Reflecting on Tohoku Trip

If you follow me on twitter you know that I recently spent some days in Tohoku  with the intent of looking at post-disaster recovery from the perspective of juku as a small service-oriented business. I am now mulling over some of my observations from this trip in preparation for a March 15 presentation in a workshop organized by my colleague David Edgington at UBC.

During my visit, I was able to meet with 1o juku operators in the region, from Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures to Fukushima.

Here is a loose list of some of the things I will talk about:

  • in terms of the situation that juku find themselves in, the clearly most significant determinant of this situation is whether the operator has access to a teaching space, i.e. whether his/her home/teaching space had been destroyed
  • differences in the impact of the triple disaster by geographic zones:
    • coastal regions: tsunami impact severe, but it largely ends at where ever the water rose to
    • inland: some damage to buildings, but only sporadic
    • Fukushima: radiation impact pervasive
  • relatively few juku operators have abandoned the business
  • while economic opportunities were limited in the country-side pre-disaster, even rural Tohoku was not in as dire a situation (in terms of economic decline, out-migration) as I’ve seen in Shimane Prefecture, for example
  • while there were many casual throughout the region, the number of children who perished was limited and there are also many families who were not impacted materially to any great extent. This has meant that for many juku, business is down (in terms of the number of children taught), but not dramatically so
  • juku are eligible for reconstruction funds as small businesses and these public monies are appropriate to the reconstruction needs of a small service business
  • there is clearly a disaster bubble (震災バブル) in progress, evidence of which could be seen in the many (truck) traffic jams, busy eating establishments, and reflections by locals
  • while the physical clean-up continues apace and the situation for small business seems to be normalizing, there is massive human suffering in evidence all around
  • relief and support efforts are fraught with traps. Offer free tutoring for local students? You’re killing local business opportunities. Offer subsidies for local businesses, non-local chains, etc. will also be eligible.
  • some fascinating volunteer projects in place that are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation and are innovative in doing so
  • the operators of small juku overwhelmingly reported that their corporate cousins (大手塾) have abandoned the region

Some of these observations will come as no surprise to colleagues who have conducted research on post-disaster areas before and I am still trying to organize these thoughts in a more coherent fashion.

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