Oct. 11, 2016
A young man has realized his goal as an architectural designer by helping Japan's tsunami-hit northwest to rebuild.
The region is still recovering from the massive earthquake and tsunami of 2011, but the healing process has been helped by young people who went to the region to do volunteer work.
Some of them even decided to stay and live there, including 28-year-old Takahiro Endo.
Four years ago, Endo started a business in one room of an unoccupied building in Ishinomaki, a city in Miyagi prefecture that was devastated by the disaster. More than 5 years later, building construction there is only just beginning.
Endo has a unique way of working, quite unlike that of most architects. He goes directly to the sites, where he dismantles the interiors, and does almost all of the construction work himself. While working, he feels free to alter the design.
"I have a pretty clear idea of what the finished space will look like. But the final image is only in my head, not on paper," Endo says.
Endo's business model involves renovating unoccupied buildings and then renting out the spaces at reasonable prices. One property he worked on is a shop that sells tea.
But the second floor is a communal residence. After the earthquake, there were few residential properties available in the city center, which drove up rents. That inspired Endo to create the residence.
A lot of young volunteers wanted to lend a hand to rebuilding the city, but couldn’t find places to live. Endo noticed how many buildings were unoccupied after the disaster, and decided to start renovating them. To date, he has worked on 4 such buildings, making it possible for 34 people to move to Ishinomaki.
The residents at one house include 5 people who moved to the city. At first, they were simply attracted to the cheap rent but now they're happy with the space that Endo created to make them comfortable.
Endo, who is originally from Chiba Prefecture, has always enjoyed making things, and that prompted him to study architecture.
Just as he was preparing to start graduate school, the earthquake hit. He went to the disaster area to volunteer. During that time, he happened to visit Ishinomaki and got caught up in the enthusiasm of the people to build a new city. He felt his background in architecture gave him something to contribute.
"There’s a certain feeling among non-local people who have come together to live in the city center and create something new alongside locals. There are a lot of people here who want to create a new city -- directly, with their own hands. And I want to work with them," Endo says.
When he started the project, he had no professional experience as an architect. He began studying carpentry at a local workshop, so that he could restore buildings.
"Whenever he has a question, he asks us, and we teach him as much as we can. He absorbs information like a sponge, even though his work is still sloppy," says Takahiro Chiba.
It’s been 4 years since Endo moved to Ishinomaki and he has been working hard, and everyday life keeps him busy. But he has also started to reexamine his life.
The number of houses that need renovation is dwindling, and he started having concerns about his chances of maturing as an architect if he stays in Ishinomaki.
"In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, there were a lot of things that anybody could do, but the community has changed. On many projects, temporary fixes are no longer what’s needed. I'm starting to feel that I don't have much more to offer to the community at this point in my life," Endo says.
While he tries to decide what to do next, Endo has started a new job drawing what are called "working plans" for a local architect.
Endo is not yet a licensed architect, so he can only design buildings of a certain size, and can't work on new buildings, so he took on the new job to gain more experience.
He recently met with Asuka Tominaga, the veteran architect who hired him, and they went over the project in detail.
"You should have a strong vision of the project, otherwise it will be hard to decide what it should be like when you start work. I think in order to create something really beautiful, it’s necessary to think ahead and present a plan from a designer's standpoint," Tominaga tells him.
Endo feels he gained a better understanding of what he needs to do for his future.
"I hope I can apply some of what I have learned from my experiences over the past 4 years to my designs and make a living as an architect while using my own methods. I feel my life in Ishinomaki has contributed a lot to how I feel about moving forward to the next stage in my life," he says.
Endo has found new potential in his life while helping the people affected by the disaster, and he hopes to continue taking on new challenges.