Sae Kani, Malteser International’s advisor for disaster management in Japan, is working closely with the Fujinosono children and staff to help make their dream of a safe home come true.
How did you arrive at the model for the new home? What was the creation and design process like?
We started from complete scratch. We had to identify the problems first – problems with space, with the home’s operation, and the interaction with the children. It is important to pick up the details from daily life by talking to the children and the staff – like we did in our workshop.
For instance, whenever the children wanted to talk to friends or relatives over the phone, they had to call from a pay phone which is located in the entrance area, so they had no privacy whatsoever. This made them uncomfortable. These are small things which, unless you talk to the individual caretakers and the children themselves, you would never find out. Now, those things are reflected in the floor design.
The children, especially the older ones, were asked to give their input on the new home’s design. Were they receptive to the idea?
It was an eye-opening experience for them. As many of them were brought up in dysfunctional families, their wishes were often denied or ignored by the adults. In the beginning, they didn’t believe we would take them seriously. But we showed them we really meant it, and are willing to incorporate their suggestions into the design. Participating in this process has increased their self-esteem. Their opinions are taken seriously and respected by the adults.
How is the new living space going to differ from the old one?
We are trying to create a more familiar environment for the children. For example, an 18-year-old girl from the home went to visit her host family and was asked to buy a head of cabbage, but she bought a head of lettuce instead. She never saw her mother cooking. That’s why every unit in the new home will have its own kitchen. The central kitchen will also have big windows, so the children can interact with the cooks and learn more about food. They can have conversations about food with the staff, just like they would at home with their parents.
The design for the new home incorporates both eco-friendly features and emergency preparedness elements. Why are those aspects being considered?
We’re hoping to become a role model in the region. The DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) officers in Ichinoseki are completely stunned with our plans. With our support, Fujinosono does not have to rely on public funding, which means that we can be creative and employ cutting-edge designs. For instance, in Ichinoseki, all of the emergency generators for public buildings and hospitals are petrol- and diesel-based. If that lifeline is cut off – then what? In the home, we will use solar panels and a biomass-fuelled generating system for electricity, heating and hot water. Even when there is no petrol in stock, the home should continue functioning with reasonable comfort. This will be a vital place for real emergencies. That’s DRR – we need to prepare for the most improbable circumstances. As a public building which will also serve as an emergency shelter for the community, the home could serve as a model for the whole of Japan.
But are those innovative measures also practical?
If we are to do things properly, then we also have to make sure that the design makes sense from a practical point of view. For instance, we will use biomass ovens fuelled by rice husks to heat the home. There are many rice farmers in Iwate prefecture. We’re going to help these farmers by using their rubbish – they would otherwise have to burn the husks, so they give it to us for free. This is a win-win deal. This kind of collaboration also increases the community’s awareness for recycling the local excess waste. The new home will contribute to the reduction of CO2 in Ichinoseki as well.
How are the Japanese people recovering from the disaster?
The Japanese people are very much used to disasters. They are very resilient – in a short period of time, they get on with their lives as usual. They have very strong work ethics – even if they don’t have a home and are still sleeping in a gymnasium, they still put on a suit and go to work every day. The people are driving their country.
How are the Japanese dealing with the nuclear crisis after Fukushima?
People living in the affected areas don’t necessarily acknowledge the risks. They say, “What can we do? We can’t move.” They don’t want to leave their homes. But, for the most part, the Japanese people are now turning against nuclear energy, and that is a welcoming shift.
Interview by Joice Biazoto
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