App to help tourists in area damaged by 2011 Great East Japan earthquake

App to help tourists in area damaged by 2011 Great East Japan earthquake
Members of Save Takata, a local support group, hold tablets with their newly developed app installed, in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate - A local reconstruction support group has developed a tourist information application to help spread information about Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, which is recovering from damage caused by the tsunami that followed the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The group plans to set up tablet computers, on which the app is installed, at various spots in the city for visitors and tourists from outside the city to use.

The app is the brainchild of a former manager of a website design company in Tokyo who returned to the city, which is his hometown.

"I want to help reconstruct [the city] using information technology," he said.

Using the application, called "Rikuzentakata Fukko Map" - with the kanji characters for "fukko" being a play on words meaning both reconstruction and happiness - users can search about 400 stores in the city by categories such as eating and shopping, and receive information on events held around the country under the theme of reconstruction.

The application was created by Save Takata, a general incorporated association comprising mainly local people in their 30s.

Nobuaki Sasaki, 32, president of the group, moved to Tokyo after graduating from high school and established a website design company at the end of 2010, which had been his longtime dream.

On March 10, 2011, he completed arrangements to start his company's business, and on that day he enthusiastically told his coworkers, "Beginning tomorrow, we'll work hard at our new business."

The following day, however, his hometown was hit by the tsunami.

Sasaki returned to the city and started support activities such as supplying daily necessities and creating a website to disseminate information for those affected by the disaster. He started the support group three months later, thinking, "Reconstruction will take more than 10 years."

After closing down his company, he began living in Rikuzentakata again.

The group issued a map with information on stores that restarted their businesses after the disaster, which led to the development of the app. The group had to repeatedly update the map's information as the city began to recover. Sasaki then came up with the idea of utilizing his specialty with websites and created an original map that could be continually updated. The app was released in October 2014 in cooperation with Kensuke Saito, 30, who is familiar with IT, and other members.

As the town expects more visitors this month, which will mark the fourth year since the disaster, the group is set to place tablet terminals with the app at 10 spots such as at cafes and at a hotel to help visitors get to know the area. There have been fewer tourists lately, according to the city.

Sasaki said: "As a new tourist tool, the app can provide an opportunity for young people who are not familiar with the city to get to know it. I hope many people will visit the city to pray for the victims of the disaster or for other reasons to mark the fourth anniversary of the disaster."

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