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Rebuilding a Livelihood
Oyster Farming Cooperative in Yamada

Photographer: Kimimasa Mayama


Yamada lies about 600km north of Tokyo. As a result of the tsunami on 11 March 2011, 770 of about 17,000 residents were either killed or recorded missing. Aqua farming which is the main industry in the town was devastated by the tsunami. Many aqua farmers lost their houses, fishing vessels, farming rafts and fishery workshops.


A few months after the tsunami, some veteran and young oyster aqua farmers in the town decided to work together in order to restart their aqua farming business. They shared resources such as fishing vessels and farming rafts and set up as a joint business. Fortunately, some young oyster survived the tsunami and this prompted the aqua farmers to start their joint business as quickly as possible. They began cooperative work in early summer 2011 and made their first harvest later that year in November.


Masahi Shirano, a 52-year-old oyster aqua farmer, is the chief of aqua farming at the Fishery Cooperative Association of Yamada town. On a typical day he begins work with his son Takashi, 29, and other colleagues three hours before sunrise. They start by shelling oyster harvested on a previous day. After shelling for a couple hours, the workers return to their homes (many of which are temporary) for breakfast before continuing with other jobs.


Only a few aqua farmers harvest oyster as most of the fishing vessels were lost. The rest of them work preparing more oysters, cleaning their joint workshop or building new farming rafts. Many aqua farmers in northern Japan decided to discontinue their business after the tsunami whilst others are still considering their options. Shirano, however, quickly decided to restart aqua farming. He said "I'm lucky as my son also decided to continue aqua farming." "So I can continue my fishery business. If my son gave up, I would give up the fishery business. I thought I could pay back my new loan with my son but not by myself."