KESENNUMA, Miyagi -- On a Sunday afternoon over half a year after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami devastated towns on March 11, local residents visiting a makeshift bookstore here were picking up books with an eager look.
The sight of the tented bookstore would have been something unimaginable before the deadly quake and tsunami hit Kesennuma, which had hosted a burgeoning large-scale bookstore.
Mitsuho Chida, 73, president of an auto dealer in Kesennuma, had opened in the city a franchise of nationwide bookstore chain Miyawaki Shoten in 1997. His 70-year-old wife, Koko, served as management representative of the franchise. The 1,000-square-meter bookstore, established in a harbor district, attracted an average of 1,000 customers a day and racked up some 400 million yen in annual sales. "I want to contribute to the development of this town," thought Chida.
However, the March 11 tsunami washed away 230,000 books from inside the store, leaving only its steel beams behind. Debris surrounded the site, while the ground sank by 70 centimeters, allowing seawater to submerge the remaining structure.
Chida and his wife were forced to lay off 13 employees, except for the bookstore manager, but somehow raised money for their severance payments. The total financial damage the couple suffered amounted to some 150 million yen.
However, as days went by following the devastating tsunami some local residents asked Chida, "Are you going to reopen the bookstore?" The Tohoku branch of major book distributor Tohan in Sendai offered to transport books to Kesennuma by truck, prompting the Chidas to restart their bookstore.
Between May 16 and 21, the couple opened a temporary bookstore using a 2-ton truck owned by Tohan at a parking lot of an auto retailer along a prefectural road, which had escaped major damage. A total of 3,000 people visited the tentative bookstore in six days, resulting in 2.05 million yen in sales.
"Having a bookstore is fantastic. We can choose whatever book we'd like to buy," said a delighted customer. Visitors' positive reactions led Koko Chida to realize how much people were hankering for printed words.
In July, the Chidas started to run a tented bookstore every Friday through Sunday. Once again, many people flocked to the bookstore from their shelters.
Kai Onodera, 11, an elementary school student in Kesennuma, bought two manga titles at the makeshift bookstore on the evening of Sept. 18. The tsunami had claimed the lives of his grandmother and aunt and destroyed his home. It was four days after the magnitude-9.0 quake struck that he was reunited with his parents who were taking shelter at different places. Since his family moved into an apartment far from his school in April, Kai has no friends to hang around with in his neighborhood.
"When I'm reading manga, I get amused and distracted, if only for a little while," Kai said with a smile.
The chilly autumn season has hit Kesennuma. While many bookstores are on the brink of folding in other disaster-affected areas, the Chidas are "hoping to be of help with the recovery of this city, if only a little."
The couple will continue to operate the open-air bookstore, which is covered with plastic wind sheets, until they open a new prefabricated outlet at the end of this year.
Kesennuma FB page
I hope they will get a better place before the winter come. I admire the Chida's and the local people passion to read. I'm glad that reading helps somehow :)