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Fabric structures aid earthquake recovery

Projects, Tents | November 1, 2012 | By:

Fabric structures give the people of East Japan places to work and gather as they rebuild.

A magnitude 9.0 (Mw) earthquake, now known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, struck at 2:46 p.m. Japan Standard Time, on Friday, March 11, 2011. After the earthquake, about 343,000 people were forced to take refuge; as of Sept. 10, 2012, about 136,000 families were still in temporary housing.

On Sept. 5–6, eighteen months after the disaster, IFAI Japan conducted a study tour to Tohoku. The group of 16 visited Sendai, Ishinomaki, Onagawa-cho and Kesennuma in Miyagi prefecture, and Rikuzentakata, Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi in Iwate prefecture to see the damage and recovery of the area and to inspect some of the projects there.

Progress is evident

Sendai Airport, terribly damaged by the tsunami that followed the quake, has recovered perfectly and was crowded with people. Some roads have been reconstructed by raising dams, some of the factories and shops had resumed operations, and the highway was smooth. But still a vast area covered with weeds and heaps of rubble remain along the way, and there are still ruined buildings and houses with broken windows and rusted frames. The population of the Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefecture is reported to have decreased by more than 70,000 from last year.

Mr. Toshio Katayama, vice president of Daiichi Hanpu Co. Ltd., said, “It was my first visit to the area. I have seen news on TV, but I was so shocked by the fierceness of the tsunami.”

“This was my second visit to the area, and I see the recovery is in progress, but it still needs much more time,” said Mr. Makoto Koizumi of ArchProducts Division of Chukoh Chemical Co. Ltd. “There is a long way [to go] for a full recovery.”

Housing and “Marche”

Onagawa-cho, a small fishing and agricultural town with beautiful scenery, suffered serious damage from the earthquake and tsunami, losing about 900 people and about 3,300 houses. Onagawa is much closer to the epicenter of the earthquake than Fukushima Daiichi, but the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant safely powered down its reactor immediately after the quake, and it even served as a refugee shelter for more than three months after that. Ms. Makiko Abe of the Onagawa Town Tourist Association said, “We were really thankful to them. A lot of people lost their homes.”

Voluntary Architects Network, led by architect Shigeru Ban, proposed and designed a multistoried temporary housing complex for survivors using shipping containers, with TSP Taiyo contracting the project. As there was a shortage of flat land in Onagawa-cho, the multilayered design was the best solution to accommodate as many families as possible in a limited area: 189 families and 460 people. Completed in November 2011, the new complex stands on a former baseball field. Tohoku had an unusually hot summer this year, but all units are equipped with an air conditioner, and following the project’s completion, awnings were also installed.

“Marche,” a tensioned fabric structure where residents enjoyed summer festivals, a vegetable market, concerts and events by volunteers, stands in the center of the housing. “There are many people who hesitate to go out and were sunk in negative feelings. We wanted residents to leave their houses and form a community here,” said Ms. Abe. “Marche plays an important role for this. I hope this is used more for various events.”

ETFE air dome farm

Standing in the middle of a tsunami-ravaged grassy field in Rikuzentakata are ETFE air domes, 30 meters in diameter, for the water cultivation of leaf lettuce. “The area was a farming area,” said Mr. Mitsuyoshi Iwabuchi, assistant project manager of Granpafarm. “Because of water cultivation, there is no need of desalinization of the ground and people can start cultivation even on the tsunami-washed area.”

ETFE, a fluorine-based plastic, was designed to have high corrosion resistance and strength over a wide temperature range and high resistance to UV rays for outdoor use. The film is double layered to save energy in the winter.

Seaweed distribution center

Kesennuma is another seriously damaged port city where fisheries and wakame (seaweed) farming are major industries. A temporary JF (Japan Fisheries Cooperatives) “Wakame”(seaweed) Distribution Center, 1,371 square meters in size, was completed on Jan. 30 by Taiyo Kogyo Corp. in just two months. The fabric used, CMX220, is a photocatalyst-treated PVC-coated glass fiber with 22–25 percent light transmittance, making for a bright environment. Common PTFE materials light transmittance is about 13 percent. Because the fabric has self-cleaning properties with the photocatalyst treatment, it will keep the high light transmittance without dirt on the surface.

“A joint auction of Sanriku seaweed (wakame), produced by local fishermen, was conducted in this facility on February 28 this year for the first time after the earthquake. We appreciate Taiyo Kogyo for completing this for the auction season,” said Mr. Kiyoshi Kikuchi, manager of the Kesennuma branch of the Miyagi Fisheries Cooperative Association. “For some reason, after the tsunami nutrition for the wakame environment got better, and we got better quality. Also, because of the limited quantity, wakame received a very high bid, about four times as much as the usual year.”

When it is not the auction season, the structure is used for storage because storage spaces along the coast had been destroyed.

“We put a special traceability bar code on our wakame products, clearly certifying the producing place, trying not to be mixed with the ones from foreign countries,” Mr. Kikuchi said. “We also tested all the wakame we produced to make certain that there is no radioactive contamination. You can rely on the wakame from our area.”

Tents for wakame workers

Wakame production needs some work after getting the wakame weed from the farm in the sea, including cutting off unnecessary edges and stems, boiling, salting and so forth. Those tasks were done by local people, but their houses or workplaces were gone. Tents were installed for those workers around the Wakame Distribution Center. “Those tents were fabricated by Yano Tent Co. Ltd. in Osaka,” Mr. Kiyomi Masuda, president of Masuda Co. Ltd., said. “Our staff drove to Osaka (about 1,000 km away) and transported and installed about 80 tents around here to be ready for the season. I am happy that I could have a chance to be of help to the local people in the wakame business.”

The need for a system

Mr. Yoshiaki Ishikawa, director of Ishikawa Co., a distributor/wholesaler of fabric, tents and awnings, said, “A few days after the earthquake we had a rush of order calls for event tents and sheets from our clients. The quantity needed was so much more than we handle usually. We did our best to meet requests and orders, but we could not answer all of them. And what is most regrettable was that although we could get the products, we could not find the transportation method or fuel to bring those to the area. I was very disappointed at that time because we could not distribute the tents to those who needed them immediately…During this inspection tour, I was moved that the people in the area I met were very active and energetic, which gave us energy the other way around.”

There is a great need for specialty fabric products when disasters strike. The industry needs a system of delivery to a disaster area as soon as the disaster occurs, and in further stages of recovery, there is a variety of needs that specialty fabric products can meet for work places, meeting places, more comfortable living spaces and other uses.

Disasters should never be forgotten. With support systems in place, the specialty fabrics industry will be prepared to respond.

Kikuko Tagawa is executive director of IFAI Japan. She can be reached at +81 72 780 2803 or

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