• Kyodo, Staff Report


Dozens of people left homeless by the massive earthquake last month in rural Nagano Prefecture are now getting access to temporary housing.

On Monday, residents of the village of Hakuba began moving into 35 units built by the prefecture outside a local sports facility.

The magnitude-6.7 earthquake on Nov. 22 caused serious damage in northern Nagano Prefecture and destroyed homes in the popular ski resort of Hakuba. A tally on December 16 found that 1,567 homes had sustained damage; 50 of them were destroyed. In all, 170 people from 77 households were forced to find alternative shelter.

The temporary housing units will accommodate 76 people from 33 households, prefectural officials said.

The six prefab buildings are located in the Kamishiro area. Nagano’s winters are severe, so the units have multiple layers of insulation and steeply pitched roofs to allow snow to slip off. Villagers will be able to live there for up to two years.

Teruyuki Hirabayashi, 44, whose house was destroyed, moved into one of the units with his 69-year-old mother.

“The house is warm and is well-equipped,” Hirabayashi said as he carried in their belongings. Volunteers were helping them move.

“We finally have a place to live. Now I want to think of what to do next,” he said.

As reconstruction progresses, victims are pondering whether to start over or move elsewhere. The quake may have weakened the ground to the point where it is unsuitable for buildings.

Mokujin, a much-loved local inn, suffered some damage. Its owner, 36-year-old Shuhei Kashiwabara, is trying to rebuild. The establishment dates from his grandfather’s generation.

Nearly 100 people have given their encouragement and money, so Kashiwabara decided to keep the business going and is now working on a rebuilding plan.

“Our family is greatly encouraged by people’s messages. I am looking forward to holding a ceremony to celebrate our restart,” Kashiwabara said.

He estimates it will take about a year to reopen.

Takeko Tsutaki, 61, whose house was destroyed, remains undecided about whether to rebuild her house in the same place. The ground there may have been weakened.

“At this stage, I can’t afford to think about our future as I’m totally preoccupied with what to do now,” she said. “But if I can, I hope to come back to the place where I feel most familiar.”