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The story from 5,551 inserts
- May 2011 - First handmade insert appears
Click on the insert photo for a larger version
The first insert issued after the Great East Japan Earthquake was by Toa Lease Corp., which has its headquarters in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, a city located further inland.
Company president Nobuo Kikuchi, 63, said, "A decision was made early on to move into that area."
After the Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 1995 and the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake of October 2004, there was a large demand for heavy equipment, which is among the items leased by the company.
"We made the move because we understood the difficulties and miseries experienced by disaster-struck regions," Kikuchi said.
The first insert appeared on May 26, 2011, 77 days after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The simple insert was created using a computer and said, "Grand Opening!!!"
The next day, Toa Lease opened its sales office by sharing the site used for the temporary office of a local newspaper sales outlet, which had lost its old office in the tsunami. The sharing of land was a necessity since all companies thinking about resuming operations were in need of space.
The bundle of inserts was handed over to Mariko Michimata, 51, the then head of the newspaper sales outlet. Before the disasters, the outlet delivered a total of 1,800 copies of the local Iwate Nippo newspaper. However, the figure dropped drastically to 600 after the quake and tsunami. The outlet also lost the machine that automatically folded inserts into the newspapers. For that reason, only 200 inserts, each folded by hand, could be delivered that first day.
Toa Lease now has annual sales of about 16 billion yen ($154 million). That is an increase of 9 billion yen since before the disasters. About 4,000 units heavy equipment leased by the company have been used in the disaster-stricken areas for rebuilding.
However, Kikuchi said those figures do not bring a smile to his face because being in a disaster-stricken prefecture, he realizes that the company will have to be in it for the long haul before the rebuilding process can be completed.
- June 2011 - Handwritten characters told readers, "You were alive"
On June 25, 2011, a yellow insert was delivered with handwritten characters that read, "Restart—the first step to be made from Lotas Kuramoto."
Upon reflection, manager Kenji Sasaki, 40, at the auto repair service shop feels that a restart might not have been possible if he had not gone to the outlet with shovel in hand on March 12, 2011.
Sasaki was the only one at the outlet as he shoveled away debris, waiting for workers who had evacuated in all directions to return.
"I thought about doing what I could," he said.
The insert was written by Kumiko Torii, 47, a clerical worker. She wrote the copy after taking into consideration Sasaki's feelings about re-opening the store. From before the disasters, Torii was in charge of creating the handwritten inserts, which was one reason they were so popular.
Shortly after the outlet resumed operations, a regular woman customer came to the crowded store and said, "When I saw the insert I knew that you were alive."
The shop manager and employees clear away debris and rubble in March 2011 to create a path to the front door of the store. (Provided by Lotas Kuramoto)
- July 2011 - Funerals befitting the deceased
Immediately after the disasters, the local gymnasium became a temporary morgue. Dozens of bodies were wrapped in blankets. A steady stream of bereaved family members came to confirm the dead by uncovering the cloth and looking at the faces of the dead.
Hiromi Sasaki, 64, is the president of Hakuei Tenrei, the local mortuary. Bereaved family members pleaded with him for at least a coffin. However, because the company building was destroyed by the tsunami, Sasaki could only find seven coffins.
Even when the coffins were brought to the gymnasium, there were delays in cremations, mainly due to the fact that more than 1,000 town residents died in the disaster.
Bereaved family members would leave items the deceased loved around the coffin—sake, candy and toys.
"There was no place to even cry in peace," Sasaki said.
The mortuary resumed operations in July 2011, shortly before the Bon season, a major Buddhist occasion to remember the dead.
The insert delivered by the company said it had a wide selection of carefully chosen items. However, because most people still lived in temporary housing facilities, the only things they bought were candles, incense and cloth bags to cover the urns.
Before the disaster, it was common for funerals in Otsuchi to bring together 100 mourners, including not only relatives, but neighbors as well. Each participant would hold an ornament as they paraded to the temple.
Funerals were an important ceremony because as Sasaki said, "Only after facing the deceased and remembering them in their hearts could those left behind face the future and go on living."
Akiko Ito, 64, lost her husband in the tsunami and the greatest regret she has is not having many people take part in his funeral. Her husband loved to look after others, having served as a member of the municipal assembly, so it was not unusual for him to often be at events where he was surrounded by many residents.
Sasaki said, "I believe a true rebuilding of this town will only come when we are able to conduct funerals befitting the deceased."
- December 2011 - Neon lights brighten up the darkness
Even now, Toshiaki Koyama, 51, an executive with Mast, becomes emotional when he talks about the day the neon lights went back on for the company sign.
Central Otsuchi had been devastated by the tsunami and that meant the area was pitch-black at night. Some brightness was brought back with the resumption of operations at the only shopping center in town.
On Dec. 22, 2011, an insert was delivered proclaiming Mast was back in business.
Seiji Fujii, the company chairman at that time, received more than 2,000 letters pleading with him to reopen the shopping center. Fujii passed away in September 2013.
On the day of the renewal opening, a total of 20,000 shoppers visited Mast. Not only were they shopping, but they also caught up with acquaintances they had not heard from since the disaster. There was much hugging and crying during those reunions.
On the first floor of the shopping center is the Ichipeji (first page) Shoten bookstore. The day was symbolically the first page for the store.
The store manager now is Kaoru Kimura, 49. When the earthquake and tsunami struck, he worked for a chemical manufacturer in Otsuchi. After the disaster, the parent company asked Kimura if he would consider a transfer elsewhere. However, he chose to remain in Otsuchi with his wife, Satomi, 48, who is originally from the town. He now manages the only bookstore in Otsuchi.
"I want to continue this for 18 years," Kimura said. During that period babies born in the year of the disaster would graduate from senior high school. He passes out book certificates that can only be used at the bookstore once a year to children who lost parents in the disasters. The certificates come with an invitation to find an engaging book.
In March 2011, the interior of Mast, as well as its surrounding area, is covered with debris.(Provided by Mast)
- March 2012 - Second spring starts for those wanting to help
March 11, 2012, marked the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. One of the three inserts included with that day's newspaper was created by the "One coin support message project."
The insert said, "Putting our hearts together for resuscitation."
The project was the work of one individual, Katsuya Koseki, 46, who worked at a newspaper sales outlet in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. He created the inserts from May 2011 and delivered the inserts on the 11th of every month while moving around the disaster-stricken areas.
He began the project because he wanted to help not only disaster victims, but newspaper sales outlets as well. He asked acquaintances he made through his work and who lived all over Japan to donate 500 yen each along with a message of support. He used the money collected to ask local newspaper sales outlets to deliver 3,000 inserts. On the front of the insert is a message from donors, while the back was a compilation of administrative information and public legal advice aimed at disaster victims.
On the back of the insert delivered in Otsuchi on March 11, 2012, was a map showing where temporary retail outlets had resumed operations.
"I wanted to help those outlets that tried their best to resume business," Koseki said. "Rebuilding will never take place unless local economic activity is stimulated."
Balloons are released on March 11, 2011, in Otsuchi at 2:46 p.m., the exact time the Great East Japan Earthquake struck a year earlier. (Yusaku Kanagawa)
Keiko Iwama places beer that her father loved at the site where his home once stood in Otsuchi. (Masakazu Higashino)
- June 2012 - Changes in lives with inserts about catalog sales, cosmetics
After the disasters, changes began appearing in the way people shopped. For example, local supermarkets began Internet shopping sites for those living in temporary housing. According to Iwate Nippo Ad Branch Co., which handles inserts in the region, five companies began delivering inserts about catalog sales. Those inserts began from June 2011. By November, the number of inserts in a month increased to 23.
Inserts advertising cosmetics and jewelry also began increasing sharply after the disasters. The peak for cosmetics came in October 2012, while the peak for jewelry was in November 2012. That showed there was a definite change in the lives of local residents from the more urgent atmosphere that prevailed in the immediate months after the disasters.
An official with a cosmetics company based in Tokyo that first delivered inserts to Iwate Prefecture toward the end of 2011 said, "Some time had passed since the disasters, so we thought the time had come when people would begin looking at products meant to spruce up their lives."
The company has continued to place inserts at a pace of once every six months.
- August 2012 - Increase in help wanted ads, decrease in inserts
As the rebuilding process took hold, a major problem that emerged was a lack of manpower.
The peak in help wanted ads came in April 2012 when 19 such inserts were delivered. There were various reasons for the large number. Local companies sought out new workers because that was a period when many people had their labor contracts terminated with the end of the fiscal year in March.
However, ironically, even as the ratio of job openings to applicants remains high, the number of help wanted inserts has decreased. According to a public job placement center that covers Otsuchi, while there were only 30 job openings for 100 applicants before the natural disasters, the ratio now is virtually two openings for every applicant. However, in April 2013, a year after the peak in help wanted inserts, there were only five inserts, or less than one-third the peak figure.
An official at the job placement center said, "Those seeking jobs only represent a small fraction of newspaper subscribers. Help wanted inserts may not have been an effective method since it is delivered to a wide range of households. But the fact that such inserts were delivered for a short period shows there definitely was a shortage of workers."
- February 2013 - Sharp increase in legal consulting for divorce, land issues
In 2013, the number of inserts related to legal consulting ranged between zero and 10. The number had gradually increased from 2011. May 2013 had the largest number with 10, while there were eight in June 2013. Most were from law firms in the Tokyo metropolitan area with no base in Otsuchi.
According to the Iwate branch of the Japan Legal Support Center, which has periodically created inserts ever since the natural disasters, there were 18 legal consulting cases in Otsuchi in fiscal 2010. But, the figure rose sharply to 156 in fiscal 2011 and 412 in fiscal 2012.
An official at the Iwate branch said, "Recently, about 40 percent of the cases involve inheritance procedures related to land in connection with the move to higher ground as well as divorces. There have been many cases of couples experiencing problems due to the stress of leading lives as evacuees for long periods as well as losing jobs due to the disasters. I understand there has been an increase in the number of cases of Tokyo law firms renting out meeting rooms here to provide consulting services because of the greater demand."
- September 2013 - Move concerns reflected in real estate inserts
Real estate inserts transmitted a picture of the problems encountered concerning housing, including living in temporary housing and the slowness of plans to move communities to higher ground.
Such inserts began appearing from June 2011. At first, most were by major home builders that had set up new offices in the disaster-stricken areas. From about autumn 2011, the inserts announced tours to look at completed homes produced by the various companies.
The peak in real estate inserts came in September 2012 when 26 were delivered. Popular topics were open houses to look at completed homes as well as advertising for used homes. According to officials of the Otsuchi municipal government, while there were 11 newly constructed homes that were taxed from 2011, the number jumped sharply to 55 in 2012.
From December 2012, there was an increasing number of inserts about land that had been prepared for home construction. Those inserts described sites further inland, both in Otsuchi and elsewhere, for those people who had tired of waiting for the municipal government to compile a general rebuilding plan.
According to Ieko Fudosan, a local real estate agency, most of the land prepared was formerly farmland, rather than sites in residential areas.
- All real estate inserts
- Newly constructed homes
- Home exhibitions and sales meetings
- Within Otsuchi
- Open houses of completed homes
- All real estate inserts:
- November 2013 - New stage in support for disaster victims
Organizations that had provided support for disaster victims also entered a new stage 1,000 days after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
On Nov. 11, 2012, an insert announced the holding of an event to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the founding of Oraga Otsuchi Yume Hiroba. Among the major activities of the group is operating a dome-shaped meeting area that resembles the mobile home called a "ger" used by nomads in Mongolia as well as managing a restaurant.
For the first anniversary event, about 200 town residents turned up at a restaurant opened in a prefabricated structure.
One year later, the final event to be held in the dome-shaped structure came on Nov. 27, 2013. The group held a classroom to teach paper crafts. The dome could not be used after November because of construction work to raise the height of a coastal levee. The surrounding scenery will likely change greatly once the construction work begins on a larger scale.
Kazuki Tobai, 19, was in charge of managing the dome-shaped structure.
He said, "Because of the dome, we were able to create opportunities for senior citizens living in temporary housing to drink tea and converse with old acquaintances."
Not only will the group lose its dome, but its base of operations will also move about two kilometers toward the mountains.
However, Tobai is already determined to take on the new challenge.
"We want to painstakingly visit the community to find out what the needs of residents are in order to produce specific measures to respond to those needs," he said.
- Sound of hammering heard again in deserted town
Masakazu HigashinoThe writer joined The Asahi Shimbun in 1988. He began covering Otsuchi from March 29, 2011, and has been based in the town since May 2011.By Masakazu Higashino/ Staff Writer
May 26, 2011, was close to a month after I had been based in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture. An insert that was delivered that day along with the local newspaper had black characters printed on white paper that said "Grand Opening." It felt like the sound of a hammer putting something together in a deserted town.
Whenever I came across one of those handwritten inserts every few days, I began to ask myself if it would be possible to follow the course of rebuilding in the town through those inserts. From then on, I collected all the inserts that were delivered with the morning edition of the local newspaper.
I checked up on each new insert, be it from a beauty parlor or supermarket that had resumed operations by building a prefabricated structure and gathering supplies and products to sell. There was a new restaurant that opened for business that created such an insert.
As one business operator said, "The town will not move forward unless someone starts something." In that sense, the inserts were like banners held aloft by such operators in the name of rebuilding.
Although the number of inserts began to increase, it became obvious that more were advertising from entities outside of Otsuchi rather than within the town. These included supermarkets trying to expand their business base, real estate companies advertising property further inland and furniture shops selling items for those who have moved into temporary housing.
Whenever a local business created a simple insert, it appeared as a sign of a small but strong resolve that it was prepared to continue existing in this town.
The inserts now appear to give off a sense of impatience. The frequent help wanted ads reflect the difficulties that companies that have resumed operations still face in finding sufficient manpower. With construction work scheduled to begin to raise the foundation of areas in the town center, some temporary business outlets have to move elsewhere for a short period of time.
I look forward to the day when the sense of stagnation is broken and inserts are delivered that announce the full-scale resumption of business or the opening of a new outlet.
- Emerging issues in disaster-stricken areas
- The first insert delivered in Otsuchi after the Great East Japan Earthquake was on May 26, 2011. The 100th insert was delivered in July 2011 and by March 2012 the number had exceeded 200. Since then, the number every month has been about 200, more than the 150 or so that was delivered before the disasters.
Mariko Michimata, 51, who operated a local newspaper sales outlet until November 2012, feels the increase reflects the demand generated by rebuilding.
"There has been a noticeable increase in companies in real estate and catalog sales that did not create such inserts before the disasters," she said.
Based on the classification of the Japan Newspaper Orikomi Advertising Agencies Association for 50 major business sectors, in December 2011, 36 sectors were represented in the inserts, the peak figure. Changes in the characteristics of what business sectors are creating the inserts are noticeable over time.
In the beauty parlor and barber shop sector, there were between zero and four inserts a month in 2011, much more than what would be seen in 2012 or 2013.
Seizo Sasaki, 62, announced through an insert in October 2011 that he was resuming barber shop operations in a cargo container structure. He said it was a sector that resumed operations comparatively quickly using temporary outlets.
"There was assistance from the barber shop union and we could resume business as long as we had tools, such as scissors," he said.
The automotive-related sector had a peak figure of 32 inserts in September 2012. In 2012, the sector had an overall high number with a monthly average over 13. That was higher than the numbers in 2011 and 2013.
Kiyokawa Auto is a business based in Yamada to the north of Otsuchi. It delivered an insert in November 2012.
Company executive Hiroshi Kiyokawa, 36, said, "We found a place to display the cars so we could resume exhibitions that were not possible when we only had a temporary outlet."
The inserts illustrated greater need for certain business sectors in the course of rebuilding that has become a drawn-out process. Included in the category of "other services" is legal consulting. In 2013, the number of inserts gradually increased as the monthly figure fluctuated between zero and 10.
For most months, the real estate sector maintained a steady pace of around 10.
An Otsuchi municipal government official said, "After 2012, there has been an increase in the number of people going ahead with rebuilding homes due to the inconveniences associated with temporary housing."
Taku Arakawa, 24, is a graduate student at the University of Tokyo who was involved in the analysis of the inserts.
"Early on, most of the inserts were from outside of Otsuchi, such as from Tono or Kamaishi," he said. "As time went on, there was an increase in inserts from Otsuchi, but there was also a noticeable increase in those by companies based farther away, such as Tokyo. The increase in inserts in such sectors as real estate and catalog sales shows both the needs in the local community as well as the strategy of businesses that viewed the situation as a business opportunity. The fact that there continues to be a large number of real estate inserts is a reflection that housing continues to be a major issue."
(This section was written by Shojiro Okuyama and Madoka Sasa of the Interactive Media & News Section.)