As a long-term volunteer in Ishinomaki, I felt that it was time to pay some respects to an incredibly helpful local initiative that has made a considerable difference in the lives of the thousands of people who have been working towards the recovery of Ishinomaki, 5 people at a time.
During the last visit, I learned that municipal financial support for the Senninburo (literally “bath for 1000 people”) was going to be cut-off at the end of March, 2012. The reason for this is that the local government has decided that the free public bath has served out its initial purpose for existing, which was to provide a bathing space for the thousands of refugees stranded in shelters around the city’s core. While this observation is admittedly true, Senninburo has begun to serve larger purpose, and serve another core of community rebuilders, and does deserve some support to continue its operation.
To start off, I’d like to talk about the general details of Senninburo. The general concept began as a free communal bathhouse to be available from 3:00pm to 5:00pm for women to bath, and 5:00pm to 7:00pm for men. The bathhouse was originally set up for local residents who had not been able to bathe properly for days and even weeks following the disaster. It consists of a tiny wooden structure accommodating not 1000 people, but rather only five or six at a time—with locals of course getting first priority.
According to their official page at 1000furo.com the Senninburo Project (Project to Bathe 1000 people) was established in response to activist Dr. Minoru Kawata’s reporting on constant requests for a warm place to bathe by Tsunami victims living in ramshackle and crowded refugee shelters.
The public back was organized and assembled by a team from from NGO JIM-NET (Medical Support Network for Iraq and Tohoku, Japan) and built on the parking lot for the local Iwao Temple parking lot in central Ishinomaki.The bath was completed and ready to begin operations on April 6th, 2011, and has served as a regular bathing service for at least 5000 people so far. Soon after the disaster, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces had set up a temporary bath for refugee shelter residents as well, but those baths were disassembled in July.
On August 18th, 2011, Seninburo was moved to the current location in Ishinomaki, with the addition of a community space provided by the municipal government. This community space takes the form of a container building, which hosts a relaxation space for people to receive a paper cup of hot tea, and to converse with others before entering the baths.
Alongside originally serving the bathing needs of the tsunami refugees, Senninburo has also generously played host to the thousands of volunteers who have come to Ishinomaki to help remove tsunami mud, gut broken houses, clean up rubble and debris, run Soup Kitchens, rebuild local shops, and provide several other valuable services that have contributed towards the recovery of the town.
Once most of the refugees had been resettled into Temporary Housing on the outer fringes of the downtown area, the bulk of the customers of Senninburo are now the people working to revive the downtown area. This includes not just the volunteers, but also the shopkeepers who have decided to focus on rebuilding and renovating their tsunami-hit shops, and the construction workers and carpenters who are involved in a push-and-pull dance of both tearing down structures and also building up new ones.
As you can see from the amount of kerosene that is used to heat the pool, and the amount wood used to warm the communal space, you can begin to see that costs of running the bath are actually quite considerable. This partly explains why commercial bathing houses charge between 500 to 1200 for a single entry.
– Tentative End of Part 1 (Part 2 will be appended later today.)
For access to Senninburo,
Ishinomaki-shi, Chuo 1-choume, 7-13
About a 10 minute walk from the JR Ishinomaki station