With an Australian rescue team in Minamisanriku-cho and the PM’s visit, the Australian government and broader community became aware of Minamisanriku and its recovery effort. Staff from ANZ met with various people to understand what we could do to help lift their spirits. Shoya Oikawa was a key figure behind rebuilding the town’s library.
He remembers the days after the disaster, not being able to recognise the town, joining the mayor to see off bus after bus of residents to emergency shelters.
“We lived through a period where everything was temporary, the housing was very crammed, it was particularly hard for the vulnerable, for kids and the elderly, pregnant women,” Shoya says. “A huge challenge was the lack of activities, of normal life, we wanted to give the people things to do and places to go.”
In particular he said they were looking to build a place where the town’s children could feel safe and relax. Koala House was the answer.
“We were overjoyed with the hope everybody would be given a spacious library to enjoy reading while relaxing and where school kids could gather to do their homework close to their temporary [housing],” he said.
Shoya believes culture, art, hobbies and entertainment played a key role in restoring everyday life. "I thought that energy of children would be a driving force for the reconstruction, so I asked for support in cultural education from that perspective," he says.
Chika Narukawa, Head of Business Management, Japan and Korea at ANZ says in response to such needs, ANZ took time to consider the cultural aspects of reconstruction and rehabilitation in the early stages. "This was the time most donors and aid agencies were paying more attention to emergency support," she says.
Koala House was the first permanent structure built after the disaster. ANZ reached out to Australian property development company LendLease, who offered their expertise pro-bono.
“Back then all around the town there was barely anything but temporary dwellings. Koala House was a building meant to stand here permanently,” Shoya says instead to be clear.
Jin says at the opening ceremony for Koala House, everyone had a beaming smile on their face. The children had a place to gather. Today, with a new, larger library built, Koala House remains true to its original spirit. It is a community centre particularly concerned with education for children still suffering the effects of the disaster.