Traditional houses built more than 100 years ago in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, are to get a facelift more than a year after the area was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Hiromasa Tanabe, a systems engineer, visited the city as a volunteer after the disaster. He found that many traditional houses had survived the tsunami but had suffered severe damage.
After his volunteer work, Tanabe, 36, said he was determined to preserve the heritage houses to "serve as a base for the communities' revitalization."
He quit his job and moved to the city to set up Japan Heritage, a company to renovate and preserve old houses, together with local residents. The company received subsidies from the government.
The houses scheduled to be renovated are in the city's Onozaki district near the mouth of the Kitakamigawa river. This area was ravaged by the tsunami, which inundated houses and left four people dead or missing. As the area has been designated as a collective relocation zone, houses there may be moved to higher ground.
"Even if [the old houses] are moved to another location, they can serve as a place of relief for residents," Tanabe said.
The company will start renovation work on a one-story wooden house owned by Kiyoshi Kamiyama, a 67-year-old man in the forestry industry, at the end of this month.
The 150-square-meter house was built in the Meiji era (1868-1912) by a school of carpenters called "Kesen daiku," based in what is now southern Iwate Prefecture and known for its expertise since the Edo period (1603-1867). Images of fish and turtles had been carved by the group into the columns and Shinto altar of the house. Experts found the house's structure had survived the tsunami.
Work on the house will begin with the removal of mud and desalination of the columns, with renovations expected to be completed in spring 2013. Tanabe and his group are looking into renovating houses in other quake-hit areas and are considering setting up a fund to finance the operation.
A Kobe nonprofit organization started working with Tanabe to support the company's efforts. Yuzuru Ogura, a representative of volunteer organization Sharaku, which has been engaged in work in Miyagi Prefecture, promised Tanabe to send volunteers from the Kansai region. The organization has invited people from Kobe and Osaka to join a four-day, three-night volunteer tour to assist with Tanabe's project.