The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake left some 20,000 people dead or missing, and destroyed more than 120,000 homes. Social development organisation Ibasho was pioneered in the aftermath when a group of community leaders visited Ofunato, one of the worst-hit cities, to aid in the rebuilding of communities.
Elders in the neighbourhood of Massaki were rallied to lead the recovery process, which largely took place in the building of a community cafe, the Honeywell Ibasho House. It was a collective effort of planning, building and envisioning the type of gathering place they wanted in their community. Ibasho House became a place of solace and solidarity, engaging many previously-isolated individuals in friendship and responsibility.
What proved to be a key element in Massaki’s rehabilitation process was having a permanent structure to house social connections. Regular facetime through daily chit chat or planned programmes led to the deepening and widening of social networks.
As one person put it: “Now we’re friends because we have conversations here.”
The physical building of Ibasho House was also significant. A farmhouse was donated by a local family in another part of town, disassembled, moved, and reconstructed in Massaki. As the farmhouse was built with a traditional Japanese architectural technique that did not use nails, this gave elder carpenters the opportunity to transfer their knowledge and skills to younger craftsmen in the making of the cafe. With the support of Emi and Dr. Mori from University of Hokkaido, the design and construction of Ibasho House was a community collaboration.
To residents of Massaki, the edifice conveyed both the history and new life of the community.