Container Houses Quickly Offer a Better Living Space

May 10th – Volunteers who worked to set up the container houses. Front center is Yoshiteru HORIE, Secretary General of AAR JAPAN. (Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture) (Photo by Mr. Izuru SUGAWARA)

In the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, there are still thousands of people living in minimal comfort in evacuation centers, risking their health due to stress and exhaustion. The government has not been able to provide enough temporary housing for all of them.

At AAR JAPAN, international journalist, Mr. Izuru SUGAWARA proposed offering the evacuees container houses, which are ready-to-assemble and easy to set up. AAR JAPAN has started sending these container houses to the affected areas.

In the town of Onagawa in Oshika County, Miyagi Prefecture, 6 container houses were set up for evacuees on May 10th. 24 more container houses will be set up in Onagawa in the near future, with more planned in other areas as well.

Having proposed the project, Mr. Izuru SUGAWARA reports on progress in Onagawa as of May 10th.

Virtually Unchanged Since the Day of the Great East Japan Earthquake

May 10th – Yubigahama, where the container houses were set up, remained untouched since the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake. (Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture) (Photo by Mr. Izuru SUGAWARA)

On May 10th, in a small seaside village a few kilometers from central Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, we set up 4 container houses at Yubigahama Kappa Farm Evacuation Center, and set up 2 more in the garden of the private residence behind the farm.

The town of Onagawa was one of the hardest-hit along Miyagi’s Pacific coast, with 80% of the town devastated by the tsunami. There are few hills, and the town has been noted on the news for its lack of space for building temporary housing. Yubigahama, where the container houses were set up today, has suffered some of the greatest damage in Onagawa, yet due to its distance from the town center, government support has yet to come. I was shocked to see the area: It has been almost 2 months, but nothing has changed since the day of the earthquake. Debris has not been cleared, and the roads have not been repaired at all.

We entered an unpaved farm road from the narrow national road along the Pacific Ocean. There we were met by a mountain of debris, behind which stood a hilltop house that has become an evacuation center. The house is not at all big, but 4 families now live there together. Neither water nor power has been restored. We set up the container houses in front of this private residence. 

Houses Full of Consideration

May 10th - The container houses were imported from China and Italy. Used in war zones and under harsh conditions, they are very sturdy. (Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture)

Staff from Osaki Hachimanguu Shrine, one of Sendai’s national treasures, first practiced assembling the container houses. They checked the equipment and set-up procedure, and any parts that were damaged in the process were repaired thanks to the superlative skills of the metal workers at Chikurin Sha.

More than 15 volunteers joined us in setting up the houses on the 10th and 11th, including four workers from Tohoku Grader, a prefabrication company in Sendai; the head priest of Osaki Hachimanguu Shrine, Mr. ONOME, and 6 shrine staff; Secretary General HORIE of AAR JAPAN; 2 staff members from Zempro, an advertising agency in Fukuoka; Mr. NARITA from Konishi Arts and Crafts; and my friend Mr. Dylan MONAHAN from the US military.

At first the evacuees only watched from afar, but later they helped us unpack the components. I asked one of them nervously, “What do you think of the house?” Honestly, I was afraid to hear the answer.

May 10th - In the completed container house. “I’m really happy to have some private space,” says Ms. SUZUKI, who has been living in the evacuation center with her 4 family members. “To be honest, living with others for 2 months is a little tiring.” (Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture)

“It’s larger and better-built than I expected,” I was told. “I thought only a box would come.”

“Right now, four families are living in this evacuation center. I never thought I would care about the lack of privacy, because we have known each other for so long. But living together for 2 months has been mentally exhausting. We don’t have any space to discuss family matters privately. I’m really thankful just to have a space for our families to sleep on our own.”

I almost cried. I know that it would be better to offer a larger space with better facilities like the government’s temporary housing, but government support has not yet reached this area. We started this project in the hope of reducing the stress on evacuees while they are waiting.

With many people’s support, we were able to overcome a variety of obstacles and set up our first container houses. Filled with a sense of consideration, I was able to feel that the houses were helpful to the survivors.

We are planning to assemble 24 more container houses in Onagawa, and we have also had requests to build container houses in Minami-Sanriku and Ishinomaki.

We have just started this project, but from here on we would like to set up as many container houses as quickly as we can. We will try our best to aid in recovery efforts, and I beg your warm support for the survivors of this disaster.

International political analyst and international journalist. Born in Tokyo in 1969. Graduated from Chuo University with a degree in political science. Received a master’s degree in international relations from Universiteit van Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam). Has written for magazines and published books on international affairs as a freelance journalist.

Assembleable container houses are easy to transport and take only a few hours to set up. The container house project was proposed in the hope of providing comfortable living spaces quickly and efficiently while the government sets up temporary housing. We have been actively engaged in this project, from obtaining and importing the container houses to setting them up on the ground.