Quake-hit district makes New Year’s decorations to boost recognition

Kyodo

A group of volunteers together with locals from Okirai, a district in the city of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, have been preparing traditional New Year’s decorations as part of a project to publicize the region.

Okirai was hit severely by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and the project organizers hope the local ornaments — “shimenawa” ropes and “kadomatsu” pine-tree decorations — will help promote the area and eventually invite joy to the area, as the kanji in the district’s name suggest.

The shimenawa ropes, made with braided straw, are hung to protect sacred Shinto buildings from evil spirits. They are also hung on porches or near entrances to celebrate the arrival of the new year.

About 10 local residents who gathered at Okirai’s community center enjoyed twisting together the thick cords of rope. The event became a bonding experience for all of the participants, with elderly residents demonstrating how to braid the straw threads, to young volunteers from the Kanto region carefully listening to the residents’ instructions.

“As my health condition has worsened since the earthquake, I haven’t been really able to go outside my house that much,” said 71-year-old Toyoko Wakabayashi, who now has to live in temporary housing. “Having a chance to talk to so many people means a lot to me.”

When finished, some of the ropes will be used to decorate doorways in temporary housing units for evacuees from disaster-hit areas.

The decorations will also be displayed and available for purchase at an exhibition of photographs depicting conditions in the Okirai district to be held from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23 in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

A similar event was held in 2011 and about 120 ropes and pine decorations made by volunteers were sold in Tokyo.