21st October 2013
For the next three days I get to see how the Yoshida’s have transformed their home to make way for two Fukushima refugee families who are occupying the top floor and annex of their three storey home.
The refugees are from the nuclear fallout area of Hisanohamma, which is 20km from the Daichi plant. One family of four consists of Mr. Endo – a roofing contractor, Ms. Junto – a housewife, their two sons Yusuke San – a 22 year old at university, and Hiroaki San – their 10-year-old son. Hiroaki still goes by bus everyday to his old elementary school in Hisanohamma. The other tenant residing in the annexed house is Mrs. Kawada San – a local supermarket worker.
Yoshida San’s next-door office space is rented out to another design company, as surprisingly there is very little work for an architect around Iwaki. Yoshida San has reduced his architectural staff to just one – himself, and now he works from a desk in his open plan kitchen living room. Yoshida San’s son, Naoya, also an architect has left his fathers company to return to his university town of Sendai, where there is much more rebuilding work going on following the tsunami.
Given a huge need for rebuilding and reconstruction I ask why is there no more work for architects in Iwaki? It would seem the economy for reconstruction in Iwaki is not healthy, price inflation; lack of affordability and private investment isn't flowing, not to mention the slow drag of city planning to re-zone areas for new house building, and the omni present threat of radiation. Radiation being the major motivation to prevent private investment here. I get a sense that the only reconstruction currently underway in Iwaki is civil engineering, limited to infrastructure.
I find out that in one year from now it is expected that those who receive compensation for radiation displacement will no longer receive this £600 per person per month payment. It is expected the radiation displaced will move back to their communities… but the reluctance of refugees to move, and a desire for them to go is very evident.
Yoshida San tells me that the move back program is attractive to the elderly, but the young don't want to move back and many have left the area altogether. Yoshida San’s son moved away two years ago and it is clear that many other young families have also left the area. The city is losing it’s future to radiation, and without the young to rebuild the town I see very little future here in Iwaki.
Refugees are seen as the cause of problems in Iwaki, which just wants to get back to normal. After absorbing 25000 refugees resources are under stress and systems are congested. There is talk of graffiti on public buildings telling refugees to go home. But refugee housing areas are not great places to live and all refugees aren’t the same. Refugees that are radiation displaced are funded well by government, but those that are the voluntary displaced from areas that are not defined by government's radiation map but feel they are also irradiated are the second-class citizens as they have lost everything and receive no compensation. Variation in living standards is therefore huge, those lucky enough to get refugee housing, and those less able to rent housing like the refugees occupying the Yoshida San’s house.
I visit three types of pre-fab construction located all around Iwaki. Adjoining municipal areas that are unable to house families in their own radiation-polluted towns fund many of these pre-fabs in Iwaki.
The pre-fab communities try to drum up community cohesion by using positive upbeat statements… ‘a community within itself’… but many of these people have lost everything. Insurance doesn’t pay for acts for god and whilst rebuilding is slow and business growth unsupported, investment in Iwaki relies on hand outs and will do so for many more years to come. Now the people of Iwaki worry that the 2020 Olympics will cause Japan to forget the rebuilding program.
Architect, traveler and top 25 all time star architect of Grand Designs... follow me for architecture, design and globalism. Based London • Hereford