Japan, Miyagi Prefecture, Ishinomaki City, Ogatsucho Funakoshi: Eight fisherman’s wives came together as the “Funakoshi Ladies” and began working in the summer following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Now, a year and half later, they have completed their project as of the end of March 2013. For them and for the region, they are taking steps in a new direction on the long road to revive the area.
Funakoshi is one of 15 harbors in Ogatsucho, north of Ishinomaki. In the narrow valley here, 125 households are huddled together with about 340 residents. Many work in fishing. The houses that the tsunami left behind were damaged by the earthquake, and, whether the structures were deformed or the rock face beneath them was destroyed, all the homes in this hamlet were completely destroyed. Boats, cultivating equipment, and nets were all swept out to sea and lost. Robbed of home and workplace, it was unclear if this village could continue to exist. However, the Funakoshi Public Elementary School still stood, and with this as their center of operations, the people gathered around a fisherman named Koichi Nakazato, something of a leader among them, and held with great speed and strength meetings to formulate ideas to move the city to higher ground, rebuild their homes and bring back their fishing industry.
Amid all this, the people built a studio where they could make things to earn money and also come together and find enjoyment with one another again. The eight Funakoshi Ladies began working there, carefully cleaning the area’s unique black slate roof tiles, which had been washed ashore from destroyed homes, and remaking them into accessories. Since then, their products have been sold throughout Japan.
We were lucky to meet the people of Funakoshi and see the great impact income from the Funakoshi Ladies’ accessories had on the daily life of the people there as well as the importance for them to be able to come together in friendship. We wondered if there was some way to tell people about the work the Ladies were doing, how remarkable the area is, and the kinds of problems they face. With this in mind we asked the lifestyle shop “merci” in Paris if they would work with us to do this.
The Funakoshi Ladies began producing the “WA x merci” pendant: a bookmark-like object made with a gold medal, round black stone, and red string, tied together with Japanese paper cord. These handmade pendants carry a message about the current conditions in Funakoshi. They were sold in stores and at events from 11 March 2012 not only in Japan but in Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and other cities around the world. In the year since then 3,000 pendants were sold. This project led to a collaboration with the Stockholm design store Svenskt Tenn to produce 400 sets of origami Christmas ornaments. All proceeds from these sales went to support the recovery of Funakoshi.
Two years have passed since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. They were able to make a decision quickly with Ogatsucho, the area where Funkoshi is located, to move the village to higher ground, and in summer of last year they started demolition of the village’s buildings. Although the area where Funakoshi will move to has been decided and the designs for homes are moving forward, development of the land hasn’t yet started and plans seem to be stalled. At present they are living, unavoidably, in temporary homes built all in different areas. There are also many who already decided they would move to another town to be near their children. When the 125 households were asked in a survey if they wanted to return to Funakoshi, thirteen said yes when asked immediately after the disaster and when asked again at the end of 2011 forty-five said yes. Since concrete plans to rebuild homes in Funakoshi are taking so long to materialize, this number has decreased somewhat and thirty households have made definite plans to go back. If it continues to take significant time, then it is possible that eventually even these thirty households will not return to Funakoshi.
On the other hand, a boat was donated to the region from the more southern island of Shikoku last summer and the fishermen were able to use this jointly to start working again. After that, several small boats returned to them and they are now able to work together to fish more independently. They have also been able to start farming the wakame. When we visited last year we were treated to the delicious seafood in each season, including salmon, pike, octopus, and seaweed. And for the fishermen who stay and start over, their boats will soon be completed with the approaching spring. Visiting the area, it is possible to feel how their lives, with their deep connection to the ocean, are little by little starting again and life is coming back to their harbor.
As for the elementary school that served as the center of the village’s activities, it was decided at the end of last year to demolish it in March 2013. A small structure was built near the harbor and when they can the Funakoshi Ladies meet here. They appear unsure of whether they will continue their activities or not. However, they are each taking steps toward creating new lives, with some fishing together with their husbands, others returning to their previous jobs or starting new ones, and still others retiring and moving closer to their children. Although the project to produce WA pendants is coming to an end, it was one step to rebuilding the area, which is a long process that will continue for some time to come.
We hope to continue communicating with you about new projects to rebuild the area, about life in Funakoshi today, and about opportunities to come in contact with its rich natural environment.
Thank you for your tremendous understanding and cooperation. Let’s make an opportunity to go to Funakoshi together! We hope to continue forever the WA project that brought people together with each other.
Jo Nagasaka and Nao Takegata
Symbol of the WA concept, the illustration of the circle, the communion of hearts and the attention and care to the others. Handmade by women of the city of Ogatsu Funakoshi who suffered in the 2011 tsunami. Black stone from the roof tiles of collapsed homes are recycled into a symbol of hope. For six centuries black stone from Ogatsu has been used to make “suzuri” ink stones for Japanese calligraphy.