Takashi Ito's family-owned book and stationery store is one of the 20 or so shops occupying a new mall that opened last year in Rikuzentakata, a tsunami-ravaged city in Iwate Prefecture once known for the towering pine trees that lined its scenic coast.

The mall is like any of the thousands of other shopping complexes dotting the nation's suburbs and countrysides, offering a comforting sense of familiarity and complete with a supermarket, drugstore, budget clothing store and ¥100 shop.

On a recent afternoon young mothers with their children and elderly townsfolk were seen wandering along its aisles and chatting over bowls of steaming hot udon (wheat) noodles at the food court.