Resume activities


Our trainees never got particularly depressed or anything. It did seem like they took pride in Sakuranbo. Although the building was gone, our trainees had the strong determination to keep up their spirits. Even though the workshop had physically disappeared from their lives, you know… I think they were still so proud of it and felt a strong sense of belonging. You might feel the same way if your company went bankrupt. They had a dream for Sakuranbo to be rebuilt in the same place one day.

Searching for a new workshop location

What was the next step after you decided to move forward with rebuilding?

We couldn’t build the workshop right away, so we figured we should just find a place we could all gather first.

Because we had no more workshop, we had to suspend our trainees’ activities for early April.

And we would visit our trainees’ homes, or everyone would gather in the park. We staff sometimes had meetings on the benches outside the supermarket.

We had to find a temporary place to get together, so we started looking around, but our problem was we didn’t have the funds to rent a place.

We petitioned the city government, and for a short period from around April 17th to the end of May, we were able to borrow one room in the disabled welfare center. We used the mornings to get everyone together for activities, and in the afternoons we searched for new locations and went around greeting people.

By April, our business partner from Arahama had already resumed their business. That company had also suffered major damages from the tsunami, but even in those circumstances they reached out to us, so we staff and trainees volunteered to gather up the company’s equipment that had been washed away by the tsunami and was covered in mud, and wash it with a pressure washer.

After that we also started preparing for activities at the workshop, wondering if maybe we could make crafts or find something else to do. We were really grateful we were able to continue our relationship with our business partners even though our workshop was destroyed.

The prejudice barrier and property hunting with trainees

We were only able to borrow the room in the disabled welfare center until the end of May, so we were also property hunting alongside our activities. Our trainees seemed to notice how hard the staff were working to prepare to rebuild, and they asked us of their own accord if there was anything they could do. And so we thought of something they could do that wouldn’t be too burdensome, and asked them to search for properties.

But during the property search process, they repeatedly heard prejudiced statements about disabled people.

Unfortunately I think the real estate agents and property owners were worried there might be some sort of trouble with an organization for disabled people. We hadn’t done anything to deserve such criticism and humiliation, so it was sad. I wished people would be more understanding of social welfare organizations.

When we went to see real estate agents with our trainees, they would refuse to rent to a facility for disabled people. Right in front of our trainees, they would say, “We could never rent to disabled people.” I don’t ever want to have such a sad experience again.

It was really hard until we secured our current property, but I think it was a really good thing that we did this along with our trainees.

We somehow found the Wakabayashi building we’re in now, and opened on June 7th. But our contract with the disabled welfare center was until the end of May, so we had to suspend our activities for the 6 days until our opening, although we felt bad for our trainees. They were understanding about this. During that time we did consult with them over the phone.

It’s because we worked together with our trainees until our reopening that we know the value of our workshop and of everyone who’s cheered us on. And because our trainees searched for properties with us during that process, they now feel like this workshop belongs to them.

Reopening and connecting with JDF

Around the time of the Golden Week holidays in May before we reopened, we learned about JDF (the Japan Disability Forum). These people wanted to help the disabled. We had them plough the fields with us when we first reopened in the prefab in Iriya in late May.

The JDF people came from all over the country, all the way from Hokkaido in the north and Okinawa in the south.

We set up a map of Japan and filled in the prefectures people had come from. We wanted to thank the people who’d come to support us, so we later sent them our newsletters that showed them how well Nozomi was doing.

What the trainees felt

Trainees of Sakura Gakuen didn’t have feelings of crisis that the facility would discontinue, I believe. We hadn’t mentioned about that possibility, and rather, we told them we needed some cleaning before we used the place again.

We didn’t actually take the trainees to see the facility but some of them came by themselves. Some of them even offered help and scooped the mud out. We could strongly feel that the trainees were very eager to have the center open again. However, nobody was worried that our service would discontinue. We still had our building there.

Changes in trainees

Many of the trainees had been waiting the reopening of the center, I believe. They held back their individual desires and waited patiently. As we had gone through that huge event together, it seemed we had created a kind of comradeship. We endured the same hardship together. I don’t find any big change in the trainees before and after the disaster. They look as they used to be and live without making much fuss. Fortunately, none of them had trauma from the experience. There was no one suddenly suffering from flashbacks or things like that. We were lucky in that sense.


You restarted the workshop in Onagawa two years after the disaster. How were the people working there at the beginning?

When the reopening of the workshop was decided, people finally opened their mind and told frankly “I have been waiting all the time” or “It’s been so long.” Yes, they were holding their true feelings. Some were even worried how I was doing.

They were filled of hope, and their happiness was far beyond any words could express, I believe.

However, our place was the first built structure in town after the disaster, and many residents and companies were still struggling in rebuilding their lives and premises. I was hesitant to openly celebrate our achievement.


You felt some kind of constraint because there were gaps between who had basic necessities and who didn’t, and your place was the first building to have been built after the disaster.

I myself felt very difficult not to have place to go or work to do while I was in the evacuation center. I wanted to keep my work all my life if possible. I imagine our trainees who had worked at the workshop felt the same.

As we restarted, trainees felt so happy about the simple fact they had work to do, and they enjoyed it so much. They committed to the work and completed the tasks very quick. They are still very eager to work and they even look for more thing to do.


What do you think is keeping the motivation of both staff and the trainees?

It’s the fact that they have work to do. The most difficult part of vocational support projects is to create jobs, but it is the challenge staff members have to take. As the name “vocational support” clearly suggests, we always have to face this issue.