Ishinomaki Update #4

“And the battles continue in Ishinomaki. I contacted Fujita san and Yamakami san about a group that has 10,000 Cherry tree saplings to donate. They both went to the Ishinomaki government to get approval. Yamakami san was told, “This is temporary housing (at least 5 years). If you plant trees there, they can’t be moved later so you can’t plant trees.” Fujita wants to plant them in Ogatsu, a town (part of Ishinomaki) almost completely destroyed by the tsunami. The response, “We have not finalized plans for reconstruction (2 years since the tsunami next month) so you can’t do anything.” Lives left in limbo by the inaction of incompetent public officials. Ah!!”
– Jeffrey Jousan January 2013 (Producer Then & Now)

Jeffrey Jousan, one of the producers of the film Then & Now, which lead to Lesley Kehoe Galleries’ support of Ishinomaki, was our guide around town when we visited in 2012. Jeffrey lives in Tsukuba City and takes regular trips up and down the coast helping wherever he can. Bureaucracy in Japan it seems is still mummified in regulation and incompetency.

LKG_JapaneseArt_2Ishomakiupdate4_320LKG_JapaneseArt_Ishomakiupdate4_320Jeffrey Jousan (left) delivering food to Minamisoma, north of Ishinomaki and right speaking at TED Sendai (Photos courtesy of Jeffrey Jousan)

The second year anniversary of the 3/11 tsunami that devastated the north-east coast of Japan is fast approaching. Outside aid organizations are still present in Ishinomaki and contributing greatly, but broader assistance and political change from the Japanese Government is happening at a frustratingly slow pace.


Fujita-san (pictured above), the head of the Ishinomaki Revitalisation Society, to which LKG and friends donated, is rumored to be running for the position of Mayor of Ishinomaki (we are still trying to find out the election date). Fujita-san has been the most outspoken and proactive member of the community, drawing admiration as well as  criticism from local residents. Despite pervading privation and continued controversy, there still remain people in Ishinomaki who do not believe in speaking out against the Japanese government. When we met Fujita-san less than 12 months ago, he was keeping a low profile and doing everything he could to assist. It seems that his attitude has changed and he is now openly confronting the situation.

Then & Now producers Jeffrey Jousan and Ivan Kovac were invited to speak about Ishinomaki at TED Kyoto (pictured above) and the film has also been screened at numerous film festivals, most recently winning Best Documentary at the Super Shorts Film Festival.

Melbourne Japanese consulate staff member Ashley Loh Smith (pictured below left), follows our newsletters and recently went to Ishinomaki to meet with some of the people associated with the Then & Now documentary. A sake lover, he was keen to meet Mr and Mrs Sato of the Kotobukiya sake shop.


Ashley visited the shop and purchased a bottle of the rare and much praised Urakasumi Dai Ginjo sake. He spent some time with some Americans who have been volunteering for two years in Ishinomaki with the It’s Not Just Mud organization set up in 2011 by Jamie El-Banna. Ashley spent a night with the volunteers learning about their contributions in Ishinomaki.

News from Ishinomaki:

The local fisheries industry is still struggling to recover: Read full article
Asbestos cleanup has become an issue: Read full article
Local schools being forced to close down or merge: Read full article

Positive stories abound about governments and organizations who are still aiding the region:

Norway offers financial and intellectual support to Ishinomaki fisheries industry: Read full article
Ise shrine is donating ‘hinoki’ (Japanese cyprus) to help rebuild Shinto shrines in Tohoku: Read full article
The Ashinaga child support organization is building a psychological care facility: Read full Article

The most encouraging news is that continued strong local bonds and open sharing of psychological issues amongst survivors is fostering a sense of community and support for the survivors, especially those living in temporary government housing (read a full report here).