Riku Café – bringing communities together in Rikuzentakata
In 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake lay waste to vast areas of northern Honshu, Japan’s largest island. One such area was the tsunami-stricken city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, whose surviving residents were left living in temporary accommodation and with few opportunities to gather and rebuild morale. In January 2012, community-run Riku Café opened its doors with the aim of providing a “living room for the city” and a space to facilitate the community’s revival. The project was conceived by local residents and made a reality by supporters from the world of academia, corporate sponsors and a variety of individuals.
Tokyo-based architectural practice Naruse Inokuma Architects designed the café as a simple wooden structure in order to minimize construction time. A series of sliding glass doors were installed to create transparency, allowing a clear view of the simple, open interior and inviting those outside to join the social activities inside. In late 2014, Riku Café was rebuilt as a permanent facility and continues to play an important role in the community today.
The café is managed by a group of local residents and offers a social space and healthy food menu, but over time it has also been temporarily transformed into a pharmacy, a bus shelter and a venue for concerts and community classes, as per the needs of the community at the time.
In the summer of 2019, one of the cafe founders, Unoura Atsuko, along with fellow café staff, visited Japan House London to introduce the initiative, explaining how it promoted healthy living and helped people in Rikuzentakata to establish a sense of community. She was joined in conversation by University of Cambridge social anthropologist, Dr Brigitte Steger, to discuss the importance of social hubs like Riku Café in times of recovery. The introduction and conversation were complemented by a musical performance by the café staff.
The event was part of a collaborative series of activities, organized by Japan House London and Japan’s Reconstruction Agency, exploring various aspects of the recovery efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.