is gathering ‘likes’, most of which come from people in Tokyo.
The website has developed into one promoting Onagawa as a whole, rather than just the shopping centre. This is great as it will bring the town community together, something which was not the case before the tsunami. This is a great example of how opportunity can come out of difficulty. Aoyama san is an incredibly positive person. He sees himself as living testimony of survival and the power of recovery. He is happy to talk about his experiences stranded on top of the office building during the tsunami and how to turn that around into something positive.

In Minami Sanriku I met with Peter and the Green Farmer’s Association team, see” http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/oga_farmers_2012 This is the second year of the programme. The first year presented many challenges as the land was cleared and the soil turned over to prepare for planting. Given these challenges the team did really well this year to become one of the largest producers in the area.

The main challenge ahead is to work out an exit-strategy so that the local people can run the project themselves. This will rely on developing secondary processing and opening a café, thereby employing a business person who can run the GFA. The project holds a lot of promise – it will be hard work getting there but very rewarding.

In Utatsu, the tented market – http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/isatomae_market_2011 is now being used for children’s nature activities and for community storage. The shopkeepers have moved into prefab units nearer the road and thus more accessible. It is anticipated that the tent will be needed for the next two or three years as reconstruction gets underway and people have to move during the building process. The two shopkeepers I met with seemed so much happier than the last time we met.

As I drove around the region I could see how things have changed with better roads in some places and construction of temporary sea walls. A lot of devastation is now hidden from sight as nature grows through the concrete remains and hides the sadness. Convenience stores abound providing essentials.

The people I met are doing well but I heard that this is not the case for everyone. Many of those living in temporary housing units are finding it hard to see the way forward and it is still uncertain when redevelopment will begin.

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