Mr. Miura is a textile and clothing retailer who lives in Ishinomaki. Mr Miura was the third business owner to reopen his doors after the Tohoku tsunami struck Ishinomaki on March 11th 2011. Robin Low of Relief 2.0 and I sat down with him for a brief chat to learn how he has recovered since the disaster.
Was the Tohoku tsunami the first disaster that visited Ishinomaki?
There were other disasters that occurred here but none of them matched the magnitude of the Tohoku tsunami. There was a big earthquake here about thirty years ago, but there was no real lasting damage from that incident. The worst thing that happened at that time was some kimonos falling out of their display cases and some displays suffering minor damage. There was no tsunami following that earthquake. Twenty years ago, we were hit by a tsunami that was caused by an earthquake in far away Chile. But most of that tsunami’s energy had dissipated by the time it arrived in Ishinomaki, so we were only visited by waves that were about fifty centimeters tall. There was some minor flooding but nothing we could not handle.
When did you reopen your store?
July 27th 2011. It took me about four and a half months to restart the business after the disaster on March 11th. The restaurant next to my shop reopened in June. I was the third business in town to resume operations after the tsunami. Dr Suda was the first business owner in Ishinomaki to reopen his business.
How far is your store from the sea?
The river is about two hundred meters away from the store but the sea is about two kilometers away. (Note: The tsunami swept ten kilometers inland before receding in some areas of the Tohoku region.)
What problems did you encounter before you could reopen your business?
The clean up was what took the longest when I was trying to reopen. The entire store was caked in a layer of mud. There was mud everywhere. Most of my inventory was destroyed. Only the store’s kimono fabrics were salvageable for sale. But they required cleaning. Getting the fabrics cleaned was another problem in itself. The tsunami had cut off the entire town’s water and electricity supply, so I was unable to have the kimono fabrics cleaned. I had to engage a cleaning specialist instead. However, even after the specialist was done, some of the fabric inventory was still too water damaged and had to be disposed of. I had to underwrite the entire destroyed inventory and restock the store before I could resume business operations.
What kind of difficulties have you faced since reopening your business last year?
After the disaster the population of Ishinomaki itself has shrunk. The decline was caused by the high death toll and the mass exodus of survivors to shelters located away from my store.
Overall sales had dropped by 30% due to a lack of customers in the vicinity. Even now with reconstruction going on in town, you still do not see many people walking the streets and window shopping. There used to be a Co-Op (local supermarket) across from here and we used to get customer runoffs from the Co-Op after the shoppers finished their grocery shopping. But because the Co-Op has not reopened, and may not reopen, the amount of shoppers who come to this area has dropped significantly.
However, it seems that the worst is over and sales have started to pick up. Kimono fabric sales are up; more people are having kimonos made again. This is because initially after the disaster, people were preoccupied with rebuilding their lives. They had no time to indulge in learning and practicing traditional Japanese dance. Now that most people have been able to resume their lives, their interest in Japanese dance is picking up again. So more people are having kimonos made and the demand for kimono fabric is ticking upwards again.
Is there any lesson you learned from this one year period of recovery? What did you learn about your community?
Nothing special (laughs). If I did not reopen my business I would be bored and feel like something is lacking in my life. I wanted my life to go back to what it was like before; I could not imagine myself not working and selling clothing and textiles. I saw no point in just sitting around and doing nothing. That is not a life that I would want for myself or wish upon others.
What did you personally lose in the tsunami?
I lost all three of my cars (laughs). Two of them were my main modes of transport while the third was actually on sale. The tsunami swept away all three vehicles. I managed to find two of them in different spots in town but they had to be scrapped because of extensive the damage. I have no idea where the third one is now.
Is there any visible damage remaining on your premises?
No. Everything has been fixed and cleaned up. I had to hire contractors to repair some of the structural damage and have the glass in the store window display replaced. When the first wave from the tsunami hit the store, my son and I, we put ourselves against the door, trying to hold the water back and keep it from entering of the store like what you would see in a cartoon. We gave up after the display windows were smashed and evacuated just before the really big wave came. We went upstairs and stayed on the second floor of our building until the tsunami abated. At the time we had no idea that there was a big wave coming. Next time there is a tsunami alert we will just evacuate instead of trying to fight against nature (laughs).