A month after the disaster, Osada had decided to rebuild — to heck with the debt — because he had a wife and two children and felt too young at 46 to give up something he enjoyed. The question was: where to rebuild? He spent weeks waffling. Sentiment pulled him to stay in Rikuzentakata. Prudence pushed him to start a business elsewhere — perhaps in Ofunato, a town 20 minutes to the north, where he was living in a prefabricated home.
Osada heard in May from another local businessman, Masahide Saito, about a little-known central government program designed to help small and medium-size businesses. If a few such businesses banded together and secured land, the government would put up a building for them, which they could use rent-free for five years. The city, with some funding provided by Tokyo, would pay the landowner.
Saito had done the hard work, finding a plot of land just off Route 45, where an auto-body shop and a candy store had been leveled by the tsunami.
By July, Saito had assembled several business partners, including the owners of a sporting goods store and a hair salon. But he figured Osada, who’d fallen out of touch, wanted nothing to do with Rikuzentakata. He figured wrong. When the two met face to face, Osada told him: “I’m in.”
Because Osada had lost everything in the tsunami, college volunteers created new laminated menus. A musician donated Bose speakers, on which Osada decided he’d play only upbeat music. He bought $7 stools and found tables at an old high school. On the day the restaurant opened, he took out an ad in the local paper apologizing for the limited food selection. At the bottom was the restaurant’s telephone number — his cellphone.
“Osada-san, he lives in Ofunato now,” Toba, the mayor, said at the opening ceremony for the restaurant and its neighboring businesses. “He’d been thinking about opening there instead. But this is where he was born. It’s been seven months since he first thought about reopening, and for those seven months, people were waiting and waiting and waiting.”
A long-term process
Rikuzentakata would like to use the government program to relaunch more small businesses, but the program has a scant budget, and Tokyo has been slow to pass legislation granting an additional $118 billion for reconstruction.
Some businesses have given up on Rikuzentakata. A sake brewer moved inland. A bar owner fled to a bigger city. Even Osada’s neighbors have doubts. “Of course I’m worried,” said the hair salon owner, Takeshi Ono.
“I don’t even know if it was a good choice,” Saito said. “We don’t have a vital economy here.”
But Osada has decided that reconstruction makes more sense viewed as a long-term process, which is why, after a frantic opening day — 13 hours on his feet in the kitchen; customers all day long — he made one change, designed to help with longevity.
He placed a strip of Astroturf in the kitchen so his knees wouldn’t feel so sore.
Special correspondent Ayako Mie contributed to this report.