Japan: Recovering From The Great East Japan Earthquake: Aiming For One Step Beyond

A New Challenge For The Disaster Hit Area

Workers in the 'Forest of Dreams — Sunflower Workshop' in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture. The establishment, part of the social welfare services, was aided in its restoration by AAR.  All the handmade confectionery have passed the taste test!
Although two years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, victims of the disaster, particularly those with physical or mental disabilities, are still facing various problems caused by the earthquake. Sayako NOGIWA, AAR Tohoku branch chief, reports on the difficult situation faced two years ago, and recent AAR efforts to tackle the subsequent challenges.


Why Persons with Disabilities?

Just six months following the Great East Japan Earthquake, data analysts from NHK's 'Fukushi Network' (lit. 'Welfare Network') revealed some startling statistics.  The results showed that the mortality rate for the PWDs living in the 30 settlements (cities, towns, villages) along the coast climbed to twice that of the national average (from 1.03% to 2.06%).

For those lucky enough to survive the disaster, the aftermath brought harsh and unforgiving living conditions. In one instance, those with physical disabilities had no choice but to make use of the temporary toilet facilities built on a 60cm high stage, which was no easy task. One scene I still vividly remember occurred at a temporary civilian settlement which we visited to deliver supplies, wherein one young girl in a wheelchair was left unable to manouver in front of a school gym, due to the floor grates.  There are ongoing accounts of persons with intellectual disabilities being driven out of places of refuge, and one particular story of a hearing impaired person being thought of as taciturn, and passing away without being able to convey their deteriorating state of health.

As well as conducting foreign based activities, AAR is also striving to provide support to these elderly and persons with disabilities, who are usually left behind in times of disaster.

New Issues Faced During Rehabilitation

During the direct aftermath of the earthquake, AAR carried out emergency measures which included the delivery of food rations and basic daily necessities to roughly 180,000 civilians.  Other initiatives are also being undertaken as a part of plans for restoration, which began six months after the disaster. Support was also provided to approximately 60 facilities for the elderly and the persons with disabilities, such as the rebuilding of partially/fully destroyed buildings, and the replacement of a broken bread making machinery at a welfare office.

Opening of the 'Global Cafe Village', using a trailer house provided by AAR. The Cafe is located in Yamamoto Town (Miyagi Prefecture), at a factory used by persons with intellectual disabilities (6/12/12)

However, roughly one year after the earthquake, the problems of wages became an issue for the few who were employed.  Although pastries and confectionery were being produced and sold at the facilities, the profits were heavily reduced due to the wages. The earthquake destroyed many retailers and suppliers and adversely impacted job availability. Despite only a 12,000 yen average monthly salary for persons with disabilities before the earthquake, this figure decreased even further following the disaster. A disability pension of 70,000—80,000 yen is unable to provide a comfortable life. At this rate, there is a genuine fear that the handicapped population will miss out on the benefits of the restoration as well as the rehabilitation process. Rather than aiming for the restoration of original conditions before the earthquake, there is a need to aim for improvement on these fronts.

Collaborating With Businesses To Increase Sales

AAR has been involved in the organizing of jobs suitable for persons with disabilities(PWDs), including support aimed at increasing wages. Utilizing the experience gained from carrying out emergency aid abroad and support for the PWDs, AAR has been applying their skills in the Tohoku region too. However, we lack knowledge and experience in business-related areas such as job security and development of product markets. Thankfully, our appeal for the 'Improvement of surroundings for the PWDs’ generated a lot of responses offering help. One such response came from Accenture plc — a multinational management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Accenture plc has been working with AAR for many years since before the Great East Japan Earthquake, supporting national events as well as events in Asia for the aid of handicapped people. Working together with AAR, Accenture plc has assisted in the installation of 60 facilities in the affected prefecture, revival of businesses, and overseeing the committal of private companies to our cause.

AAR's Sayako NOGIWA (left) and Accenture plc's Shinya SATO (centre) receive guidance on printing t-shirt designs. The explanation is given by Hideo TSUKAHARA at 'machi no kouboumadoka', a facility for the PWDs in Sendai City.

The 'Art Craft and Design Award' flyer distributed to Art Colleges nationwide.

In various welfare institutions, in addition to food, accessories and handicraft are also being produced. However, the products are lacking in design and functionality. With an aim to increase the selling point of the products by improving these aspects, a competition entitled 'Art Craft and Design Award' was held.
The first step was to identify with the staff – knowing of the impairments they suffered from, the types of jobs they had, and the conditions they worked in. In order to experience this, we visited the Tohoku area with Accenture staff. As well as cultivating our experience on consulting procedures with private companies, it helped us to tackle issues such as profit and selling outlets in detail. One such example included the evaluation of the ability to guarantee stockpiles in the event of mass production. For the AAR staff, the event was a lesson in business affairs.
At the meeting, it was decided that five different welfare institutions from Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures would work alongside each other to produce accessories, t-shirts, woodcrafts, leather goods and cloth goods. This was followed by a call for contributions for ideas on products to be made, which was displayed on the AAR homepage and at 700 different art colleges and technical schools.  Ideas included, in the case of woodcraft, to 'cut the timber', ‘attach using adhesives', 'file edges down' and 'connect using nails'. A simple design was a requirement of the competition, signifying ease of use for the users and ease of construction for the workers.

Leading Designer's Evaluation

On March 13th, a judging panel met in the Tokyo Metropolitan area to discuss the 380 ideas that were proposed throughout the country. Several well known designers acted as judges for the competition, including Kiyoyuki OKUYAMA (KEN OKUYAMA DESIGN Representative), Hideyoshi NAGOYA (h concept Representative Director), Masa NUMATA (UNITED ARROWS green label relaxing Creative Director), and Shuuko YAGINUMA (All About Style Store Chief Buyer). The guests discussed the ideas together with the production workers, and agreed on the winning concept. Since then, support for manufacturing the product in the facilities, as well as identifying sale outlets for the finished article have made advancements. 

March 13th, 2013 - The workers at the institute, who are to manufacture the goods, also take part in the panel to judge if the goods can be made by the staff with disabilities. From left: yoshihisa MUNAKATA of 'Ichijuen', Miki MIZUOCHI of 'pal izumi', Toshie ITO, and Hiromichi TAKEI of 'Miyagi Selp Cooperation Centre'

The manufacturing of accessories by persons with psychyatric disabilities takes place in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, and is overseen by the local social welfare corporation Ryokusenkai.  Megumi SUGAHARA, an employee of 'Pal Izumi' (initiative of the Ryokusenkai), also took part in the competition's judging. "It's really stimulating to see so many innovative designs which primarily focus on ease of use”, said Ms Sugahara. “The judging panel had to carefully consider each entry. We hope to respond to the enthusiasm shown, by manufacturing quality products. From here, it's our turn".

A fair rehabilitation for PWDs, means a fair rehabilitation for us all. In order to increase the participation of the handicapped during the planning, drafting and action stages of rehabilitation activities, we will continue to work whilst strengthening our ties with business, administration, and facility inhabitants.
The winning entry of the competition will be announced on the 'Art Craft and Design Award' homepage at the beginning of April.

Ms. Sayako NOGIWA, Representative of Tohoku Office
Working from the Tokyo executive office since April 2005, largely responsible for aid initiatives for the persons with disabilities, and activities in Asia. Involved in multiple emergency support activities including the 2008 Myanmar cyclone, 2009 Sumatra earthquake, and 2010 Pakistan flooding. Started support work as Tohoku branch chief two days after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Since April 2012, committee member of the welfare restoration for the PWDs in Iwate Prefecture. Since July 2012, worked in the role of a councillor for Sendai- Miyagi NPO centre. (Born in Tokyo Metropolitan area)