When this trip first came up, I sat with Hiromi in a public house and worked through some basic logistics.
What would I be doing
in Tohoku? "Photographing, Interviewing, and Videotouring." I wanted to
stop by as many of our projects as I could and catch up on progress, or how the communities, our clients, had been using the built spaces. Some of the earliest projects would be ready for a Post Occupancy Evaluation (more on those
later), others could use more documentation - not to mention the
opportunity of talking with the owners and representatives and recording their
stories - particularly at Kitakami.
"You can't see more than three places per day, it's too exhausing," Hiromi tells me. From Ishinomaki, where our office is located, each of these sites are located at quite a distance, along winding mountian roads up and down the rugged Tohoku coast.
On a cocktail napkin (similar to Post It notes in usefulness for an architect's very earnest trip planning), she whipped up a map. "You need to see Onagawa - that's 45 minutes East of Ishinomaki. From there you either go North or South." To the North another 45 mintes you reach Utatsu, where the "Veneer" Bath House and KAGI are both located. Farther up you reach Shizugawa, home of the oystermen banya, and Motoyohsi, where the ramen-serving marketplace and timber-sculpted Ohya soccer field are located. It being February, it may be the off season for both these projects, but Hiromi mentioned that the ramen truck has moved INTO the completed marketplace, so it might prove ideal to stop in, get a warm delicious bite to eat and carry on the tour.
(I'm down, I say. You don't even have to finish saying 'ramen' to get me somewhere...unless you complete your thought by talking about Rahm Emmanuel, which, based on the context of our discussions is a very small likelihood.)
Driving South from Onagawa, the fishing village of Maeami is two hours away. The site of the bracelet entrepreneurs, the Oshika House, is farther down the road.
Two days of remote site visits. With Aki as tour guide and part-time translator, they should be two well-filled days. "The clients are all pretty great," and none of them are camera shy. An image flashed in my head of the clients all leading video tours of their spaces - Cribs, Tohoku edition. Yes.
At our meeting yesterday, Hiromi busted out the official Ishinomaki map. The flip side laid out the entire "metropolitan area." Even though Ishinomaki isn't a terribly large city, it does encompass a lot of space since the merging of about five towns some years ago. One the map, Everything in white is now part of Ishinomaki, leaving the greyed areas as other towns...including Onagawa. Hiromi points out that Onagawa didn't want to be part of the merge, and is now surrounded on all sides by Ishinomaki.
(There's no indication of animosity - just that Onagawa wants to do it's own thang. I'll have to get to the bottom of that one.)
Our projects in Tohoku are spread around the region, but a good number of them can be found on the regional map.
As for Kitakami - it's not terribly far away. A river running Northeast from Ishinomaki is where the Market and Youth center lies, along a main riverfront road that branches toward a temporary housing complex - of which there are many now in the area.
The temporary housing complexes are not indicated on the map, but one of the icons is a [+] that shows emergency evacuation areas.
"They're on higher ground of course, and are ususally some school, park or temple." Many having given up some land or playing fields for the housing.
"Oh and over here just north of town is the largest temporary housing complex in all of Japan."
"Woa - have you been?"
"Not exactly. We drove by."
"Man, that would be a...thing to see. Whoo. Is...does anyone we know live in temporary housing?"
Sato-san. Actually both Sato-sans." Along with the owner of the Kitakami Market, Hiromi is including the owner of oystermen's banya. ("'Sato' is like 'Smith' in the US.")
"So is it kinda weird to ask them to see their houses?"
you can ask whatever you want. You have what they call a 'Gaijin
In Haiti they call white people, or any foreigner for that matter, "Blans." And Haitians aren't timid to
point your whiteness (or foreignness) out to you in the street. ("Ey! Blan!") You just,
well, stand out, and can't help but act weird...and have a bit of
cultural leeway as a result. I imagine being a 6'4" Gaijin in a country
where everyone's Hiromi's height. I shrug, Yeah man cool. I can
periscope my way around Tokyo. I can wear a silly mustache without reproach. I can record 20 second Cribs tours of where
thousands now call home after the tsunami - tours that residents would be eager to share with a world quickly forgetting another massive disaster.