Japan One Year: Diary 3
Getting slowly back to business
by Francis Markus in Yamada


Katsuya Izutsu has a cluster of transparent plastic bags full of barely identifiable creatures on one side and a pile of polystyrene boxes on the other. “These oysters here are to sell locally,” he says, pointing at the bags, “while those are going to Tokyo,” he explains, indicating the boxes.

It should be good news. But the harvest is minimal. “We are only producing 30 per cent of what we were before the disaster,” he says. That applies to oysters. As for the scallops, which are another mainstay of this fishing cooperative that has recently been rebuilt – “we will have to start them again from scratch.”

(Photo: Tatsuya Izutsu shows the oysters that he and his colleagues in the fishing cooperativ​e have harvested.)

How much help?

So how much help are they getting, I wonder.

“The government has been providing us with boats, but because they provide all the fishing ports with the same kind of vessel, each town does very different kinds of fishing and they are not all that suitable.”

I ask him to show me what he means. So he leads us out of the cooperative building and on to the shore nearby, pointing to two flat-bottomed boats with outboard motors.

(Photo: This boat is one of many provided to fishing cooperativ​es along the tsunami-st​rickn coastline of northeaste​rn Honshu island by the government​.)

“These boats are primarily suitable for harvesting seaweed. If you want to use them for gathering oysters, then the oysters are too heavy,” he says.

But he and his fellow cooperative members aren’t just sitting about grumbling. In the shed, they’re busy stringing up rope with the little plastic spikes needed to prepare for the first of the scallops in a few months’ time.

(Photo: Tatsuya and his colleagues carrying the oysters that their fishing cooperativ​e has harvested.)

Business reviving

And as we head out into the town, there’s more evidence of business reviving too. We park outside a supermarket, flanked by a row of smaller shops, including a fishmonger, a dry cleaner and a small coffee shop.

Inside the florists, somewhere near the middle of the row, Teruko Konno is just serving a customer with a small mixed bouquet.

“I used to manage a business of my own, before the disaster,” she tells us when she’s free to chat. “But now, I’ve decided I don’t have the energy to do that anymore, so I’d rather be employed by someone and work in this shop.”

It was the supermarket which took the lead in the process of setting up the temporary premises and the small shop owners contributed funds to help build their structure.

(Photo: Florist Teruko Konno who used to manage her own business before the disaster.)

Of course the flower business has its own particular niche following a disaster like this, in which 743 of Yamada’s population of 17,671 lost their lives.

“Many people are buying flowers for wreaths and to remember the dead.” As for Ms. Konno herself, she says “I find being among all these flowers helps to heal my own feelings.”

Who better to talk to for a feel of how business is reviving than a real estate agent. On the second story of a new temporary building, above a hair salon, I find Tsuyoshi Matsubara.

“Many people who have lost their jobs are trying to sell their apartments and move somewhere else,” he says, confirming government statistics that about 65,000 people have left the disaster area since the tsunami struck.

Some returning

On the other hand, he says, “some people who are originally from here are deciding to come back to help the place get back on its feet again and they are coming to see me to ask me to find them properties.”

Nevertheless as he looks out over the fishing port from his window, Matsubara admits he is not all that optimistic about the speed of recovery. “Even before the disaster, the population was decreasing”, he points out. It may not be a quick or easy process, but at least business-wise, things are gradually on the move.

(Photo: Real estate agent, Mr Tsuyoshi Matsubara says "some people from other parts of Japan want to return in order to help the town recover.")