TEMPORARY HOUSING AND LIFE RETURNS TO NORMAL, SORT OF, FOR TSUNAMI SURVIVORS

LIFE RETURNS TO NORMAL, SORT OF, AFTER THE TSUNAMI

20111031-Noda Kantei temp housing 18fukushima.jpg
Prime Minister Noda
visiting temporary home
Domestic flights resumed at Sendai Airport on April 14, a little over a month after the earthquake and tsunami. Three days later commercial shipments resumed at Sendai port. Regular flights to Sendai resumed in late July.

Hair cutting laws which require barbers and beauticians to do business in authorized places of business were relaxed to allows barbers and beauticians to co cut hair in shelters and makeshift shops near temporary housing sites.

It was decided that a widely-photographed, 109-ton Hamayuri sightseeing boat deposited on the roof a two-story inn in Otsuchicho, Iwate Prefecture would be left where it is as a memorial to the disaster. The catamaran-style boat, which carries 203 people, was being serviced in a shipyard in the nearby town of Kamishi was carried 400 meters by the tsunami and deposited in the roof of the family-owned inn.

On returning home a month after the disaster Sendai resident Braven Smillie wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “What impressed me most...was how few homes were destroyed, and how rapidly life here is returning to normal.. On my return, I am not having to sift through rubble; I'm only having to get the gas reconnected. This life-and-death difference was made by things that we usually regard as mundane: building codes, evacuation drills, honest contractors.” [Source: Braven Smillie, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2011]

“It seems that many families with young children also left after the earthquake. Now they are trickling back in, still a bit nervous as they monitor news of the nuclear plant cleanup and ride out frequent aftershocks, sometimes rivaling the original quake in intensity. School administrators are scrambling to figure out how many students they will have for the new academic year, which started April 11.” [Ibid]

“People talk about where gas lines are the shortest and where fresh eggs are on sale again. Friends pull up in front of my house asking me to grab a shovel and join them in a day of volunteer work clearing debris in the nearby tsunami zone. There are no stories of looting or violence, because those things would be unthinkable. The Japanese people and their culture have a tenacity and resilience that come out in times like these. And barring some massive failure to contain the nuclear mess in Fukushima, we may very well look back on the aftermath of this disaster, despite the tragedy and loss of life, as a societal success story.” [Ibid]

Picking Up Life After the Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011

20111031-Noda Kantei  temp store 10HOUMON_myg.jpg
Prime Minister Noda
visiting temporary store
The earthquake and tsunami struck just as the school year was ending and new one was preparing to begin. Some schools held their graduations in evacuation centers, The disaster left behind a shortage of schools and teacher. To deal with that problem the government temporarily introduced a two-division system, in which students either attended morning or afternoon classes in addition to classes on Saturday. On top of that plans were drawn up to build new schools and hire new teachers, An education ministry official said, “Restarting school is the most direct way for children to recover their normal daily lives.”

Life was also difficult for recent graduates in the quake- and tsunami-stricken area. Many who had been promised jobs had their job offers taken away because the companies and institutions that were going to hire them were wiped out of severely affected by the disaster. The fishing industry was badly shaken. Even companies that had their offices and factories two kilometers inland were wiped out.

In some places local elections were postponed because quake-damaged polling station were deemed unsafe to use. The J-League---Japan’s soccer league---cancelled all of its March matches. Professional baseball’s Central League suspended night games, The world figure skating championships scheduled to be held in Tokyo in late March were postponed and moved to a new location.

School Reopens in Otsuchi

Reporting from Otsuchi, Martin Fackler wrote in New York Times, Japan, “The week before classes resumed, the middle school’s gymnasium was still a makeshift morgue. But the bodies were removed and the floor disinfected, so Kirikiri Middle School could welcome back students for the first time since the tsunami swept away much of this port town. Nagayoshi Ono, a principal, says the students who died would “want us to persevere.” “In this disaster, we lost many precious things,” said Nagayoshi Ono, the principal of one of the two schools that have shared the building since Kirikiri reopened two weeks ago, because it is Otsuchi’s sole surviving middle school. “We face a test like a nation at war, and how we respond to this test is up to us.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 10, 2011

“As in many hard-hit areas, teachers and students at this tiny middle school seem to share a conviction that by seeking to resume pre-disaster routines, they can move their devastated communities a step closer toward healing. Students walk or take buses to school across plains of flattened rubble, where neighborhoods once stood. They arrive at a building where 300 students must fit into space built for a third that number. Most sports have been canceled because the school’s playing field is being filled with prefabricated apartments for some of Otsuchi’s thousands of newly homeless. Half of the students live in refugee shelters, and many lost one or both parents.” [Ibid]

“Then there are the two eighth-grade girls who did not survive on March 11, when the earthquake and tsunami left more than 1,600 people dead or missing in this town of 15,000. Tiny bouquets of small blue flowers were set on their empty desks.” “I feel they are here with us, somewhere,” said Mr. Ono, 55, the principal of Otsuchi Middle School, whose students are now being bused across a mountain to Kirikiri after the tsunami gutted their school. “They want us to persevere.” [Ibid]

“Despite the sorrow and loss, Mr. Ono and the others seem determined to maintain an almost defiant cheerfulness. As busloads of Otsuchi Middle School’s students arrived at Kirikiri on a recent morning, Mr. Ono and a half-dozen teachers stood at the entrance, welcoming students with loud greetings of “Good morning!” The students bowed back, some smiling bashfully or trading quick jokes with teachers.Throughout the day, teachers constantly urged students to smile and “persevere”--- or “ganbaru,” a word frequently heard in Japan these days.” [Ibid]

“The teachers said that while the school was now far from an ideal learning environment, it was important to bring the children back. They said they wanted school to offer students an escape from the stresses of living in refugee shelters, and a chance to share with peers their experiences during the disaster.” “These are students who have lost homes and parents,” said Noriko Sasaki, 36, a seventh-grade English teacher, who greeted students. “School allows them to come back to something familiar and safe.” [Ibid]

Many students agreed. “I usually don’t like school, but I wanted to come this time to talk about where we were during the tsunami,” said Kiyoshi Kimura, 14, an eighth grader who said his house had been destroyed and several relatives killed. He shared his memories of the tsunami almost eagerly with classmates in a narrow hallway. “It was more like an approaching cloud than a wall of water,” he exclaimed, referring to the dust the waves kicked up as they toppled buildings in their path. [Ibid]

Kota Iwai, 14, was a classmate of one of the girls who was killed. While he was sad about her death, he was happy to get away from the refugee shelter in an elementary school gymnasium where he and his family have slept since losing their home. “I haven’t seen my friends since the tsunami,” he said. “We were all scattered.” Mr. Kanno and other teachers said one of the biggest challenges was watching for signs of emotional difficulties among students. Teachers said they received two hours of training on post-traumatic stress and identifying symptoms, including overly excited talking and angry outbursts. “We have our antennae out,” said Mr. Kanno, whose own house survived because he lives inland. [Ibid]

Students Forced to Go to Other Schools

Students forced to attend other schools desperately wanted a school of their own. "We are grateful for being able to use another school building. But having our own facilities is essential to providing adequate education," said the principal of a middle school that has been holding classes at another school told the Yomiuri Shimbun. "I hope a makeshift school building for us will be built as soon as possible...I feel sorry for my students, because they must be feeling uncomfortable." [Source: Sachiko Asakuno and Mariko Sakai, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 8, 2011]

Sachiko Asakuno and Mariko Sakai wrote in Yomiuri Shimbun,”For instance, displaced students and teachers have fewer opportunities to use school facilities than regular students and teachers. According to sources, students at a middle school they are temporarily attending are given limited use of the science room, the music room and the gym. This is because the curriculum of the host school is given priority over that of the displaced school. The displaced students have been told not to enter areas other than those the school allows them to use to prevent trouble...Students of some schools have to use facilities of several different schools, forcing teachers and students to travel between them to attend events, such as club activities, student council meetings and teachers' meetings.

According to September 2011 Yomiuri Shimbun survey 47 schools that have been using other schools' facilities since the March 11 disaster still are undecided on where and how to rebuild their own facilities. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Municipalities that were struck by the March 11 tsunami are, in principle, required to relocate schools to higher ground. But they are not eligible to receive state subsidies for the cost of purchasing and preparing land for schools under the current law. Because of this, they are facing difficulty in securing relocation sites. Education ministry officials say it is difficult to provide these schools with state subsidies for disaster restoration projects under existing laws on disaster damage, which says the government bears two-thirds of restoration costs when school facilities have been destroyed or severely damaged. But the law stipulates this applies to cases in which school facilities would be rebuilt at their original locations. The law provides no stipulation for cases in which school facilities need to be relocated.”

Temporary Housing for Tsunami Evacuees

The Kan government promised temporary homes for all evacuees by the Obon holiday in mid-August. The government estimated that 72,000 units were needed for disaster victims. One the biggest problems was a lack of land for the housing. In many cases the only available places are school yards and athletic fields.

As of June 11, 28,280 temporary housing units for survivors had been completed. Only about 40 percent were occupied due to their inconvenient location and other reasons. Some evacuees chose to saty on evacuation centers. About 52,500 are expected to be built by mid August. Only 395 had been built as late April.

Kenichiro Tanaka and Mioko Bo wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “A number of people living in temporary houses after being left homeless by the Great East Japan Earthquake have been inconvenienced by noise from nearby expressways, isolation from shops and hospitals, and other problems in their daily lives. Temporary housing units built in an industrial park in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, are close to the Sanriku Expressway, where there is a constant stream of vehicles. The temporary housing site is only a few meters from the expressway, and there are no sound barriers. Keiko Nakashio, 69, a resident in one of the units, said that each time a large truck passes on the uneven surface of the expressway, the house shakes and the vibrations distort TV images. An official of the city government's office for reconstruction from the disaster said, "We only had a limited number of locations to choose from. For now, we can only ask the residents to tolerate it." [Source: Kenichiro Tanaka and Mioko Bo, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 23 2011]

Sixty temporary housing units were built in the schoolyard of the municipal Shizugawa Primary School in Minami-Sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture. Unlike in shelters, residents of the units have to prepare their own meals, but there are no stores within walking distance. Only two buses per day are available to Tome, a city about 20 kilometers away, where they can shop. Residents without cars have complained about the inconvenience.

In July 2011, four months after the March earthquake and tsunami, over 100,000 evacuees were staying in temporary accommodations--including about 24,000 people living in evacuation centers--according to government figures.

According to the Cabinet Office, a total of 99,236 evacuees were staying in temporary accommodations--that is, somewhere other than their own homes--as of June 30. Although that is about 13,000 fewer than two weeks earlier, the figure does not include people who have moved into makeshift accommodation units that have been set up in 1,146 municipalities in all of the nation's 47 prefectures.

According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, a total of about 37,000 makeshift accommodation units had been completed in seven prefectures--Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, Tochigi and Nagano--as of mid July. About 10,500 more units are under construction in the seven prefectures. It was initially estimated that about 72,000 makeshift accommodation units would be needed in the seven prefectures, but that estimation had been revised to 50,583 as of Friday because of decreased demand. Some evacuees have moved into private rental accommodations, or moved to other areas.

Some residents of temporary housing in the mountains have complained about bears showing up near the housing and rumaging through the trash.

Temporary Housing Residents Forced to Evacuate Again by a Typhoon

Some people living in temporary homes found themselves having to evacuate those homes when a fierce typhoon struck the Tohoku area. In Kamaishi, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Survivors of the March 11 quake and tsunami living in temporary housing in coastal areas of Iwate Prefecture were again threatened by natural calamity this week, when mudslides caused by Typhoon No. 15 nearly hit the facilities. Some terrified residents saw the soil and stone foundations of their housing units collapse during the heavy rain, and others were advised by local authorities to evacuate due to the risk of mudslides on nearby mountains. “"The temporary housing facilities were supposed to have been built in safe places. But this has given us a big fright, and now we're living with new anxiety. It's too much," one resident said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 24, 2011]

Harue Sasaki, 62, lives alone in a unit in a temporary housing complex in Yamadamachi in the prefecture. Just after 11 p.m. Wednesday, she heard some commotion outside. She looked outside and was shocked to see part of the slope on which the complex stands had collapsed. A pile of mud two meters high and seven meters wide had built up near her building. She also saw that a water pipe had burst. She immediately alerted the local firefighting station, and fled to the home of her eldest daughter, who lives in the same neighborhood. "I moved into this [temporary housing complex] just one month ago, and I thought I'd finally be able to live without anxiety," she said. "Where can I live in peace?"

In Ofunato in the prefecture, a mudslide damaged the stonewall foundations of a 35-unit temporary housing complex in the yard of a primary school. A section of the foundation measuring eight meters high and two meters wide collapsed. "We were aware the stones were loose when [the units] were being built," said an employee of the city's urban planning department. "We'd been discussing taking some safety measures."

At a temporary housing facility in Otsuchicho in the prefecture, 88 residents of 34 households were advised to evacuate due to the risk of mudslides on a nearby mountain. After a mudslide occurred on the mountain in May, the local government had set up waterproof sheets and installed warning sensors as precautionary measures.

Construction of many of the temporary housing facilities in the prefecture was done as quickly as possible after the March 11 disaster. A high-ranking prefectural government official said there were very few vacant lots suitable for such facilities, as most of the prefecture was either inundated by the tsunami or is covered by steep mountains.

Temporary Housing Residents Complain About the Noise

Reporting from Kamaishi, Iwate, Yuko Shiojima and Shinichiro Matsuda wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Thin walls and a lack of soundproofing have led to noise problems for people living in temporary housing units built after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Residents, particularly families with children, have struggled to find ways to reduce noise coming from their units. [Source: Yuko Shiojima and Shinichiro Matsuda, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 27, 2011]

The units, which were built in a very short time, do not have appropriate soundproofing. However, officials say additional soundproofing measures would be difficult to implement. "I'm most worried about making noise. I tell my kids not to jump inside the house," said Eiko Sasaki, 43, a resident of a temporary housing unit in Kamaishi.

Sasaki lives with her husband and three daughters aged 6, 3 and 2. Her daughters easily become wild and unruly if Sasaki takes her eye off them, hitting walls and crying during quarrels. As she often hears noises from other units, Sasaki said, "Our neighbors definitely notice noise from our unit." To reduce noise, Sasaki puts a futon on the floor at around 5 p.m. every day and has her children to play on it.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami has cast a shadow over her children's minds. Remembering the disaster, Sasaki says her daughters sometimes cry during the night. The next day, Sasaki visits her neighbors to apologize for the noise. Recently, Sasaki's eldest daughter has also started sucking her fingers. "Children relieve stress in their daily life through physical activity," Sasaki said. "Since there are fewer outdoor play areas during the winter, their stress increases.”

Meanwhile, families with disabled children have even deeper problems. "If my son stops singing, what should I do?" asks another Kamaishi resident, Sachie Numari, 40. Numari worries over the implications of limiting her 7-year-old son Rui's ability to sing and speak freely. Rui, who was diagnosed with autism, did not say anything until he entered primary school. Recently, Rui has started counting out numbers.

When Rui starts singing songs loudly late at night, Numari asks him to lower his volume, saying, "Be quiet, my boy." However, Numari actually loves listening to Rui's songs. "In November, Rui finally called me as 'okaasan' [mother]. His song is a sign of his growth. I've waited for this for a long time. It's very sad for me to stop his singing." Before the disaster, Rui often stomped his feet on the floor in their detached house, as if he enjoyed moving his body. He also hit walls with his hands.

After relocating to the temporary housing unit, Numari bought tatami mats to reduce noise. She also padded the mats with a kotatsu futon and carpet in addition to covering their walls with sponge mats. Despite these efforts, Numari still received complaints from her neighbors. Now, she becomes very nervous when Rui makes noise, to the point where she has trouble sleeping. Numari wavers between apologizing to her neighbors for making noise and her concern that frequently cautioning her son may negatively influence Rui's growth.

In a survey conducted in August and September by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on the living conditions for about 2,000 households in temporary housing units in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, 118 families said they could easily hear noise from neighboring units and that soundproofing measures were insufficient.

Three-Story Temporary Housing Built from Shipping Containers

In November 2011, news services reported people who lost their homes in the March 11th tsunami have begun moving into 3-story temporary housing in Miyagi Prefecture. The 6 housing structures for 144 households have been built in a baseball ground in Onagawa Town, where flat sites are scarce. Local government officials say this is the first 3-story temporary housing in the country. [Source: japan-afterthebigearthquake.blogspot.com November 6, 2011]

On Sunday, people began moving into the new housing, which was built by combining steel shipping and storage containers. Each unit has wide windows that admit sunlight to spacious rooms A woman in her 40s says that she is happy to finally have a home for her family after spending months in a shelter.

Public Housing for Evacuees

Those unable to build their own homes for financial or other reasons will be forced to live in public housing provided by prefectural governments or municipalities.The Miyagi prefectural government plans to build about 12,000 houses by fiscal 2015. Residents will pay a nominal rent. According to the prefecture, the rent will probably be less than 10,000 yen a month for an elderly couple whose yearly income totals about 1.5 million yen from pensions. As long as no one else expresses interest in living in the house, the couple will be allowed to buy it after a certain period of time for a relatively low price. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 23, 2012]

Besides housing complexes, the prefectural government plans to build wooden detached houses. "Many people who used to live in coastal areas want to live in detached houses, while elderly people who lived alone prefer to reside in a housing complex," a Higashi-Matsushima municipal government official said.

Those planning to build houses on the site where they have been relocated can buy or rent the land.In Sendai, the local government plans to exempt disaster victims from paying rent for land for a certain period, so people can build houses without worrying about the cost of the land. However, some disaster victims hope to buy the land so their descendents will be able to inherit it, according to the municipal government.The capital these victims will use to build houses will probably come from the funds they get from selling the land where they used to live, assistance they receive to reconstruct their lives, various types of relief money and earthquake insurance benefits.

Mass Relocations After the Disaster

About 1,400 households in nine coastal areas around Natori, Kesennuma and Higashi-Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture that were destroyed by the tsunami decided to relocate en mass inland. The residents said their farmland had suffered extensive from salt and many feared another tsunami. The communities made the decision collectively and hope to take advantage of subsidies given by the government to people willing to relocate to a safer place. In many cases they had to find the land to relocate to themselves and work out how it would be purchased from its owners. A 72-year-old farmer told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “I don’t know when I’ll be able to restart farming here. If I can relocate with my neighbors to an area inland, I want to find some unused land and make a living there.”

Twenty-six out of of 37 municipalities in coastal areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are considering large-scale residential relocations to higher or inland ground, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey. Of the 26 municipalities considering relocation, nine are in Iwate Prefecture, 13 in Miyagi Prefecture and four in Fukushima Prefecture. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun , August 12, 2011]

The number of households to be affected by mass relocations in Miyagi Prefecture stands at about 15,000, according to nine municipal governments. Among them, the Sendai city and Minami-Sanrikucho town governments have estimated up to 3,200 households each need to relocate. However, only about 5,500 households in the prefecture have started practical planning.

Residents have held discussion meetings in 62 of these districts, and about 4,000 households said they are willing to join a mass relocation, the survey results showed. The local governments are hoping a Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry disaster prevention scheme will help cover mass relocation project costs.Under the scheme, the central government shoulders 75 percent of costs for land development and other necessary work, with municipal governments covering the remaining quarter. But the municipal governments can receive further subsidies from central government tax revenues so that the central government shoulders up to 94 percent of the costs.

In Kesennuma, residents' associations in favor of mass relocation have submitted a demand for the matter to be quickly resolved. The city government of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, had hoped to draft its reconstruction plan, which includes the uphill relocation of residential areas, in July. But the city government has been forced to delay the draft for two months."It's impossible--our budget alone is not enough. We need additional aid from the central government," Mayor Kimiaki Toda said.

Re-examining Life After Disaster

Masamichi Kanari, a 58-year-old teacher force to leave home in Iwaki city because of radiation and live in evacuation centers, told the Los Angeles Times, he hopes to turn the disaster into an opportunity. Leaving the town where he was born and where he patiently cobbled together a life as a teacher, husband and father has led him to reexamine the existence he led before the earthquake. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2011]

"I know people have suffered terribly and I have so many unsettled things about my life now," he said. "But in a strange way, it's been a positive experience. It's made me rethink my life." Among the lessons learned: Possessions are fleeting and can be snatched away by a single swipe of nature.

And though Kanari has abandoned the house he built by hand in Iwaki City, he has forged a deeper relationship with his two grown children in Tokyo. "Wherever I put down my travel bag, that's my home," he said. "My spiritual home will always be Iwaki City. But as long as the radiation looms I can no longer imagine myself living there."

Kanari was a business/theater major in college, and had always planned to work in the arts. But the only work he could find was teaching high school. The tsunami ended that career, he says. He has spent his days checking a job board at the refugee center for part-time work to make ends meet while plotting his next move.

And now Kanari thinks he has a new direction: Recently, he became the subject of a documentary film on the human toll of the tsunami. Cameramen followed Kanari as he made a last visit to his hometown, taking viewers on a tour of the place he has decided to give up forever. His work on the project has inspired him to follow his long-latent dream of working in film. Government aid and free housing, along with his part-time jobs, will keep him going for the time being as he looks for full-time "work that I love to do, not just a job I can get hired to do."

Elderly People Left at Temporary Housing as Others Move Out

In December 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The growing number of people trying to build new homes for themselves on their own initiative in the wake of the March 2011 disaster is generally welcomed as good news, as establishing their own housing helps disaster victims return to ordinary lives. However, such efforts are not free from side-effects. In some cases, elderly people who lack economic power are being left behind in temporary housing after many other residents, mainly of younger generations, move out after building new houses for themselves. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 4, 2013 >=<]

“Among 43 cities, towns and villages surveyed by The Yomiuri Shimbun, more than 1,500 households from 21 municipalities have reestablished themselves in new housing in other cities, towns and villages. In particular, in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, about half of the people who have succeeded in rebuilding their houses on their own initiative chose to move to other municipalities. The figure in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, was also high, at about 40 percent. According to a poll conducted by the Onagawa municipal government in Miyagi Prefecture, residents of about 675 houses, or 36 percent of the 1,876 houses damaged by the 2011 disaster, said they wish to build new houses outside Onagawa. >=<

“A 54-year-old part-time worker living in temporary housing in the town said she is waiting for the town’s collective relocation project to start. However, she expressed concern about the project, saying: “It is still unclear when the construction work [for the collective relocation] will start, and it is also uncertain whether I would be able to obtain land in a place I’d wish to live. I am staying in this town because my job is here. But if it weren’t, I would have moved from this town a long time ago to rebuild a house for myself somewhere else by myself.” >=<

“To keep from losing residents to other municipalities, 25 of the 43 municipalities surveyed by The Yomiuri Shimbun provide subsidies or other assistance to people who choose to stay in their hometowns and rebuild their houses there. However, as the amount of such assistance increases, there has also been an increase in the number of people opting out of local government plans, changing their minds to rebuild on their own. >=<

“A 67-year-old woman living in temporary housing in Ofutnato, Iwate Prefecture, said: “If I look around, I find many young people moving out of temporary housing after succeeding in building new houses on their own initiative. This tendency makes me anxious because sometimes I feel that the elderly people [in temporary housing] are being left behind.” An official in charge of relocation projects in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, said, “If elderly people, who generally find it difficult to secure housing loans, become the only people who try to rehouse themselves under the public initiative, it could result in the weakening of local communities.” >=<

“Masaaki Minami, an Iwate University professor who specializes in urban planning, is knowledgeable about the present conditions in disaster-hit areas. Minami said the tendency of people of working age to seek to rebuild their houses on their own initiative should be regarded as progress toward reconstruction from the 2011 disaster. “But at the same time, the downside [of the tendency] is serious—it causes a population drain from disaster-hit areas, and socially disadvantaged people, such as the elderly people and those who lost their jobs after the disaster, are left behind in temporary housing.” “It is integral that the central and local governments make more efforts in speeding up [collective] reconstruction projects under public initiatives. Whether the local governments would be able to lay out the future visions of their towns in a short time is vital to preventing population from flowing out from municipalities hit hard by the disaster,” he added. >=<

Tohoku Residents Leave as Reconstruction Lags

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Many disaster victims have moved to other places to begin a new life as there has been little progress in public reconstruction projects, such as collective relocation and construction of public housing units for people who lost their houses in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. This has caused a large population outflow from disaster-affected areas. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 4, 2013 :::]

“According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey and a timetable for public reconstruction projects compiled by the Reconstruction Agency, the town government of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, plans to construct a total of 2,236 units of public housing as part of a collective relocation and reconstruction housing complex project. However, none have been completed so far. The Onagawa town government plans to construct 203 units during the current fiscal year. Only 580 units are expected to be built by March 2016, which will mark the fifth anniversary of the disaster. This is only a quarter of the entire project. :::

“An official of the Onagawa government listed several reasons for the slow progress. One is that because there is little safe flatland, it is necessary to construct housing units on higher ground further inland. Another reason is that the registered owners of land on which houses are to be constructed are dead. The Onagawa government is also short of staff who are in charge of negotiations on land procurement and handling contracts. “We are doing our best...We feel sorry for residents,” the official said. :::

“Such a situation is common in other municipalities in the disaster-hit areas. Twenty municipal governments in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures will not be able to complete all of their public reconstruction projects by March 2016. As of September, 15,118 units, or 32 percent of planned housing units, were to be constructed in April 2016 or later. The figure was 24,000 units as of December last year. :::

“Although more than 2,000 employees of local governments across the country have been sent to the areas devastated by the disaster to speed up administrative work, little progress has been made. The uncertainty about the construction of public housing units and collective relocation for those affected by the disaster has prompted people to rebuild their own houses. “It’ll take more time to develop land to prepare it for collective relocation. For my children, I could no longer wait,” a 37-year-old construction company president said. :::

The man lost his grandmother and parents when his house in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, was inundated by the tsunami. This summer, he moved to a house he bought in Osaki, an inland city in the prefecture. His four children, the eldest of whom is a third-year middle school student, became afraid of the sea after the 2011 calamity, he said. He initially planned to move to a site in Higashi-Matsushima, which is being prepared for collective relocation for those affected by the disaster, but the development of the land is scheduled to be completed in January 2017, and then following the delivery of the land, he will have to arrange construction of his house, further pushing back his family’s move-in day.

“It’s heartbreaking to leave our ancestral hometown, but I decided to place priority on my family members who survived the disaster,” the man said. In Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, plans to organize collective relocation and build public housing units have yet to be realized. Under such circumstances, many residents chose to build houses for themselves. As a result, the number of public housing units scheduled to be built was reduced by 70 percent to 1,025 as of late September from 3,068 initially planned as of late December last year.

Image Sources: Kantei, Office of Japanese Prime Minister

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2014

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