• Kyodo

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One year after a massive quake destroyed the Japanese school in central Taiwan, a new school building is rising among paddy fields and banana plantations outside the city of Taichung.

The main structure of the two-story complex, which consists of three separate buildings, is already nearing completion in the village of Hsiushan, about half an hour’s bus drive from Taichung, where most of the school’s students live.

With construction work proceeding smoothly, the new premises will be ready to take in students as scheduled by year’s end, said Teruyuki Fukuhara, principal of the Taichung Japanese School.

The school’s 120 elementary and junior high school students currently attend classes in a temporary prefabricated school complex just a stone’s throw from the new premises across an athletics field.

Still, Fukuhara, who says he feels quite comfortable in his spacious air-conditioned prefab, is not in a rush to leave. He said students and teachers will move to the new school building only in February after the remaining few junior high school students graduate on Jan. 20.

The new school — costing 198 million new Taiwan dollars (682.66 million yen) — will cover 4,545 sq. meters and have an outdoor swimming pool, a gymnasium and a plaza where students can play and chat. And, of course, it has been designed to withstand another massive earthquake.

Reconstruction of the original Japanese school, which was damaged beyond repair by the magnitude 7.3 quake, had to be ruled out since it was located on top of two fault lines.

No one was injured or killed in the school’s collapse, because the quake struck before dawn on Sept. 21, 1999.

Thanks to support from the Taiwanese and Japanese governments as well as a host of donations from private Japanese organizations, planning for the school’s reconstruction got under way quickly.

Sources close to the project said former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui was instrumental in securing a long-term lease for the 23,000-sq.-meter plot of land in Hsiushan, owned by state-run Taiwan Sugar Corp.

Construction started in April, shortly after the students moved into the prefab on March 23, ending their exile in cramped rented quarters at the Angel kindergarten near the old school.

Fukuhara, who came to Taiwan just in time to oversee the move into the prefab, said most of the elementary school students who went back to Japan directly after the quake have returned.

But since many of the junior high school students decided to finish school in Japan, it might take another two years before class strength recovers to double digits, he said.

Thanks to the addition of new first-graders, the overall number of students is only slightly below the prequake level of 130.

Fukuhara, who lived through the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 at his Osaka home, said while life has returned to normal on the surface, a number of students still suffer postquake trauma symptoms such as sleeping difficulties, lack of appetite and concentration problems.

“The mind has forgotten about the quake, but the body remembers,” he said.

Such problems are addressed in individual counseling sessions, which may also include parents. “If the parents are not put at ease, the children cannot relax either,” he said.

Parents, teachers, students and Japanese businesspeople living in the Taichung area tried to come to terms with the quake by describing their quake experiences and the struggle to get things back on track in a book published earlier this year.

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