Waste not, want not: Temporary housing units for 3/11 finding new roles across Japan


The makeshift homes built for evacuees after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami are being reused in many ways to make more effective use of raw materials and slow the ballooning disposal fees.

“I guess it would cost around ¥10 billion to tear down all the temporary housing,” an official from the Fukushima Prefectural Government said.

The temporary housing, leased from companies, must be returned to the owners, though homes acquired by municipal and prefectural governments can be reused.

The Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectural governments, among others, have begun providing municipalities with materials salvaged from such units free upon request.

Fukushima and the city of Tono, Iwate Prefecture, have turned some of their temporary units into permanent public housing for those still displaced.

Gagyu Sankei-kai, a social welfare corporation in Miyagi Prefecture that supports jobs for people with disabilities, received an assembly hall set up at a temporary housing complex in the town of Yamamoto. Based in Kakuda, Gagyu Sankei-kai plans to use the hall mainly as a meeting place for employees at perilla oil-processing and bread plants expected to open in October.

In Yamamoto, it ran a pizza restaurant that was washed away by tsunami. Gagyu Sankei-kai head Toshinori Yunomura, 71, said he hopes to keep memories of calamity alive by reusing the hall.

In western Japan, which was hit by deadly storms and flooding last July, the municipal government of Soja, Okayama Prefecture, asked Fukushima for temporary wooden homes it set up to house evacuees.

The used structures thus found new life as 48 housing units and as facilities for gatherings and other functions.

“We felt deep appreciation,” a Soja official said. “(The buildings) were well received by their residents because the wooden features are splendid.”

Fukushima has since given materials for some 200 units to other governments, companies or entities at no cost.

From fiscal 2017, Fukushima started using such materials to prepare facilities for people relocating from urban and other areas to promote permanent settlement, providing three municipalities with enough material to construct 29 buildings.