Tsunami-displaced Tohoku shops struggling to find solid footing


The revival of Minamisanriku Sansan Shotengai is a rare example of shops hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami being able to shift from provisional to permanent locations in the Tohoku region.

The shopping arcade in the Pacific coastal town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the three hardest-hit prefectures, made a fresh start with newly completed buildings last week, moving from makeshift facilities.

Elsewhere, however, owners of many disaster-hit shops currently operating at temporary facilities are struggling to find ways to continue, facing difficulty in achieving full-fledged reconstruction.

“I want to rebuild my shop and am considering whether I’ll be able to do it while working a part-time job,” said Tsukiko Otomo, the 64-year-old owner of a ramen shop in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

In Miyagi, some 540 shops reopened at temporarily facilities prepared in the year or so after the disaster. Many of the facilities have been leased for free.

But almost six years later, the lease periods are nearing expiration for many shopkeepers.

According to a prefectural government survey, 238 of the shops had left the makeshift facilities as of last October, but 73 were not confirmed to be operating elsewhere.

The inability to reopen is believed to reflect difficulties in finding permanent shop locations due to delays in reconstruction, as well as dismal business prospects amid a population decline.

Still, nearly 90 percent of the 302 shops remaining in temporarily locations hope to rebuild, although about 40 percent are still not on the road to recovery.

In Kesennuma, two temporary shopping malls are set to close this spring due to a rezoning project, meaning 55 shops will have to move. But only 18 of them had somewhere to go as of January, according to a city government survey.

“I’ve been looking for a location for over a year, but I haven’t found one that meets my needs,” said Kunio Iwatsuki, 74, who has run a yakitori restaurant that has been in business for more than 80 years.

Deadlines for the use of the temporary facilities are ultimately determined by local governments, but state subsidies for their removal run until the end of March 2019.