Japanese Journal of Cultural Anthropology
Online ISSN : 2424-0516
Print ISSN : 1349-0648
ISSN-L : 1349-0648
Reorganization of Social Order after a Tsunami : Collective Relocation and "Community"(<Special Theme>Disaster and Anthropology: Facing the Aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake)
Shuhei Kimura
Author information

2013 Volume 78 Issue 1 Pages 57-80


This paper examines the post-tsunami reconstruction process, from March 2011 to June 2012, in a district of Ofunato City called Maehama, and analyzes how the key groups interact and take their roles there. My argument is that the use of the word "community" is not always appropriate, as it may overlook the plurality among groups in and beyond the district. The word "community" (komyuniti) matters in three contexts. The first is the investment of Japanese anthropologists in the concept. They have revised its definition as an intimate but open relationship, distinct from a closed, conventional one. The second is that it has become popular among disaster researchers and practitioners in Japan. After the devastation of the tsunami in 2011, the prevailing discourses emphasized that the restoration or rebirth of "community" was vital for reconstruction, without considering the meaning of the word. The third is that the official operation of collective relocation presupposes a consensus of a group of neighbors who want to move to a safer place and keep living together. Although that group-legally called a 'shudan' -is numerically defined, its content seems to mirror an ideal type of local community. Thus it is necessary for anthropologists to delineate disaster reconstruction without confusing between such "communities." Based on a review of the literature, I describe the developments at Maehama, focusing on the difference among the groups that emerged and took part in the reconstruction. I recount at least six groups in time. The first was a collectivity of about 100 persons who evacuated to a community center (kouminkan), who attempted to organize their temporary life there by establishing rules. Interestingly, the leader was not from Maehama, as some said that strong relationships (shigarami) make it difficult for one person to be a leader. The second group was the Department of Reconstruction (DR), operated by the local municipality. Just two weeks after the tsunami, the DR was established to draft a public reconstruction plan for the city and advance public projects for reconstruction. However, after the DR held a town meeting in June 2011, the people of Maehama understood that individual opinions were unlikely to be included in the official plan, even though the meeting was open to public participation, Thus, the local 'big men' of Maehama organized a reconstruction committee (RC), consisting of about 50 members, as a kind of lobbying group, and which constitutes the third group. However, inexplicably, few of the RC members were living in the temporary housing. Therefore, two months after the establishment of the RC, a temporary housing association (jichikai) of the residents was organized separately, constituting the fourth group. It was not until November 2011 when the association started serious discussions of the issue of collective relocation. It invited municipal officers from the DR and held meetings with them. But the law was so complicated that it was almost impossible for the local elders to understand what was going on after only a brief explanation. Moreover, there were many things they had to consider before deciding such matters as how much the municipality would pay for their land, when they could move into their new housing, where it was located, how far it was from the port, and whether better options existed, such as using rental public housing. The best choice, however, depended on each family's specific circumstances, so it was hard for them to reach a consensus. Perhaps unaware of their difficult position, the DR requested that the association submit the list of households who wanted to apply to the program. Thus, the association started handing out questionnaires to all households in January 2012. It found out that some families that had lost their houses in the tsunami were not living

(View PDF for the rest of the abstract.)

Content from these authors
2013 Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology
Previous article Next article