Ishinomaki : Komegura Kimono Shop

The streets of Ishinomaki are clear, their pavements shovelled clean of mud and debris by locals and volunteers. Fronting these pavements are faceless buildings in various stages of devastation, boarded up and forlorn. There are no people. There are no cars. The film crew’s van is an anomaly. In the midst of this ghost town is a shop with a window display. Inside the door, draped over a stand, are two obi, the brocaded silk of significant age and quality. Fujita-san (head of the Citizens for the Recovery of Ishinomaki) explains that these two obi were carefully hand-washed by the volunteer group and preserved as symbols of the store which was the town’s kimono shop. The owners, Mr and Mrs Komegura, survived the tsunami on the second floor of their shop.

Outside that shop is an old-fashioned lamppost, now famous in Ishinomaki because of the young woman who clung to it for hours as the tsumani raged past. Mrs Komegura sat at her window urging this young woman not to give up. As the water subsided, she managed to swim to the window and the Komeguras mentored her recovery. The devastation of the shop, the loss of their entire stock of kimono and the emotional ordeal saw them on the verge of giving up and leaving Ishinomaki. With Fujita-san’s insistent help and encouragement, they have rebuilt the ground floor and transformed part of the shop into a café. For the purchase of a small towel at 250Yen (around $3), one becomes a member of the café club with free entry and use of the library and iPads. SoftBank have supplied iPads and free internet access until March 2013.

Library? Mr Komemura is something of an artist and has an astonishing collection of fashion and design magazines from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Byron thought he had landed in heaven! This collection was on the second floor of the shop and thus saved from the tsunami. It now forms the hub of the café, providing a meeting place for the community and contact with the outside world.