Last week, the Architecture for Humanity office started hearing Japanese float through the space in the late afternoon. Hiromi Tabei's kind of a machine like that, in these early days of Japan's recovery, clocking in at 9 and staying "until Japan wakes up" on the other side of the world. Hiromi has just started as the headquarters coordinator of our rebuilding efforts in Japan. I visited her at her desk recently to see how she was settling in, and to get the scoop on, well, everything.
Herself Japanese, Hiromi came stateside to study cartography at the University of Oregon, and stayed at a U.S. company working on maps of all kinds. Her work stirred a curiosity in the human scale, and then architecture. Hiromi moved to Boston to attend the Architecture College and accumulated a Masters degree and several years' experience at a local design office.
When the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan last March, Hiromi reached out to find ways to help. Her combined experience in mapping and architecture makes a unique skill set for the broad effort being staged for Japan's recovery. Not unlike the United States (but different from disaster areas such as Haiti), Japan has many resources already in place for an organized aid response. But with an affected area as large as that surrounding Sendai, these resources are rationed mostly to dense urban areas. Small towns like Motoyoshi could fly beneath the aid radar.
"So that's where we go," Hiromi explains. "It's more useful for the people there not only to get funding but to get a system up and running." Long term systems end up having several phases. "Right now it's rubble removal. In the long run, we'll need to help out the fishing industry." Motoyoshi's sea-based economy was crushed by the tsumani. "The fishermen not only need new houses, but homes for their ships." Without docks, the fishermen can't move goods to land or perform necessary upkeep–they are incapacitated.
And of course, Otana and other damaged communities have lost a lot of activity spaces, both temporarily and permanently, which has impacted everyone. "Students are having problems because all the schoolyards are occupied with temporary housing," Hiromi tells me. In once instance, a generous faculty member has offered to relocate the athletics program, and there's talk of securing private land for a makeshift track and play field.
Hiromi has been working with Architecture for Humanity chapters based in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. These chapters, groups of architectural professionals donating their expertise, are taking action to help Japan recover. It's through these collaborations that projects like the Tohoku rebuilding program are taking shape, but so much demand for assistance will be better met with a Japan Rebuilding Center based–in part–on previous centers in Biloxi and Port-au-Prince.
Sarah, from the development team, stops by to drop off some signed documents for Hiromi. i look around the desk. "You're going to need a file cabinet." Hiromi chuckles. "Yeah I'm promised it's coming. But I still have this," she slips the documents into a little stand of tabbed folders. At this point in long-term disaster recovery, a lot of things are still up-and-coming, and a lot of meetings still need to happen to settle it all, but Hiromi will be there to walk it all through and keep us updated.
Hiromi will be looping us into Architecture for Humanity's Japan reconstruction, including the latest on the crane challenge and community center project. Welcome to the team, Hiromi–don't stay at the office too late!
In late 2011, Hiromi was promoted from Design Fellow to Program Coordinator for the Japan Reconstruciton program - congrats Hirmoi!!