Yoshiaki Kawai / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
RIKUZEN-TAKATA, Iwate–A young lawyer who spent about a year as a legal apprentice in Iwate Prefecture will be stationed at a legal office scheduled to open on Monday in Rikuzen-Takata, a city in the prefecture devastated by last year’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“I want to go back and return the favor to Iwate [Prefecture], where I was fostered as a legal apprentice,” Fumiyasu Zaima said.
The 33-year-old lawyer stepped forward to work at the office financed by the Himawari fund of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA). It will be the first new legal office to open in an area damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to the federation.
The city had been without a legal office even before the disaster. After the disaster, the demand for legal consultations increased.
Located on high ground near the temporary city hall building, the office is a prefabricated structure. Zaima is now busy recruiting clerical employees and placing orders for office equipment, among other preparations.
Before the disaster, the city’s population stood at about 24,000 people. The disaster left a total of 1,844 dead or missing and swept away many houses.
As a result, demand for legal consultations has significantly increased as residents face various issues such as figuring out how to deal with inheritance and the repayment of housing loans for people who lost their homes.
The Iwate Bar Association has sent a lawyer from the prefecture’s capital, Morioka, and other areas to the city three days a week since September. Anticipating the increase in disaster-related consultations will continue, the association decided to establish a legal office using the Himawari fund.
Currently, there are three to five consultations a day, the association said. Moratoriums on repayment for many housing loans will expire after the one-year anniversary of the disaster, it added.
Born in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Zaima was a first-year high school student when the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake struck. Some of his neighbors died in the disaster, he said.
Reflecting on the terrible situation following the 1995 earthquake, he decided he would offer to work at the scheduled Rikuzen-Takata office as he wanted to do something beneficial for Iwate Prefecture.
Zaima said he had a wide variety of experience from two years of working at a legal office in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, which is enthusiastic about fostering young lawyers interested in making contributions to regions with a scarcity of lawyers.
Consultation services on disaster-related matters will be offered for free in principle. “The people [of Rikuzen-Takata] don’t seem to be familiar with lawyers, partly due to the fact that there aren’t any around,” Zaima said. “So I want to make the office a place where they can easily consult us and give local residents peace of mind.”
There are 95 lawyers in Iwate Prefecture serving a population of about 1.34 million people across more than 15,000 square kilometers, according to the Iwate Bar Association. Only 11 lawyers, including Zaima, are located in coastal areas.
A JFBA official said it “had decided to open a legal office [in Rikuzen-Takata] using the Himawari fund as a meaningful way to assist a disaster-damaged area where few lawyers are available.”
(Mar. 1, 2012)