2023 Tohoku X Tokyo

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Community and Justice in Crisis

The 12th Conference of the Pacific Rim Community Design Network, Japan, September 16-18 and 20, 2023


In the 25 years that have passed since the first meeting of the Pacific Rim Community Design Network in 1998, members of the network have been engaged in democratic planning and participatory design around the Pacific Rim. In addition to the 11 previous conferences, we have found other ways to engage and connect, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  On the 25th anniversary, we invite new or old friends to return to the first gathering of the Network in Japan since 2010.

The nature of communities has changed over the past 25 years, and one of the major changes has been the expansion of disincentives for communities to continue to live where they want to live, such as widening economic disparities and growing disaster impacts from increasing natural hazard events. As a result, there is a growing and greater need for community planners to address “Justice” in cities, which encompasses social justice as well as environmental justice.

In Japan, a major event occurred in 2011 that has various implications for the “justice” of continuing to live in Japan. That was the Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck the Tohoku region of Japan was struck on March 11, 2011. With a massive earthquake and the largest tsunami in living memory, the disaster caused a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima and widespread and long-term displacement.  Affected communities have faced various challenges over the 12 years since the triple disaster. Physical reconstruction, including drastic modification of the landscape and townscapes of much of the affected area, is nearly complete, after many years of planning and construction.

Empowered actions of citizen participation have emerged within post-disaster recovery machizukuri. Yet questions remain, including those related to the long-term sustainability of the region and in coastal communities, energy use, and our current ways of living. Considering questions of social and environmental justice, how should we think about ongoing recovery? How are the experiences of the disaster and recovery being remembered, shared, and conveyed to future generations, both within Japan and internationally?

The challenges are even more complex for communities ffectted by contamination from the nuclear meltdown at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima. Nuclear evacuees have faced long-term uncertainty and displacement, and difficult questions about if/when to return to former communities, as evacuation orders have been revised multiple times. Areas that have re-opened for people to live also struggle to revitalize communities. As recovery processes proceed, there is a separation between projects that focus on the reconstruction of towns and places and people’s needs for life recovery. (See Leave No One Behind (English) (Japanese), the proposal for a community-based and resident-centered nuclear disaster recovery vision, prefectural residents’ edition.)

As we look back at the past 25 years of the Pacific Rim Network, and together consider current and future needs for community design and action in Japan and around the Pacific Rim, we are planning this conference to have a strong field research component, as participants will split into multiple small groups to visit different sites in Fukushima. The format of the conference will include “small group” field visits on Sept. 16 and Sept., 17, after which we will gather for a “big table” discussion and symposium in Sendai at Tohoku University on September 18th.

Fukushima field visits: Sept 16 and Sept 17

Themes addressed will include: energy, social justice, democracy, participation, education, disaster storytelling, and conveying experiences. We will meet at Sendai Station on the morning of Sept 16, and travel together by chartered bus to Fukushima. For international participants, we recommend that you arrive in Sendai by the evening of Sept. 15 (the night before). In small groups, we will visit and hear from people in different affected communities and stay in local accommodations. We will return by bus to Sendai by the evening of Sept. 17.  Participation fees will be collected to cover accommodations and transportation, and decided based on the number of people who join.

“Big Table” gathering in Sendai: Sept 18

On Sept 18, we will gather for a “Big Table” meeting, including a symposium in Sendai, at Tohoku University. At the Big Table, small groups will have a chance to share what they have seen and heard in the last two days with each other and discuss the current issues in Tohoku, Japan, and other countries in the Pacific Rim. The symposium will include reflections on the last 25 years of the network, current needs for community design, and looking forward to the future of our work. We welcome all to attend The Big Table/symposium on Sept 18th in Sendai, including those who join the small group visits, along with people who join on September 18th only.

Poster Presentations: Sept 18, Tohoku University

Along with the Big Table/Symposium, we also invite participants to share their research and receive feedback through a poster presentation session on September 18th. We welcome all poster submissions related to themes of community design in the Pacific Rim.

Tokyo Symposium: Ecological Democracy–Scaling Up Machizukuri. Sept 20

Following the gathering in Tohoku, a Symposium on Design for Ecological Democracy will be held in Tokyo on Sept 20 in the Sereragikan in Denenchofu. The event is from 18:15 to 20:30 on September 20.


Schedule & Important Dates:
  • May 1: Pre-registration (closed).
  • May 30: Poster submission deadline (closed).
  • June 1: See details below about “small group” fieldwork options, and register accordingly. While we will do our best to accommodate everyone’s preferences, we also ask for your cooperation and understanding, as we need to coordinate the small groups based on the number of registered participants.
  • July 31: Deadline for registration (see the links below).
  • September 16-17: Fieldwork in Fukushima
  • September 18: Big-Table Symposium and Poster Presentation Session in Sendai (International Institute of Disaster Sciences, Tohoku University) (detailed program to be announced)
  • September 20: Symposium on Ecological Democracy: Scaling Up Machizukuri (Tokyo)
Links to Registration:

*Note that only credit cards are accepted for overseas payments

Final Program for the Big-Table Symposium on September 18, 2023
Important Notes on Travel Arrangements
*Participants are expected to book their own flights, train tickets, and hotel (except the night of September 16 for those joining the field trips).
  • September 16-17 — Fukushima field trips: For those who are joining the field trips, please plan to arrive in Sendai on September 15, especially for visitors from abroad. The field trips will begin in the morning the next day. The groups will meet at 8:30 AM at the East Exit of Sendai Station (2nd floor) on September 16. Look for the famous Anpanman stature (pictures 1-5). The bus will leave promptly at 9 AM. We will return to Sendai at the end of the day on September 17. In case of emergencies, please contact Liz Maly at +819039769308.
  • September 18 — Sendai “Big Table” Gathering: The all-day event (including recaps of the field trips, poster sessions, and the 25th-anniversary sessions) will take place at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science, Tohoku University. Address: 468-1 Aoba, Aramaki, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan 980-8572. Direction: https://irides.tohoku.ac.jp/eng/access/. The program is from 09:00 to 17:00, followed by a dinner reception from 18:00 to 20:00. The conference venue will open at 08:00. It is recommended that you book your hotel near Sendai Station and take the Tozai Line to come to the campus.
  • September 19 or 20 — Transit to Tokyo: Please make your own travel arrangements from Sendai to Tokyo.
  • September 20 — Ecological Democracy Symposium: The event will take place in the evening (18:15 to 20:30) at Seseragikan (Seseragi Hall) in Seseragi Park in Denenchofu — about 40 min from Tokyo Station and 15 min from Shibuya Station or Meguro Station by train. Address: 1-53-12 Denenchofu, Ota-ku, Tokyo. Direction: https://www.den-en-seseragi.jp/access/ (in Japanese only, but you may use Google Translate for your language). For those coming by train, it’s a 1-minute walk from Tamagawa Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line, Meguro Line, and Tamagawa Line. You may book hotels near any of these transit lines.


Co-Sponsors: Pacific Rim Community Design Network; IRIDeS, Tohoku University

Contact: Dr. Liz Maly lizmaly@gmail.com, Tohoku University