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Japan’s Mobile Libraries Bring Books to Iwate Residents

March 30 – Rikuzentakata City, Iwate – A little more than a year since a 50-ft. (15-meter)  wall of water swept over Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture, residents continue to salvage some form of normalcy from its catastrophic wake.

Claiming the lives of 10% of the population, the tsunami that traveled up to 6 kilometers inland decimated institutions in the city center, including City Hall and the main library.

Today, mountains of debris, timber and tires are Rikuzentaka’s interim landmarks, piled higher daily by teams of bulldozers and trucks.

Rebuilding has returned some regularity to daily life, and now books for borrowing are also contributing  to the recovery.

At 19 locations in Rikuzentakata, Ofunato, Otsuchi-cho and Yamada-machi, a van stops to offer tea and discussion, as well as a chance to read any of about 2,000 books.

The non-profit Shanti Volunteer Association began the Iwate Mobile Library project in July last year, and the following month, Nissan donated an Atlas F24.

That van has become a mobile library, one of three public libraries in the area – but the only one on wheels.

Haruhiko Koga, chief of the Shanti Iwate Office, said his team of 14 is just finishing a temporary library to house some of nearly 30,000 books at the Mobiria camp site in Rikuzentakata.

That’s where about 168 families, displaced by the tsunami, now live.

 

Most of those in Shanti’s database – primarily women in their 50s and 60s – like books on knitting, gardening and cooking.

But Koga said it took a while for people to want to read again.

“When we started our activities, you could sense that some people didn’t feel like reading books, or if they did it didn’t change their moods,” said Koga. “As time went on, you could tell that reading relaxed people and they could socialize at their leisure with others, and they started to use the books to think about how they were going to live their lives from this point forward.”

Nissan has donated a second Atlas that will be on Iwate roads from June while sharing operating costs.

At the Nissan Gallery in Yokohama, a touch-screen display while reading award-winning children’s books translates into a small donation toward the Iwate project.

Noriko Ikari, head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Nissan, said support efforts for Iwate and Tohoku will continue.

“Now we’re collecting ideas from employees, asking them what kind of continuing support Nissan can offer,” said Ikari. “We’re considering that additional support might include employees volunteering directly, or Nissan, because we’re a car maker, providing additional vehicles.”

Koga said Shanti’s activities will likely continue in Rikuzentakata until the city builds a permanent library. Part of the recovery, said Koga, is keeping the world’s interest in Tohoku alive.

 

 

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