Crafting and Sakuranbo 1

Before that disaster happened, we had been receiving work from companies in the Sendai Harbor area, but those companies were also damaged and we lost all our work. Our trainees were physically okay, but we had lost our workshop and work, meaning we had lost our livelihood.

We wanted to give our trainees work somehow, so we started having them clean parking lots and such. Then several people suggested we try crafting. So we started having the trainees make clips and key holders with treble clefs on them.

Our trainees used to do mainly cleaning work and never made crafts, but in any case our outsourcers had been damaged and couldn’t rebuild. It was a time of crisis, but it was really hard for the trainees having no income, and especially having nothing to do. So we decided to have them make things and try to sell even a few of them to give the trainees some pay.

Crafting and Sakuranbo 2

They used to complain about being busy when they had work, but once it was gone they said they were bored, haha.

I think they learned to be grateful for having jobs. I guess they were just reminded of the importance of having something to do. It changed the way they saw their work. They have started getting used to it and changing their tune again, but in a way, I think that’s happiness because it means they’re getting back to normal.

Some trainees who were absent a lot before the disaster also started coming every day once we started crafting. We ended up getting a lot of orders. We tried different things every day to make sure they wouldn’t get bored.

Since after the disaster until now, we’ve somehow been able to raise their wages. We still haven’t gotten back the work we had before the disaster. It’s really like we started over from square one. It’s thanks to the kind assistance of so many people around the country that we’ve been able to recover this much. It’s really put me in awe of the power of the support we have received.

Our trainees needed work clothes, gloves, etc. because everything had been washed away. We had to buy them. So I realized that it was important to recover and sustain our business, because a sound cash flow was actually quite essential for their lives.

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.

How Nozomi’s work changed after the disaster

Before the disaster, most of our work came from local companies that outsourced to us. There were maybe a dozen or so companies. We didn’t make our own products.

There wasn’t immediately any work to do when we reopened, so we just kind of celebrated being together and decided to do whatever was in front of us. So we started working in the fields. Not everyone was used to the work, but we just had to do it.

But on rainy days, there wasn’t enough space in the prefab for both the employees and the disabled trainees to fit sitting down.

So when it rained, we just went out somewhere. Normally it’s the other way around, but that was how we lived.

Now that we had a place to get together, some people were seeing each other for the first time in a while, so everyone was smiling. There were different people coming from JDF each week too.

Some of our trainees’ family members were also glad to have a place they could leave the trainees during the day, since temporary housing procedures had started around that time.

The start of paper making

When Mr. Hatakeyama and I thought about the future, we knew the trainees couldn’t work in the field in winter, so we had to find something for them to do indoors.  Then someone just happened to suggest paper making.

When staff members from the “Sendai Te o Tsunagu Ikuseikai” Foundation came to visit, they gave us a set of paper pressing and stenciling tools. After we had begun making paper, the “Setagaya Lions Club” social services group also provided a paper pressing machine.

We moved to the next prefab in November before it got cold. It was a little bit bigger than the one in Iriya. We could all fit inside on rainy days, and there was heating, so we were relieved we could get through the winter.

So the things we had to do kept expanding, but for the first two or three years it was kind of chaotic. We all just sort of kept going without getting ourselves organized.

Of course there were also times when we solved various problems on our own. But there were lots of people thinking of us, so sometimes it seemed to me like things were decided more by the people who came to help us than by us.

We really met some amazing people, and they came at just the right time to support us. Not that we didn’t notice it at the time.

I think it was the same for our trainees. Myself and Mr. Hatakeyama suddenly brought in all these people, and before our trainees knew it we had a paper pressing machine. It wasn’t so much of their own accord as that they were almost forced into it, but they sensed what was happening and said, “We’re doing this!” I think they just adapted to the changes that were happening every day.

With the stencils we first received, it wasn’t like the product would come out the same way no matter who used them. Paralyzed people needed support, for instance. So we had to find our own ways to help them use these tools as we watched them.

As we kept devising ways and means, one of our trainees became really motivated after we got busy with the paper making. He used to take off work a lot to help with his family farm before the disaster, and it would have been fine for him to keep spending time on that, but he still came to Nozomi every day and confidently said, “We won’t get it all done if I take time off.” I realized he was taking pride in this work.

Wakame core removal

Thanks to a local information magazine, the group was contacted by a wakame seaweed company that was short on hands.

Kayoko: But you know, what saved us from the lack of work (because of the disaster) was when the company that had hired us to clean their building saw how hard everyone was working, and actually paid more than required.


Around when was this?

Kayoko: This was in 2012, after the disaster.

We also thought we had to do something new to make our living. So I asked the trainees, “What did you guys do when you were younger?”

Then one of them said they used to remove wakame cores. An acquaintance of mine just happened to be volunteering to run a local information magazine, and so I had a little blurb published in an article saying, “Kujira no Shippo can remove wakame cores. Please contact us.”

Tada: So then we were contacted. We were asked if we wanted to try it. So I tried it out first on behalf of the trainees.

Kayoko: The wakame company had been rebuilt, but they didn’t have enough workers. So we just happened to match up with them quite well. But we had one condition, which was that we couldn’t commute to their site. So they brought the wakame all the way here to our workshop. Once we contacted them saying we were finished, they came to pick it up. That was how we started removing wakame cores in our office, and we’re still doing it every year.

Kayoko: This disaster was really hard, but we also gained a lot from it, and it changed our perspective. Lots of people are leaving the Oshika region, so society is aging here. With the wakame thing, it’s like we’ve become a major part of this industry. So we are responsible for doing our part, along with everyone in this community.

Changes in works

Some of the works we used to do became impossible because of the disaster. These are works that we did outside of the facility. The client companies were also damaged by the disaster.

At the beginning as a vocational support center for the disabled, we collected recyclables little by little from households that offered to collaborate with us, and we walked a long distance between these residences. After the disaster, we made a clear shift in this work. We now involve community organizations for this work and obtained a truck together with this change. Some of the households that we first found as our collaborators were near to other support centers under the same foundation with us, so we handed collection tasks of those households to these sister centers. The volume of collected items decreases at the beginning because of this handover. However, once we start our operations in nearby communities, the volume goes up without fail. So the initial decrease gets compensated in a couple of months. In our new method, we can fill the truck just by moving around in a small area. That was the change.

It was also after the disaster our project for collecting foam polystyrene started. With these two projects we tried to counter the temporal decrease in revenue. They actually did and now they are making more revenue.

We try to make profit so that our trainees can earn more as they work more. We can’t say that we secure their earnings but we have tried to create stable revenue and to keep the level of trainees’ earnings as stable as we could.

Our trainees are like professionals. We try to do what they are good at. At the same time we keep in mind that we need to provide works that everyone can do.

After some time, the atmosphere and work flows became similar to what we had before. Though we lost certain things, not all the work procedures changed. We were doing the same things in slightly different manner or in new applications. So, the trainees didn’t have much problem, and they continued accepting the new environment.

We were supported by those who provided us with works to do.

An enjoyable job

How do you like working at “Kanan”?

Konno: The work growing shiitake mushrooms is interesting. There are around 10 of us in charge of the mushrooms now. (They order shiitake mushroom substrate from Iwate, cultivate it for around a week, and package the mushrooms to sell.)

My job is watering the mushrooms and packaging them to sell. I put on stickers and do all kinds of other things. I use scissors to cut off mushrooms that have gotten big. I have things to do every day.


How is your work going?

Konno: I’m more used to it now, so I can do more things. I also sometimes teach new people who come in.