asahi shinbun, community, livelihood, psychosocial, small business

In quake debris, survivors find hope and means to earn a living, asahi, 12/19/11

By RIE KOWAKA / Staff Writer

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate Prefecture–Enterprising women in this disaster-stricken northern city are not letting mountains of quake debris faze them.

They salvage items to create unique key holders, and in the process provide an income for themselves and hope for the future.

To be sure, this is not a rags-to-riches story. Perhaps, rubble to relative riches would be a better description.

The women earn 100 yen ($1.28) for every key holder they sell, which means they can get 600 yen to 700 yen per hour during a typical work day.

The items have been dubbed “GaRe:Keyholder,” a coined word from “ga” (tile),”gareki” (debris) and key holder.

The key holders rely on everyday materials which were swept away by tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11.

There are 15 or so women, including those who live in temporary housing, trying to make a go of things by crafting key holders.

They dig out buckets and strainers from the debris, clean and cut them in shapes of 3-4 centimeters across before attaching colored parts and the metal ring itself.

The project is the brainchild of Hajime Nakata, a 31-year-old member of EN project Japan, a Hokkaido-based relief and support organization.

Nakata moved to Rikuzentakata, which had a pre-disaster population of about 24,000, after the earthquake and came up with the idea that making key holders would “provide jobs for women in the disaster-stricken city.”

The key holders sell for 600 yen apiece. Residents of Rikuzentakata get a 100-yen discount.

After expenses and other costs are deducted, each key holder brings in 100 yen to the person who made it.

One of the “factories” is a 90-year-old private house where Nakata lives.

Four women who used to be employed by a sewing factory in the city now work there. Three of them lost their homes in the tsunami. Their factory was swept away, too.

“We talk about various things while working,” said a woman in her 60s who lives in temporary housing. “It feels uplifting to be able to talk with my colleagues.”

“I hope this work will help the lives of the survivors, if only a little,” Nakata said.

Nakata is seeking outlet stores for the key holders. For information, visit (http:11shokunin.com/keyholder/)

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About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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