Rebuilding Japan after the tsunami - one soy sauce business at a time
In one town devastated by the tsunami, some 400 temporary housing units and a soy sauce business offer hope. But some 4,000 more units are needed.
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Across the three worst-affected prefectures – Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima – the operation to re-house evacuees is being held up by the high cost of materials, a shortage of engineers to install gas, water, and electricity, and a lack of flat land on higher ground.
The government estimates 72,000 prefabricated homes are needed in the region, but as of last week only 395 had been erected. To compound the problem, space for 41,000 units has yet to be secured.
Each unit costs about 2.4 million yen ($28,000) to build; it takes three weeks to complete 120 units. But the pace of construction is slower than that following the Kobe earthquake in 1995, when more than 48,000 units were built within seven months.
“The prefectural government will continue to build them as quickly as possible so we can get people into a place where they can sleep comfortably and have space in which to rebuild their lives,” says Tomoyuki Murakami, a Rikuzentakata town official.
The fortunate few who have secured a prefab by lottery will be permitted to stay in them for up to two years, but must pay gas and other utility bills. Each home has electricity, running water, a small bath and toilet, a microwave, and a TV.
“My mother and I have applied separately for temporary housing and are waiting for the results. We’re hoping for the best,” says Sato.
While the provision of supplies, gas, and electricity has improved vastly in recent weeks, Sato and her 135,000 fellow evacuees have to contend with cramped conditions and fears concerning their livelihoods.
“I haven’t been able to sleep well and am very tired,” she says. “But this is better than other evacuation centers. We aren’t in need of anything in particular. I’m more worried about finding work and how we are going to live. When I think about the future, the answers don’t come.”
Katsunari Sasaki, a retired electrician, has returned to what is left of his home to collect a few mementos that may be all that is left of his family’s life pre-tsunami.
“It’s way too early to think about the future,” says Mr. Sasaki. “I’ve applied for temporary housing but only a few places have been built so far. Construction firms are among the victims, so it’s going to be months before we can leave the evacuation center.”
He adds: “I don’t want to live around here anymore. And I’m not alone.”
The debate over where to rebuild homes – near the coast or on higher land – for Rikuzentakata’s dispossessed has barely begun. Wherever they re-emerge, Kono is determined that his soy sauce plant will again be at the heart of the town’s commercial life.
“This company is 200 years old,” he says. “If we want it to last another 200 years, this is a turning point."