Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme City Development Council

April 23, 1995 - December 3, 2006

Mr. Yasuzo Tanaka / Former Chairman of the Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme City Development Council

Text by Jun Ohara

Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme Town Development Council / City and Communication / Co-reconstruction Housing Mikura 5


Mr. Yasuzo Tanaka (Former Chairman of the Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme City Development Council, City and Communication advisor *1, CEO of Hyogo Shokai Co., Ltd.)

The Mikura district of Nagata-ku, Kobe City, suffered tremendous damage in the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. The building and products of Yasuzo Tanaka’s company were also destroyed. Mr. Tanaka has been deeply involved in the reconstruction of the Mikura district as the as CEO of Hyogo Shokai Co., Ltd. and chairman of the Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme City Development Council , even after the earthquake disaster. Currently, he serves as an advisor to the volunteer organization ‘City and Communication’, as well as a storyteller of experiencing the earthquake disaster for elementary and junior high school students on school trips, and travels around the country as a visiting lecturer on city-wide disaster prevention, taking on the role of sharing the story of Mikura and the earthquake.


On City Reconstruction

In the Mikura district of the Nagata Ward, wooden houses and factories are densely packed, and most of them have collapsed and burned down due during the earthquake and subsequent fire. The Mikura district was designated as a district maintenance district on March 17 by Kobe City and reconstruction efforts began, but there was already a cycle of daily life, and issues relating to economy or the people should have been addressed before material things. When I began city planning in this area after the earthquake, I was advocating for a reconstruction plan that took the established life there into consideration, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. The city focused on making “Hakomono” (buildings), “Sujimono” (roads), “Hirabamono” (parks), and the people of the city felt like they were being forgotten.

Even if we talk about city planning in the area devastated by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake now, it will be hard to gather people. It was the same during the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. After the earthquake, there were many people who left the area, relying on relatives and friends, and many moved into temporary housing far away. Those who were involved in the community development of the district were few, and the majority were people who lived in self-made temporary houses, or continued to live in tilted houses, or resumed working in factories that were burnt by fixing it up until it was somewhat manageable.

What is actively being done in Tokyo now is “pre-disaster planning.” It is already being decided how to respond to earthquakes when they do occur, and where the temporary housing will be built, prior to the actual disaster striking.There are a lot of vacant lots in downtown Tokyo, as well as in Kobe. With the knowledge gained after reflecting on the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, efforts such as appropriating empty factories for temporary housing are underway.


Mikura district (Nagata-ku) and local industry

After the earthquake, 83 to 84% of the original population returned to Mikura district. Among the rezoning of Kobe City, it was rare that the population recovered this much, since in other areas, only about 60% of the people came back. Although this influx of people could also be attributed to the two public restoration housing buildings in Mikura district.

The rezoning arrangements were made based on the request from the local community that there be 100 units of public restoration housing be built. People who were doing business locally and people who had lived there came back and were involved in city planning.

The earthquake disrupted local industries such as rubber and ironworks. In the Mikura district there were many subcontractors, sub-sub contractors, and subsidiary companies, but they faded away. At one point, tens of thousands of people worked at shipbuilding and ironworks. That number has likely decreased to the thousands since the earthquake, and changes in the times.

The ironworks factories which were in the current HAT Kobe area has gone to Kakogawa, Chiba, Mizushima. In the Mikura district, the vocation of chemical shoes also flourished, and one could earn a lot through training their skill. However, many had lost their jobs since the industry declined.

Industries change with the times. Our company has six buildings in total, but only two or three are actually needed. I often mention this in Tokyo too, that even in the service industry like us, we only actually use about four out of the six, and some are not in use. I think that throughout the city, as things are rationalized and streamlined, there will be, in addition to empty houses, spaces that will not truly be used.


About my company

Even through I wanted to start business the day after the earthquake disaster, I didn’t have a single pencil or sheet of paper. Every product we were going to sell, and the company car were burned, and so I didn’t even have a car to get around in. Fortunately though, our employees were all safe, and so I felt it was my responsibility to now protect and provide for my employees and their families. I decided to build a temporary company building in the largest space owned by the company. I figured that a Japanese manufacturer would be competitive, so I imported shipping containers from a French trading company that I had connections with. In order for all of our employees to fit, we needed a three-story temporary building, but the city prohibited us. Even though we were prohibited by the city, we had to do business. I protested, asking whether the city would hire our employees then, at least of third of them. Building a temporary company separately would cost more money, so in the end we forced it to be built.

Who will look after the living? Although the focus is on civil engineering and construction that execute urban planning, perspectives from the fields of humanities, economics, sociology and geopolitics are also necessary. I believe if there is a person who wants to return to the place where they lived, things should be reconstructed. If it becomes the subject of the rezoning, there will likely be compensation by the state for the moves. My company moved1}three times, but was only compensated once. However, we at least received enough to cover the depreciation of the construction. I have not heard complaints from those in this area that there wasn’t enough compensation.


About Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme City Development Council

Although I had a certain amount of experience in urban planning due to my background in civil engineering, at first I had no idea what kind of city should be planned.

At the end of January, just after the disaster, my friends at the NGO organizations Peace Boat told me they would be bringing prefabricated houses and bicycles to the Mikura district. It wouldn’t be a problem donating bicycles, but the prefabricated houses could not be brought over until someone who could handle the site was available. So we suggested to build them in a park on the river side, but the government office would not permit it. Tents are fine, but temporary housing was not allowed.

The prefabricated houses arrived between March and May. About 20 buildings arrived but we only built 15 or 16 of them. Some were built in Nada and Suma. Then, before I knew it, these achievements were being recognized and I was appointed Chairman of the Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme City Development Council.


Drawing a picture of City Planning

Because the residents can not draw out city planning on their own, I collected opinions at the City Development Council, and asked consultants to draw the picture. An urban planning consultant from Osaka was hired in this district since before the earthquake. Even after the disaster, the same person remained in the role, but we felt that our opinions were not being heard by someone who was merely a yes man for the local government administration.

The first plan proposed by the administration was to create a 2500 square meter park of in the Mikura district, and widen the road to make a 10 meter intersection. This district is shaped like a square, with 5 chōme and 6 chōme (5th and 6th streets) intersecting and dividing the district into 4 sections. In one of these large sections would be the 2500 square meter park. For those of us who were living there, the plan felt like it would destroy the balance of the town. In the end, the plan settled into making two different parks, each 1,000 m² park and 1500 m² respectively. The 1000 m² park was meant for infants to lower elementary age children, as a “peaceful park” where ball games would be prohibited. The 1,500 m² park would be surrounded by a fence, and be designated as the “active park” where children could play with balls.

At our request, burned electric poles and burned camphor trees and memorials were installed, somewhat by force. Some people said that the burnt camphor tree should be cut down because it was not suitable for the park, but it was a symbolic of what was burned and destroyed in the earthquake disaster, so it was left to remain. The memorial monument, apart from the framework and rebar which were done by contractors, was created by the efforts of the people of the local community, who dug the hole, laid the rubble, and even built the scaffolding to transport the ready-mixed concrete as a bucket brigade.


The founding of City and Communication

The Mikura district, where the damage was great, became a volunteer village.Volunteers who arrived from outside the community practically chased after the survivors who were in temporary housing. But even if we turn our attention to temporary housing, the city could not be rebuild. In order to revive the city faster, we decided go on by to communicating within the city.

So ‘City / Communication’ was formed between three entities: SVA (Shanti International Volunteer Association) who put a base in this town, one member from Peaceboat, and myself. At the time, neither the residents nor the community members knew anything at all about urban planning and communal houses, so I went to ask the experts around here and grew as I learned. They intervened as a third party in the conflict between consultant, administration, and residents, and the discussion finally began to proceed.

The residents already had a full plate trying to get through each day. The did not have time to acquire information from outside sources or to go experts to learn. So City and Communication would do these things in their place, and digest what they’ve learned to the best of their abilities and impart this information with the residents, or invite experts to the community.

Several times, an expert on cooperative housing were invited to talk about what co-operative houses were like, and the residents were very interested. I went to see the apartment building that the expert had built and studied it to build “Mikura 5”.


About co-reconstruction housing “Mikura 5”

People in the Mikura district who were affected by the disaster, owned land dispersed in various locations. Mikura 5’s apartment was built with the “Tobikanchi” method, of replotting dispersed land to build. We talked with a few university professors with whom we were acquainted. At first we proposed to build a big housing complex on 6th Street, but the land ownder would not sign off and it couldn’t be realized.

As we accompanied professors of architecture and sociology to meetings with local landowners, we began to see the differences in their perspectives. The architecture professor/0} was focused on the construction aspect, and commented on how it would look when built, or what the layout of the rooms would be. The sociology professor, on the other hand, would as things like, “how is your life now?” “how much do you pay in rent?” “did you move in with rent assistance?””There will be no rent assistance when you move to a reconstruction house,” “it will be tough when your children grow up,” and approached the issue from the perspective of lifestyle. Then he asked “what about communal public housing, then?” and it was decided that it would be built using the public housing corporation’s installment payment option.

At the time, thanks to the persuasion of the architecture professor, it went well. Once you build a temporary building on your own on the land that has become an empty lot, it becomes easier to feel motivated about having your own house next. Even building a small 2 bedroom house will surely bring forth dreams and hopes for a life in that small house.

Life requires hope and courage and some money. In fact it is better to have a dream than something that is the result of standardized, mass production. In the mass produced, prefabricated homes, money will not be restored to the local community. After the earthquake, there was a frantic obsession with bringing the population back to what it was before, but without people coming back, things don’t move, which means money won’t move either.


Reflecting on the City Development Council

Many residents express concern over their own houses, but not so much about the city planning as a whole. The City Development Council issued a monthly newspaper and reported the progress, but it bounced back due to an unknown address, sometimes the contact information was lost, and the collection rate of the questionnaire gradually decreased. For example , there must be consideration for those who physically cannot participate, and are excluded from city planning, such as those who are busy working three part-time jobs.

The atmosphere of Mikura district has changed greatly. During a council meeting, it is easy to stay on the same page with meeting participants because everyone is looking at the same blueprint together as things are discussed, but non-participants then later have no clue what is going on. We did publicize the plans, but simply seeing drawings of them don’t give much of an idea. The members of the City Development Council visited parks around the area such as Osaka and Nishinomiya, and desperately researched what kind of park is would be good. In order to bring out the unique wisdom of this land, we proposed to preserve the burned camphor tree and electricity pole as a symbol of town, to leave it untouched, but there were opposing views on it, asking why should such a shabby-looking thing be preserved.

One reason the City Development Council failed, is that they couldn’t find the greatest common divisor of the residents’ opinions because of the lack of returnee residents.

The main constituents of the resident association are the people living in the community, but land owners also become involved when it comes to city planning, and we are able to understand how to utilize the land. In preparation for emergencies, it is better to set up a council, but there were issues involving money, and eventually the council dissolved.

City development is not a triangle of residents, consultants, and government offices. If a group of three people travel together, it inevitably and strangely becomes a 2 to 1 situation. In addition to the three party make-up, I think that volunteers and the media should participate to create a better balance.

I used the mass media as a source of news, and I think that it was one of the reasons that I was disliked by the residents’ association. However, I cannot know the detailed information about the district just by being there. At the time, I was able to know who to ask what, and create a network by asking the media.


As an experienced worker in a disaster area

I need to continue sharing this story. To talk is not to renew memories, but to sharpen one’s understanding of what is happening now. It is up to the individual how they can use their sensitivities.

For example, in the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, it seems that there were few elementary and junior high school students who died in the Iwate / Kamaishi area due to the tsunami. The teacher in Gunma was carrying out disaster preparation training for adults, but the participants were always familiar faces. They realized the risk in this, and began implementing disaster preparation training for elementary and junior high students, beginning with schools in the Kamaishi district as a model. In evacuation drills, junior high school students were trained to hold hands with the elementary school children and evacuate once to an elderly facility first, then to an elevated location. When the tsunami hit on March 11, junior high school students led the elementary children to the elderly facility, and then judged that it was not safe enough and evacuated to an elevated location. When they got there, they realized it was still not safe enough, and evacuated to a higher location still, which minimized the loss.

A standard evacuation manual will say to go to an elevated location if you are by the coast when there is an earthquake, but it will not say specifically where. If there is prior training to prepare for emergencies on a regular basis, there are ways to implement safety measures, such as installing stairs in mountain paths and create escape routes. If it is hard to scale, then people will come up with alternatives, like preparing logs to create a makeshift stairway, or something of the sort.

I always make it clear that if something is not done on a regular basis, it’s not going to be done under a state of emergency. This is crucial. We don’t know where, or what, will be the determining factor between life and death. In order to survive, it is important to have a strong will that says, “I will not die.”


※ 1 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Disaster Support Group Group City and Communication http://park15.wakwak.com/~m-comi/

Initial research

Date and time supplement

April 23, 1995: “Mikuradōri 5, 6, 7 chōme City Development Council” founded. December 3, 2006: “Concerning the dissolution of the Council” general meeting of the council held and resolved to dissolve.

Background and purpose

On April 23, 1995, a community development council was established. whose members comprised of all residents, home and landowners, with the aim of promoting good community development in the district. Based on two city development questionnaires, we created a “city development proposal” and submitted it to Kobe City on September 13, 1996. On January 14, 1997, the the land resident organization project was decided upon, and the tentative designation began on January 12, 1998. In addition, a joint project was also carried out and “Mikura 5” was completed. [Quoted from the WEB]


On April 23, 1995, a community development council was established with members comprised of all residents, home and landowners, with the aim of promoting good community development in the district. Although we have been working on community development reconstruction planning that included the opinions of the residents in the improvement of infrastructure, such as support for housing rebuilding, support for recipient houses, park workshops, community road workshops and the like, after serving its role, the council was disbanded in November 2006. [Quoted from the WEB】

Affiliate / partner etc.

Town · Communication


Nagata-ku, Okura district, Kobe City

Related articles: Primary information

Cooperative housing Mikura 5
Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Disaster Support Group Group Communication

Related articles: Primary information

Cooperative housing Mikura 5
Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Disaster Support Group Group Communication