Confronting Challenges

JapanTuesday, March 7

A Grand Reopening

The reopening of a shopping arcade stands out as a symbol of recovery in one town in northeaster Japan that was devastated by the March 2011 disaster. And one resident in particular help make the new facility a reality.

Businesses in the Sansan Shopping Arcade in the town of Minamisanriku had spent the last few years in temporary structures. The reopening of the arcade is a big deal for shop owners and customers.

"I like it because it’s more spacious than before," says one shopper there.

"It feels like we have finally reached recovery," says another.

Hiroaki Miura was instrumental in getting the arcade built. His business manufactures and sells processed food made from seafood that's caught locally.

"I’m really happy because I didn’t expect to have this many customers today," Miura says.

Before the disaster, homes and public facilities were crowded into a small area in Minamisanriku before the disaster. Close to 100 businesses were in the town’s center, including Miura's.

The tsunami destroyed his home, his processing plant and his store. The business was started by his grandfather over 80 years ago.

Three months after the disaster, Miura used what little money he had to buy a car. He used it as a mobile store, making the rounds at evacuation centers.

For his factory, he rented land from an acquaintance and built a temporary processing facility. For the equipment, he got a bank loan and somehow he managed to keep himself in business.

At the same time, Miura got together with other business owners and started planning to rebuild the shopping arcade.

"By concentrating business in one area, we can build a new community by creating a place where everyone can gather freely," Miura says.

The government’s recovery plan didn't have enough room. Houses and public facilities were being rebuilt on higher ground with limited land. So the business owners opted to rebuild close to the original location. But it meant there would be a 2-kilometer distance between the residential area and the shops, which isn't something that everyone is happy about.

"We don’t have any options, our only choice is to close our businesses or to keep them going," Miura says.

With that in mind, he started developing new products in the hope of attracting out of town customers in addition to locals. The new products included a burger that made with octopus, a regional delicacy.

"We won’t earn the support of our customers if we always sell the same thing. Our businesses have no future if we don’t cater to the needs of our customers," Miura says.

And after all this time, that is finally what Miura and the others can focus on, running their businesses again in their new shopping arcade.

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