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2012 April Tohoku Trip

A veiw from a hotel window in Ofunato, Iwate. 

Temporary shopping site, convenient for consutruction workers and NGO/NPO staff/volunteers, inconvenient for the locals without cars.

Raising ground level to rebuild warehouses for the aquaculture industry. 

At the office of Habitat for Humanity Japan. 

The very first seaweed harvest since last March.

Fishermen heading out to the ocean for the first time in a year. 

Debris can be seen pilled up everywhere in Iwate and Miyagi, due to lack of municipal governments outside Tohoku agreeing to accept and dispose tsunami waste.


HOPE for Tohoku: Special Stories by Masahide and Sayaka

JDRFB is pleased to welcome two special speakers from the disaster-struct Tohoku area.  

In partnership with BEYOND tomorrow, a global fund for educational assistance to students who were affected by the Earthquake and Tsunami, we invited Masahide Chiba and Sayaka Sugawara to join us on for the March 17th event to share their life-changing stories on March 11th, 2011. 


Masahide Chiba

Ofunato High School (Iwate Prefecture)

Masahide lost his mother and grandmother to the tsunami in Ofunato city. He also lost his home and currently lives with his father and two younger brothers in rented space. Having his life saved while a number of lives were lost, Masahide aspires to contribute to reconstructing the region as well as building cities that are well prepared for natural disasters. He will start university in April with a major in construction engineering.


Sayaka Sugawara

Sendai Ikuei High School (Miyagi Prefecture)

Sayaka lost her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to the tsunami in Ishinomaki city. She currently lives by herself in an apartment in Sendai city. 6 months after the disaster, she participated in the World Economic Forum Summer Davos Conference in Dalian, China to share her experience with the world’s top leaders. Sayaka has always been interested in gaining international experience and she plans to study abroad from September 2012.


A Report on Second Visit to Tohoku, Oct/Nov 2011

A Report on Second Visit to Tohoku

October/November 2011
Atsuko Toko Fish

Beautiful Ripe Persimmons  in Fukushima (unfortunately not allowed to eat due to radiation)

Beginning of foliage in Fukushima


1. Purpose of the visit

  • To see the results of JDRFB Funding - Meetings with Round 1 Grantees: ICA Japan, All Hands, Ofuro Project, MIT 3/11 Initiative, HANDS, Ban Architects
  • Assess current situation in Tohoku
  • Looking for new opportunity for mid- and long-term support for Tohoku


2. Summary of Findings

Cleaning Up 

  • Impressive progress in clean up, including roads, ocean and debris, compared to April.
  • Challenges: Where will the debris go? What will Japan do with it? - Solution example: City of Ofunato recycles debris for reconstruction for land and cement material.
  • The majority of the roads have been recovered. Shinkansen (bullet train) is running. However, some local trains and bipass roads are not repaired yet, which causes difficulty in transportation and communication.



Temporary Housing

  • Data as of November 2011 
    1. The total number of evacuee: Over 330,000 
    2. The total number of evacuees in Temporary Housing: 256,989
    3. Evacuees in Temporary housing by prefecture: Iwate – 43,406; Miyagi – 121,519; Fukushima – 92,064
  • The majority of evacuees are living in temporary housing now.
  • Challenges:
    1. Housing conditions are not adequate and locations are isolated from everyday life.
    2. Evacuees are facing the reality of responsibility - paying bills, getting jobs, compensation from Tokyo Electric and government aid was already used for purchasing necessary furniture for the temporary housing.
    3. Ten months of unemployment compensation from the Government will expire by the end of January 2012.
    4. Community revitalization - This is an immediate need for residents of temporary housing. Resolution is necessary for issues regarding the elderly, the handicapped, physical and psychological health care, employment, transportation, shopping for food and supplies, and creating meaningful roles for women in the community. This is where NGOs and volunteers can provide continuous support.
    5. Need for community centers where temporary housing residents can get together for communication, information, activities and maybe appointments with doctors and nurses. 

Government Temporary Housing (Onagawa)

Government Temporary Housing (Minamisanriku)

Ban Architects Temporary Housing (Onagawa) / Using shipping containers.  Quality of building structure and living conditions are excellent.  

Interior of Ban Architects temporary housing

Ban Architects designed a Community Market in the center of the temporary housing site.



  • Temporary shops and restaurants are open along the road but far from temporary housing sites.
  • Some parts in Northern Japan have started fishing, scallop bedding, and processing fish products again with the exception of the Fukushima prefecture.
  • Challenges: Small business owners would like to be back in business, but face several issues - no place to build, no start up funds, difficult to get materials and products, and more generally there continues to be less commerce in these affected areas. 


Radiation in Fukushima  

  • Challenges:
    1. The Government’s has only one standard regulation regarding radiation levels. Fukushima is a big prefecture and each city has different radiation levels; however, the government’s uniform, overarching radiation regulations prevents areas with low levels of radiation from moving forward. For example, it prevents fisherman from working even though they are fully prepared to start working again and more importantly it is safe for them to do so in certain areas. The government does not provide enough detailed information on specific areas.
    2. Due to the unconfirmed rumors and misinformation, much of the produce and fish from Fukushima have been banned from being sold in markets. This severely damages the fishing industry and local businesses in Fukushima. 
  • ICA Japan workshop with Fishery Union Executives in Sohma/Futaba resolved some issues. The misinformation regarding radiation data needs to be corrected and the correct information needs to be publicized through various media outlets to prevent more damage to the fishing industry in Fukushima. However, this is not an easy task because the correct data needs to be in line with the central Government’s information. 

Workshop with ICA Japan and Fishery Union

The JDRFB Funding was utilized to build a new office for the Sohma/Futaba Fishery Union. 

3. Remaining Issues to Address

  • The needs of each village and city are very diverse; therefore, it is difficult for the Central Government to meet the needs of each province without the help of local community leaders and the people. These leaders and community members need to come up with clear visions and innovative ideas of what their communities need and want, and furthermore, they need to work with NGOs, volunteers, and the government to develop solid implementation plans.
    1. Community revitalization plan
    2. Permanent residential plan
    3. Infrastructure plan
  • Lack of communication and dialogue between local leaders and central government.
  • Lack of leadership– deceased or still suffering from devastation, and no vision. 
  • Good leadership example in Ofunato: Mayor of Ofunato has a great vision for comprehensive city reconstruction plan including infrastructure, permanent housing, building new industry and job creation. The Mayor has already submitted the development plan to the Central Government for funding. Ofunato's vision can be the role model for other city's development.
  • Many Tohoku areas are taking place of election now (mid Nov.) which delays various decision making in the community.
  • How can we encourage the younger generation to remain in or move to Tohoku and help support the revitalization of their communities?  This is another reason why great attention and efforts is needed to put into redeveloping the fishing, agricultural industry, as well as creating the new alternative energy business.

4. Highlights of Findings 

  • Public sector officials acknowledged the power and productivity of NGOs/Volunteer work.  Government finally ready to collaborate with NGOs to rebuild communities.
  • New civil society (civilian and NGO) leadership was born as a result of the major disaster.

5. Next Steps 

  • Job Creation for individuals 
  • Funding needed in order to reignite the business industry
  • Implement a plan for infrastructure development in affected cities and villages - issues involving roads, water pipes, and electricity should be addressed
  • Building permanent housing - Where, what and how?

The single pine tree that survived the disaster - A symbol of hope


Let's not make Tohoku yesterday's news.



"A Thousand Cranes" article on Regional Tohoku Newspaper

More press coverage from the Boston Ballet - JDRFB collaboration event: A Thousand Cranes!

This article was published September 28, 2011 on "Kahoku Shimpo", a regional newspaper in the Tohoku region.  We hope that our message went across to the people in the affected area to encourage them.


VAN on Architectural Record - September 28, 2011

Shigeru Ban Conceives Simple Solutions for Post-Disaster Zones in New Zealand, Japan

Sept 28, 2011 By Naomi Pollock (

Click to see slideshow

On the surface, the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, and the town of Onagawa, Japan, do not have much in common.  But one does not have to scratch deeply to find likenesses. Since earthquakes heavily damaged both communities earlier this year, both are now the beneficiaries of Shigeru Ban’s relief efforts. Quick to help out whenever disaster strikes, Ban is currently designing a temporary building for the Christchurch’s Anglican Church, and his temporary housing for Onagawa is now under construction.

New Zealand Cathedral
Located within Christchurch’s declared red zone that had to be evacuated after the February quake, the city’s main Anglican cathedral—a Gothic-style, stone edifice completed in 1904—was in a sorry state. But its condition went from bad to worse when a second jolt in February shattered its magnificent rose window.

In need of an immediate, alternate venue, the church authorities invited Ban to build them a facility on an empty lot near to, but outside of, the red zone in the center of the city’s downtown. Having built a temporary church out of paper tubes in Kobe, Japan, after that city suffered its own earthquake in 1995, Ban was eager to do another. “Since we have never designed a pure triangle shape with such big and long paper tubes, we are excited about the challenge of this new design,” says Ban.  

As in Kobe, paper tubes are the material of choice for the Christchurch cathedral. Much larger in scale compared to his Kobe project, the 9700-square-foot building’s A-frame sanctuary will seat 700 worshippers. Topping the sanctuary will be a massive, pitched roof made of paper tubes and covered with polycarbonate sheets that will allow daylight into the building. Steadily increasing in height, the roof will soar to 21 meters above the altar.

Filled with earthquake rubble, shipping containers will form the building’s base. Construction is expected to finish in time for earthquake’s first anniversary in February 2012.

Japan Housing
Meanwhile, back in Japan, Ban’s government-funded, temporary housing is under construction on a baseball diamond in Onagawa, a town of 10,000 residents. Like many coastal communities in Miyagi Prefecture, Onagawa was decimated on March 11 by the earthquake and tsunami that left 3,800 of its 4,500 homes partially, if not completely, damaged. Accordingly, Onagawa had an urgent need for temporary housing. But its rugged terrain did not have enough flat land to accommodate the standard government-issued, single-story housing for all its homeless.  

To solve the problem, Ban proposed erecting 2- and 3-story buildings that take up less flat area and were, therefore, better suited to the hilly landscape. In addition to providing homes to the needy, they could be built quickly from shipping containers and steel frames. The containers would hold private bed and bathrooms while kitchen and dining areas will occupy open spaces in between the containers, each one enclosed with window walls. The retailer MUJI will donate furniture and cooking equipment.

When it finishes on October 15, Ban’s Container Temporary Housing in Onagawa will house 188 families. They are currently bedding down in a gymnasium serving as Onagawa’s emergency shelter where Ban installed 250 sets of paper tube partitions as an immediate intervention after the earthquake.

Though not designed for permanent occupancy, Ban’s housing is intended to be reused during future disasters. “Usually government temporary housing is wasted,” laments Ban.  “But I don’t want to keep doing this every time we have an earthquake.”


A Thousand Cranes: A Dance for Faith

On the night of September 12, 2011, Boston Ballet and the Japanese Disaster Relief Fund - Boston held a special event to mark the six month period since the disaster in Tohoku.  

Principal Dancer Misa Kuranaga and other outstanding dancers from Boston Ballet preformed breathtaking pieces at the studio in the Boston Ballet headquarters. 

The last performance was created by Misa herself, specifically for this special evening.  With Emily Fish's footage of Tohoku in the background, each dancer handed red paper cranes to Misa, who shaped the cranes into a circle that symbolized the Japanese flag.  The act was performed along with live music by traditional Japanese instruments and vocals.  The sensational performance brought tears to every eye.

*Photo courtesy of Liza Voll

Misa Kuranaga and Boyko Dossev

  Misa Kuranaga

Misa Kuranaga