Tuesday, September 9, 2014


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The above photo shows the water level line from the 2011 tsunami.

It was my first time ever to visit Tohoku for my mt workshop, and the sweetest Aya-san drove me up to Ishinomaki on my last day. It was incredibly surreal to imagine just how horrific the tsunami must have been. Aya-san lives in Shiogama which was also hit badly in the tsunami and as we drove to Ishinomaki she told me stories about evacuating on the day it happened.

Here are a few photos of Ishinomaki as it currently is. I adored it's little retro shops, cute street names, back streets and seaside location. As Hiro says 'You know it's about to rain when you can smell fish'.

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I'm not sure if you can see in this small picture, but the division on the door is black and white diagonal stripes! So many great colours and shapes. I wish I could make this Hello Sandwich studio! Imagine crafternoons here, and little pop-up shop openings with people spilling out onto the street gathering and laughing together!

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One of the main streets in Ishinomaki city. You might have seen this street on the tsunami footage :*(

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Love this yasai shop. And those boxes with love hearts!

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Cutie Aya-san and I picked up some nashi pears for Hiro.

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Get this sign into my house!

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Retro coffee sign.

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Aya-san and I found some retro tins in this little supermarket. One of the tins was filled with 50 eggs. I really just wanted it for the tin as a prop for my new book but the store owner really wanted to confirm that we knew that there were 50 eggs inside this tin and made us ensure that we were comfortable with using them up in time. She even gave us some tips on how to put the eggs into some tupperware after opening and every few days add some water to the tupperware container.

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THIS was the shop interior. Super adorable.

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So, so great.

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On a little walk around we found a few amazing new initiatives helping rebuild the community.

This is MakiBiz who have been working together with Architecture For Humanity. 

The MakiBiz mission statement:

MakiBiz seeks to create a community gathering space to bring together all generations of the affected area to collaborate on a new model of post-tsunami recovery that can be used throughout Tohoku region. MakiBiz provides expert advice on design, construction, and business development services to affected communities in support of their efforts at building back better.

You can read more about the incredible project here.

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I have signed up to volunteer and I hope they will allow me to go and host craft workshops in Ishinomaki.

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On my trip to Ishinomaki, Aya-san introduced me to her incredibly talented friend Hiro. There is practically nothing that Hiro can't do. He built this home / studio by himself in eight months, he is a brilliant cook, he is a gardener, artist, designer, zine maker, community worker, music maker...

And of course he is incredibly kind, even offering to drive me back to Sendai for my shinkansen so I could stay longer in Ishinomaki.

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Hiro-san really made me rethink my current practice and life in general. One of those special life changing moments. He did a three month artists residency in Ishinomaki after the disaster and while on his residency he became friends with the owner of this building (pictured above). He asked the owner if he could build a house on the ground floor of this building and live there. All went well and he moved from Yokohama to Ishinomaki to document the changes in the community.

At first sight, Hiro's home looks like a cute Tokyo cafe, or a cute book shop, with it's outside bench seat, large studio table and shop-style glass window doors. It wasn't until I went to the bathroom and saw a washing machine that I asked Hiro-san "Do you live here?" and he replied "Yes! There's a small bedroom out the back". His house is EXACTLY how I would design my dream home if I could. A tiny bedroom and a giant room with a giant table and a giant computer screen and loads of books and design materials.

Curious as to why Hiro-san's space featured large window doors and a mini shop shelf (as seen below) when it was in fact a residential space, Hiro-san explained that it was to invite the community members in so that he could chat with them and become friends with them. He tells heartwarming stories about local residents who pass and see his light on and ask "What are you cooking for dinner tonight?"..."Curry!" replies Hiro-san. And within a few hours the neighbour returns with meat and beer and they enjoy a meal together.

When I heard this story I almost cried. This is what life is all about.

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A truly wonderful and eyeopening trip to Ishinomaki. Thank you Aya-san and Hiro-san!

I can't wait to return to Tohoku!

Love Love
Hello Sandwich


  1. Oh thank you for this story abotu Hiro and a brilliant place to live.. He sounds like a magnificent being, and your pictures of his place sur do show some beauty.
    I've been reading your blog since... 1875? or something, and it keeps making my days, and bringing dreams and desires to my mind.
    Merci beaucoup! Please keep on and on and on!

    1. Thank you so much for your sweet comment! Yes, an amazing human being indeed!

      Ha ha 1875 - I love it! That's so kind of you to take the time to comment! Thank youuuuuuu!

  2. I received this divine email from Susan in Chicago:

    Hello Ebony,

    I've been following your blog for awhile, and by now I can't actually remember how I found Hello Sandwich in the first place!
    I really enjoy your enthusiasm for Japan and your photos- I look forward to seeing what small, quiet moments in life you capture.
    Your blog today really touched me; you wrote about Hiro's home and how he said neighbors stop by spontaneously and they'll all have dinner together (curry, anyone?). Your comment about this really being life was so true. Thanks for sharing your appreciation of these moments in life- the heartwarming connecting moments between friendly souls:)

  3. Amazing photographs! Love the colours and textures... so interesting. What a wonderful place! very inspired....

  4. Really nice to enjoy your lovely pics and interesting stories before sleeping like I do most of the time.
    Just very curious to the can with 50 eggs!!!! How is that possible?
    You have a picture?��

    Good night !

  5. Lovely. I love to see all these places and people and stories. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hello Sandwiches,

    I am going to Toyko and I would love a Guide... please please please tell me you have 1 copy for me , i am a petit little sandwich that would love to have one.. sniff sniff