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Helping tsunami-ravaged Japan play again

Ishinomaki residents are still suffering

For the last two years children in Ishinomaki, Japan have had few places to play. When the tsunami hit in March 2011 waves reached 33 ft. high, killing 3,000 people, destroying 20,000 homes and forcing many of the city's residents to live in shelters, even today, as reported here in The Daily Beast.

A Lebanon, Ohio woman, whose relatives were visiting her from Ishinomaki on the day the tsunami hit, watched the terrible scene unfold on TV. Soon after Emiko Moore said her daughter Miya wanted to raise some money and give it to Japan. "It came from a very pure place. I think that's what made me say, this is something that we're going to do."

How the idea for a new playground originated

Moore, a friend of mine, said they sold bracelets for a few months but then settled on the idea of building a playground in Ishinomaki. She contacted the Japanese city which was willing to donate an area of an existing park, Matsunami Park, for the playground. The University of Cincinnati's Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) agreed to design it.

Twenty-five students created 5 designs, including Branden Francis. "A huge concept for the project was the metaphor ascension and the story of the tsunami and trying to memorialize that metaphorically through form, i.e. the mountain motif. It's very traditional in Japanese folklore, so it's integral in helping memoralize the events of 3-11."

Student Matt Hearn said it was a lot different incorporating traditions and customs. He and the others were also given more leeway because there are fewer rules and regulations. "Japanese playgrounds tend to be a lot more interesting in the way that they're built and the way that kids play on them. So we were given a lot more freedom in the way the kids could interact with the structure itself."

The people who live near the park in Japan got to pick the winning design. It took 4 to 5 months to vote because only one-third of them have moved back. The rest are in shelters. You can see the playground design on the Ishinomaki Park Project Facebook Page. One UC Industrial Design Professor is still in Ishinomaki meeting with community leaders. Peter Chamberlin's visit was featured in a Japanese newspaper.

Play is important for childhood development

Moore says her daughter goes to parks all the time. "We are lucky to have so many parks in this area and for us the idea of having some kind of normalcy for children to be able to play."

Construction estimates put the cost of building it at about $600,000. The Japan-American Society of Greater Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Sister City Association are also helping with the project.