On March 11, 2011, one year and 10 months ago, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, followed by a tsunami of historic proportions, struck Japan. The damage and destruction was beyond belief. The exact number of lives lost is still unknown, but is estimated at 20,000.
While the cost of recovery may not be known for decades, some expect it will be in the billions of dollars. Japan is in the throes of the process of rebuilding not only physical structures such as roads, schools, bridges and other infrastructure, but more importantly, lives as well. The psychological and social problems are hidden problems that may never be resolved. There is so much to be done.
To that end, the Asian Real Estate Association of America made a commitment to help rebuild the lives of the thousands who lost homes in the northeastern coast of Honshu, known as the Tohoku region. Soon after the tragedy, AREAA initiated a campaign to solicit donations, and we were successful in receiving a little over $400,000 from our members, sponsors and friends.
Temporary housing was built for the many displaced, but these are not expected to last for more than three to five years. Because AREAA is a real estate-related organization, we wanted to help build permanent housing. After much research, we found a project that we felt was a good fit. As part of the rehabilitation from this tragedy, the Kogakuin University of Tokyo, in celebration of their 125th anniversary, built 11 permanent homes in Ishinomaki, a city in Miyagi Prefecture, high on a hill, and safe from future tsunami. The homes were completed in November of 2011 and displaced homeowners moved in to start their new lives.
Ten of the 11 buildings are individual residences; the other is a two-story wooden building to be used as a community center for social activities. This project provided homes and used local labor, builders and carpenters to help bolster the local economy. Many of the residents are fishermen, and this will enable the dormant fishing industry to restart. We hope that many more permanent homes will be built soon.
On Oct. 24, 2012, my wife Patricia and I traveled to Ishinomaki City to deliver AREAA’s donations to the Shirahama Housing Project. It was a very emotional ceremony, as many of the residents shared their experiences during the tragedy and their lives since. They spoke of losing their homes, businesses and loved ones. Their lives have been changed forever, but they are very strong-willed and have an incredible spirit. If anybody can recover, it is the people of Ishinomaki City.
I was honored to be able to represent the Asian Real Estate Association in our support of such a wonderful project. The AREAA donation helped pay for the completion of the homes and we hope to be able to contribute to others in the near future.
Allen Okamoto is the founding chair and director emeritus for the Asian Real Estate Association of America, which has two components, the national AREAA and the Asian Real Estate Association Foundation. For more information, visit AREAA.org and AREAAfoundation.org. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.