SENDAI – An effort to knit cardigans to help revive the tsunami-hit coastal city of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture has evolved into a company of 20 people.
The firm, Kesennuma Knitting Co., originally started as a project by Tamako Mitarai, 28, in June 2012. It now employs about 20 local women as knitters.
Among them is Yuriko Oyama, 70, whose house was washed away by the tsunami spawned by the March 2011 mega-quake.
“Knitting makes me feel relaxed and comfortable even when I have some worries,” she said. “I would like to make a great cardigan thinking of a person who will wear this.”
Kesennuma Knitting is working on 12 luxury cardigans for this winter that will be sold to customers by lottery.
Mitarai, the president, said she hopes to “create a world-class upscale brand that customers choose not because they want to help the city recover, but because they think our products are special and make them happy.”
Mitarai, however, is a Tokyoite with a unique background.
After graduating from university, she entered McKinsey & Co., a major management consultancy. She then moved to Bhutan in September 2010 to work for about a year as an official for the Bhutan government’s Gross National Happiness Commission. Her main task there was to promote tourism as a fellow to Bhutan’s prime minister.
Soon after returning to Japan, Mitarai was asked by an acquaintance, Shigesato Itoi, a renowned copywriter who often appears on TV, to lead his effort to reconstruct Kesennuma.
Recalling that fishermen in Ireland wear knit sweaters designed with cable patterns, Itoi developed the idea of launching a knitting business in Kesennuma, which is also famous for fishing, she said.
At first, Mitarai was not really certain if she was capable of leading the project, but eventually decided to move there, thinking, “Let’s give it a try.”
Once the project was set in motion, Mitarai visited the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland along with knitting designer Mariko Mikuni to research the traditional luxury sweater business. After much discussion, they decided to produce a ¥147,000 cardigan to order.
Mitarai said some who bought the made-to-order cardigans last winter have visited the office or sent photographs of them being worn, giving the knitters confidence in their work. She said she plans to produce sweaters or other products in the future.
KESENNUMA, Miyagi Prefecture–The carcasses of Pacific saury, left to rot after the power source for their refrigerator was knocked out.
It is among 200 photographs that are blunt reminders of the devastating forces of nature that tore into northeastern Japan two years ago.
Currently on display at the Rias Ark Museum of Art in Kesennuma, the 200 snapshots and messages speak volumes of the damage wrought by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011.
All of the photographs were taken by museum staff members, and the accompanying messages were also written by them.
“I was wearing one mask on top of another, but it still smelled so bad that I was about to faint,” said the message accompanying the photo of the dead saury pike. “I began to tremble and felt physical danger. I could not eat saury for some time.”
The photographs and messages are part of a permanent exhibition titled, “Documentary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and History of Tsunami,” which opened in April.
The exhibition starts with a photograph taken from the museum’s rooftop of central Kesennuma dimmed by the dust rising from homes being swept away by the wall of waves.
“We took photographs then and there because we experienced something firsthand,” said curator Hiroyasu Yamauchi. “We wanted to present it.”
Also on exhibit are 155 pieces of wreckage retrieved in Kesennuma and neighboring Minami-Sanriku, such as a buckled utility pole, a squashed car, a gas cylinder and a stuffed doll.
Attached postcards eloquently tell how those who knew life in the region before the disaster felt.
“I was amazed to see reinforcing bars wriggling out from a utility pole just like grass growing out from the ground,” said a message written by Yamauchi in the broad local dialect.
“Watching objects damaged by the disaster takes on a meaning only when you imagine what lies beyond them,” Yamauchi said, adding that the messages on the postcards are designed to lead visitors to imagine it.
Tile fragments in checkerboard, arabesque and polka-dotted patterns from destroyed bathrooms and washrooms may not be as shocking as some displays, but the various patterns show how different people lived different lives–those lives now lost to the disaster.
Toward the end of the exhibition, a photo presentation on how the Sanriku coastline changed due to reclamation says residents of some areas do not remember tsunami damage prior to damage caused by the 1960 Great Chilean Earthquake.
A commentary points out that the 2011 tsunami should have been anticipated.
About 100 key phrases, such as “relocation to higher ground” and “remains of disaster,” and the explanations of what they mean, show much remains for us to think about and work on.
Local residents have accounted for about 60 percent of visitors to the permanent exhibition. Some have expressed appreciation for the museum’s work.
The museum plans to update the exhibition in about three years, incorporating changes that have taken place in the region.
By AIKO MASUDA/ Staff Writer
by Yumiko Iida
KESENNUMA, MIYAGI PREF. – Just two months after the tsunami on March 11, 2011, devastated the city of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, Emi Satomi and a group of nursery teachers whose jobs were eliminated by the catastrophe began a makeshift day care center in a warehouse up on a hill.
Satomi, 51, is a niece of the director of a local nursery who died in the tsunami. The nursery school, which had been operating for more than 30 years was swept away. Only its bare foundation remains.
Initially, when she agreed to nurses’ requests in the immediate aftermath of the disaster to help look after their children while they worked, she intended to do so only until the mothers found other day care alternatives. But by summer that year, the number of children at Satomi’s makeshift day care center had reached about 20.
Satomi felt the limits of running the nursery in the warehouse, where there was neither water nor toilets.
But at the same time, she knew there was certainly demand for the service. So she tried to seek assistance from support groups, only to be met with a rather cold response to the idea of temporary day care.
Good news came when a construction company executive in Yamagata Prefecture offered to build a facility for her — on condition that she was “serious” about continuing the nursery.
“I was scared,” Satomi recalled, worrying that demand may not keep up in the long run, given Japan’s low birthrate as well as the hollowing out that was taking place as residents were forced to evacuate or move elsewhere as a result of the disaster. “Would we be able to keep going?”
One thing was certain, however. The city had a shortage of day-care services, especially for babies and toddlers up to around 2 years old. Moved by the executive’s words that “these children will be the ones to revive Kensennuma” in the future, Satomi made up her mind to stay the course.
She named the new nursery, completed last July at a location safe from future tsunami, Kids Room Ohisama, which means “sun.” More than 50 children are enrolled, and the number will rise to 60 when the new school year starts in April. The rest are on a waiting list.
Finances are tight but Satomi is sticking to her decision of not registering the facility as an “approved” nursery because she wants to be able to serve all parents and children in need, regardless of their background and whether they meet the rigid enrollment qualifications for “approved” nurseries.
Operating as an “unapproved” nursery means Kids Room Ohisama receives much less in public subsidies than “approved” nurseries.
Satomi also petitioned on behalf of about 20 of the nursery’s children who are still in temporary housing and finally succeeded in getting aid so their fees can be reduced or exempted.
“It’s tough, but we are fortunate and thankful that even now relief supplies are being sent to us from everywhere,” Satomi said.
“Parents (with small children) can stay here and work in Kesennuma because our nursery is here. We’ll be able to keep going for as long as we are needed.”
According to a tally by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry as of last April 1, 50 day care facilities were destroyed or swept away by the March 2011 tsunami, while another 61 were heavily damaged.
A total of 76 nurseries have closed down in the disaster-hit areas, whether “approved” or “unapproved.”
MINAMISANRIKU, Miyagi Pref. — Standing conspicuously in a barren lowland in what was once the thriving harbor of Minamisanriku are the skeletal remains of the building that once housed the city’s disaster prevention office until the day monster tsunami demonstrated the awesome power of the sea.
Grim reminder: The municipal disaster prevention office in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, stripped to its frame by the March 2011 tsunami, remains a rusted hulk more than a year later. KYODO
At the site of the building, where some 40 people lost their lives on March 11, 2011, many people still lay flowers and offer prayers for the victims.
For local residents, however, the building is now a source of anxiety.
“My heart always aches at the site of it. It’s preventing us from moving forward toward reconstruction,” said a 44-year-old woman who lost her nearby home in the tsunami triggered by the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake.
The municipal government first proposed preserving the building but changed course and decided it should be torn down following requests by survivors of the twin disasters.
The building is one of many tsunami-hit structures and ships washed inland in Miyagi and Iwate that are being removed as the prefectures try to rebuild.
Experts on disaster prevention believe the hulking structures should be preserved as a legacy of the catastrophe. But local governments, taking into consideration the feelings of survivors, are pushing ahead with recovery plans that call for the buildings and ships to be demolished.
In many of the disaster-hit communities, local governments see the current fiscal year as the first real year of reconstruction. They are accelerating work to bulldoze ruined buildings and remove the ships, as their No. 1 priority is to rebuild communities.
These measures include filling in submerged low-lying land and relocating whole residential districts to higher ground.
Eight municipalities in Miyagi and Iwate are considering whether to preserve some damaged structures, but none has drawn up a specific plan.
The upkeep costs are a major concern for local officials. Maintenance of buildings requires anticorrosive treatment and quake-proof reinforcement.
The central government will fully subsidize demolition costs for the time being, but there are no explicit guidelines regarding expenses for preservation.
Local governments are worried that if demolition is delayed by a few years due to controversy over preservation, they may end up shouldering the costs of removing the buildings.
Experts on disaster prevention and city planning set up a study group in Sendai in May to make a list of structures they want to see preserved.
“If (the issue of preservation) is ignored, there will be nothing left to show future generations,” one expert said.
But changing reconstruction plans is no easy task for local governments because protracted studies on whether to keep the buildings will delay reconstruction work.
The reconstruction plan in Minamisanriku calls for destroying 36 public buildings.
“We have drawn up plans that include the use of the land vacated by the buildings,” a city officials said. “We will begin work as soon as we gain the consent of local residents and choose a demolition company.”
The demolition started with a hospital and a fire station in April, and the disaster prevention office, a fixture of the fishing port town’s flattened landscape over the past 16 months, is to be knocked down sometime in the next few months.
In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a bus left by the tsunami on the roof of a community hall in the Ogatsu district was taken away in March.
A 47-year-old woman who runs a shop in the neighborhood initially welcomed the removal.
“The mere sight (of the bus) put me off,” she said at the time.
However, she has been wondering recently if it was the right decision.
“We can no longer put it back the way it was,” she said. “I think we should probably have preserved it to learn the lessons of disaster preparedness for the future.”
The municipal government of Kesennuma, another tsunami-wrecked port city in Miyagi Prefecture, has embraced preservation in its plans for reconstruction.
A giant 330-ton trawler stranded some 900 meters inland from the Pacific is expected to be the centerpiece of a disaster memorial park.
The city signed a lease with the ship’s owner in June 2011 and has since started planning the park, which will be dedicated to raising awareness of disaster preparedness.
In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Yuki Matsumoto, 55, hopes his tsunami-engulfed hotel in the coastal city’s Taro district will be kept as a monument.
The six-story hotel was submerged to the fourth floor and nothing but the bare iron frame remains.
Before the March 2011 catastrophe, Matsumoto had been told by his elders about past tsunami disasters that had laid waste to coastal areas of Iwate.
“I had no other way than to picture for myself what I heard. We need something that can show the horrors (of tsunami) clearly,” Matsumoto said.
He has proposed preserving the hotel to the municipal government and the two sides are holding talks.
Arata Hirakawa, director of Tohoku University’s International Research Institute of Disaster Science, is calling for a review on how best the experiences of calamities can be handed down for posterity.
Local governments “should take time to discuss with disaster survivors about how residents are using lessons from past disasters,” said Hirakawa, a member of the study group pushing for preservation of disaster-damaged structures.
today I was 1 of a group of 4 girls who cleaned B san’s house, where we were staying. he sorted through all the things that had been put in the first floor, telling us if they were to be discarded, kept, or moved to his new temporary house. in the past, they held all important events in this house, weddings took 3 days, with separate events for different groups of people depending on how closely the guests were related to the family. for this kind of event, each guest would need to be served on their own laquer tray and place settings–we moved boxes and boxes of these. the last time they had used these was for his daughter’s school entrance ceremony, about 30 years ago.
while we were cleaning, we came across a photo of when the family’s main house (up the hill) was built in 1943. after we were done cleaning, we went up the hill to this house, where the other B San (they are cousins) was preparing for the barbecue we had later. the main house is huge, with very large built in shrines not usually seen in private homes. I’d heard that families in this area have this kind of large main family house, located up a hill, and during the disaster, other familiy members whose own house may have been damaged return to the main house.
in this area, they have kept the word ‘buraku’ which is usually used as in ‘burakumin’ which is group of people, like an untouchable caste in japan, who have been discriminated against for a long long time, and in history related to the most unpleasant jobs. but in this area, they use the word buraku to refer to their neighborhood group–B buraku in this case. I’m not sure if all the members of this buraku are part of the B family–seems likely!
while taking a tea break from preparing the food for this evening’s BBQ, mrs B told us about what happened after the earthquake. they had gone to the evacuation center for 1 night, but there was no food there. so they came back to their house, along with 40 people who stayed with them for 10 days. the children were hungry–there was no food at the shelter. they cooked for everyone during that time, using an old-fashioned kind of stove that she had never used before, and cooking brown rice which they had on hand. everyone who could move (meaning except the elderly and bed ridden) helped. the women cooked, and the men went to fetch water by hand, which was also quite an ordeal. they filled 2 liter plastic bottles with hot water for water bottles at night, since it was so cold. it took quite an effort and time to heat the water for hot water bottles for 40 people. Mrs B was clearly the force behind this operation, all of it. her elderly mother (or mother-in-law) who is also sitting at the kotatsu, and gets around using a walker, mentions this, and Mrs B brushes it off, saying she didn’t do anything special, and that everyone helped. but in her eyes, and her voice, it’s all too easy to imagine the exhaustion of that time, and the work that followed. M chan, a japanese volunteer, jumps up to offer Mrs. B a shoulder massage; Mrs B closes her eyes.