Japan: A leading actor of recovery in Otsuchi

By CARE Australia March 8, 2012 0 comments

Around 9am on the first Sunday of October 2011, pickup trucks and minivans gathered at the parking space of the old pachinko, a Japanese pinball parlor in Otsuchi town. The back of the trucks were full of local vegetables, fish, hand-made sweets, tofu, and bean paste. It was the first day of the ‘pickup truck market in Otsuchi,’ which is now held twice a month.

After a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on 11 March, CARE Japan has helped to set up this market and supports it by providing shades, tables and benches. And the famous local Kashiwazaki noodle company is serving 300 bowls of ramen noodle for free to mark the reopening of business.

In Otsuchi, a 'pick-up truck market' is held twice a month, allowing local business owners who lost their shops in the 2011 disaster to continue trading. Image: CARE

At this impromptu market, commonly known as ‘pickup truck markets,’ farm producers and shopkeepers drive their own pickup trucks to the parking space, and the back of the trucks becomes their own shop. The founders of the Otsuchi markets were two local retail store owners of seafood products, who were affected by the tsunami themselves: Mr. Shoetsu and Mrs. Keiko Mukushi. Four months after the tsunami, they wanted to build “a place where both retailers and shoppers get revitalized,” with a hope that this place will connect people who lost their own shops, farmers who lost channels to sell their products and local residents needing places to buy groceries.Mr. and Mrs. Mukushi’s store in the fish market in the city of Kamaishi was unaffected, but they were quite traumatized after the disaster. Their house in Otsuchi town was partially destroyed, their two cars were washed away, and the fishing business was stagnated.

Even so, they must live on.

In June, 2011, Mr. Mukushi got a new pickup truck with a help of his brother-in-law. But there were no stores, no shopping malls in Otsuchi, a town heavily destroyed by the tsunami. He also realized there were needy people like him who hardly restarted their business or who lost their channels to sell their farm products. At the same time, there were many customers looking for a place to buy groceries at one central place.

“The phase of receiving help is over”, said Mrs. Mukushi. “We wanted to create a place where we ourselves can make suggestions, work and make money, not just waiting for someone’s help. We can sell anything we want. Regardless of being affected or not, anyone can drive with their trucks from anywhere so that they could support themselves. I hope this pickup truck market will be a first step of recovery.”

In the affected areas, CARE staff meet many affected people, like Mr. and Mrs. Mukushi, who are very optimistic and powerful to rebuild their lives by themselves. It is astonishing: It is truly the local people who make us feel energized with their positive spirit and actions.

Organisers hope the markets will be a place for traders who lost their shops, farmers who lost channels to sell their produce and people who need to buy groceries to connect with each other. Image: CARE

At the same time, those who are affected remind us that it’s them who have to live on and that they are the major players to rebuild their livelihood. CARE’s role is to respect the intentions and wishes of local people and support their own actions.

About 15 stores are now open in ‘the pickup truck market in Otsuchi. With a good reputation among local customers, many stores sell out all the items before lunch time. This market also serves as a space for communication. Indeed, Mrs. Mukushi was able to meet her friend at the market and confirm each other’s safety for the first time since the tsunami. Many people drive as far as 70 kilometers to get to the market.

The size of the market is also growing – it was organized by the people of Otsuchi town at the beginning – and the Commerce and Industry Association of Iwate prefecture has now joined as an organizer.

Individual passion and energy for recovery has been steadily increasing and expanding to people and their community – and CARE continues to support recovery efforts initiated by local people.

Learn more about CARE’s work in Japan.

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