The Great East Japan Earthquake:The Newly-built Katatsumuri, A Social Welfare Facility is now Completed

The previous Social Welfare Facility was lost in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake

 A social welfare facility, Katatsumuri, (“Katatsumuri means “snails” in Japanese) was founded in 2001 by approximately 20 families of children with intellectual disabilities. Initially, they rented an old structure in the vicinity of the seaport of Ohfunato City, Iwate Prefecture, and held various events such as tea parties and excursions. As well, the families undertook campaigns promoting access to helpful lifestyle advice and information among participants to create a valuable space for children in addition to their schools.
Staff members and users of Katatsumuri who
started apple-cultivation with aids from AAR Japan,
being accompanied by Akiko KATO (Left, AAR Japan).
(January 2015)

 With an increase in the number of participants to this social welfare facility, the families added operations such as leather processing, in addition to farming and recycling campaigns, to their regular activities. It was while the families were trying to have their facility incorporated that the catastrophic Great East Japan Earthquake took place on March 11th, 2011, in which the whole social welfare facility flooded and washed away. The facility was not granted any public compensation or special allowances after the Earthquake due to the fact that they rented their facility, and had  not yet incorporated.

With various kinds of support from private organizations and NPOs, the affected families continued to work hard, and in 2013, purchased a prefabricated house using their own funds, enabling them to resume their activities on a full scale.
They carried out a variety of activities with zeal and persistence: cultivation of Esashi apples, one of the specialty products of Iwate Prefecture; the making of key rings from the rubble of the Earthquake and recycling of empty cans. Participants also packaged salted seaweed and started production of rice crackers using, as a main ingredient, Takatanoyume, the special rice that was newly cultivated in Rikuzentakata City after the Earthquake.

The number of users of the Katatsumuri facility kept rising year by year, because the operators prepared a variety of things for the participants to do, and accepted applicants without regard to their type of disability. AAR Japan also supported Katatsumuri by providing vehicles for shuttle services to users, machinery and agricultural supplies needed for the cultivation of apple trees, as well as helping to increase the number of outlets for the facility’s products.

 While the new prefabricated facility was located in the area that had been flooded in the wake of the Earthquake, Ohfunato City issued an official notice to the effect that local residents of the affected area were to honor the decision on restoration planning by the municipality, and to move out by late 2017 to places that had not been affected by the Earthquake. Katatsumuri had no choice but to move from its prefabricated location and build a new facility, which led them to launch fundraising for construction.

After launching the campaign, it took several years to get enough funding for the construction. After being informed of the official plans for relocation, AAR Japan, together with AAR Japan-affiliated organization ‘Support 21’, offered a helping hand to them in terms of further fundraising for the construction and design of the new facility.

The prefabricated house that was purchased to resume
Katatsumuri activities. The limited space prevented the facility
from accepting more users.
(November 2015)

Guitarist Ms. Kaori Muraji (Center) and one of the organization’s special supporters,
President of ROLEX Japan Limited, Bruce R. Bailey (Right)
paid a visit to Katatsumuri. Ms. Muraji had joined
a charity concert for those affected by the 3.11 Earthquake
held and sponsored by AAR Japan in April 2016.
(February 2016)

Having had their new facility completed and their long-cherished hope realized…

There were repeated consultations among staff members of Katatsumuri and the designer of the new structure, as well as local civil engineering companies, with construction initiated in January 2017. Finally, on a sunny day,June 24th, 2017, Katatsumuri staff  were able to hold a completion ceremony of their new facility.

The outward appearance of the newly-built
Katatsumuri (June 24th, 2017)
The day of the ceremony did make for a lively occasion with approximately 120 participants including Mayor Kimiaki Toda, all those concerned of Ohfunato City, the President, staff members and users of Katatsumuri, as well as construction-related staffers. Mayor Toda extended his appreciation to all those benefactors for their having provided support and aid to Katatsumuri with their very warmest wishes for expansion of the welfare of Ohfunato City. Also, Sadamu Yoshida、President of Katatsumuri expressed his deepest gratitude, stating that they had come quite a long way to this completion ceremony thanks to the heartfelt support of a large number of people.
(Starting from the second left to the farthest)
Director of Sankyo Corporation Yasuhisa Abe,
Mayor of Ohfunato City Kimiaki Toda,
Chairperson of AAR Japan Fusako YANASE,
President of Katatsumuri Sadamu Yoshida and
Special Advisor Tadamasa Fukiura
(At completion ceremony, June 24th, 2017)

All those concerned, users included, got together, held a
lunch meeting after the completion ceremony and enjoyed
singing songs and dancing to celebrate the occasion.
(June 24th, 2017)

All the participants eagerly working on their tasks with zeal and appreciation…

When AAR Japan staff visited the newly-built facility, we found participants working with a cheerful demeanor in the bright and spacious rooms. Users and staff members alike, having become used to the various operations in their brand-new facility, were appreciating occasions such as dining together at lunch time, an activity that had not been feasible in the limited space of the previous facility.

As of now, the new facility welcomes and accommodates 30 persons with disabilities in total. We remained worried that users might feel confused in the new spacious facility after having moved out from the former prefabricated house whose space was very tight. However, on visiting the new facility, we realized our anxieties were needless worries, and users were ready to prepare slippers for us and proudly showed us around the premises of the new facility.

Because of the limited space of the previous prefabricated house, the facility was unable to accept more persons with disabilities who wanted to join the activities of Katatsumuri. Since their move into the new facility, however, they have resumed the procedures to accept new users, and have welcomed three more members into their facility since June. Katatsumuri will continue to accept new participants in the future, too. One of the new users said, “I have been working here, feeling happy. You can call my teacher at the special support school from which I graduated and tell him that I have been doing a good job,” talking brightly about how enthusiastically he has been getting involved in his job.
The brand-new facility has enabled users and staff
members to dine together at lunch time.
(July 5th, 2017)

Participants are to be engaged in a wider range of activities in their very near future, some of which are new projects such as development of emergency goods and cultivation of cherry tomatoes.

More than six years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, we are relieved from the bottom of our hearts to be able to finally provide an environment in which the users of Katatsumuri can devote themselves to their work, feeling safe and secure.

“Let us take a steady step forward for sure, even if it could take time. When feeling overwhelmed by uncertainties, remember you can protect yourself by retreating into your own shell. Let us sincerely do hope that you leave something that would strike us sparkling after you have taken paces forward, even if they are snails’ paces.”

We have learned that these words just above are a brief summary of innermost wishes of the parents who founded Katatsumuri with which wishes they gave their facility the name Katatsumuri (meaning “Snails” in Japanese).
Although it has taken a long solid period of time to complete this facility, Katatsumuri has been playing a more and more significant role in developing the welfare of Ohfunato City.
We truly anticipate that in this new facility, persons with disabilities will continue to do their various operations with as good  teamwork and with as good cheer as ever, and will keep expanding the horizons of their activities.
One of the users who has been sorting beads.
(July 5th, 2017)

Another user who has been putting stickers to
packages of rice crackers that use, as a main ingredient,
Takatanoyume, the newly-cultivated rice after the Earthquake(July 5th, 2017)

Besides your very generous donations, our activities reported here have been made possible thanks to the cooperation of Rolex Japan Limited, AEON 1% Club Foundation, Sankyo Corporation and Tonets Corporation. 


Since April 2010, being in charge of projects in Haiti, Zambia and the Tohoku district of Japan. From April 2013 to February 2016, working as Director of the Tohoku Office. After graduating from university, KATO worked for a private company. Studying at a graduate school in Britain with her major in social development, KATO worked for a government-affiliated think tank and a diplomatic establishment abroad, and has been working for AAR Japan ever since. From Tokyo, Japan. (Profile as of the date of the article)
Japanese-English translation by Ms.Motoko Komai
English editing by Mr. Allan Richarz

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.